my coworker won’t use the phone, my coworker has her husband on video chat all day long, and more

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

1. My coworker won’t talk to clients on the phone

My coworker and office mate will do anything to avoid using the telephone to communicate with clients. She will send emails that are 5-6 pages long, dodge phone calls or even not get back to clients at all, all to avoid using the phone. We work for a marketing agency and most things can’t be properly communicated via email.

It’s a small company and our manager is also the owner. We are peers but she has been with the company a lot longer then I have. I spoke to the owner, who said “Hmmm, I think I hear her on the phone sometimes. As long as the customers are not angry!” She then changed the subject.

I find myself spending all day on the phone compensating. Clients that are hers call me for answers. At least once a day I have someone calling in asking me to explain things from an email she sent. Her emails are well written but overwhelming. Most of our clients do not have hours to sit and read emails. They are HVAC and plumbing technicians. Often we have a lead come in requesting a phone call. They get an email and we never hear from them again. To me it is clear why. She also does her best to avoid picking up the phone when it rings.

It’s incredibly frustrating knowing that I have more work on my plate because she spends two hours writing a six-page email that could have been a five-minute phone call. How can I motivate her to use phone conversations as a communication tool?

It doesn’t sound like you have the authority to do that, and the person who does — your manager — is declining to. All you can do is decline to pick up her share of the work. That means that when her clients call you, you should say, “Let me transfer you over to Jane” and then tell Jane, “I have your client on the phone with questions about your email. I’m transferring her over to you now.” And if she tells you to have them email her or to send them to her voicemail, you can say bluntly, “I think that would be really rude. They specifically want to talk with you over the phone.”

I would also give talking to the owner one more shot. Lay it out really clearly by saying something like, “I don’t have time to take all of Jane’s phone calls for her. Her clients call me for help because she won’t answer their calls and insists on sending lengthy emails that they don’t want to read. I’m going to start transferring them to her when they call me, but I’m alerting you first because I think she’ll refuse to pick up. We’ve also had many leads come in asking for a phone call but she emails them instead and then we never hear from them again. We are losing business because she won’t use the phone. I won’t keep belaboring this, but I wanted to make sure you were aware of the scope of the problem.”

From there, it’s up to the owner, but you don’t need to keep picking up your coworker’s slack.

2. My coworker has her husband on video chat all day long

I work for a religious organization, and I am having a hard time because my coworker is always on a secret video chat with her husband during work hours. He can see her or us any time we are around, and he has his camera covered so we won’t see him. Her phone is always propped up and he can hear us and all of the confidential information we work with. It makes me uncomfortable and it makes me feel unsafe.

I don’t think my manager knows. She’s seen her cellphone out on her desk, but my coworker is very vigilant when she is around and she closes the app.

We do have office security cameras, which we are all aware of, and there are notices posted everywhere for them. I do not know how to talk to my coworker about it. Please help.

Well, you can start with your coworker if you want, but really, this is problematic enough that I’d go straight to your manager.

If you want to start with your coworker, you could just say, “Jane, I don’t feel comfortable having your husband hear and see me all day while I’m working, and overhearing confidential information. Could you stop leaving him on video chat all day long like that?”

But really, skip that and go to your boss — both because it’s worth escalating and because you’re going to have to do that anyway if your coworker refuses. To your boss, you can say, “I’m concerned that Jane has her husband on video chat literally all day long, which means that he can hear and see anything the rest of us do, including hearing confidential information that might be discussed. I’ve noticed she quickly closes the app when you’re around, and I figured it’s something you’d want to be aware of.”

3. What gifts do employees actually want?

I’m always struggling to figure out gift ideas for employees. What do employees actually want? On holidays? Commemorating 5/10/15/etc. years together? Or even price ranges, although that probably varies so much. If everyone is being honest, do people really just want gift cards/cash?

People vary on this — some people really appreciate thoughtful gifts picked out just for them and other people really don’t care about getting a gift from their employer and just want cash. Preferences about gifts can be incredibly personal and individual, and a gift that one person thinks is thoughtful and lovely will be thrown away by someone else.

But it’s very rare for money or additional time off not to be received well. Those are very safe, very popular choices.

4. We’re not allowed to eat at our desks, and I’m crashing without food

I work in an office that does not allow us to eat, or even snack, at our desks. We used to be able to, but our bosses decided they did not like it and have since banned it.

I, of course, eat breakfast, and then it’s a good five hours or so before I’m allowed to take my lunch break. After three hours or so of no food, I start to feel very sick. I get nauseous, my head swims, and my mouth waters. My energy level also plummets. I am not diabetic (I know this is common for people with diabetes), but I am just a person whose blood sugar sinks terribly when I do not eat for a few hours.

There are some people who will take a short break and have a yogurt in the kitchen, but my manager doesn’t like this (she thinks eating of any kind should be reserved for when we’re not on the clock). She sometimes allows it, but she tells us not to make a habit of it. So, since I would need to do this every day, I don’t think that would be an option for me. Since I have no medical condition to speak of, and rather just a sensitive body, is there anything I can do or say about this to avoid my mid-morning crash? It does hinder my work, as I start agonizing about how long there is until lunch time.

Try saying this to your manager: “I’m trying to be respectful of the new rule against eating at our desks and I know you don’t like to see people taking a break to have a snack in the kitchen. But I’m finding that my energy plummets after a few hours without food and sometimes I even get nauseous. I’d be able to stay more productive if I were able to eat a small snack at my desk, while I continue to work. Would it be okay for me to have something discreet like a pack of almonds or (fill in with whatever you want here) so that I’m able to keep my productivity and focus up?”

If your boss says no to this without a really good reason (like that you work with fragile historical documents and can’t have food around them), she’s being overly rigid and ridiculous.

5. Why are government-run career centers so often terrible?

You’ve discussed on your website before about why career centers in college are awful, but I was wondering if you could talk about why government career centers are terrible.

I went to my local, state-funded career center a couple weeks ago and while it wasn’t completely terrible, I still felt they were giving a ton of misinformation. My adviser gave me tons of packets to help me update my resume and cover letter, and I was surprised to see how boring, bland, and outright wrong some of the advice was. Some of this terrible advice in this packet includes: don’t not put your graduation date on your resume because employers might not pick you based on your age, don’t use a chronological resume if you have a large gaps between jobs, and that “resume paper selection is an important aspect of the presentation of a completed resume.” My adviser even said that in my cover letter I shouldn’t write “Dear Hiring Manager” and instead I need to search out who the hiring manager is for that company. Unless it’s specifically stated in the job posting to address it to a certain person, I have no idea why writing “Dear Hiring Manager” wouldn’t be appropriate.

Do you know why these government-run career centers give not just bad, but harmful advice to job seekers?

Largely because most of the people staffing them haven’t done significant (or any) amounts of hiring themselves, and they’re just relying on bad advice that’s been recirculating for decades. If you inquire into their credentials, you’ll generally discover that they’re pretty paltry. Unfortunately, these sorts of programs often aren’t held to a particularly high bar when it comes to quality of the services they’re providing, and as a result they’re often truly terrible.

government-run career centers are terrible
when the government requires you to listen to bad career advice
the state of Florida thinks unemployed people need capes

{ 695 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT*

    #2 I would follow Alison’s advice about going to your boss and use her script, but I would also add that you are not comfortable being on video chat and possibly being watched and listened to by her husband. If your manager isn’t inclined to shut this down, hopefully you can arrive at a solution that removes you from the feed.

    1. Jasnah*

      Also, is the coworker talking to her husband all day? I can see that being a major distraction and waste of time.

      1. P*

        It kind of sounds like she is just being watched, which is pretty creepy? LW2 didn’t really mention much chatting.

        1. valentine*

          It’s especially creepy that the husband’s hiding and I don’t imagine he makes an exception for the restroom. I would’ve reported it straightaway. I’m not going down with your ship.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I hadn’t thought of that, and it makes sense. Creepy a.f. and not something her coworkers should have to tolerate.

        3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          It certainly seems like a big red flag that there is something wrong in that relationship (Or as Captain Awkward would say, there are bees in that house!). I’m kinda getting a ‘I need to keep taps on you and what you say ALL day long’ vibe from the husband on this one. If the boss forbids the video chat I would keep an eye out that the husband is making her check in with him in other ways.

          1. Nita*

            Yes. Very bizarre and there’s a good chance the husband is controlling – although it’s also possible that the couple just has no boundaries. Either way, this should not be happening.

            1. Washi*

              The only other thing I can think of is that it’s because the husband is more aware that having his wife watch his coworkers all day is super creepy so he turns his camera off, but the wife doesn’t get how weird that is. But you would think the husband would say something in that case like “babe I don’t need a live feed of your coworker typing, that’s weird for both of us.”

              In any case, definitely should not be happening. I think the OP can rest assured that this is SO NOT NORMAL and she can say something to the coworker or manager with a clear conscience.

              1. valentine*

                I assume the husband isn’t working because what job can he do whilst listening well enough to hear men aren’t speaking to the wife/speaking to her only about work/she’s not getting it on during her break with Don?

              2. quagmire*

                Oh, I assumed he turned his camera off so it looked like her phone was black while it was on her desk, so she wouldn’t get in trouble.

          2. TheBeetsMotel*

            It’s cute (in a cloying kind of way) when Jim and Pam use the world’s tiniest Bluetooth speaker to stay on the phone all day long (on Dunder Mifflin’s dime, no less!), but even within the confines of the show I find the two of them entitled and annoying for doing that. Be apart for a while; no one is going to whither and die!

            IRL, this is creepy, possibly paternalistic and a security violation. It’s really not much different from inviting a friend to hang out with you at work all day long, which definitely wouldn’t fly in 99.9% of work environments.

          3. SquirrelsAhoy*

            Ding ding ding! This is precisely what my abusive ex required of me. I was actually terminated for this precise activity, and having come clean about the situation (not trying to steal company secrets, in an abusive relationship) the manager felt awful about having to fire me, but did so anyway. Your co-worker may be in serious danger from many fronts. I don’t know how anyone could have helped me, but boy it sucks.

            1. LeighTX*

              I’m so sorry you were fired for this; as a manager I would be afraid that firing you would make the situation worse. I’m glad you’re out of the abuse now.

        4. Labradoodle Daddy*

          Not necessarily, I have coworkers who do this. Some people just keep their SOs/family on the phone all day even if they’re not talking. I don’t get it but hey.

          1. Technical_Kitty*

            Phone is one thing, video feed is very different. And having a constant, one sided video feed between two adults ….. is weird, and reads controlling or fetish. Whatever their reason, they need to actively NOT include anyone else in their personal life.

              1. boo bot*

                This is interesting to me – when I read this letter the only reasonable explanation I could think of was a seriously controlling, possibly dangerous relationship, mainly because I’ve never seen this level of “keeping in touch” in a situation that wasn’t abusive.

                Is this maybe a regular, non-controlling thing that’s somewhat common? I posted below (although I think it got eaten) that the simplest solution would seem to be abuse, although that doesn’t affect the OP’s action plan, but I would be very happy to hear I’m wrong.

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  I took a long Uber ride a few weeks ago and the woman driver seemed to have someone – I assume her husband – on the phone even when they weren’t talking. I heard her say something about dinner plans.
                  In that case it could be to help her stay awake while driving, and so her husband knows she’s safe, and to keep her company. It seemed sweet.

              2. boo bot*

                I guess to me it seems like the what makes all the scenarios you’ve all shared (quite generously, thank you!) different is that the participants are engaged with each other, however passively. Like, even if people aren’t talking much, they’re still sometimes talking, and everyone being listened to and observed has agreed to be part of it.

                I actually totally see the value of just keeping Skype on in the background and may attempt to take it up in my own life. But not when I’m working with other people!

            1. Nic*

              I was in a long distance relationship for a while, and we would regularly leave skype on (at home!) even if we weren’t directly talking to each other. That way if we wanted to, we could, and it would be like saying something to a person across the room rather than having to stop and make a phone call. It was a way of feeling closer than distance allowed.

              But it was only at home, not in public or work where others would be awkwardly involved.

            2. Soft Gray*

              Like Nic, I’ve done some background video and/or audio calls in long distance relationships. It was actually really hard for me at first; I get some social anxiety and I hate telephones, so being on the line while not actually talking gave me anxiety spirals, but I also didn’t want to say no because, well… I loved her. I was hyper conscious of ending the passive calls when my dorm roommate came home. Me saying a sentence or two to my mic one every twenty minutes was even more irritating to her than actual phone conversations, which is fair. Plus, the creepy passive transfer of whatever she might be saying or doing.

              Fast forward some years (past one very ugly ending of the aforementioned relationship) and passive calls are something I like a lot more. I have friend groups online that met through video games who have chatrooms where any of us can hop on to “chill.” If there’s more than three people, there does tend to be conversation all the time, but anyone can listen quietly and it isn’t weird. We have one member with no mic so she’s always silent (and types into the text channel when responding). People generally mute themselves if something loud is happening, but you learn a lot about their environment over time. Like who lives near a train station, who has annoying siblings, who actually cooks dinner, etc.

              Idk, if you’re curious about any aspect in particular, I love talking about digitally mediated relationships.

            3. Josh Lyman for President*

              I used to do this while studying in grad school, but with my male best friend (I’m female). We’d just turn on Skype, and then sit at our desks in our respective apartments and study for hours at a time. It would make it less isolating to study from home, and we’d be able to chat occasionally. Basically, we were just keeping each other company.

              Granted, we NEVER did it from a public space – always at home. I wouldn’t do it while I worked though, as that seems inappropriate, even though I work from home.

          2. Cacwgrl*

            Really? I can’t understand any version of the whys on this one. Or the level of insecurity that would make this situation feel ok. I have never been in any kind of work situation where this would be acceptable.

          3. Boss Lady*

            I’ve fired people for doing that. It’s distracting to the employee and everyone else in the office. You are here to work, not keep tabs on your family.

      2. CastIrony*

        I can see why. I wonder why they’re not using a messaging app to be in “constant contact”. This is what I do with my co-twin (We are long distance right now) because we are super close, but we have unspoken understandings about how often we message each other and don’t expect the other twin to pick up right away because work is first.

        In less words, I think OP 2’s co-worker should switch to a text-based messaging app if she and her husband need to be in constant contact.

        On another note, I wonder if there’s a legitimate reason for it- maybe the husband is disabled and this is how the co-worker keeps tabs on him in case something goes wrong. Whatever the case, the co-worker can’t have unauthorized people listening to confidential info.

        1. Windchime*

          I’m more inclined to think that the husband is watching his wife at work, since he has his camera covered. It makes me suspect a controlling or abusive situation.

          1. EPLawyer*

            My thought exactly. He is making sure she is at work like she said. This is master level controlling. If it were just “I miss you all day sweetums” his video feed wouldn’t be hidden.

            This is why you need to talk to the manager not her. She knows the consequences of trying to shut it down for longer than a couple of minutes. She won’t do it. The manager has the authority she can use to protect herself (somewhat) from the consequences. Of course husband will demand proof the manager said so. Then not accept any proof.

            1. AKchic*

              This was my line of thinking too. My 1st ex-husband would have demanded something like this if we’d still been together (we were together prior to facetiming, thank goodness. Instead, he’d just call *a lot* and my managers would flat out tell him I was busy, but he’d only listen to one man he deemed “safe” and “trustworthy”, so if that manager wasn’t working, I’d better get myself to that phone or he’d show up to double check I was on shift).

          2. Jungkook*

            That’s exactly what I thought. This is sooo weird and creepy. Even though it’s not her responsibility, if I were the OP I’d try to see if I could find out more about her relationship with her husband because this isn’t something I’d be able to easily dismiss as just annoying behavior.

            1. Liet-Kinda*

              Boy, that sidles right up to reasonable workplace boundaries, and maybe even sticks a toe over the line. I really don’t think this is a helpful suggestion to OP; this is creepy, but absent other and more incontrovertible signs of abuse, I think she has no business attempting to pry into the coworker’s relationship.

            2. Michaela Westen*

              Also even if OP wanted to, there’s only so much other people can do. The person in the abusive relationship has to want to leave and take the steps to do it.
              If OP (or anyone else) tried to get involved, it’s more likely they would just become part of the drama.
              Maybe the company HR or EAP has info about properly trained resources to help the coworker.

        2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          To respond to your Devil’s Advocate theory, I think that if the husband were infirm, he would be on screen so his wife could see if he fell, or was in some type of medical crisis.
          Another possibility that doesn’t indicate that’s he’s an obsessive controlling nightmare of a human, is that she is. She wants to know where he is at all times, but since she can’t see him… yeah. That fizzled out on me.

          1. Cafe au Lait*

            Right after my aunt’s husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor, they set up a surveillance camera in the home so my aunt could monitor from work. She could see him and hear, but not vice versa.

            The LW’s situation is just creepy.

        3. LSP*

          My husband and I often chat on Hangouts throughout the day, never with video, and it’s often to just share stupid memes during a break or to ask him to pick something up at the store while he’s out, etc.

          The video aspect of this is what raises a red flag for me. If they both had their cameras uncovered, then I’d think they were maybe a little too attached. The fact that this is one-sided, that the wife is sharing her camera feed all day, while the husband is not, makes it creepy. It seems much more like spying this way, which is not something to bring into the office.

          Plus, since the coworker closes the app when her boss is around says that she knows this is not normal and not appropriate for work, and is trying to get away with something.

          These are all good reasons to raise it with management right away.

          1. Someone Else*

            It could go either way. Either his camera is covered because there’s something creepy going on that he keeps tabs on her all day but not the other way around, or his camera is covered because it makes it easier for her to obscure that she’s doing it in the office. She may think if the video on her phone is blacked out because her camera is covered, it’s less obvious to those in the room that she has the camera on/call connected all day. They may think they’re being stealthy and they’re wrong.

          2. Temperance*

            Yep. I keep Hangouts open all day and chat with my husband, but he’s not listening to my client calls or involved whatsoever in my work.

        4. Doug Judy*

          Messaging through the day is different than video all day long, every day. What on earth could possibly be that important to have your spouse on video all day? I really can’t think of an appropriate reason for this. At all.

          1. Janet (not a robot)*

            I can’t even imagine wanting to do that! My husband would die of boredom watching me sit at my computer all day. He works retail, so he’s moving around more, but even so – I can think of approximately ten million other things that would be more interesting and/or useful, than watching him selling shoes for hours on end.

            1. Doug Judy*

              Right? Most jobs the day to day isn’t interesting for the person actually doing the work, let alone someone observing them. How much work could either of them really be getting done if they are watching each other/chatting all day?

        5. Rosemary L Martin*

          No one needs to be in constant touch. They may strongly want to but if they are emotionally and mentally healthy they don’t need to.

    2. Laurelma_01!*

      I had some awful thoughts about this one. 1) Is this a form of control on the husbands part? An abusive relationship? 2) Is he posting photos’s of coworkers on the internet, etc? someone doing something self consciously that they wouldn’t want shared with the world, for example picking their nose 3) compiling data for a lawsuit against the company, management? 4) collecting confidential information clients or other employees for identify theft? credit card fraud, etc.?

  2. Observer*

    #1 – I also suggest that you start job hunting. Your boss sounds like she’s not interested in dealing with the problem, which means it’s not going to change. And it IS likely to harm the business. You don’t want to stick around for that, I think.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      Agree that it’s not the LW’s problem.

      But coming to say that perhaps Coworker has a hearing problem. Still not LW’s problem, and LW needs to escape, but a reason, not an excuse.

      1. Jenn*

        I have helped someone work around a hearing issue on the phone (he has a special phone). Sure, he had to tell me what the issue was, but as his at the time manager, it was my job to help him get the tools he needed.

        Agreed OP’s manager is not doing a good job.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        It might make sense as an add-on when OP talks to her manager (“… I don’t know if it’s a hearing problem or something else…”) but in the end, it’s not like the coworker has to listen to and act on her peers’ theories about why she won’t use a phone.

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Some people really, really don’t like to talk on the phone. Before I had a professional job I viscerally hated to even call to order pizza. Online ordering is the best thing ever. Of course once I was working I sucked it up and did what I needed to do, but I still picked out a job that would have less phone time and more email (I pretty much need proof of every conversation, so even if I phone I’ll need to email to follow up).
        I feel like this is a thing that is getting more common? When I was young it was a super strange quirk, and I was the only one I knew with the problem, but I’ve been hearing about more and more people who have issue being on the phone.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I cannot stand casual phone calls that are just to chat. I never know what to say or when it is my turn to speak, and feel extremely uncomfortable being tethered to a phone for an hour, not being able to eat, use the bathroom, do anything that requires use of both hands, just to chat with a friend or relative. Oddly, I’m pretty good at work-related calls, or business calls when I have to call someone for my household, personal finance, etc issues, and those do not bother me at all. Did 24/7 support, which required being on the phone with the end users, helpdesk, and my teammates a lot, and got nothing but good reviews for that for the six years I did it. I believe that might be because I grew up without a home phone, and did not have my own phone until I was 30. Until then, whenever we needed to call someone, it was from a pay phone, so you did not call unless you had something important to say, and you kept it brief and to the point (especially with long distance, where you had to feed the phone a new coin every few minutes). So, while I was used to making and receiving this type of business-like calls growing up, I missed the whole life stage where people spent all their free time on the phone as teenagers. Mine is definitely a unique situation. Oddly enough, my Millennial younger son loves to chat with his friends on the phone, whereas I, his GenX mom, do not. Yet another way in which our family defies stereotypes.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I’m the same way, but I think that this is because work-related calls have a purpose. I don’t have to come up with idle small talk (beyond, “Hi, how are you? Is now still a good time to talk about this?”) – it’s okay, here’s what we’ve got, here’s what I think we should do about it/here’s the additional information I need from you to move forward, I’ll do this part/you do this part, thanks for your time.

            I am much, much less awkward on the phone to do my job than I am making conversation at the holiday party!

          2. Tired*

            I live alone and casual phone calls just to chat are my lifeblood. I need to connect with other humans and texts just don’t do it for more that short exchanges. I hope people have enough compassion to realize that elderly, disabled, or home-bound people may have a need to socialize by telephone. Not everyone is fortunate enough to live with others.

            1. Lora*

              See, I’m the opposite – when I’m at work in an open office I am basically forced to socialize all day, and I delight in going home to blessed solitude. Interruptions to my concentration are the bane of my existence. If the phone rings, there had better be fire, blood, or sirens and flashing lights involved.

            2. Not a Mere Device*

              The question is whether they specifically need to socialize by phone with people who dislike chatting on the phone, or find it difficult for other reasons, rather than with friends or relatives who like talking on the phone, or with each other.

            3. Rainy*

              I think the real takeaway here is that preferred communication styles are highly individual and vary widely.

          3. Turtlewings*

            I’m similar — I can do what I called “scripted” calls, calls to a stranger for a specific purpose where I know exactly what the conversation will entail, pretty easily. But calling someone for social reasons is a hard no. It makes me overwhelmingly anxious trying to talk to someone with no visual cues, and no real idea where the conversation is going or how long it will last. The only person I will voluntarily call is my mother, and even then I prefer to FaceTime. If I even call my best friend, she’ll pick up with “What’s wrong?” because she knows I would not be calling if I had any other choice!

            All of which is to say that I sympathize with this coworker’s aversion to the phone. I use email whenever possible at my job, as well. But despite my sympathy, it’s clear that she is causing a huge problem and letting this aversion negatively impact her coworkers and her employer, and that just won’t fly. She has to either find a way to deal with it, or find a job where she won’t have to.

            1. Dr. Pepper*

              Me too. Scripted calls are my favorite. Especially when you’re talking business because when money might change hands, people are often extra polite and don’t mind repeating themselves occasionally. I’m a bit deaf, so this is important. Social calls make me want to crawl in a hole and die.

          4. TardyTardis*

            A Bluetooth setup would allow you to move around. At ExJob, we occasionally saw people with such setups wandering the halls and talking, clearly not to anyone who saw them in the halls. But it meant people who had phone calls being able to move around as needed.

        2. Hallowflame*

          I think with the rise of text-based alternatives like email and texting, younger people (me included), have been able to delay becoming desensitized to voice-only communication. In some professions, you may even be able to avoid it entirely.
          I still hate having conversations over the phone, especially if I am receiving the call, because I’m not getting any of the nuances and social ques that I would if I could see the other person’s face and body language, and I can’t censor myself the way I could via email or text.
          OP’s co-worker may have some kind of serious anxiety related to using the phone, but if that’s the case, she needs to address it or transition to a job that does not require phone use, as this one does.

          1. Jess*

            I’m an older millennial (mid-30s) and I definitely chatted with my friends on the phone in high school (cell phones were just becoming wide spread, obviously pre-smart phones and my first cell phone that I got only when I got my license & a car at 17 did not have the ability to text). Even though I had that early exposure to the talking on the phone, I and most of my same-age friends HATE it and would never call each other except maybe in an emergency (even then we’d probably text, lol) or very quickly (I’m here, I can’t see you in the crowd, are you over by the bathroom? type thing).

            I only talk to my older relatives on the phone (even there, I strongly prefer those that are capable of texting, like my mom, just text) and sometimes will call or facetime my boyfriend (who is a Gen X-er) when he is traveling for work for a whole week or something.

            My boyfriend & his friends don’t consider texting to be truly “talking” and are much more likely to talk on the phone. They do text but it wouldn’t be weird for them to call one another for a weekend chat (like it would be for me and my friends).

            That being said, at work, while I strongly prefer email or slack most of the time, I will call if I have to and recognize sometimes it’s easier to just work things out on the phone (like trying to schedule a meeting where schedules are just not lining up…there’s more room to say well maaaaybe that could work if x on the phone).

            1. many bells down*

              I’m 45, and when cell phones first became common I was like “ugh texting is so stupid! Just call me!” I spent my teenage years glued to the phone for hours; my parents were “cool” enough to give me my own line! Then I spent years in offices answering phones all day long.
              Today I hate having to make a phone call. I’ve just lost the habit, I guess.

              1. Witty Nickname*

                I’m 39 and was the same way when texting first became a thing. Now if anyone calls instead of texts me, I get really annoyed at them.

                (I also spent many hours glued to the phone as a teen – sitting in the car in our driveway, because my dad had a cell phone, but it had to be plugged in in the car, and it had free long distance so I could talk to my best friend in the next county without worrying about my parents freaking out over the phone bill).

                1. TardyTardis*

                  My daughter was like that as a teen, except at one point she had a) her cell phone going, b) the house landline going, and c) someone online with the home computer. It was really surreal…

            2. Turquoisecow*

              Yeah I’m in the same age range as you and I definitely had hours long conversations on the phone as a teenager, but my phone now is rarely used for phone calls. I recently got my mom into texting, but I usually call her about once a week to chat, especially if I’m planning to stop by for a visit or if I haven’t seen her in awhile. (She lives close enough that I can visit frequently, but it’s often a month or so between visits.)

              My husband and I have spoken on the phone to one another maybe a dozen times in the five years we’ve known each other. If either of us phones the other, we assume it’s because disaster struck. But we also see each other every day (unless he’s away on business for multiple days), so long, idling conversations can wait until later. We text throughout the day, with there being no pressure on either of us to respond immediately as we’re both working.

              I’m okay calling people for a specific reason. But I hate answering the phone, and only do so if I recognize the number. Thankfully, I don’t need to use the phone often in my work.

            3. SusanIvanova*

              It’s not generational, it’s personal. I’m from the generation that first got three-way calling, and one of my brothers adored it – his friends would daisy-chain it to get a dozen people on line at once. But my other brother and I preferred talking to our friends in person.

        3. Emily*

          I’m an “elder Millennial” who didn’t get a cell phone until I was 17 and had to pay 50cents per text, so I grew up chatting on the phone and don’t have a problem with it, perse. But I generally won’t take unscheduled phone calls because I’m always doing something else when the phone rings that I would have to stop in order to answer it, and task-switching is an area where I really struggle. I lose time and focus each time I have to do it.

          It does kind of spill over into a reluctance to place outgoing calls as well, because I get this (semi-irrational?) feeling that unless I’m not doing anything for the next half hour+ there isn’t enough time to make the call, like I’m afraid there will be some other thing I need to be doing and I’ll be stuck on the phone with my hands tied. I mostly solved that problem a few years ago when I decided to start making all my outgoing calls from the car on my commute when I’m not and can’t be doing anything else, though.

          Pre-arranged calls where my calendar has been blocked don’t give me any trouble because I can block my calendar just as I would for a meeting. Though if I’m the one arranging the call I always offer up my video conference line. Even if we don’t end up using video, the speakers on my computer are a lot louder than my phone’s speakerphone, and it’s nice to be able to share our screens to reference something we’re discussing.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            You might be on to a solution to my problem – scheduled calls! Unscheduled calls make me nervous. I guess they remind me of when my kids were very young, where you were likely to hear a baby or a toddler cry at any minute, and when that happened, you had to drop everything you were doing and take care of the baby’s or toddler’s needs for as long as it was needed. I did not enjoy that time in my life, and am certainly not excited about having to relive it now! For that same reason, I am never comfortable calling a friend just to catch up – don’t want to be that person’s baby or toddler. You are right, I should try scheduling the calls. Currently, pretty much the only person calling me at random times for a long(ish) conversations is my mom. If I see a call from her and I’m busy, I don’t pick up, and call back later. Mom has long phone chats with all of our relatives. I don’t know how she does it. But, because she does it on my entire immediate family’s behalf, I don’t have to, which is pretty great.

          2. Turquoisecow*

            I hate calling people because what if I’m interrupting something important? It’s okay if I’m calling a receptionist to make an appointment- their job is to answer the phone. But anyone else, they might be about to leave, or in the middle of a meeting, or doing something that requires their full attention.

            I like texting or email because then the person can answer when it’s convenient. Also, no awkward small talk. I used this example with my mom once – say I have a simple question for my friend. I text them the question, they text back the answer. But if I need to call them, i feel obligated to ask how they’re doing and make other small talk instead of just “Hi. Question?” I often do that anyway, but then the other person may want to take on extra conversation and the next thing you know, we’ve been on the phone for twenty minutes.

          3. SusanIvanova*

            I call my grandmother on my car phone – I adore her, I love talking to her, but she’s 95 and doesn’t have anything else to do, so being able to say “well, I’ve arrived, gotta go” means I don’t need to make up a reason to end the call.

        4. sb51*

          I hate it too. I also took a position with heavy phone usage at one point in my career, and absolutely sucked it up and no one knew I had issues or dislike of the phone while I was in that position. (I’ve been promoted out of it at the same company, which was my goal all along, and now I’m upfront about preferring IM/email/in person conversation.)

          And this sounds like a position where even if the coworker’s issues rise to the level of disability, there might not be a reasonable accommodation available if the phone is a key part of the job.

          I will note to OP, that if she dislikes phones that much and likes text-based communication, unless you’re watching her write them, the emails might take her less time than the phone call + getting her nerve up/adrenaline comedown, but that doesn’t address the fact that at least some of the customers don’t WANT emails. (Some might, though! Or texts.)

          1. Tired*

            I hate overly long emails with walls of text. Just call for heaven’s sake. Then summarize in an email. But an email outlining every little thought or point of consideration? No.

        5. Dust Bunny*

          I *loathe* talking on the phone but it’s part of my job so, yeah, I do it. I definitely don’t want my coworkers to have to pick up my slack!

        6. Ellex*

          I despise talking on the phone for a number of reasons, but when my job changed so that I had to talk on the phone more often, I sucked it up and did it. Over time and with more experience, it got easier, to the point that I just put myself in charge of answering the departmental phone line when the department I was in was downsized and lost the admin person whose job had been to answer it.

          Basically, if someone has a real phone phobia, they need to look for a job which doesn’t involve phone work. Otherwise, I feel it’s like any other dislike at work: you suck it up and do your job.

        7. Nita*

          I’m one of those people, and unless it’s an extreme anxiety situation, it’s possible that the coworker would improve with some training, and some pressure from management. It gets easier the more you do it. Only, none of this is going to happen unless the boss recognizes how much of a problem it is, and gets involved. It’s not clear from the original letter that OP said anything more than “Hey, coworker doesn’t take her calls!” to the boss, who may not realize this is more than OP’s pet peeve. I’d start with really sitting down with the boss and laying out everything she details in the letter to AAM!

        8. Dr. Pepper*

          I hate talking on the phone because I am slightly deaf and if people don’t enunciate clearly, it can be a real effort to understand them. In person, I can use visual cues to help me understand if someone isn’t speaking clearly. I try to use a cheerful, slightly self deprecating “I’m so sorry, I’m a bit deaf, could you speak up please?” when people really mumble and it usually helps enough to get us through the rest of the call. Still, I hate the phone for this reason and will avoid it if it’s reasonable. What this woman is doing is not reasonable, and it’s ridiculous that she is acting this way and it’s more ridiculous that the owner of the company (!) is allowing her to lose business over it.

        9. JeanB in NC*

          I really, really don’t like making phone calls. I’m okay when people call me, but if I have to make a call to a stranger, I don’t like it at all. I think it’s kind of the last holdover from my extreme shyness as a child, when calling someone was excruciating!

        10. Angela Ziegler*

          I think so too. Somehow I’m the only one in my friend group (despite many of them working customer service roles) that’s comfortable picking up the phone to order pizza. We literally spent at least 10 minutes one time trying to order through their website and get it to work properly. Calling it in would have taken a minute or two tops. But they just *refused* to pick up the phone.

        11. Stranger than fiction*

          Sure, generally speaking (ha), talking live on the phone is becoming less common. But in the context of working, especially at a marketing firm and with customers, you need to communicate in the customer’s preferred method. It does sound wildly tone deaf to send six page emails to technicians, who are presumably working in the field and just want a quick chat on the phone to answer their questions about your product. Whereas it sounds like coworker is sending extensive information and leaving it open ended. Sounds like a qualified salesperson should be handling this.

        12. Khlovia*

          E.g., anybody who has ever worked at a call center (raises hand) can acquire a bad and long-term case of the stomach churns (raises other hand) at the thought of talking on the phone. However, if telephone conversations are part of your job, then you either suck it up or check out your company’s EAP and say “I need hypnotherapy to overcome a phobia” or find a new job that is 100% back-room paper-shuffling rather than client-facing or something.

          As opposed to forcing a colleague to serve you as your phone receptionist.

      4. Meg*

        I’m in the coworker’s shoes — I avoid phone calls at all costs at work due to disability. And yes, I do rely on emails and instant-messaging to get around it, as well as making a ton of in-person visits. I don’t think you should force your manager’s or your coworker’s hand on this by insisting that you transfer to her. It could be a medical issue that you don’t have a need-to-know for and insisting to transfer calls is pretty rude in and of itself. I like Alison’s suggestion to have one last conversation with your manager about it (but don’t insist on transferring) and then dropping the subject while looking for a new job. When you meet with your manager, perhaps you could ask if telecommunication accommodations were ever considered (such as allowing for texting or a special phone) or if your coworker could do in-person or site visits.

        1. WellRed*

          The coworker is not doing her job, whatever the reason. If coworker needs hearing accommodations, that accommodation can’t be, ignore customer requests and let lw pick up the pieces.

          1. ThankYouRoman*

            It may actually be to openly acknowledge Coworker isn’t going to answer the phone but LW needs to be looped in. And LW should be getting an incentive to do the extra work instead of having to take it upon herself.

            1. Psyche*

              Yes. If the coworker cannot talk on the phone, then the LW needs to be looped in. And if that means job duties need to be reassigned either coworker needs to take an equal amount of LW’s work or LW should get a raise. LW should not just suck it up and let the coworker coast. In the conversation with the manager, it should be brought up that in fact the clients are not happy and are calling the LW about it.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Agree – while my sympathies are with LW’s coworker if this is a genuine issue she has, the picture LW painted is pretty awful, to be honest. The business is losing clients, LW is doing the work of two people, LW’s coworker is spending her work hours writing emails that nobody reads, and the manager/owner does not care. I agree with a commenter above that said the company might go out of business if this continues. Something needs to change here.

          3. TootsNYC*

            and it also can’t be “write really long and hard-to-read emails to answer questions”

            She might be able to mitigate a lot of it if she wrote better emails!

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Right? I actually like it when work or business discussions are in writing, this way I’m unlikely to run into the “no, I never said that I would do that”, “no that wasn’t what I meant”, “that never happened”, etc. type of situations later. But 5-6 pages seems a bit excessive, and can probably be condensed into 5-6 bullet points with a “please feel free to get in touch if you need more details or have questions” at the end.

          4. valentine*

            Using the phone is a necessary job duty. The owner’s letting her get away with not doing it, but losing business and OP1 doing all the phone work isn’t reasonable or sustainable. Transferring the calls is returning the BS to sender. I would transfer them to the owner so she can appreciate how large the issue is.

        2. Health Insurance Nerd*

          Transferring a call to the person who is supposed to be managing the client is in no way rude. It’s unreasonable that this woman is not doing her job, and expecting her coworker to pick up the slack. The issue should absolutely be forced, as it is costing the company business.

          1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            Honestly, its the most courteous option towards the client in many cases. You know you’re not the appropriate person to answer the call, you know the right person is around, so you transfer in order to save the client the trouble of hanging up and dialing again.

            Forcing her client to deal with the coworker if they call is rude to the client as well as the coworker. If there is a medical issue, that needs to be documented and the coworker needs expectations from her manager. Also, frankly, it would be best to set expectations for the client.

            1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

              To be clear, I meant that if the person who doesn’t want to use the phone forces the client to deal with LW, that’s rude.

            2. Yorick*

              Yes! The clients wouldn’t be so upset if she said she has a hearing problem and needs to communicate differently.

              1. Stranger than fiction*

                Exactly! If that’s the case, they could set up a live chat option on their website or something like that.

        3. Baby Fishmouth*

          But the thing is that this is impacting the OP’s workload. If it is a disability, then the manager can work with the coworker to find a reasonable accommodation – but that shouldn’t mean that the OP has to pick up all the slack and talk to all of coworker’s clients when they call.

          And it’s not rude to transfer phone calls to the person who is supposed to be taking the phone calls! The OP is likely not able to answer every question that the clients have, because why should she know everything about them if they aren’t even her clients?

        4. Parenthetically*

          insisting to transfer calls is pretty rude in and of itself

          It really isn’t.

          “Hey, I need to know XYZ thing from Jane but I can’t get ahold of her.”
          “She’s at her desk right now, let me transfer you.”

          Jane is the one being inconsiderate by expecting LW to answer questions and manager HER clients in addition to LW’s own. If Jane does have a disability, she needs to be the one to seek accommodation, and the LW has absolutely no obligation to play guessing games that she miiiiiight have a disability, and accommodate her as though she does. It’s not LW’s job to provide accommodations, nor to try to sneakily suggest them to Jane’s boss.

          1. Observer*

            LW has absolutely no obligation to play guessing games that she miiiiiight have a disability, and accommodate her as though she does.

            In fact, outside of situations where there is an obvious issue, or where there are other significant clues that there is a problem, guessing at disability can open an employer to some significant problems.

        5. CandyCorn*

          It’s not LW’s fault that co-worker refuses to do her job properly, whatever the reason, and she should not have to pick up the slack. Also, I think speculating that she has a disability that no one knows about is really reaching.

        6. NotAnotherManager!*

          Transferring calls is not inherently rude, especially if the person to whom you’re transferring it is the person best-positioned to answer the question. My team tends to assign a primary point of contact for particular items or have people who are specialized in X but not Y. You get the customer to the person who can best help them.

          And, if this issue IS medically related, then the employee needs to request and the employer needs to find an accommodation that does not involve dumping this phone-phobic coworker’s job on OP and missing out on business because Coworker can’t or won’t perform part of her job.

        7. Liane*

          OP says that her coworker has been at this job much longer than she has. Which means Coworker has had plenty of time to deal with their Work Phone Issue in a professional way, whether the cause is any type of disability or not. In other words, by “Talking with Owner about accommodations for disability that makes phoning difficult/impossible” or, in case of dislike, “Getting a new job that’s a better fit–no phone duties.”

          Handling Work Phone Issue professionally does NOT look like, “Combo of foisting job duties on colleagues and running off current and potential clients.”

        8. Observer*

          It doesn’t matter why the the coworker is not taking calls the reality is that they are NOT doing their job, and the OP needs to be able to depend on the manager doing their job.

          So, sure, start with a conversation with the boss. But if that doesn’t work, ie no one finds a reasonable way to deal with the problem, the OP most definitely SHOULD force the issue. It’s either that or continue to bear the brunt of an issue that is not the fault nor their responsibility.

        9. A tester, not a developer*

          In any of my jobs where my co-workers have had to deal with my disability accommodations, they weren’t specifically told about why the accommodation was in place, but there was every effort to make sure that the work was being distributed fairly. If the manager wants to have LW handle phone communications for ALL clients, and coworker handles written communication, that’s something that should be discussed. But to say “handle all your clients, and coworkers clients too” doesn’t seem reasonable.

        10. Stranger than fiction*

          Interesting perspective. Although you presumably have a process in place to get around this, and don’t overload your customers with lengthy emails.

      5. Trout 'Waver*

        Whether the coworker has a hearing problem is completely irrelevant. There are all sorts of people with and without hearing problems that manage to answer the phone.

        Also diagnosing over the internet is against the commenting rules.

      6. MsChanandlerBong*

        That is a good point. At one of my jobs (second-worst job I ever had), everyone else in my department had a multi-line phone with a volume control that went from 1 to 9. I, on the other hand, had a cordless phone with two volume settings. I could not hear people on either setting. Having to call someone or take a call filled me with panic because I literally could not hear a word the other person said. There were times that I could not even tell if the other person was still on the phone.

      7. Observer*

        It doesn’t really matter WHY the coworker is doing it, on a practical level. The manager needs to deal with it, and so far is refusing to do so.

      8. Liet-Kinda*

        I have a hearing problem. I work at a place where people are fairly old-school and occasionally you just have to pick up the phone and call them. I use a hearing aid compatible phone, I turn up the volume, and I deal.

    2. Mazzy*

      I had a coworker like this years ago and I used to have to coordinate equipment installations. One time I was completely overwhelmed when we were understaffed, and this coworker – who made more than me- decided to just email everyone a wall of text that was 1- an intro 2 – telling them what day and time we were coming and 3 – telling them what we were going to do. In other words, he was useless. He was very afraid of the phone as well. Obviously you can’t do all those things via email. It usually took me 3 to 5 phone calls to coordinate an installation. When I explain this to my boss when I came back from a day off when these emails happened, he was furious, and this was one of the events that led to me getting a huge raise, because he thought it was ridiculous that I had been making less than this guy (who’d been there before he became the manager, so he didn’t decide to pay him so much). My manager said I HAD to earn more than this guy no matter what

    3. :-)*

      My suggestion as well.
      It is not fair to OP to *always* cover Co-workers lack of communication via phone nor is it fair to the customers.

      IF it is something about a hearing-problem, co-worker should mention this. She cannot expect OP to figure it out on her own and left to deal with the (I assume sometimes even angry) calls from customers who are overwhelmed with the information through e-mails.
      Changes need to be made to offer a better work-environment for both the OP as the co-worker if a (hidden) disability is the root of this problem. (I say this as person with a hidden disability, I inform my co-workers why I sometimes cannot do something – I don’t explain it in detail, I just say that I cannot lift certain things because of Medical condition X).

      But if it is just co-worker refusing to pick up the phone because she hates/fears it, and the manager is not doing anything about it so OP is left to always pick up the slack… I’d get out of there.

      1. Izzy*

        Yes! It’s really not fair to the OP to leave her to deal with annoyed callers all the time – when I worked reception I had a few colleagues who just didn’t like or feel like taking calls and would mostly tell me to make some excuse to the caller. Let me tell you, if someone is annoyed enough there’s only so many times you can do the “she’s in a meeting”/“her line’s engaged”/“she’s unavailable right now” thing without it getting very uncomfortable, and the OP didn’t sign up to be the person who has to deal with that.

        1. Ashlee*

          Yes, I have dealt with this situation. The membership manager (we are a museum) will not answer her phone or return calls. I speak to at least 5 upset members every week who cannot get in touch with her. I spoke to my direct boss (the ED) , who spoke to her direct boss and nothing changed. Her direct boss is the type who wants to be friends with his employees and not actually address the problem. And he wonders why memberships are falling.

          1. T. Boone Pickens*

            The fact the other co-worker is writing FIVE or SIX page emails instead of handling client questions via phone is mind boggling to me. How long does it take to write this email?!? The sheer amount of wasted productive hours has to be staggering. On the other hand, if this agency is billing clients by the hour than the other coworker is an evil, unethical genius who has found a way to bilk clients out of money.

    4. Jessabee*

      Someone mentioned it below, but it sounds like OP’s coworker is an all around terrible communicator – potential disabilities aside, I’m not going to speculate on those. Coworker won’t talk on the phone, but she’s also not communicating effectively via email. Ideally, work emails are efficient, but you can write longer ones if circumstances allow. It is now more than clear that in this case they don’t.

      OP, you do not have to diagnose co-worker’s limitations nor do you need to pick up the slack. I highly recommend Alison’s advice of returning the calls, and workload, to co-worker and your manager. Maybe once they have to deal with the actual consequences of co-worker’s poor communication style by transferring repeat callers to the manager if co-worker doesn’t respond, they’ll finally coach her on her email/phone skills. Good luck!

  3. Sami*

    4 — You may be hypoglycemic, which is a legitimate medical condition. If you talk to your doctor, you may get written proof. Then you’d be in a better stance with your boss about having a snack. Good luck!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I was going to say the same thing—if the manager pushes back (which no reasonable person should do), OP should consider getting ADA accommodation. There’s a split in the courts over whether hypoglycemia counts, but I think there’s a strong argument to be made for not having your employees get woozy and nauseated.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        If it is hypoglycemia, blood sugar meters aren’t terribly expensive, and can quite objectively document what’s going on. The slip side is that if it is purely a blood sugar issue, there’s an easy solution. You don’t need to *eat* to bring it back up. Just keep a soft drink, or coffee with sugar in it. or some other “liquid sugar” (or even glucose tablets), handy. 30 seconds with a can of Coke by the water cooler will take care of low blood sugar.

        1. Perfectly Particular*

          Oooh… this strategy is good for emergencies, but is not recommended for daily use. IANAD, but according to the medical community, hypoglycemia puts patients at greater risk for eventually developing diabetes, so a daily dose of concentrated sugar would not be ideal.

          1. designbot*

            Agreed. I am prediabetic and experience similar issues but put myself at risk of full blown diabetes if I rely on sugar like that. The better strategy for me has been to really focus on low GI (glycemic index) foods for breakfast. Lots of protein, whole grains, and veg. If I have carbs for breakfast I can feel the low blood sugar coming on two hours later, but if I have protein I can make it through. YMMV because bodies are weird and particular, but it’s worth a try.

        2. Working with professionals*

          Taking only a “sugar shot” will spike your blood sugars up but they will then crash again. You would need to follow the sugar with a protein to prolong the energy boost and reduce the stress on your body.

          1. Genny*

            Yep, as someone who has hypoglycemia, this is exactly right. Many nutritionists/doctors recommend against using sugary drinks to adjust blood sugar levels. Much like diabetes, you need complex carbs, fats, proteins, and frequent feedings.

        3. Psyche*

          I was going to suggest trying something like Ensure or Boost. It has some protein and fat and might be a better snack. If liquids are allowed that might be a good work around. I do it all the time because I have hypoglycemia and cannot always take the time to eat something or forget until it is somewhat urgent. The sugar helps immediately and the protein and fat make sure I don’t crash.

          1. Flash Bristow*

            Yep, I’m prescribed Complan Shake (tho you can buy it OTC) – mix a sachet with 200ml milk, and you have a nutritionally balanced meal replacement of 300 calories.
            I prefer banana, then strawberry – chocolate can be a little gritty sometimes. Don’t bother with vanilla unless you really like the taste of milk…

            … and please don’t do the sugar hit thing. As a naïve teen, I went on a Duke of Edinburgh’s award hike. After a while, one girl fainted. We did what we’d been taught and fed her a chocolate bar. Fine. After 20 minutes, down she went again! Repeat. After the third iteration we were in a position close enough to a road, where we could send half the group to go for help. We probably should have done that sooner but we just didn’t know. But it taught me about blood sugar!

            That said, while having a meal replacement drink may be a work-around to the problem, it’s ridiculous that the issue exists in the first place. OP I think you have every right to ask for an allowance on this issue, provided your snack is discreet and not pungent – some raisins for example – and if your boss won’t make an allowance, go to the docs and get them to write a letter saying you need it. I get that your boss maybe doesn’t want stuff getting out of hand, but a small snack mid morning makes sense if they actually want productive staff. My last workplace allowed me to pop out for 20 minutes mid afternoon, on the basis that we are adults and do what is necessary to be in the best shape to do our job. I hadn’t realised until now how lucky I was!

        4. blink14*

          I have hypoglycemia, no diabetes in sight, hypoglycemia is just in my family. I have snacks and lunch at very strict times during the work day, as I’ve found that’s the best way to manage it. I can be less rigid on my dinner time, but if I’m going to be eating dinner past a certain time, I have a snack to tide me over.

          In my experience, if I go past a certain point, I feel screwed up for 2-3 days. If I’m feeling a little lightheaded, a good snack will fix it (I usually go with pretzels or peanut butter crackers, or in a pinch, candy), but if I get to the point where I’m nauseous, feel very lightheaded, and my hands are shaking, I need to eat IMMEDIATELY and not just a quick snack. Even after I eat and start to feel back to normal, it takes my body a couple of days to recover fully. The best practice with hypoglycemia is to be ahead of the game and eat every 3-4 hours, so you don’t have a blood sugar drop. Once you do, there’s a fine line between eating something quick to make it to a meal time, and needing to eat a full meal right away.

    2. de Pizan*

      And if it’s not hypoglycemia, such rigidity is ridiculous for other reasons–maybe people have to take a medication at a certain time and it needs to be with food, or people with IBS/Crohn’s/other digestive issues can do better with smaller more frequent meals rather than 3 bigger ones, or someone who’s diabetic needs to eat when their blood sugar crashes, or they’re pregnant, or a million other reasons. Being so rigid about it and not wanting to make exceptions is essentially going to force employees to disclose medical issues to a manager that they really might not need to otherwise.

      1. gmg22*

        Agreed. This blanket ban on eating anytime other than one’s lunch break strikes me as treating the employees like children (except worse, because children get snack time).

        1. JessaB*

          The thing that gets me is that there seems to be no break between start of day and lunch, I’ve never worked anywhere that didn’t give a ten or fifteen minute break mid morning. Very weird.

              1. Jadelyn*

                There isn’t. It’s down to state-by-state at that point (potentially even city-by-city, as it’s been getting more popular for major cities to pass their own labor laws to “fill in the gaps” in state or federal law), assuming OP is in the US.

                OP, check your state dept of labor website and see if there’s anything about required breaks.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I would suggest checking with her state Labor Department; states often have rules about breaks. There can be exceptions (exempt employees, for example), but that would be good info to have.

            (even if a person isn’t covered, it’s still a useful benchmark for a conversation)

    3. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Seriously. I wouldn’t say “my energy drops” since that sounds a little vague. You can legit say “after more than four or so hours, my blood sugar drops and I need to eat.” 100% factual since that’s what happens when you don’t eat.

      I don’t at all like the idea of the OP asking permission to freaking eat. Just go about your business and take a break in the kitchen and eat what you need to. Then if your boss gets shirty, just cheerfully say “I know you don’t want people eating at their desks so that’s why I came in here to have snack and make sure my blood sugar doesn’t plummet!” like of course this is what normal people would do. “I understand your concerns but I have to make sure my blood sugar doesn’t get too low.” Rinse and repeat.

      I know it’s easy for me to give advice from over here but you have to be willing to stand up for yourself. The best thing I ever learned about work was “no one is going to advocate for me but me”. Good luck OP.

      1. Stinky Socks*

        “My blood sugar drops, I feel faint, I get nauseous,” are all really valid *specific* concerns to raise with your boss. What a stupid, stupid policy!

      2. kittymommy*

        yeah, I don’t really like the “my blood sugar drops” either. I think there should be more emphasis on the nausea, dizziness, and any other specific symptoms. Just saying one’s blood sugar drops is so vague it will likely result in suggestions for the LW to just eat more protein packed and/or larger meals at lunch and breakfast. The boss sounds so overly rigid and inflexible that I would avoid anything even remotely vague.

      3. Janet (not a robot)*

        Agreed. I think this is a situation that calls for “ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” Not that OP should need either, as she’s not doing anything wrong! But I do think you’ll get better results by just doing what you need to do, than going to the boss and asking her ahead of time.

    4. T3k*

      What I was thinking. I suffer from this and it got so bad I actually passed out once from waiting too long to eat (was fasting for blood work) so definitely speak up. I don’t think you’ll like the idea of your coworkers picking you up off the floor should you pass out (though that might get the point across, albeit at a extreme level <.< )

    5. Jenn*

      I am pregnant and while I don’t have a blood sugar issue, I can get super hungry or dizzy quickly. I have also had the experience of meetings or calls running way, way over through lunchtime.

      If OP’s boss is going to be a big jerk about it, I would suggest OP try something like juice or milk. This may be personal, but right now milk helps me bounce back from feeling crappy very quickly, but isn’t “food” per the boss’s particular weirdness.

      The boss is being ridiculous though. Even before I got pregnant, I would tend to smaller portions through the day because bigger lunches would make me sleepy.

      1. NewMom*

        I was hypoglycemic during pregnancy. And hypotensive.
        There was so. much. fainting.
        Add the nausea to that, and I basically needed to *constantly* eat. Just little bites, but I needed to eat every 10 minutes or so. Everyone around me was sympathetic and understanding, particularly since I often shared my snacks (I swear my baby was like 1/2 made of almonds when he was born).

      2. SavannahMiranda*

        Milk does the trick for me too. Along with V8 Juice.
        I’m hypoglycemic, and when I get the nasty hungries (or to head off the nasty hungries) I need protein, fat, and some moderate carbs.
        I’ll down a pint of full-fat, whole milk, follow that up with some water, and then down a pint of original V8 Juice. Doesn’t sound like the tastiest combo, which is why I drink water in the middle.
        If I was in the LWs shoes I would be ticked. off. And making an appointment to get a doctor’s note. And in the meantime, carrying milk and V8 to work with me everyday. Along with some Boost and other protein shakes.
        What a rigid, ridiculous, nannyfying boss.

    6. Baguette*

      I get like this too! My doctor says I’m sensitive to insulin, so I just need to have regular periods of eating throughout the day. Fruit juice helps me a lot too. At my last 2 jobs (retail) my bosses knew that if I didn’t eat for a few hours I would feel really drained and sick, so they were both always super nice about it. I couldn’t imagine being told that I was forbidden to eat anything unless on a break! It seems so unnecessarily restrictive, like rules about bathroom breaks.

    7. EPLawyer*

      I agree, #4. You say you don’t have a medical condition, but you might. Go to the doctor. If you get a doctor’s note saying you need a snack every so often, hopefully your manager will then be more reasonable.

      I found out the hard way I was anemic. All your symptoms but I was driving at the time — and passed out. Totalled the car but didn’t hit anyone else and get hurt. No it wasn’t scary, I was unconscious while it happened.

      1. Lilo*

        I do want to say though that, even if OP doesn’t have a medical condition, they have the right to decide how they eat. The three meals a day thing doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s okay.

        1. :-)*


          If I eat at 7 in the morning, arrive around 8 at work, I’m definitely going to eat something small at around 10:30 before lunchbreak at 12:30.
          It is a medical condition: called being a human being that needs to eat to perform well.

          1. Workerbee*

            This! I eat every two hours or so during the day, and have done so since my teens; I don’t have a condition other than being human. I hope OP can get to a reasonable compromise with this ridiculous policing.

        2. Alanna*

          Yes, this!! Adults should be able to decide when they eat, and if there is no legitimate reason to restrict eating in the workplace (and there is a break room!), let your employees manage their meals. It’s not high school. This seems like a workplace that’s going to start tracking bathroom breaks next.

      2. Fish girl*

        I completely agree with getting a dr’s note saying that you need to eat every couple of years. It doesn’t have to list a condition, just saying “Such and such is my patient. Due to her medical needs, she needs to eat a small snack every ___ hrs”. It wouldn’t fly for getting “official” ADA accommodation, but should be enough to get your manager to back off. I know my primary care dr. would be more than willing to write a note like that even without a diagnosable condition, if I explained how waiting too long to eat was making me feel.

          1. Dance-y Reagan*

            That’s what you get for hiring snakes. One water buffalo every other summer, and I’m good to go.

        1. Kit-Kat*

          Agree! This happened to me in high school when my class schedule forced me to take the latest lunch and I’m pretty sure that’s what my doctor wrote to allow me to have snacks (well, hours lol). I understand more regulating this with high school kids who are a little more likely to be obnoxious with snacks. But OP is an adult.

    8. MLB*

      While it could be a legit medical condition, I also wonder what LW is eating for breakfast. I don’t have a medical condition, but if I only eat carbs (like cereal) after a few hours, I get sweaty, shaky and feel like I’m going to pass out. If I eat protein in the morning I’m perfectly fine until lunch.

      All of this being beside the point, because manager is being a wank.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        Weirdly, I’m the opposite. Cereal keeps me full much longer than eggs. But I think we can trust the LW to know how she works– getting dizzy and nauseous isn’t just “hungry”.

        1. Psyche*

          We don’t know whether she has tried switching up what she has for breakfast. It didn’t occur to me that eating a bagel for breakfast was why I kept passing out if I didn’t eat again for a few hours until my doctor told me. Now I eat eggs and no longer faint two hours after eating.

      2. Ellex*

        I have breakfast at work because if I eat within an hour after getting up, I tend to feel nauseous. I get to work about an hour and a half after getting up, which is the perfect time for me to eat.

        I’ve been pretty lucky to have jobs at which I could eat any time I liked, including snacking at my desk. I’m well known for having and sharing little goodies.

      3. nonegiven*

        OMG, my mom fed me cereal for breakfast. I’d feel bad for 2-3 hours before lunch. She gave me oatmeal, saying it would stick to my ribs. I decided ‘stick to my ribs’ must not mean what I thought. The few times she fed me eggs, I made it to lunch no problem.

    9. boo hoo*

      It could be but I think manager is way overstepping here. There are many good reasons health wise to eat small meals during the day and if an employee is taking a quick break anyway I cannot see how eating a granola bar is an issue. I really think the manager is out of line here. It’s one thing to not allow it at their desks but another to not allow it at all.

      1. gmg22*

        Yep. This is like “Devil Wears Prada”-type craziness. This rigidity about a basic human need (to occasionally eat) is just the kind of thing that makes workplace morale go down the tubes.

      2. Sarcastic Fringehead*

        I can see how management might want to ban eating at desks after, say, one too many keyboards ruined by spilled soup, although I don’t think it’s a great approach. But getting snippy when people take a quick break to grab a yogurt in the breakroom is an indication that you think your employees should be robots without human needs, and that’s a quick way to get people to hate working for you.

    10. Emily*

      LW #4, you should definitely pursue these suggestions and try to secure the right to eat more often as that’s the simplest and most reasonable solution.

      But, if you have trouble getting your boss’s agreement because he’s an ogre, you might have some luck if you switch to lower-carb/higher-fat breakfasts if you aren’t on them already. A few years back I had to go on a special medical diet for a few months to correct a hormonal imbalance which required me to fast for 5 hours between all meals, and I quickly discovered that I would be starving 3 hours after a bagel or bowl of cereal, but I could pretty easily go 5 hours after eating something like scrambled eggs with cheese or a chicken-apple sausage. Insulin/blood sugar is primarily modulated by carbohydrates, and fat helps regulate your hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin, for longer.

    11. Battlebot*

      #4 says that they have diabetes. If this is the case, then the manager is causing a serious health risk. If there’s an HR at your work, go there.

    12. Nita*

      This. If you get medical documentation, you’re in a much better position to push back. I deal with the same thing, and it’s neither good for you, nor good for your productivity (that last bit may hit home with your boss). I’ve never quite gotten this thing diagnosed because it’s so easy to keep under control by eating more often than most people. However, I’m sure there is something that can be documented by a doctor, if you go looking for it.

    13. Anlina S.*

      Ask your doctor about reactive hypoglycemia.

      You may be able to manage your symptoms somewhat with low glycemic index foods if that’s what it is.

      This is a medical condition, and potentially a safety issue. It can impact your focus and cognitive function.

    14. Mediamaven*

      Totally agree. This letter infuriated me. I’m hypoglycemic and mornings are when I do most of my eating because that is when I’m feeling unwell. This manager is terrible to forbid people from eating and I don’t think she should have to prove anything. This person policing her employees nutrition is a jerk. It’s not pre school. I think she needs to say listen, I can’t go 5 hours without food. Period.

    15. Kitrona*

      That’s exactly what I was going to say. I’m hypoglycemic (which, oddly, has some correlation with having ADHD… I need to do more research on that! not to say that OP has ADHD, just that it can be part of someone’s genetic makeup without inevitably leading to diabetes) and on days when I have back-to-back classes, I have to eat in between (or even in, thank gods for understanding professors!) classes or I get shaky and snarly and that’s no way to learn.

      1. Oranges*

        Huh interesting. I hate when I get shaky hungry because no matter how much I eat my body is still demanding foods for a very long time afterwards

    16. Burt Macklin's brother Chip Hackman*

      OP – if you’re boss refuses to budge, if you’re allowed to have drinks at your desk you may want to look into drinking something like a protein shake/drink or a smoothie of some sort to at least give you some protein/fat/sugar to hold you over until lunch. But your boss is being ridiculous either way if they don’t give you a good reason for not allowing food at your desk

  4. Observer*

    #2- Absolutely, go to your boss. I know that the usual advice is to talk to your coworker yourself first, but this is different. This is not just an interpersonal issue, but a serious breach of confidentiality. Even if your coworker does something so that her husband doesn’t see you, your boss needs to know that she’s been exposing confidential data like this.

    1. Coconut Oil*

      I would also be afraid of the reason why she is video chatting all day where she is the only one on camera. This relationship isn’t a healthy one, and I’m not trying to over reach here or am I saying the co-worker is being abused but this relationship has a huge red flags that would indicate abuse. Personally I would start to be afraid for my safety at this point, and would not in any way be the one to talk to the co-worker because she is going to immediately tell the boyfriend. If I was OP I would go to my manager to let her know I was going to HR. This needs to be escalated not only is PHI information being shared but the boyfriend know knows details and can put faces to names and that is not ok.

    2. Anon Anon Anon*

      And the fact that she’s trying to keep it a secret is going to make it hard to address with her. She might deny it or get better at hiding it or even try to retalliate.

      I would talk to the boss and ideally talk to her privately on the same day. There is a chance that this is part of an abusive / dysfunctional relationship dynamic so I think it’s important to give the coworker a chance to open up about it privately, although the boss could also be the one to have that conversation with her.

    3. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      Also…how are you going to talk to her about this when her husband is eavesdropping on every conversation, unless you grab her in the bathroom

  5. Greg NY*

    #2: This sounds like a letter we had a while ago about a woman who was in a very patriarchal marriage, and it was affecting her job (if I recall, eventually she quit on her own because her husband no longer wanted her working outside the home). I get this impression because the husband has his camera covered. Having your husband looking over you in a workplace is something that is just not done in Western society. Given the confidential information involved, this cannot continue. Starting with her isn’t a bad idea, but I doubt you’ll get anywhere, so speaking to the manager will probably come in short order no matter what.

    1. DD*

      Agreed- my first thought was that it sounds like this coworker is in a very dysfunctional, controlling relationship. Definitely talk to your manager about shutting this down.

    2. Janet*

      This coworker is definitely in a controlling relationship where her spouse is monitoring her all day. Recording the office goings on all day would be a fireable offense at my company. Even if it’s not at yours, your manager still needs to know.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, it could be a controlling relationship or it could be something else. The first thing I thought of, actually, was that episode of the Office where Pam and Jim are connected by bluetooth all day long while she’s working in New York. Not the same thing, but it could easily be some ridiculous “we must be in constant contact” thing that isn’t based on patriarchal control.

      1. KarenT*

        My first thought was actually some kind of fraud–that the co-workers husband had use of this confidential info.

      2. JamieS*

        I think having your spouse, or anyone, always watching over you at work is inherently controlling even if the reasoning behind it has nothing to do with wanting to control you. Regardless, that was more of an aside, main takeaway from Greg’s post is going to the coworker will likely be a wasted effort so best to go straight to the manager.

      3. Willis*

        I immediately thought of that episode as well. One of several times they crossed the line between being cute and “geez, I’d hate to work around these two.”

      4. Shy octopus*

        Curious, how would your advice change if the coworker was watching a video feed of her baby? I’ve experienced this and found it to be slightly problematic because it’s clearly preoccupying, but not a security risk (more of a loving Jim & Pam togetherness thing).

        1. Aveline*

          But this is someone watching the people at the company and not someone at the company watching their kid or pet.

          His camera is covered. He’s warching them. They aren’t watching him.

          1. Shy octopus*

            Right–noted that there’s not surveillance risk with a baby or dog camera.

            I see the OP’s issue as twofold:
            1. Coworker is distracted all day with app on in the background.
            2. Coworker’s husband is covertly listening and watching the office all day.

            Taking away issue #2, I’m wondering how that impacts the advice and how to handle.

        2. ssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          Watching a video feed of her baby all day AT work? If I were here manager, I would tell her to stop it when working and check in only during breaks and lunch. There’s no way that parent is being truly effective at work if watching the baby thru a feed. Which begs the question: who’s watching the baby at the other end?

          1. Julia*

            Yeah, this seems like the super unsafe equivalent of “working from home” when you have no other childcare. But that’s not even the case here. Co-worker isn’t watching anyone, she is being watched.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I’m pretty sure it would be daycare or a nanny watching, while the parent checks in via feed. Some centers had video cameras that you could sign into with a password and see what the 3 year old class is doing at the moment.

            1. Anon Anon Anon*

              If I had a kid, that would be me. I check and see what my dog is doing when I’m not home. (Not very interesting. A: Sleeping B: looking out the window and barking at something.)

        3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          I have more experience with a coworker watching the doggie day care cam, which I didn’t find super problematic. Of course she didn’t leave it open all the time, but just checked in occasionally. It wasn’t really consuming viewing, just glancing over now and then like checking in with your sports team when you are doing other things. “Dog seems happy, moving on” type situation. Could be different with kids, although I can’t imagine it would be much more interesting.

        4. Flash Bristow*

          Assuming the baby can’t make use of confidential information, and there’s no one else present listening or watching who can, then the main issue would be how much of a distraction it is to the coworker (which is an issue for the manager, not you).

          But that’s getting hypothetical. I think the issue in this case is that coworkers feed is being followed by an adult, who is able to see and hear others at work. That’s just not acceptable.

      5. Aveline*

        That doesn’t explain him having HIS camera covered. Given that fact, it’s either controlling or creepy.

        If it were wanting contact, it would be a two way street.

        In any event, whatever is going on between the spouses, LW has a right not to be watched and the husband can overhear confidential info. So it’s a double strike even without getting into the dynamics of the marriage.

        1. Genny*

          In theory, he may not be blocking his camera intentionally. It could be that his work computers don’t have a webcam or that his company’s IT systems somehow block video/streaming. It does sound super controlling to me, but there are other possible, those less likely, scenarios.

      6. Aveline*

        PS, if they are in California and he is hearing LWs conversations or the conversations of others, it’s illegal.

        All party consent allows incidental eavesdropping in places of employment, but husband would not be covered as he’s not an employee.

      7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My first thought was “Aww, cute”, too, but then I remembered that the husband has his webcam covered. This does not add up to a picture of a couple so deeply in love that they have to look at each other all day, in my opinion.

        But, whatever the reason, he’s watching and listening in to what goes on in OP’s office and that is not normal.

      8. ThankYouRoman*

        I would be more likely to lean towards “awww they’re attached at the hip!” if his camera wasn’t covered.

        He’s watching her but she’s not watching him? That’s some relationship Nanny Cam nonsense.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sure. Or it could be that she wants to be in constant contact all day and he was like “fine, I’ll do audio but I don’t want to be on camera all day.” Who knows. It’s all speculation.

      9. boo hoo*

        I thought of Jim and Pam too. My husband and I have done this once or twice, but for 20 mins not the whole day. He works with insanely confidential information, not that I could ever see any, and would never dream of having me on a call when it was present or he was speaking to someone. Ours was really being on far different time zones at the time and having a few mins of face time while he typed away.

      10. Lizzy May*

        That’s about where my mind went too. I was once an RA and I had a fellow RA who had no romantic experience. Then she got into a long-distance relationship. They had each other on Skype from the second they woke up until they went to bed. Half the time they wouldn’t even be in front of the camera, it was just about being able to talk to each other. If I was working with her one night doing rounds of the building, you just couldn’t go into her room because he was always there. It made it difficult to talk about resident issues and it made it impossible for her residents to go to her with any problems. Ultimately she became the worst coworker because you couldn’t communicate with her or trust that she understood boundaries and maintain confidentiality.

        In that case, these were too immature people who felt like they needed some sort of tangible connection because they didn’t have the experience or the depth in their relationship to just be connected.

        I can think of many reasons that this is happening. None of them are good, but ultimately the result is the same. You stop feeling like you can even be around the coworker or talk to them because someone else is always listening and that’s bad for the team and bad for the business.

        1. Dr. Pepper*

          I really hope it’s more of a “silly” reason than the much more serious reason my mind immediately went to. “Ugh, creepy!” was my first thought.

      11. Elizabeth*

        I thought it was a very controlling thing too, at first, and possibly even abusive.

        But even if it is just “we want to be in constant contact,” they still have some serious issues to work out. Normal, logical people know that it’s very common to be gone from your spouse while at work, and they handle it just fine (no offense to Pam and Jim, hehe!).

      12. boo bot*

        The reason for the behavior doesn’t affect the answer – regardless, the boss should know about it (and put a stop to it!) but I actually think the Occam’s razor solution here is some kind of dangerously controlling relationship, mainly because it’s every day. Other explanations take some dreaming up (at least to me) while all kinds of abuse are depressingly common.

        I say that only because if the OP wanted to get hold of some local DV hotline numbers to have on her desk and/or put in the bathroom, that’s never a bad idea.

      13. wow*

        Right, because Pam and Jim were models of good employees with no co-dependency issues or terrible work habits. Alison, I assume you chose this comment to fight back on because it was made by Greg and not one of your usual hive-mind followers.

        1. Doug Judy*

          I think the point was that their behavior/reason for doing this isn’t necessarily abusive. Not that it isn’t wrong. It’s inappropriate regardless of the “why”.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, I chose it because it was the first one here at the time (14 minutes after the post went up) saying it had to be abusive. Which I don’t believe it does.

          There’s no endorsement there of Jim and Pam’s relationship. How odd.

      14. Lucille2*

        Alison is right, there is a possibility this isn’t a controlling thing. I’ve had a few coworkers video chat spouses while at work but it’s more like an occasional thing or when a colleague is visiting from an international office. Perhaps the husband is out of the country and during her business hours is the only time they can chat. But the fact she’s doing it in secret while she’s discussing confidential info makes it really not ok. And doing it all day is pretty weird. I wouldn’t rule out the red flags here.

      15. Sacred Ground*

        If I recall this episode of The Office correctly, they stopped the Bluetooth thing precisely because Jim started getting anxious and weird about their relationship from overhearing Pam’s chatty conversations with a male friend at her art school.

    4. Julia*

      Can we not make this about “Western” and “other” societies? We’ve had enough letters on this site from fundamentalist Christian people to know that every religion has its troubling sides, and your saying this isn’t done in Western societies sounds a lot like you have some specifically non-Western religion in mind, which is stereotyping.

      I agree that the behavior is creepy, no matter the reason, and if I were OP2, I’d worry that the co-worker might just put the phone away, but still have the husband at least listening in, so I’d go straight to the boss and say I wanted it to stop, but wonder how enforcable a complete stop would be – they can’t search co-worker for a phone every day, can they?

      1. Greg NY*

        To clarify for you and anyone else reading, I wasn’t referring so much to religion. I’m not sure about cultures in the Middle East, for example, maybe a husband watching his wife’s every move (including at work in situations where she works outside the home) is considered culturally acceptable. I do know it’s unacceptable in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, and probably every other country considered a Western country.

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          Greg, I believe Julia’s point was that it’s *not* acceptable everywhere that you would consider a Western country, such as parts of the US that foster a more patriarchal set of social norms, or places where privacy and individualism aren’t valued the way they are in perhaps your area of the US, Europe, Canada, or whatever. For instance, parts of the US that are Fundamentalist Christian, Mormon, or Amish, have extremely different social norms. And I’m sure there are many parts of the world that are “non-Western” where this wouldn’t be considered appropriate at all.
          I think Julia’s request that we not get into “Western” vs “Non-Western” was a completely reasonable one, and I think we should honor it.

          1. Smarty Boots*

            I think Greg was just speaking from his own knowledge and trying not to make a blanket claim about all cultures. That’s how I took it because, you know, we’re supposed to be kind with our comments and assume writers have good intentions.

            1. Julia*

              I didn’t assign any intentions to him. I just asked if we could not make this a “us versus the rest of the world” thing.

          2. Hiring Mgr*

            Don’t forget the Mennonites. Actually, that reminds me of a joke I recently heard:

            Why did the Amish woman get excommunicated? Too Mennonite

      2. Anonymously Yours*

        Greg didn’t mention religion at all and there are cultures where, outside of any religious aspect, this wouldn’t be as outlandish as it would be in others. Even considering religion, this is Not Done in Western cultures (or most non-Western cultures). The Western cultures aspect is only relevant because the OP is highly likely to be in the West.

      3. JamieS*

        Saying something isn’t done in one culture, in this case Western, isn’t an implication it’s done in other cultures. It’s just a statement it’s not commonly done in that culture.

          1. Julia*

            Since it was me who said this: I have never participated in any Greg-bashing (search my history if you want) and often found that people were too harsh on him, but as someone who doesn’t live in a Western culture, I couldn’t let his comment stand. No matter where OP2’s co-worker is from, her behavior in that specific environment is problematic, and the reasons don’t matter. Even though the reasons don’t matter at all, someone took the time to write a comment about this maybe flying in “non-Western” cultures or “the Middle East”, which is clearly othering other cultures when there’s no need for it. I don’t care who said it.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I for one agree with you – the comment did have the vibe of “I don’t know how you did it wherever you’re from, but we don’t do this here”. First of all, come on, “we” DO do it here. Second, the uncalled-for othering, like you said.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same for every private entity I’ve worked for during my career. Coworker is showing very poor judgment in handling of confidential information (that doesn’t belong to her – likely other people or her employer) and clearly knows that she’s doing something wrong if she’s hiding it from the manager.

        This is such poor judgment, I would fire her immediately, but I work in legal where this is a breach of the client’s privilege and malpractice suits waiting to happen.

  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Ugh, #2 sounds so awful. OP, I would go to your manager first and foremost. I wouldn’t risk bringing this up directly with your coworker.

    On the spectrum of extremes, either she and her husband have no sense of appropriate boundaries and workplace confidentiality, or there’s some kind of controlling angle here that makes the hair on the back of my neck raise up. The good news is that you don’t have to figure out which end of the spectrum she’s on, because the advice is the same: Go to your manager. Explain that it’s a continuous stream, that he’s overhearing everything, and that it wouldn’t be obvious because he blocks his camera/screen.

    Again, this is awful, and I’m sorry.

    1. Observer*

      I’m glad and sad that I wasn’t the only person whose mid jumped to possibility of some sort of hyper controlling set up. It’s really creepy.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, there’s the one I suggested above, which I actually think might be more likely. But I don’t want to get into major speculation since we can’t know and it doesn’t change the advice.

          1. Aveline*

            Then how do you explain it’s only one way? The desire to be in contact with someone you love requires the contact to be both ways.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              • He’s at their home and they don’t want her coworkers to see their private space.
              • He’s at his work and they have some sort of “my workplace’s confidentiality is important but your office’s isn’t for real” understanding.
              • He’s on the move during the day and they realize the problem with getting permission from everyone he interacts with.

              Yes, you can counter all of those with “but… that would be ridiculous” but what’s happening is ridiculous.

              1. Doug Judy*

                Exactly. Him being controlling or them being just soooooo in love that they want to hear/see each other at all times, it’s still not ok to do in the workplace.

              2. Lehigh*

                Yeah, I agree it could be anything.

                I always turn my camera off when using video chat with friends. I don’t worry about whether they’re going to turn theirs off or leave it on. It could be as simple as the husband and wife have different preferences.

            2. JKP*

              My SO works from home in just his underwear. If we were in this situation, he would have his camera covered so as not to accidentally flash anyone.

              The video part is only one way, but maybe they do talk to each other over the audio link.

              1. Nita*

                That’s what I’m thinking! I suppose the one-way video connection could have a non-creepy explanation. It seems over the top to use a video connection to keep an audio chat going, but maybe these two are not very tech-savvy, and hadn’t come up with a better option.

                1. Lexi's Lynh*

                  And with all the crazy phone plans in the US, it could be something as simple as they can use the company’s WiFi for video, but would burn their minutes on a audio call.

            3. Liet-Kinda*

              We don’t NEED to explain why it’s only one way, because it doesn’t result in a change in anything actionable that concerns OP. Let’s drop it.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Yes, I would not go to coworker first because I’d be concerned that she’d just get sneakier about hiding it. She’s hiding from the boss already, after all. No good reason to tip her off.

      1. Tardigrade*

        This is a good point in favor of going to straight to the boss – not to get the coworker in trouble but to get the behavior to stop.

    3. Works in IT*

      I’m afraid this is so egregious that even if it’s the abusive, controlling angle there is no way for the coworker to keep her job. If the coworkers weren’t discussing confidential information, she could maybe get away with a verbal reprimand, but confidential information is being discussed. At best, it’s trade secrets her husband doesn’t understand doesn’t understand and therefore cannot share. At worst, it’s client/patient information, and I don’t think the ignorance defense for HIPAA violations that drops the fine down would apply here. Somewhere in the middle is her husband DOES understand their trade secrets and shares them with another company, which, while damaging, probably wouldn’t be as visible to the public as a breach of protected information would be.

    1. Aphrodite*

      Money comes in one size fits all–and it works. But time off is great too. If you wanted to formalize it, you could list ATO (Additional Time Off) as an additional benefit if people meet certain standards. For example, if your office works on the day after Thanksgiving, offer that day; if not, then Thanksgiving eve. Or Christmas Eve. I bet this would be a coveted perk. Another perk might be work from home.

      1. The Original K.*

        Yep. I want money or time. If it’s gift cards, make them Visa or AmEx gift cards so that they’re cash-equivalent. That’s really it.

        1. Oxford Comma*

          ^^^^^^Yes, please. If you can’t give me money or time and want to go with gift cards then this.

          Please no specific gift cards for specific stores. I end up with restaurant cards and gift cards to places I don’t like or for various reasons refuse to patronize.

          1. CaitlinM*

            Please DO NOT give me a giftcard to Starbucks. I know it shocks people, but not everyone drinks coffee.

    2. Ye old*

      Agreed! Had a boss who always bought presents of toys. To his team of grown adults ranging from 30 to 50 years old. They usually end up being left around office to gather dust. I am sure if he gave us the monetary value of the toys in red packets it would have been better received

    3. jman4l*

      Just remember in the US there are tax laws about giving cash/cash equivalents as gifts unless they are not a lot of value. At my work, anything more that $20 will be grossed up and reported as income.

      1. ThankYouRoman*

        Lots of companies break this very clear rule. That’s why nobody seems to take it into consideration before demanding cash only gifts.

      2. Mockingjay*

        Yes. My company does quarterly awards, giving employees AMEX gift cards. Each recipient is sent an email telling them in which pay period the taxes will be taken out.

      3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Thank you. I get really tired of hearing “Just give more cash” this is not terribly helpful to people who aren’t allowed to “Just give cash”. Many companies outright bans cash or cash equivalent gifts to employees.

        So, here’s my practical advice to the LW. Buy gifts from a store with a generous return policy, is local, gives gift receipts, and has local to the employee locations. (Target for example)

        One of 3 things is going to happen:
        1. They love the gift and keep it
        2. They return the gift to the store and pick out something they really want
        3. They return the gift to the store and use the money to buy things they would normally buy. Then use the money they would use to buy the normal stuff at a different store to buy what they really want

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          4. They sigh and put the Thing they don’t want aside because either a) it doesn’t occur to them they can return it and buy some Target stuff with the cash equivalent, or b) that is more bother than they want to deal with, or c) they assume someone will notice the return and it will be A Thing and who wants that drama.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            It’s a better option than random crap or yet another mug with cocoa mix in it.

            This is one of those topics that sets my teeth on edge. YES WE GET IT PEOPLE LIKE MONEY!!!!!

            However, unless it comes directly from my pocket (which I do for holiday presents for my direct reports to the tune of several hundred dollars every year TYVM) I CAN’T GIVE YOU MONEY. So the answer is; I do my best and people moan and bitch because they don’t like it or I do nothing at all.

            Which one should I do? Seriously, I’m open to suggestions because, I know this is a foreign concept to some, as a manager I actually want to make my employees happy and let them know they are appreciated, and to thanks them in some tangible way for everything they do.

            So I’m all ears to suggestions on the topic. Because quite honestly it gets really old doing your best with what you’ve got and hearing the ‘you suck just give me money’ comments.

            1. Janet (not a robot)*

              Sounds like you’re stuck in a bit of a can’t win situation, where someone is going to think you did Gifting wrong no matter what you do (or don’t do.)

              Could you ask your employees? Tell them that you want to give them a gift, and hopefully one they will appreciate, but you’re not allowed to give cash or PTO. Maybe give a couple of options, so it’s not completely open ended – would they prefer A, B, or C? The downside is you lose the surprise aspect (if that’s important to you), but the upside is that you’ll have a better chance of getting them something they’ll actually enjoy.

              1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

                But that’s the point it’s not just me. It’s every manager on the planet* that is in the same situation.

                So for everyone here saying “God… no more crappy gifts just give me money” there’s a really good chance that they are doing the best they can.

                I can also guarantee that if given the choice of A, B, or C some if not all are going to want D! Which is something I (in the global sense) can’t give them.

                More than anything I’m posting this to show others the other side of this situation. In hopes that just maybe the next time they get a gift from their work/boss, they think “gee that was a nice thought” instead of “oh great another crappy ‘fill in the blank’ why did they even bother”

                *Ok that may be a slight exaggeration on my part

                1. Jasnah*

                  I mean, if managers/companies want to give employees a gift, and can’t give the one thing that everyone shows up to work for, then it makes total sense that the next best thing would vary by person, no? So asking seems like a reasonable thing managers could do to ensure their employees feel rewarded.

              2. Kes*

                Yeah, that’s what my company has done for their holiday gifts – there’s a survey with a few different options, and one is to donate the money to a charity, so if you really don’t like any of the options you don’t have to be stuck with useless stuff. I think for companies that can’t or won’t give cash this is not a bad way to go, even if you can’t please everyone (obviously, some thought has to be put into what things people might actually want and use – I have yet to wear the brightly coloured company socks, but the blanket is great).

            2. LurkNoMore*

              Well since you asked so nicely – at my company there are set $amounts for each anniversary and you can order anything you want from Amazon for that amount. Company has a Prime account so gift arrives in 2 days.
              I ordered a Dyson vacuum that I absolutely love.

              1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

                This is a great idea. Thanks for sharing, I’m sure the OP might find it useful as well.

              2. Doug Judy*

                At OldJob there used to be a catalog of stuff people could pick from. It was all crap. One of my coworkers went to HR and said “A, B and C items I can choose from are worth $X. I do not have a need or use for any of them, but I could use D, which is also worth $X. I understand it is not in the catalog, but is it possible for you to order D instead?” HR agreed and then went to the Amazon policy. They would order whatever you wanted off Amazon for a set amount they were gifting to you.

            3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

              My job can’t give cash or PTO, so as rewards my boss sticks with compliments on work and being extra accommodating to request to flextime, WFH, allowing leave, etc. for high performers. It definitely makes us feel valued

            4. Michaela Westen*

              Your employees are kind of rude. I would never say that at work even if I were thinking it.
              The times I’ve gotten gifts I didn’t really want I was able to repurpose parts of them, and donated the rest. There was no gift receipt so it didn’t occur to me to return them. If it happens again I’ll try it.

            5. Poldark Lite*

              I worked for two companies that did this right IMHO. The first sent out catalogs and allowed us to pick our own gifts from a wide variety of options in just about every category, no idea of the price point. The second let us sign up for an event (comedy club, Dave & Buster’s, etc.) with a pass for two dinners, drinks, whatever else came with the venue. Buying in bulk around the holidays keeps the costs way down and it makes it fun.

          2. Janet (not a robot)*

            I’m a 4b. The Thing would gather dust in my house for six months to a year before I got around to either returning it or tossing it in the donation pile.

    4. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Yes, please. (But if you go with gifty things, please for the love of all that is holy, don’t give a gift with the company logo. Please. For my ten year, I got a crappy little 8×10 sort of purse-tote thing with the agency logo and inside was a notepad with the agency logo. smh. All I could think of was what in god’s name did they reject?)

      You are awesome for putting thought into this.

        1. valentine*

          OP3: Make it opt-in or, if that’s forbidden, opt-out. Maybe have a set of stuff they can choose from, so one has to waste energy on crap they don’t want.

      1. Brandy*

        Last year we got a long ice scraper/brush for the cars in snow. It has the company name but its the best gift theyve given so far. Its something usable and practical.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yeah, we typically get one company logoed item per year, but they’re things like ice scrapers, an LL Bean toiletries travel bag that I’ve used for well over a decade now, a fleece blanket, a really nice insulated lunchbox (that my mom still uses), umbrellas, etc. We got tumblers with straws one year, and those were so popular that a minor theft ring broke out when people lost/broke theirs. I also lost my company fleece and have been trying to get another one that I know they have locked away in the swag closet. I heard a rumor it’s Swell water bottles this year, but my friend on the ordering committee is keeping his vow of silence.

          I do not need pens, note pads, magnets, t-shirts, etc., but I have gotten some very useful things as all-company gifts.

          1. Kes*

            Yeah, I don’t think the logo is the problem, it’s more a question of whether the actual gift is useful. For example, for last year’s holiday gift I got a blanket with the company logo in the corner which I’ve used a lot because it’s very soft and warm. The year before that I got a thermos which I haven’t used, although it would be good if I did use thermoses.

            1. OP 3*

              LW/OP 3 here. The specific situation is for an anniversary, although I truly am interested in gift ideas for all situations. A blanket is an interesting idea! We were thinking about jackets or pullovers with their name/anniversary/company. It’s hard to go forward with this when I see so many calls for gift cards/cash though! PTO is our, unfortunately, and we regularly do gift cards and wanted to something more personal/commemorative, but still useful this time.

              Thanks for weighing in!

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Towels or blankets are good. I think almost everyone could use them at some point! *If* they’re good quality, please don’t give ones that will fall apart in a few uses.
                Fleece blankets are good – cotton or cotton-blend ones aren’t so useful for people with dust allergy. My company gave us blankets that were cotton/poly blends and I gave mine to my colleague for her mother.

                Several years ago my company gave everyone fleece jackets. They had us come down to the cafeteria to try on for size. I wasn’t sure I needed it but accepted it anyway, and I’ve used it to take out the trash or wear with jeans. I tend to like knee-length coats better but the jacket is still very useful. :) It’s also excellent to wear under my coat on very cold winter days.

              2. nonegiven*

                Nobody needs personal. Most say, “this must have cost a fortune, I wish I had the cash.”

                Everybody needs cash.

              3. Jen*

                Our company occasionally gives out jackets or sweatshirts with the logo, usually as incentives for participating in some sort of company initiative or winning a competition. They’re usually pretty popular, since they’re well made and the employees get to choose their size.

              4. jmc*

                I’m going to have to be the party pooper. We got blankets last year for the holidays and mine went in a donation bin for the animal shelter. I’m probably in the minority but i’ve never liked any corporate gift i’ve been given. For 20 years at my company you get to pick from a catalogue, but prior to that it’s all branded stuff I don’t want.

                I wish I had a good idea to contribute, but I’m in favor of cash/gift cards

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              Right, and some gifts are just not useful to people at all, which is what makes picking things so difficult – we got a nice picnic set ages ago that we’ve gotten a lot of use out of because we used to frequent outdoor venue that allowed you to bring in your own food (and road trips – it’s great for road trips). I LOVE that thing and have gotten my company’s money’s worth out of it, but my sense is that many other people felt it was useless (we also still sometimes find them in unopened boxes in old file rooms).

              The blankets were nice! I totally forgot that I also have a logoed beach towel, which has gotten a ton of use. (Beach towels are stupidly expensive – even at Costco, they’re like $12/towel, and I’m loathe to send a $12 towel to the pool with my absentminded kid.)

              1. Lehigh*

                I agree on beach towels! That seems like a great idea. I’m in the northeast, so blankets never go amiss at my house either (I imagine in a warmer climate this might not be the case).

      2. Ellex*

        I got a lot of company branded pens, notepads, notebooks, and a little plastic case with a pen and post-its at my last job. I really liked those – the plastic case in particular went in my car and is nice for “on the go” notes.

        However, I also got a company branded little toy football, a light for my keychain (which promptly broke, but otherwise would have been nice), a sort of rubber speaker thing that could be put on a cell phone, and more beer cozies than anyone could ever possible need.

        1. Doug Judy*

          I once got a crystal Christmas ornament with the company logo on it. I want to know who thought that was a good idea.

      3. Oxford Comma*

        Yeah, several of my employers over the years thought that giving us each some crappy item with the organization’s logo was an appropriate way of thanking us. My least favorite was the mini stapler on a cord. I’ve ordered these kinds of things before as part of a job and knew exactly how much that had cost my employer.

      4. OP 3*

        Ha ha, oh no! We were considering going with something with a logo! It’s truly not for advertising purposes, as we don’t really need that. We were thinking a jacket with the work anniversary/company logo/employee name. We wanted to recognize the years of excellent work in a functional way. We are located in the Pacific Northwest, so this seemed appropriate.

        We do gift cards at other times, so wanted to change it up a bit. Maybe we won’t mess with what’s not broken though.

        Thanks for weighing in!

      5. Anonymeece*

        I once won a ~prestigious~ gift of … coasters. They were nice coasters, marble and all that, but they had the logo proudly emblazoned on it, so they went straight to the give-away pile.

        I really don’t want to be reminded of work every time I’m relaxing in my living room, thanks.

      6. Ann Onymous*

        Yes, so much this. My company gives clothing (fleece jackets, hoodies, t shirts) as gifts once or twice a year, year after year. They are always gray and always with the red company logo. How many gray tops with a red logo does anyone need?

    5. Gaia*

      Money and/or paid days off. That’s what I want. After that I’ll take usable logo items (water bottle? Yes, please!).

      1. :-)*

        key-word: *usable* ;-) But yes, wouldn’t say no to a water bottle either.

        At my dad’s company (printing business) they get a coupon if they reach a yearly target that they can use to print Christmas (or any other) cards, or posters, or envelopes, or name cards, t-shirts etc. Those are also well-received at his company.

      2. Kes*

        My company gives us a water bottle, backpack and tshirt (all logoed) when we start. All of these have gotten used by me (tshirt gets worn to work when I feel like dressing a bit more casually than I do normally).

      3. Michaela Westen*

        I’m very particular about my water bottle, so I probably wouldn’t use it. Unless: it’s designed so the water never touches plastic or silicone, only steel, and has a wide mouth so I can clean it easily.

      1. Antilles*

        +100. Cash over gift cards, always always always. Gift cards limit the user and are far too often lost/unused.
        Just give cash rather than giving something that does the exact same thing as cash but is worse in every way.

        1. Falling Diphthong*


          Cash if flexible, and ideal for situations like this where you don’t know the people well enough to know what they would find charming (a themed water bottle!) vs bleah (a themed water bottle!).

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Paid time off. A reserved parking spot near the door (even if it’s just one that rotates among employees.)
      Real jewelry for some of us. (Not logo pins.)
      To reward ongoing good work where you wouldn’t want to spend much, also consider office upgrades as a perk — big monitors, Bluetooth headsets for the work phone, sit-to-stand desk, etc. This works for teams, too…especially if it’s in response to something they’ve said and you let them have input. “I’ve heard people saying X is frustrating so I’m going to upgrade your X. Do any of you have a specific brand/model to recommend?”

      1. Friday afternoon fever*

        Ooh, but definitely ask first and have multiple options—honestly, the simpler the better. Parking? I don’t drive to work. Jewelry? I’m so picky—please don’t. Bluetooth headset? I don’t like them, and even the XS are too big for me. Sit-to-stand desk? Sounds cool, I guess, but I’d much, much rather have money or PTO. The point being, all your employees will have similarly complex (and possibly contrarian) preferences and money or PTO is nearly universal. The best part is that the recipient can choose however and whenever they’d like to use it.

        The rest would be …okay… if you couldn’t offer money or PTO, but I’d be pretty miffed if you had the option and instead went with … really anything else haha

      2. ThankYouRoman*

        My head is going to explode.

        Well equipped work stations shouldn’t be a gift, they should be a given. I’m not going to work my butt off so I can be gifted my standing desk and nice monitors.

        1. Emily*

          I wouldn’t necessarily frame it as a gift, but I do think there’s some value in the idea of saying, “We had such a great quarter thanks to your hard work that we’ve got extra room in the budget for equipment upgrades,” or something similar that would be in addition to rather than in lieu of individual raises or other rewards.

          My feelings on this are somewhat colored by working in the nonprofit world where every donor wants their gift to go 100% to programs and services and despises the idea of paying for “frivolous” technology expenses like new computers for all the staff, so most nonprofit staff are forced to make do with substandard office equipment and upgrades would really improve the quality of life at work, and would be pretty unlikely to happen outside of a scenario where it’s directly tied to strong fundraising performance that helps reduce the cost of the computers to a smaller percentage of total income/operating expenses.

          1. Thor*

            I think the key difference is is an upgrade for the office/for everyone vs. for individual people being rewarded.

        2. Antilles*

          Agreed. Buying new monitors or desks or headsets isn’t a “gift” or a “reward”, it’s an investment by the company primarily for the *company’s* benefit of improved efficiency. After all, it’s not like you keep them when you leave.

    7. Akcipitrokulo*

      From work – yes. That is what I want. Mostly ;)

      I still have my congratulations card for 3 year anniversary (almost 2 years ago) and it’s very treasured because of the words inside from uberboss saying how much he appreciated me. Also when I left a job a few years back, one of my colleagues knew I loved M*A*S*H and also knew I didn’t have the DVDs yet… so that was an awesome leaving gift :)

      But in general? Cash. Holidays.

      Personal gifts only mean something when they are truly personal. A christmas hamper or wine or flowers or anything else that’s bought for everyone doesn’t count as personal.

    8. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      My work lets us choose from a variety of gift cards. Amazon all the way for me. It is amazing. My husband can have deep thoughts about what gift will truly make me happy this year (or he could ask me) my employer does not need to do that.

      1. Emily*

        Amazon gift cards are basically as fungible as cash to me! Something like 25% of my non-bills/mandatory spending happens on Amazon anyway.

        Especially if opting for an Amazon card allows them to get some kind of volume discount, like paying $25/card for a $30 card so that they’re able to give us more. (I have no idea if Amazon does that, just saying if they do, it would be an incentive to choose those over a straight Visa cash card.)

        1. TootsNYC*

          I give my direct reports an Amazon gift card every year that I get with points earned on a credit card. It’s a value I give up (bcs I don’t get to spend that money on me), but it doesn’t come out of cash flow.

      2. Darrow*

        I agree with the idea that ‘thoughtful’ gifts can come from my family and loved ones. They are in a better position than my workplace is to know what I would truly want anyway. There is no harm at all in the workplace erring on the side of caution with this one.

    9. Hazelthyme*

      My company gives a quarterly travel recognition award for anyone who’s been away from home on billable work for at least X nights that quarter (and supplemental one at year end if you’ve been away more than (4X * 1.5) for the full year. Visa or Amazon gift cards, and your pay is grossed up to cover the increased taxes. I’ve just hit X for Q2 even though there’s still a month to go, and will receive my travel award the 3rd week in December. Damn, I love my new job.

    10. :-)*

      Yes, I definitely prefer cash/gift cards (from (online) stores I like, but cash is always a winner!)

    11. MLB*

      Ditto. Unless someone knows me really well, just give me a gift card. Hell even if someone does know me well, and gives me a gift card to a place I love, even better.

    12. Baby Fishmouth*

      My department gives us jars of honey every year. Usable, but… what? Why honey?

      My team manager last year gave us all lip chap and scented hand sanitizer. That was also a questionable gift.

      1. ThankYouRoman*

        It sounds like someone has a connection to a honey farm. Is it at least local?!

        Very utilitarian of them to say the least!

      2. Trisha*

        As a government manager who has to buy any staff gifts out of my own pocket, I wouldn’t find giving chap stick/hand sanitizer as questionable. It’s difficult to give something that basically everyone will use and is gender neutral. I can’t give alcohol or food items to my current team and sorry but $25 gift cards out of my own pocket are out of the question.

        1. Baby Fishmouth*

          Oh absolutely I don’t expect my manager to pay for gifts out of their own pocket, but I’d honestly rather get nothing at all, or just a nice card, than small throwaway items like chapstick and hand sanitizer.

    13. [insert witty username here]*

      Echoing: Please give money/gift cards (in the form of a Visa or Amex gift card, not to a specific place) or time off!!! Even if it ends up being small, like $25 or $50 – that is AWESOME! In my mind, I’d be like, “sweet! Gonna fill up my Starbucks card!” or “sweet! Gonna go out for a good dinner!” or “sweet! Gonna pay my cell phone bill!”

      Our company recently started giving out acrylic number statuette-type things on your anniversary (mine went straight in the trash…. so in addition to being useless, it’s not eco-friendly). You also get a choice of gift from a little catalog thing…. but seriously, just give me the money! Even if it ends up being less than the value of the gifts (I ended up with a pretty Waterford vase…. but it’s just prettily collecting dust), GIVE ME MONEY! The worst part of all of this is they sent out a stupid email saying something along the lines of “we realize employees might use money on practical things like bills and we want to CELEBRATE you! So we’re changing things when no one asked us to or actually complained about getting money!” (ok, clearly paraphrasing here, but the first part was actually conveyed)

      I feel like we’re all Mona Lisa Saperstein in this case – MONEY, PLEEEEAAASSSEE!!!!!

      1. Boo Hoo*

        Ugh. I received a Costco gift card and didn’t have a Costco membership. The card wasn’t even enough to pay for the membership. I just gave it away. Also, this $25 gift card was my “bonus”

        1. DeColores*

          If you get one in the future – you can use Costco gift cards to buy things at Costco w/o a membership. Even if you had a $25 card and your purchase was more than $25, you use it to pay for part of your purchase and pay the rest in cash and won’t need to have a membership.

          1. Boo Hoo*

            I know that now, and have a membership, but didn’t know that then. Still a somewhat ridiculous bonus among all things. Plus there are only certain things you can buy without so there’s that. Regardless the second time I got one, my boyfriend had a membership, and I bought tampons. I mean, my choice, they were a good deal. However, I remember thinking, “wow my bonus was tampons”. hahahah

        2. TootsNYC*

          the worst thank-you I ever got was a $100 gift card to Bergdorf Goodman. My friend and I went through the whole store. I could get:
          a) six notecards
          b) a 4″-diameter tiny china dish/plate
          c) a pair of socks
          d) a T-shirt on sale
          e) nail polish

          Yeah, my amazing week-long orgy of hard and incredibly agile work is rewarded by six notecards.

          It seemed like a very generous gift–but it didn’t have that effect.

          Later I discovered I could also spend it at Nieman Marcus, where I could buy a dress on sale. But I’m not comfortable with most clothing mail order, so I still have it. Years later.

          I should donate it to the parochial-school auction.

      2. Kes*

        Amazon gift cards are the best, in my opinion – Visa gift cards are nice in that you can use them in different stores, but you can’t necessarily use them online, there’s an activation fee, and it’s harder to tell how much money you have left on it.

        I’ll still take Visa gift cards, obviously, but I find Amazon ones easier to use.

    14. Lizzy May*

      Pretty much this. Are there other things that I personally would like? Sure, but I can buy those things with cash.

    15. Rusty Shackelford*

      I assumed money was a universally well-accepted gift, but the last time this came up, someone informed me that it was not. Although I don’t believe they actually provided an explanation as to why anyone wouldn’t like a gift of money from their employer. I mean, I’m working for you because I want to you to give me money. Under what circumstances is more money a bad gift?

      1. Bowl of Oranges*

        This was before I worked at my company so I only know basic details, but we had an employee who once declined a bonus. He said it would push him up into the next tax bracket and he would actually lose money (this is in the US). I don’t he understood how taxes worked.

        1. nonegiven*

          More money is only bad if you lose income based insurance subsidies, Medicaid, food stamps, etc.

      2. CDM*

        When the money gift is insultingly small and/or comes with strings attached.

        Receiving the equivalent of four hour’s pay (after taxes) as a fifth anniversary service ‘bonus’ was actually demotivating. Funnily enough, an extra paid half day off wouldn’t have felt quite as insulting to me, though the actual cost to the company would have been just as small.

        I’ll get $50 or $100 at our ’employee appreciation’ luncheon, but the strings are that I’ll spend a minimum of 4 1/2 hours in the car round trip and don’t benefit at all from the “everyone gets to leave early after lunch!” (because of the drive home) and won’t be permitted to leave early another day to make up for it, but I can’t decline going without hearing from management about how I’m ‘not a team player’ (indirectly, via my boss, because management won’t say it to my face, and boss won’t tell management that they have unreasonable expectations). And all this takes place on the Friday of the long Christmas weekend. Bonus extra holiday traffic, can’t wait. I’d gladly forfeit the cash to just not go.

    16. Busy Bee*

      At my work place, they actually distributed a questionnaire for everyone to fill out which included things like
      -If you are being recognized for doing something well do you want (public praise, private praise, oral or written)
      -What stores do you like? (so if you have a Starbucks fiend, the gift card might be for Starbucks in particular, for example; that person who is always doing a home renovation project might get a card for the local home improvement store; etc)
      – favorite candy (so if you’re like me and love dark chocolate, no white chocolate, but someone who only eats milk chocolate wouldn’t get dark chocolate; can also specify no candy/diabetic candy)

      And so on–so that each person gets a chance to say what she likes, and not end up receiving something that they’re perhaps morally opposed to (lottery tickets–the scratch off kind, for example or a gift card to Walmart), or dislike (coconut in candy), or such. I thought it was a great idea, allowing for personalization without requiring a lot of memory on the part of the supervisor (who’d otherwise have to remember that Ann likes Starbucks and peppermints but Angela only likes Dunkin Donuts coffee and milk chocolate, and so on for about 30 different people).

      1. The Original K.*

        I love this, especially the question about what kind of praise you like. I had a boss who praised me publicly, which I hated – and that was really about him. My work was good, but he was basically saying “Look at me, I’m so awesome for hiring this person.” I even told him that I preferred a simple “Project x was a success thanks to your good work – thank you and congrats!” in our 1:1s rather than public praise, but he ignored me. (He was generous with the spot bonuses though, I’ll give him credit where it’s due.)

    17. kittymommy*

      Gift cards or cash (or TBH a nice bottle of wine). But I’m probably the lone person, don’t gve me more PTO. I don’t use what I have now!

      1. kittymommy*

        Adding the wine thing goes for me alone, don’t give wine, or any alcohol, as a general rule. (But if anybody wants to send me a nice bottle of tempernillo that’s fine!!)

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Nope, I’m with you on the PTO – I’m good and can’t use what I have. Being given extra days only helps if you have time to use them, and that’s my issue. I’m still trying to figure out how (logistically) to spend my vacation pool down to the cut-off level at the end of the year so that I don’t lose the time. I can only carry over about a 3 weeks of time year-to-year.

    18. Flash Bristow*

      Oh yes. And equality – so you don’t try to work out how much you are valued by whether they spent more on Bob’s gift than yours. Nor is it related to whether your birthday comes just at the end of the fiscal year, or when a large bill is imminent, etc.

      The last place I worked, at the start of the year the receptionist was sent off to buy a shed load of £20 Virgin Megastore vouchers, and we then each received one on our birthdays. We worked a few minutes away from the Megastore, and everyone was very happy with the gift. Sorted!

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        My work doesn’t allow bosses to give time or money, so ours is especially accommodating of her highest performers requests for things like flextime, working around class schedules/volunteering, WFH, leave, training requests, etc.. She can’t give us much but she gives us what she can. For example, she is working the day after Thanksgiving and 12/24 so the rest of us can take leave this year. Thanks boss!

      2. Oxford Comma*

        I know this doesn’t work for absolutely everything or everyone, particularly if there are people with special dietary needs, but I have had bosses who paid for us to go to lunch or to have lunch sent to us. One did this two times a year and the places were always nice. It went a long way.

      3. Anonymeece*

        I made homemade cookies and wrote appreciation cards to each of my employees. I personalized them and made them very specific about what I valued about them, and nearly every single one came up to me afterward and thanked me for the cards.

        So if time or money isn’t an option, just go for the heartfelt appreciation. It needs to be more than “Good job!” to have an effect, but it costs nothing but some time.

    19. AmethystMoon*

      The company I work for gives gift cards to the company-owned store. It’s ok, I guess. Saves money on normal expenses if you get one.

    20. Michaela Westen*

      Going back to the 90’s when I was temping, I would admire pretty things on my colleague’s desks and they would say “the company gave us these. I’d rather have the money”.
      Yes, money is the thing. The most useful Christmas gift I’ve had in years is an Amazon gift card. I bought myself something I’d been wanting for a few years, salt lamps, and a new heating pad for my back. :)

  7. Jasnah*

    OP4, is your boss a “time is money” Mr. Krabs type? Or does she have a specific vendetta against food? If the latter, I’d start taking granola bars to the bathroom and claim long bathroom breaks, or long coffee breaks. If the former, which I suspect, I think if you and your coworkers pushed back arguing that snacks would make you MORE productive, it might reach her. But I’d be on the lookout for other instances of “wasting time and time is money” nonsense.

    1. Stuff*

      Agreed – if you’re allowed to go get coffee grab a protein bar and eat it on the way to and from the coffee pot. However while I think you can figure out a “work around” your boss is being pretty unreasonable. If there is no real reason other than “you should not eat on the clock” there are probably bigger issues than this one.

    2. YouwantmetodoWHAT?!*

      No. I’m not eating in the bathroom, nope, no and never. And if the manager is such a micromanaging ass that eating in.the.bathroom seems like the only way? I’d be job searching immediately.

      1. Jasnah*

        I did it when I was staffing an event and we weren’t allowed to eat or drink in front of guests. You do what you gotta do… but this would be really weird in an office. I would take long bathroom breaks out of spite.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Yup – bathroom eating is full on ick for me. I get grossed out when people leave their coffee on the purse shelf. Food and bathrooms should be separate.

    3. Iris Eyes*

      The fact that the snack breaks seem to have to be approved makes it sound like a call center or something where desk coverage is essential and you aren’t really just getting up and going to do anything.

    4. Washi*

      Now I’m imagining the OP putting her granola bars in a tampon box. Or eating almonds right out of a menstrual cup and daring the manager to say something.

      (I am the kind of person who would eat in the bathroom.)

    5. Lynn Whitehat*

      There’s a certain kind of person who attaches a lot of morality to snacking. Like 3 meals a day was handed down from God on stone tablets, and snacking between meals is the most shameful gluttony. He might be one of those.

    6. TootsNYC*

      yeah, can you eat in the hallway on the way to the bathroom? (if you don’t want to actually eat a granola bar IN the bathroom)

  8. Greg NY*

    #4: There’s no reason for your manager to try to police eating breaks. The only way it would be remotely acceptable is if they also police your bathroom breaks, in which case the question becomes whether or not staying at your workstation and not eating except for rigidly structured breaks are essential to the job. It’s a rare position (maybe a call center agent) that it would matter for. Simply explain to your manager that when you don’t eat, your energy level falls, and you won’t be as productive. You need small snacks to keep at peak efficiency. If that doesn’t resonate with your manager, I’m out of ideas.

    1. Kell*

      I am a call centre agent and in addition to our lunch break we also have two 15 minute breaks so you have a break every about two hours. Additionally even in our nature of work none of the supervisors will forbid you from taking a few minutes to go to the bathroom or to go get a quick snack even if you’re not on a break. They may tell you to wait for 10 minutes (or to wait for X to get back from break), but they will never refuse. Their manager is just ridiculous.

      1. Nox*

        Yeah, i’m in the call center business myself and I’ve never seen this type of excessive micromanaging of breaks or food and we’re pretty damn strict.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Yes – it’s been a long while since I was hourly, but we were required to have two 15 minute breaks by state law. You might want to check your own states laws.
        Also – what do the smokers do? If the smokers are going off to smoke during the day but you can’t step into the lunch room for a quick yogurt, that is a huge double standard and one worth bringing up.

      3. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I was wondering why the OP’s office doesn’t give them the 15-min breaks that most places do. In the US, or in a lot of states anyway, isn’t that a requirement?

        1. Adalind*

          Not in all places. I work 830-5 and get one 30 minute break. That’s it. Our call center gets breaks the same as stated above (2 15 minutes and a 30 minute), but I’m not in the call center. My manager attempted to stop us from eating lunch at our desks but quickly back pedaled since EVERYONE in our dept does it (including her). She’s a micromanager but that’s a whole other story…

          1. Adalind*

            *I eat lunch at my desk so I can take my “real” break elsewhere – a walk if it’s nice out or in the lobby if it’s poor weather. Wondering if OP’s manager polices every break… what happens if you have tummy troubles?!

          2. blink14*

            At my old job, we were not allowed to eat lunch at our desks, because too many people were skipping out early, saying they worked through lunch, and they thought it wasn’t productive.

            I never eat lunch at my desk unless there’s a work emergency that pops up and I need to eat, this happens maybe once a year. I also don’t have an officially scheduled break time so I have more freedom, but eating at your desk can often be seen by managers as unproductive.

    2. boo hoo*

      I worked at a position where i had to be at my phone most of the time. When I did have to get up to get something or get a managers signature I’d sometimes take that walk to grab a granola bar or something. Manager was sane though and understood that people need a bite now and then.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I wouldn’t limit it to “less productive.” I’d get down to the nitty gritty. “When I go more than three hours without eating, I get light-headed and nauseated, and I have a difficult time concentrating on work.”

    4. Chatterby*

      I also found it weird that she wasn’t getting breaks, because even salary positions usually allow for them.
      It would be far, far easier to justify eating a snack during your morning 15 minute break than to wrangle an exception to the no-food-at-your-desk rule.
      She should go have her break away from her desk everyday, and eat whatever snack she likes during it. Any quibbling from boss lady deserves a bewildered “…I’m on a break and I’m following the rule about not eating at our desks.” Managerial push back on that deserves a follow up of “My blood sugar crashes around this time and I need to eat something to prevent nausea and dizzy spells. Fainting at my desk would be bad.”
      If she does this at roughly the same time, every day, it becomes the new normal and no one will say anything.

      If she does have a truly insane boss who hates food, sneaking a snack in the bathroom, while walking, or any time she’s away from her desk, like others have mentioned, may be her only option. Preferably while she job searches on her phone.

      1. Secretary*

        ^^I like Chatterbys strategy.

        Yes OP #4 please check laws in your country/state. You may have an optional break of 10 minutes or something that you’re allowed to waive… but if your manager encourages you to waive it it’s illegal. Everywhere is different but most places won’t make it legal for force you to work 5 hours straight with no breaks against your will.

        I used to work in a call center that didn’t let us eat at our desk. We had scheduled breaks based on our start time. One time they told us in a meeting that we had the option by law to waive our break, and I guess someone complained or the HR rep in the meeting talked to them, because the next meeting they were covering their butts letting us know they are NOT PRESSURING US to do that.

        1. Former Producer*

          In my first job, I worked overnights (10 pm – 6 am) and my shift was scheduled for exactly 8 hours so I wasn’t given an official break, which I’m pretty sure is illegal but I was only 21 at the time so I didn’t realize this. Fortunately, we were allowed to eat at our desks and I could take quick bathroom breaks whenever, we just weren’t given an actual break, unlike the employees who worked other shifts, which is kind of unfair. In my current job (also an hourly position, but working normal hours) I have the option to take a lunch break but I choose to eat at my desk so I can go home an hour earlier. I think it’s ridiculous that OP can’t take quick breaks to eat! If my office had this policy, I would be starving by lunch time since I generally don’t eat breakfast.

    5. nonegiven*

      Just say the choice is between eating when you need to or laying on the floor under your desk, then eating anyway and still feeling like crap.

  9. thankful for AAM*

    When I was in 5th grade, we had lessons about how to speak on the phone. I always thought that was pretty silly but now that i see how many people cannot talk on the phone, maybe it was really helpful! I’d really like to know what is at the root of not talking on the phone and what helps solve the issue. I am so happy I don’t have to speak on the microphone and make the closing announcements!

    1. TL -*

      Honestly, it’s probably an nervous-avoidance-more nervous cycle – it’s so easy to not talk on the phone these days that if you’re even a little bit nervous about it you can avoid it. And then you feel relief from avoiding a terrible thing, then when you think of doing terrible thing again it gets worse in your head, so you work harder to avoid it, and you get greater relief and pretty soon you’ve just defaulted to the phone never being a real option.

      This coworker is kind of extreme but I know a lot of people who avoid the phone because they just feel awkward and unskilled on it, especially if you’re calling a stranger.

      Heck, for work, I’ll generally default to phone for customer service but in my personal life I’ll message first because it’s ‘easier’ (but less efficient and half the time I end up calling anyways, which is why I call if you’re paying me.)

      1. Quoth the Raven*

        I was going to say this. I know how to talk on the phone, but unless they’re personal calls, it legit makes me feel anxious. I’ll do it if I have to (and OldJob was one of those situations), but if I can avoid it, I will.

        In my case I think it is because I have all the need to answer immediately, I don’t have a visual feedback so I have to rely exclusively on interpreting voice tones, and because I never really know how to end phone calls without feeling rude. With texts and emails, it’s not as immediate, and it doesn’t rely on me successfully interpreting a voice tone.

        1. Space Turtle*

          To end a phone call you just say: “Okay well it’s been great catching up.” You do the verbal equivalent of getting up and walking to the door.

          1. Perse's Mom*

            Which works if you’re comfortable then hanging up on someone who may be oblivious to, or outright ignoring, the signal you’re trying to send that the conversation is coming to an end. A lot of people with phone anxiety issues are just not okay with that – and at least with my employer, our call center reps are basically told to wait until the other party hangs up first on the possibility they have another question, so that we’re not inadvertently hanging up a client, so it’s not even an option.

      2. Kes*

        I get people not wanting to talk on the phone (I hate phone calls with strangers), but in this case it’s really part of OP’s coworker’s job and there is an impact from her avoiding it – they’re losing potential clients, and OP is having to take on additional work.

        I suspect their boss knows about coworker’s dislike or anxiety around phones and so was avoiding the conversation around it, since they’re okay with it as long as the work gets done – but they may not be seeing that there actually is impact, which is what the OP needs to make clear to them.

    2. Doctor Schmoctor*

      I am phone phobic. If I have to call somebody, I have to spend some time just trying to calm down, and rehearsing the conversation before making the call. And sometimes the rehearsing makes it even worse. If I know someone very well, it’s not as bad, but I still hate it. Answering a phone is slightly less stressful.

      I always struggled with anxiety issues. Maybe that’s the root of the problem.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, I didn’t like the phone before my coworkers started listening in on all my calls and reporting on me because they can’t stand me speaking. I don’t actively refuse to answer the phone (and obviously that would be reported on too) but I am goddamned terrified when the phone rings that this call is going to be the one that gets me fired. I don’t do awesome with having to spontaneously drop everything and deal with someone who’s upset and it’s a situation I can’t do much about.

        I would guess that Jane is terrible on the phone, and since I vastly prefer being able to see what I said and think about it before hitting send vs. being surprised unexpectedly and having to wing it, I bet that is her issue. Nothing clinical, just sucks at processing spontaneous phone calls looking for help.

      2. Sacred Ground*

        Yeah but that’s you actually dealing with the problem of phone anxiety by taking steps to prepare and actively keeping your own anxiety in check, even though it can be terribly difficult for you, because you know that those phone conversations are a necessary part of doing your work. Just because you hate doing it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it, and as a professional and a grownup, you understand and accept this. You do the extra work that YOU need to do that someone else without that anxiety may not have to.

        What you’re not doing is refusing to talk at all, creating substantial extra work for coworkers that you’re getting paid for, you’re not making it harder for your own clients to do business with you, and you’re not costing your employer any new clients by being unreachable even when in the office.

        Iow, you are actually dealing with your own anxiety problem by treating it as your problem to deal with. (And good on you! That takes awareness, consideration of others, and courage. You’re awesome!) The LW’s coworker is most decidedly NOT dealing with her problem but is instead avoiding dealing with it and making it a problem for others, the LW, the clients, and the company. And that’s assuming this is in fact an anxiety disorder or similar, and not just coworker’s distaste for doing things she doesn’t like.

    3. AudreyParker*

      I hate the phone, even for people I know. Part of it is shyness (for strangers) and not thinking well on my feet, part of it is having had a job early on where 90% of the time, anyone I spoke to on the phone was really angry, and that had a huge impact on me – I finally had to take stress leave and quit that one, but never lost the knee-jerk response of phone = bad things happening. Plus I just find it takes a lot of energy for me. So it takes a LOT to get me to use the phone in the face of email or text alternatives, but I do realize sometimes it’s the best way to handle something, at which point I spend like half an hour psyching myself up, and usually write a script to refer to if my mind goes blank. It’s even worse in an open office when you have an audience listening to everything you say… ugh, stressing myself out just writing this. I am one of those people that was thrilled when chat help and online food ordering became a thing!

      1. Doctor Schmoctor*

        The open office thing! I take my cellphone (which the company pays for) and I make the call outside where nobody can hear me.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        I dislike phone conversations with people I don’t know well, although I’m much better than when I was a kid. But I never applied for jobs that required extensive phone-calls with strangers. Taking a job like that and just trying to avoid the calls is not a good solution.

      1. Great A'Tuin*

        To you, sure. To me it would be a very big deal, and would probably trigger a panic attack.

        It’s all part of that whole “people are different” thing. You get that, right?

        1. Legalchef*

          Right, but if that’s the case you wouldn’t take a job that pretty much requires you to interact with people on the phone, at least not without seeing if there is some accommodation that can be made.

          Even if the LWs coworker is legit scared of the phone, it’s on them to either opt out of jobs where it will be an issue or work with the employer to figure out an accommodation. That’s not what is happening here, so it actually doesn’t really matter the reason behind the coworker not talking on the phone, because it’s not the LWs issue to figure out.

          1. Someone Else*

            Given that the boss is letting the coworker continue to evade the phone, I think there has been an accommodation made. Maybe not a formal or documented one, but the boss is allowing it and doesn’t seem concerned by it. So functionally, she found a job that lets her work around it. Now it’s disproportionately affecting LW, which sucks, but the phone phobic person has been there longer so clearly this company is OK with how the coworker is handling it. That might be stupid or illogical of them, but it is the norm there.

            1. Gloucesterina*

              Yes, if that’s the case, the boss should have been above-board in the hiring process that the person in LW’s role was expected to alleviate confusion or miscommunication that results from the co-worker’s job being configured as an email-only job, and to have re-balanced the LW’s role accordingly. It’s confusing to me why there is no apparent communication in this office about who is expected to do what and why, if so much of their business is phone-dependent.

        2. Sylvan*

          I get that. I also want to say, as somebody with severe clinical anxiety (panic disorder and GAD), that being unable to do parts of your job because of anxiety isn’t a sustainable situation. If you’re struggling with this and any form of help is available to you, please try to make the best of it.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Ugh. Closing announcements are worse than talking on the phone because you can hear your own voice echoing around. I used to hate talking on the phone so much, and am now fine with sitting in at the reception desk answering the main phone when I need to, but I still break into a cold sweat if I need to page anyone.

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

          Hahaha, I’m the opposite, I absolutely hate the phone (not scared, not anxious, I just hate being on the phone, talking on the phone, the act of calling people, the act of answering the phone), but I have no problem on mics. It was weird to get used to at first, but my first job ever at a fast-food place had a mic we’d use to call back orders to the kitchen, so you had to get used to it *real* fast.

        2. Grapey*

          I actually liked making announcements! It’s when people can overhear me without me intending to be heard that I have the biggest problem with phones.

      3. Tardigrade*

        See, I’d prefer making an announcement (which I did in retail days) because nobody responds or interacts, and I’d already know what I’m supposed to say.

        Whereas being on the phone, sometimes my mind becomes empty and I feel like Pip leaping off the whaling boat and being stranded in the middle of the ocean.

    4. EPLawyer*

      I just don’t like talking on the phone. I do better in person when I can gauge reaction or in email when I can give a thoughtful response.
      That said, I am required to speak ocassionaly on the phone to people. Everyone gets a return call. I have to gear up for it and can only do so many day before it gets to be too much. But I suck it up and do it. Because its my job.
      If you legit cannot talk on the phone, don’t take a job that requires it. Manager needs to manage, not just be vague, hey sometimes she’s on the phone so its okay in this phone heavy job.

      1. Jennifer*

        Unfortunately, there’s no job where you won’t have to answer a phone at some point, and unless you’re deaf, you’re not going be able to get around it. I haven’t been able to find any anyway.

        1. Grapey*

          I do database work and I haven’t got a work related phone call in about 10 years. Everyone uses chat and email.

    5. Alton*

      It’s hard to say, because issues like that can run the gamut from a preference to a hearing issue to a full-on phobia.

      Personally, I’m not a fan of talking on the phone because sometimes I have trouble making out what someone is saying. I also have a hard time following along when someone is spelling out a name or telling me a phone number (sometimes I have to listen to a voicemail two or three times to make sure I heard the person’s number correctly, even if they said it clearly. And when someone tries to spell something for me, my brain just doesn’t process it. It’s like hearing random letters). It’s one of those things that gets a little easier with practice, but it’s awkward to ask someone to repeat themselves, or struggle to repeat back a number they gave me. And if I’m talking to someone who has a heavy accent, I feel bad because I don’t want to make them feel self-conscious.

      1. Emelle*

        I am deaf in one ear and I haaaate talking on the phone. I try to talk on speaker because then I can be aware of my surroundings, but if I hold a phone up to my ear, that is all I hear. (My hearing loss is recent-ish so I am still adjusting to it.)
        All that to say, I find calling someone for a business purpose to be easier than calling a friend. A friend I don’t want to call at a bad time or interrupt. Business? I am paying/you are paying to talk to me. It’s uncomfortable, but I also have started sending written confirmation of our conversation when I can. People who know my hearing situation seem to be fine with this arrangement.

    6. Dr. Pepper*

      I’m on the other side, I wish more people had been taught proper “phone voice”! I’m slightly deaf, so talking on the phone can be very difficult when people don’t speak clearly, don’t speak up, rush their words, etc. It’s the main reason I hate talking on the phone. I learned “phone etiquette” at home, but based on my experiences, we really could have done with even a few simple lessons at school. We learned how to address letters, so why not how to have a short phone call, complete with how to end it??

    7. Loves Libraries*

      I dislike the phone too. When I was in my 20’s (50’s now). I had a job where I had to answer the phone a lot. After a learning curve I didn’t have as much problems. But now I’m out of practice and with so much electronic communication I find it easy to try and avoid the phone.

    8. PizzaSquared*

      I hate, hate, hate talking on the phone. To the extent that no, I would not routinely talk on the phone for work. But I also wouldn’t take a job where that was the expectation. It doesn’t seem reasonable to take a job that needs a lot of phone calls if you aren’t willing to talk on the phone.

      I will say, I do bristle a bit at the common attitude of “this is so much easier as a phone call!” My experience (and I include myself in this) is that phone people think everything is easier as a phone call, email people think everything is easier as an email, and almost no one truly has a nuanced view. It seems like you’re either a phone person or an email person (or a meeting person!). But I think it’s important to be self-aware about that, especially if the requirements or culture of the job you’re in are in conflict with your personal preference.

    9. Mockingdragon*

      I’m fine with the phone for business, although sometimes I have to psyche myself up for it. Like some others have said, when I’m calling someone whose job it is to answer, I know I’m not interrupting anything or being a “burden” (says Anxiety). I can also plan out what I’m going to say ahead of time and practice if I really need to.

      With friends and casual situations, I just feel more relaxed in text. Things aren’t immediate – I can send an IM, go get a glass of water, then come back and answer. I have more time to form responses, and time to look at my responses before I send them, which is especially important when I’m having a bad mood. And paradoxically, I can say things in text that I just can’t force out of my mouth in voice, things that I’m embarrassed about or ashamed of or frightened of the answer to. I can type letter by tiny letter and force myself to press the button.

      So I don’t know what causes it exactly. They’re just different media and work best for different people in different situations :) if I’m trying to say something sensitive, I’ll ALWAYS choose email over phone, both to let me phrase things as perfectly as possible, and to give the other person a time delay to react before responding. Lower stakes, phone is usually fine.

    10. Grapey*

      I can’t shake paying attention to what my coworkers are talking about when they’re on the phone even with my headphones on and I hate the idea of annoying other people the same way.

      Even when I’m at home, if I start talking to an older family member (the only people who use the phone anymore, and they’re all hard of hearing to boot), my husband calls out “WHAT?!” from another room and we have to have an exchange of “Hold on mom…I’M ON THE PHONE…ok mom what were you saying?…No, I’m fine, I had to tell husband I’m on the phone…”

      Phone calls are a spectator sport and I hate them if anyone is around. If I’m alone, I’m ok with the phone all day long. Open offices don’t allow that.

    11. Isabel Kunkle*

      I’ll do it when I have to, and I like talking to…well, basically to my mom, and that’s it. But I loathe it for any business purposes, as an employee or a customer. I read fast, so even a long email is fine, whereas a call means I have to wait around while the person on the other end processes, and vice-versa; it’s easier for people to get sidetracked or rambly in a call; I hear okay, but not well enough to be completely sure I’m not missing anything; it’s harder to enter a date into a calendar or have written instructions to refer back to; if I’m working remotely or conducting business in my office, a call means finding a place where I’m not disturbing others.

      Basically: any given phone call is going to be way more of a waste of my time and the other person’s than an email covering the same topics is, even if further email is necessary to clarify. I’ll do it, when that works better for my boss or whoever, but uuuuuuuugh.

  10. Greg NY*

    #3: I can’t speak for others, but I can speak for myself. What I’d want for a tenure milestone is a paid sabbatical (4 weeks at 5 years, 8 weeks at 10 years, and 12 weeks at 15 years and every 5 years thereafter sounds fair). For the holidays, I don’t really need or want anything other than sincere recognition of all team members and their contributions to the organization over the past year, and to be treated fairly in terms of time off if I or anyone else wants to take some time off. I dread my birthdays now that I’m getting older and I don’t want the occasion observed in any way, much less any gift.

    1. Space Turtle*

      I want more than sincere recognition. I want a bonus. I won’t get one as I work for a charity, but don’t everyone go listening to this statement of recognition being enough!

      1. Scarlet*

        This. I really don’t care about my contribution being “recognized”.
        Show me appreciation through money and/or extra PTO, that’s what I’m working for.

        (And I think treating people fairly in terms of time off or anything else is just being par for the course. I hope it’s not considered a perk.)

      2. ThankYouRoman*

        Yeah….we get a heartfelt recognition yearly. It’s tucked into the gift basket that also includes our notice about bonuses.

        I had a boss who handed out paychecks personally so he could say “thank you”. He did the same with bonuses as well. It was a nice touch to say the least. I never felt unrecognized or unappreciated or underpaid.

    2. Jasnah*

      I would like a sabbatical/extended time off too. I would like recognition as well but I feel like I should get that anyway so I would prefer money. At least a Starbucks card. Then I can show my sincere recognition to my barista.

      1. Jasnah*

        My union got a choice between a reduced ticket to the local theme park, or the equivalent on a Starbucks card. Both are close to the office (theme park is <1hr away, Starbucks is <1min) and had significant value, plus you could make a choice which felt empowering. There were even discounts for family members at the park so it felt family-friendly, and you could reschedule the ticket if you couldn't go that day… or just get 50 USD at Starbucks. I felt much more positively towards my employer and union after this, so the gift worked I guess!

    3. gmg22*

      My organization offers a four-week paid sabbatical (and you can tack on some of your regular CTO to it as well), but you have to have been here for 10 years to take it. They’re looking at expanding eligibility, and I hope they do. One of my colleagues took hers this past summer and has come back to work so refreshed. Honestly, every company should do this. A week or even two isn’t long enough to recharge, not with the pace of the modern office.

    4. Gumby*

      I worked someplace where we got 4 weeks at 2/3 pay every 5 years we worked there. You had to use it within a year of your start date anniversary. It was really great to be able to travel for a whole month and really immerse myself in a new location rather than make a quick visit where all I saw were the tourist destinations.

      Sadly, the company was sold when I was about 9 years into my work there so I never got a second break.

  11. Mm*

    #4 I am an hourly employee at a laboratory where we literally cannot have snacks at our desks due to safety reasons. We are alotted two 15 minute breaks in addition to our lunch to get a snack, beverage, etc. That is standard in my industry. Your boss is being really unreasonable!

    I have chronically low blood sugar and literally could not make it through my shift without my snack breaks. Maybe go a doctor and have your glucose levels tested? Mine are always low, maybe yours are as well? Medical documentation can be persuasive sometimes.

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Oh yeah.

      I’ve worked in labs as a student and had to hear the radiation protection briefing every year due to the nature of my work. And due to the nature of someone else’s work I also had to get the GMO lab safety briefing every year.

      Both can be summed up easily as:
      -Follow the warning signs!
      -Don’t eat and drink in the lab, stupid!

      And from my time spent in hospital I know that nurses keep food and drink at the nurses’ station to refresh themselves during their shifts.

    2. TL -*

      I worked in academic labs and literally no one ever cared if you walked out to get food or if you wrote a long protocol with built-in breaks (for snacking/drinking/bathrooms), as long as you timed it so you got what you needed to done when it needed to be done.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      Yep – there are jobs where “no food here” is perfectly reasonable… so reasonable bosses make sure you can go elsewhere to eat when necessary!

    4. Jenn*

      I had a 6 hour lab in college and we used to step out and chug drinkable yogurts in the lounge. Dizzy in lab is not good (and some of the experiments can make it worse).

    5. Elle*

      I agree on the fasted glucose levels – you can check out “reactive hypoglycemia” for a bit more info. That might help bolster your case. You can have a medical condition that affects blood sugar without it being diabetes. Its pretty poorly understood, but there is even a medical condition where you can exhibit signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) even if you don’t have clinically low levels.
      I hesitated to even post this, because I know this is a career advice forum…. but I was just like you, I needed to eat every few hours or my world would end. It was really negatively impacting my job, where I’m expected to be on top of problems to the point I sometimes can’t get a break to eat lunch. I started the keto diet and I can now go 8 hours without eating no problem. I no longer get hypoglycemia. For the first time in my life I don’t get “hangry” anymore, and I feel free.

  12. Magda*

    #4 Your manager sounds very controlling. I wouldn’t ask her for permission to have a snack. I would instead take a banana or a handful of almonds with me on my bathroom break and eat it there. Sorry you are dealing with this, it’s hard to believe she’s a reasonable person to work with otherwise.

  13. Observer*

    #4 – I have to admit that I’m not entirely in agreement with Alison. I would use a bit stringer language – Not “I’m finding that my energy plummets after a few hours without food and sometimes I even get nauseous” but “I generally get nauseous and shaky”. Your manager needs to realize that this is not just you goofing off.

    Also, talk to your doctor. Sami is right that you may be hypoglycemic, in which case you may even be entitled to an ADA accommodation – and it would be pretty impossible to argue any sort of “undue burden” here, even if there is a genuine need to avoid food at the desks. All you need is 5 minutes in the kitchen to get a snack! Of course you don’t want to start with “you are legally required to do this”, but it’s something that a decent HR should be cognizant of. So if you go to them and say “I have this medical condition” this would likely trigger their antenna.

    Also, check your state and local law about required break times. Federal law doesn’t generally require breaks, but some states and cities do require them.

    1. HannahS*

      I tend to agree. I worry that if it’s framed as “Sometimes I even get nauseous,” the response might be, “Well, on the rare occasion that this happens, you can take five minutes to get a snack,” when really you need to have a snack every day.

  14. ContemporaryIssued*

    #1 I used to be phone shy but my past jobs trained me out of it. This coworker sounds like a pretty bad communicator in general, considering email is at its best short and sweet, clear and to the point. Nobody likes reading long work emails.

    #4 Start eating during bathroom breaks. Not the most appetizing prospect but if your boss is being this unreasonable, it may be your only option.

  15. Stuff*

    #3 well whatever it is just please don’t have the company logo on it. Always hated that. i.e. here’s a gift! And advertise the company while you’re at it :)

    1. Gaia*

      Haha I think it’s funny how different I am on this. I genuinely don’t mind logo items as long as they are usable. Money and time off first but if you toss me a sweet water bottle with a little logo on it? I’ll gladly take it!

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I am sitting here wearing a hoodie from a company I worked for 9+ years ago and drinking tea out of a mug from the company I worked at before my current job :)

      1. Alton*

        I like it sometimes because it can be a good excuse to have something that I can use around the office. I may not want to leave a nice coffee cup that I purchased at the office where it could get lost or stolen, but I’m not going to be as worried about the fate of a branded cup that was given to me as swag.

      2. KRM*

        Yes! We get little winter and summer gifts at our annual outings, that have the company logo on them. But they’re usable! Drinking glasses, hat/scarf set, headphones, mugs, etc.
        For our 1 year we get a fleece and a five year is a choice between a really nice tech jacket and a backpack. Ten year is money and a two week sabbatical vacation. So it’s pretty sweet, honestly!

      3. Pebbles*

        I have a nice Land’s End fall coat with the company name on it. Still use it after 16 years! (Also still with the company.)

    2. Doctor Schmoctor*

      My company has this weird obsession with branded golf shirts. I don’t wear golf shirts, and they never have anything in my size, so they never fit. I just leave them lying on a desk somewhere until they disappear.

      1. CoveredInBees*

        That’s been a problem for me as well. The swag needs to be useful and properly sized. Every time I’ve worked somewhere that handed out shirts, they only got men’s cuts and would get a few mediums and the rest would be L-XXL. This was not at all reflective of the employees in terms of gender or size to a ridiculous extent.

        1. Emily*

          This happened to me recently! I am one of several petite women in a group that ordered t-shirts for everyone…and they didn’t order any smalls. Only medium through XXL. I didn’t feel like I could complain because the shirts were free and probably a one-time thing, but it was kinda a bummer.

          1. Kes*

            I’d still consider bringing that up – if most of the men can get a shirt in their size, but most of the women likely can’t (especially with unisex sizing), that’s worth addressing

    3. Quackeen*

      In my last job, I got a (relatively nice) warm-up jacket with the company logo on it for my 1-year anniversary.

      2 weeks later, my entire department got news of layoffs.

      So, it’s not just the advertising factor, it’s the fact that many times, people will leave your company and that logo will be a sore spot with them every time they look at it. I ended up donating the jacket to Goodwill.

      1. Dance-y Reagan*

        Heck yes to this. I chucked a very nice Thermos (yes, that brand) and a fleece popover because I couldn’t stand to see the logo after the way they handled layoffs.

      2. Slartibartfast*

        I sewed a decorative patch over the company logo on the really nice jacket they gave us one Christmas.

    4. CupcakeCounter*

      I’m not that fussed about the logo but my company gives, what I would consider, decent items. I’ve gotten a mini-soft side cooler that make a great lunch box or golf cooler, koozies (can and bottle), a heavy duty toiletry bag (I took it to Mexico last year and took a picture of it with a margarita and sent it to my group – made it to the company web page which was fun), and we just got one of those huge stainless steel water bottles. Honestly the only things I haven’t used are the polo shirt and the trucker hat. Old company gave out some good stuff too – a welcome mat with the company’s design logo (not brand) made from coconut fibers was one of the best. If I am remembering correctly it was made on an island that had been hard hit by a natural disaster and these mats were a way to use the destroyed trees/fruit/fibers and help boost the economy or something similar…I do remember it coming with a note about the origin of the mat and the environmental and socioeconomic impact that purchasing it had (and they purchased about 8,000) and thinking it was really cool. Lasted a good long time too – very quality workmanship – I got it probably 8+ years ago and just had to replace it last winter.

    5. OP 3*

      I’m reposting a comment I made further down, as it seems applicable here:
      Thanks for weighing in, I’m finding everyone’s opinions really helpful. A little more info for my specific situation: I can’t arrange for more PTO unfortunately, and we regularly do gift cards for other occasions. Birthdays, holidays, employee appreciation day, etc. (though I’m realizing from comments those gift cards should maybe be less specific in their location!!) I have three employees coming up on a milestone anniversary working with us, and wanted to do something that really shows our appreciation for their hard work. We work together really closely, so another gift card seems so impersonal. I had been considering an embroidered tech jacket or nice pullover they could wear at the office. It’s always cold, and it would set them apart to clients as women who are really good/dedicated/experienced and everyone at work seems to like when we do t shirts for other occasions-breast cancer awareness and other events).

      Feels like gift cards are the overall consensus here though, so we should probably stick with it.

  16. sacados*

    Yikes that’s an awful situation. I agree with everying Alison said. The key here is “as long as the clients aren’t angry.”
    Right now the clients aren’t angry — BECAUSE the OP is picking up all of the slack with coworker’s clients.
    Once you stop doing that, the anger will start, trust me.
    The key is to make this enough of a problem that your manager can no longer (pretend to) ignore it.

    1. Izzy*

      It also sounds like some of them aren’t exactly angry, they’re just so put off by the emails that they just give up and vanish. IMO that’s worse than angry! At least you can try to calm angry clients down, but these guys are now lost to the business just because OPs colleague refuses to use a phone.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        I cannot count the times I made that point at my first job. The purchaser for the department was notoriously bad about following up, even with HUGE customer orders. I spent so much time trying to tell management that customers were telling me that they’d given up trying to place orders with us and instead were ordering online (in a pre-free shipping time.) They has reached the point where they realized it was better to pay $30+ in shipping because at least they’d get their stuff eventually.

    2. Secretary*

      yes to sacados!
      Boundaries. You need to set boundaries. Stop doing your coworker’s job, it would be ok to help out once in a while if your coworker was overall doing what they needed to do, but since they’re not, you need to stop covering for them so the issue becomes your manager’s problem.

  17. Shad*

    #3: There’s a difference, imo, between a gift that didn’t take much thought and an outright thoughtless gift. The former—gift card, cash, something that’s going to be generally well received with not much more personalization than making sure the right name and occasion go on the card—will almost universally be acceptable at work, barring the most unreasonable employees. A truly thoughtless gift, though—a toy, promotional-style merchandise, etc.—stands a good chance of engendering resentment.

    1. Willis*

      This is a good distinction. Also, I don’t really consider a tote bag, notepad, water bottle, or other promotional items a gift. Seems more like advertisement for the company as I use the item. Fine if the company wants to make that type of stuff available, but I wouldn’t act like it’s a present or show of thanks to employees.

      Cash, time off, and gift cards that can be used at a variety of places sound like a good way to go. It’s just too hard to find other types of gifts that would please everyone. If possible, it may be cool to offer people a choice between time off or money and they could pick what they’d prefer.

      1. Scarlet*

        100% agree on the logo items. I think it can be a nice perk when it’s useful, but I certainly don’t consider it a “gift”.

        I would personally prefer cash or time off. I like gift cards, but you need to make sure it’s something broad enough that it’s usable by anyone (e.g. not something alcohol-related, children-oriented, etc.). Honestly, a gift to your employees is very different from a gift to a friend, it doesn’t have to be personalized or look like you put a lot of thought into it (and it’s almost impossible to find something that will please everyone on your team).

      2. ThankYouRoman*

        I’ve seen the distinct difference between a dysfunctional office that acted like logoed items were the best gift ever, how dare you take them for granted and the office where we get promo items because they’re marketing tools and good quality ones at that.

        If you’re regularly appreciated, pay and bonus structure is above market range and a happy environment, you can appreciate well crafted water bottles and cozy team jackets along side your compensation packages and yearly raises.

    2. OP 3*

      Thanks for weighing in, I’m finding everyone’s opinions really helpful. A little more info for my specific situation: I can’t arrange for more PTO unfortunately, and we regularly do gift cards for other occasions. Birthdays, holidays, employee appreciation day, etc. (though I’m realizing from comments those gift cards should maybe be less specific in their location!!) I have three employees coming up on a milestone anniversary working with us, and wanted to do something that really shows our appreciation for their hard work. We work together really closely, so another gift card seems so impersonal. I had been considering an embroidered tech jacket or nice pullover they could wear at the office. It’s always cold, and it would set them apart to clients as women who are really good/dedicated/experienced and everyone at work seems to like when we do t shirts for other occasions-breast cancer awareness and other events).

      Feels like gift cards are the overall consensus here though, so we should probably stick with it.

      1. Snarky*

        For what it’s worth, as someone working in the tech sector, I’d love to get a custom jacket or pullover, particularly if they’re being given to only the people who are exceptional employees or have been there a long time. Since you’re already giving gift cards, I’d rather have the custom jacket/pullover at other special milestones rather than another gift card that everyone is eligible to get at some point or another. I think you’re on the right track already personally.

  18. Sam*

    #4 your boss is definitely being unreasonable, and I concur with the other advice above, but purely as a coping mechanism in the meantime…I had some (non-diabetic) blood sugar issues a few years ago, and one of the things I did, with advice of a doctor, was cut down on the carbs I ate early in the day – it REALLY helped reduce/eliminate the low blood sugar attacks i was getting, because it helped reduce the carb/sugar spikes I was getting in the morning (and then crashing). Now I have a high protein breakfast (during the week it’s usuallt just a protein shake if I’m in a rush), and wait until lunch or later to have carbs.

    (And yes, I still put real sugar in my coffee).

    Obviously everyone’s body is different, and the bigger issue is your unreasonable boss, but just wanted to toss this out there specifically for the blood sugar spike/crash issue, because I HAVE BEEN THERE.

  19. CBE*

    1. Don’t do company branded merchandise. My company does this, especially if a new marketing campaign drops right around the usual employee appreciation time. They will give everyone a cheap t shirt with the newest campaign on it and call it appreciation.
    I don’t feel appreciated, I don’t look good in men’s T shirts (and that’s all they do!) and it goes straight to the thrift store.
    2. Don’t do a catalog with a small selection of luxury goods. These are popular, and might be appreciated by the C suite, but if most of your rank and file employees make $20/hour or less, they’re not going to want that $100 blown glass vase as much as something more practical for their lives. I have twice gotten a limited catalog like that and they didn’t have a single thing I could use! Choice is good. Limited number of luxury goods is not. Both times I opted not to get anything at all since if I ordered, I would have taxes on the value taken out of my paycheck for something I COULDN’T EVEN USE.
    3. Definitely don’t do anything where the employee has to pay shipping!
    Gift cards are a nice option. So is a cash bonus. If you can, please “gross it up” so the employee doesn’t get less than the value you want them to have. My current employer has a program where I earn points, and every time I redeem points, I get a smaller paycheck. My husband’s employer will give him a small bonus to cover that, mine does not.

    1. Doctor Schmoctor*

      Where I work, if you’re good, you get points. And then you can use those points to order a useless thing from a catalog. This thing that you don’t really need or want is then shipped from England, and you have to pay import fees when it arrives. I ordered a useless thing once, but it just never arrived. And I had to pay tax on its value.
      Next time I’ll ask them if I can get cash instead.

      I don’t want points, I want money

    2. Perse's Mom*

      4. Don’t do food! We got cheese and sausage platters one year. Multiple kinds of each. I usually enjoy both! But most of the selections were between not good and genuinely unpleasant, so it was almost all thrown away. I can’t imagine how excited a vegetarian or vegan coworker would have been to get that, or someone lactose intolerant, or allergic to any one of the spices used in the various sausages.

      1. CheeryO*

        My last employer was super old school and gave out hams at Christmas. It wasn’t so much the hams themselves that bothered me, it was the ridiculous flaunting of the hams and talking about traditions, loyalty, blah blah blah (and yeah, what would you give a vegetarian/vegan?). Would have been more believable coming from a company that didn’t give the bare minimum in terms of salary and PTO.

      2. Scarlet*

        Agreed. I would love cheese and sausage too, but food is just too fraught. On top of all the categories of people you mention, you can also add people who don’t eat pork for religious reasons. Giving sausages as a gift could be considered offensive in certain circumstances.

    3. Asenath*

      I had no idea there were so many options for employer gift-giving – but most of them do sound like “dont’s”! At major milestones, we get small amounts of money from the union. Our immediate managers (so to speak, the title is different) might give a nice picture on, say, retirement – co-workers might take up a cash collection too, if the retiree has been in the department a long time. And managers sometimes give chocolates or, occasionally, a bottle of wine at Christmas. Chocolates are good – if you’re on a diet, or they’re a group gift, they can be placed in the office “snack on any food left here” place. And although I don’t drink, I say “thank you” very nicely for the wine, and give it to a friend who does drink. Luxury but useless items?? Or even worse, “gifts” that reduced your take-home pay because of shipping or taxes??? What an ungenerous idea!!

  20. SandrineSmiles (France)*


    I’m exactly the same as you. And I’m the receptionist. My solution might not be applicable to all, but that is the one thing I will cheat about. My main rule is: avoid smells and never cheat if someone is coming up. Also clean up well.

    Sure, I am in France so I may not be fired cause I dared eat, but I am also not going to let myself get sick. Weird thing is, for me all of this also means falling asleep at my desk if I don’t eat and/or am not stimulated enough.

    The people at the agency dispatching me where I am now are well aware of this. They understand, even if they cannot officially encourage me to do it. If I ever “get caught” I will simply be placed somewhere else if current client thinks it’s such an offense I cannot work for them anymore.

    I understand not wanting messes, but the yogurt bit… that boss is an ass, and that is being polite. It’s not like you are having feasts at your desk… the lack of compassion here is completely appalling.

    1. Kell*

      Yep. It’ns not like they’re eating their lunch at the desk. I don’t see the issue to have a small chocolate or energy bar. Sure there might be a few crumbs, but you can clean after.

      1. SandrineSmiles (France) [At Work]*

        Well, sometimes I have in the past, let’s be honest, but that was more because I get utterly depressed by eating in the cafeteria we do have (reminders of school that for some reason leave a bad taste in my mouth) so I was doing everything I could to avoid going there.

        Now I actually have to, as my one coping mechanism is even more forbidden now: they don’t want me to speak to my coworker at all. We’re both dispatched by the same agency (not even proper company employee, eh) but apparently having a good team spirit doesn’t interest them :p .

        In any case, I can understand controlling phones, internet use, things like that, but when it comes to food and bathroom breaks, I just don’t get how you can be considered reasonable… I mean, people function differently… :(

        1. AsItIs*

          People (staff) are appliances there only to serve the bosses. With appliances, you plug them in and they work all day. Staff should be grateful for a job, let alone a salary. They should be paying us to work here!

          /sarcasm, with a tinge of truth as to how some bosses think.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I agree with you except that many years ago I was the one to clean out a former co-worker’s cubicle. It was ….not as clean as it appeared on the surface. I commented elsewhere on this thread — suffice it to say there were nut dust & granola crumbs everywhere that the custodian’s big vacuum didn’t reach. And that’s someone who *DID* wipe down her surfaces every day.

        1. Observer*

          Well, then you have to let people take quick breaks to eat.

          And, I have to say that this s NOT typical. most people can manage to eat food, especially foods that are not highly crumbly, without leaving traces all over the place.

  21. Viki*

    As long as the no food thing isn’t pest or hygiene related there is room to push back. If it is pest/occupation centric options are limited

  22. Traveling Teacher*

    When I was a small child, I would faint in class if I didn’t eat every couple of hours, especially if I had PE in the morning! The teachers learned that they had to allow me to have a discreet snack or else risk me fainting in their class. As a grown-up, I can control it much better, but it still happens sometimes, especially in high heat or after an intense workout. Eventually discovered that it’s all due to an oversensitive vagovasal nerve–the nerve that sends your body into shock.

    I’ve learned, over many years, that the only regular breakfast that will actually keep me going is a big bowl of regular oatmeal and or a couple of hard boiled eggs. It’s not fancy, but it is cheap. Still have to eat a couple hours later, but the feeling isn’t so faint and lightheaded anymore! If i eat toast, for example, I’ll immediately feel horrible and nauseous, even if it’s loaded with protiens and fruits. A full English, when I had them in England, was the one breakfast that will truly keep me going til lunch! Obviously, I’m not going to eat one of those every day when I can graze on healthier foods instead, though! When I was teaching, the students never minded me eating quick yogurts, almonds, apples, etc, as I gave them the same privilege and made it clear that this was fuel snacking, not idle munching…

    Hope you can get this sorted quickly!

    1. WS*

      And an oversensitive vasovagal reflex is quite common! Fortunately I mostly grew out of it (though it can still be heat or pain triggered), but I had the same problems with food as you as a kid. It’s a pain, and can’t really be treated except by not triggering it in the first place. Allowing someone a regular snack is a simple and reasonable way to deal with this.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Same although I was older (late middle, early high school). Unfortunately I went to a Pentecostal Christian school so many of my incidents happened during chapel or spirit week (as in the Holy Spirit) when the sessions ran significantly over and we missed break and were cutting into lunch so they just thought I was slain by the spirit. Got detention after one of these when I yelled at a teacher or someone “No you assholes I fainted from lack of nourishment – how stupid can you be?”

      1. What A Maroon*

        “No you assholes I fainted from lack of nourishment – how stupid can you be?” is the single best thing I’ve read today.

  23. AudreyParker*

    #5 OMG this is making me insane right now – theoretically the “WorkSource Center” is supposed to help people find work, but the ones by me are so incredibly useless, I can’t even get a calendar from them to find out when they’re doing workshops or what their supposed “career coach” actually does. I am having such a rough time with this search and having no support or offline assistance, and keep hearing about “job clubs” and other similar supportive groups in other locations, I just can’t understand how my major metropolitan area does such a terrible job of helping people. I guess I got my first hint when I went in for “orientation” and the girl running it nearly died from happiness when she found out those of us there actually had at least a bachelor’s degree, but I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt that they may have something to offer beyond Target job fairs. Now I am kind of assuming that even if I could have a conversation with anyone there, it would go the same way the OP’s did, which is really disheartening. /end rant

  24. RUKiddingMe*

    3. Maybe they find a sealed envelope with their name on it on their desk.

    Maybe it contains 5-10 unmarked, non-sequential c-notes.

    Maybe no one needs to know…it’s all cash.

    *Dont really do this.

    1. Marthooh*

      Or do the OG St. Nicholas thing: wrap the envelope around a brick and throw it through their front window.

      I might be imagining the part about the brick…

  25. Julia*

    Maybe the co-worker from question 2 should get a new job teaching people like the co-worker from question 1 to love the phone, to the point where they’ll want to be on it all day long. Everybody wins… or maybe not.

  26. Jay*

    O.P. #4, is it just solid foods, or all forms of consumption that are forbidden? Because it is very, very difficult to tell the difference between a bottle of water and a bottle of water with sugar in it. There are also things like fiber powders that you could add to a beverage to make it something close to a meal. For that matter, one of those liquid breakfast things could work well. You can get coolers that resemble tote bags or small utility bags and keep an ice pack in there, getting out an opaque ‘water bottle’ whenever you feel the need for a little pick-me-up.

      1. Roja*

        That was my thought too. Make all your bottles opaque and keep two with you, one for water and one for a shake/smoothie/whatever.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yes, those “instant breakfast” shakes with protein would be a good choice if you’re allowed to have drinks at your desk.

  27. Akgal*

    I have a physical disability and I went to the job center to help me find a job. They had me take a test to find out what job I would like to get. The test said I would enjoy either being a flight attendant or a police officer. So when I met with the counselor she was excitedly talking about how to get me in either of the two professions. If I wasn’t disabled I probably would do well with those jobs but…
    I tried to tell her that I couldn’t physically do those jobs but she would not listen. So I left and just never went back.

    1. careergal*

      That sounds like someone who is not qualified to interpret test results. I’m sorry that happened to you.

  28. mark132*

    #3 short answer, they want cash,

    Long answer, my company puts a lot of effort into giving a thought full gift every xmas. And I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I have a couple really nice watches I never wear, a few coats I don’t wear. A couple bags that I’ve used a lot. A mish mash of electronics that some got used some didn’t. I’d put it at 50/50 for me using the gift. But I promise the cash gifts always got used 100% of the time

  29. Ruth (UK)*

    5. In the UK if you need to claim JSA (job seekers allowance which is a type of unemployment benefit) you have to attend regular meetings at the job centre where they give you terrible advice and require to apply for jobs they recommend as a condition of you receiving the money.

    I needed to claim JSA for a few months after I finished uni in 2012. They told me it was worth applying to everything. Among the various retail etc jobs I needed to apply for (one of which I managed to get) they also insisted I put in an application to be a fork lift truck driver. I pointed out it required a specific license / training / skillset I clearly lacked. They said I should apply just in case…

    Of course I wasn’t offered the job but if I had been, I’d have had to accept or lose my benefit so that might have been hilarious…

    It wasn’t the only vastly inappropriate job I was made to apply for but it’s one that stood out in my memory.

    Of course they also gave bad CV advice etc. I don’t recall anything truly terrible but just generally out of date, not useful etc like op 5 has experienced.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Oh yes. I had to claim JSA briefly when I first left University.They told me that I was not allowed to take a voluntary role which was directly relevant to my qualifications and would increase my chances of getting a job, despite having explicit confirmation from the voluntary org. that it would not in any way prevent me from job seeking or taking a paid job.
      I did the voluntary work any way, and it was a key factor in my getting a job!
      They also took the view that applying for jobs which were advertised in my profession’s trade journal didn’t count because those jobs were not advertised in the job centre…

      1. Ruth (UK)*

        ah yes, I also remember being banned from voluntary work. If you can volunteer, you should be working instead! (even if the volunteer work helps you get the experience you need to find paid work…)

      2. Claire*

        Oh geez, that made me flash back to the short time I was receiving JSA after graduating from teacher training college, back in the 90s. I was applying to all the jobs teaching my subject in my area, and for some distance beyond, but apparently since teaching posts were never advertised in the Job Centre, they didn’t count as applications! I ended up making multiple copies of the applications I had filled in, bringing copies of the Times Educational Supplement with the adverts highlighted, and generally being really OTT in demonstrating that I was indeed job hunting. They relented after a few weeks of me turning up with my highlighted colour-coded folders of stuff.

        They also tried to get me to apply for jobs as a nursery worker, which I was not remotely qualified for. Because surely if I could teach I could take care of infants, right? It’s all the same thing. *headdesk*

        1. Liza*

          Yes, I had this! I was applying for jobs I found all over the place and showed them evidence of my applications, but they insisted that I had to only for jobs advertised via the job centre, and I had to call a job centre service and log reference numbers because “That’s how we know that you applied for them”. I argued that making a singular phone call and giving a list of numbers would be far easier to “fake” than a whole portfolio of letters and application forms, and they kind of backed off after that.

          Hilariously, many companies simply do not advertise via the job centre because the quality of candidates is so poor, probably because the service itself is offering terrible advice and pushing jobseekers to apply for inappropriate work… but it’s widely known that the job centres are working to targets that have nothing to do with helping people find employment and everything to do with imposing sanctions.

        2. CoveredInBees*

          Yup! My friend was a high school English teacher and was made to apply for infant care positions because that’s what the local unemployment office had. She didn’t have the training or certificate needed to work there, so she never got called in. Mercifully, the applications were pretty short so she didn’t waste much time on them. Still, it was ridiculous.

    2. London Calling*

      And when you have been in receipt of JSA you are taxed on it – something I found out when HMRC tried to charge me an ‘underpayment’ of tax that was more than the JSA I had received. An error that was speedily pointed out to them. I never did find out how they calculated it because HMRC doesn’t do apologies.

    3. Nameless Wonder*

      I believe you’re also supposed to demonstrate that you have spent 37 hours a week job seeking.

      The mind, it boggles.

      1. Asenath*

        Eeep. The Canadian system sounds better – or was, when I last had an extended period of jobhunting. Mind you, they didn’t actually find me a job, and although I was applying for almost anything and everything I could find, I didn’t find much that was even vaguely possible on their systems. In fact, when I did get a job, it was with a place I’d targeted myself as being large enough to have openings, and a need to hire people with my background. I did get some advice from an allied agency – not EI (or whatever they’re calling themselves now), but a government agency. A very nice lady gave me a kind of job suitability survey and pointed out how unusual it was for someone (I think, especially a woman) to say that they preferred a back room, not too much people-contact job – and encouraged me to keep my own preferences in mind in order to find a job that would suit me! Apparently, a lot of female applicants were (or thought they should say they were) very people-oriented, and wanted a job where they dealt with a lot of different people all the time. That was good advice – don’t pretend you are who you aren’t.

        What I most disliked was reporting income. You were allowed – supposedly encouraged – to take part-time or short-term jobs, but of course had to report your income because you were only allowed to keep it if it was less than a certain amount. Even that little bit of extra money helped, and of course I could hope one of the temporary jobs turned into full-time work. But I found reporting really complicated – and you had to report the money the week you earned the income, when you wouldn’t get it until later, sometimes after the week in which they cut your benefits to compensate.

        1. Cat wrangler*

          I had the delightful experience of the job centre a few years ago in the UK (I’m British). They were shocked that I’d registered with agencies to find work and told me that employers prefer to use the job centre to find good employees – I have no proof but I doubt that very much, given that if you’re on benefits you’re told to apply to anything going regardless of aptitude, skills, qualifications, employment history or even desire which is time consuming for employers to wade through whereas an agency will maybe put forward up to 10 people for a role, often a lot fewer, for the employer to choose from . When I was discussing my future plans with the job centre, I told them that I was due to start a Christmas job with a national organisation but I was instructed to apply for a job starting at 3am which would cover most of the same hours as I was already booked to work at the other place if I’d got it but when I pointed this out, I was warned that I would be risking a sanction on my claim if I refused to apply. I signed myself off JSA when I started the Christmas job and after Christmas, I landed a job through an agency. I think it’s done to either humiliate people into not claiming or the staff are so demoralised, that they just try to stick people into jobs regardless of suitability.

    4. Tisme*

      Recently told by someone on JSA that their new thing, at least locally to them, is a full day of talks on different jobs. As others have mentioned above, the relevancy to what a person can do, is still not taken into account, with which talks they have to attend. One of these talks was for a driving job, my pal does not drive, and it was for a job that you’d need a specialised driving licence for!

    5. Dance-y Reagan*

      This is the kind of nonsense that makes people tank interviews on purpose. They make you sabotage yourself by insisting you have to take anything that is offered to you, regardless of suitability or practicality. Similar to your story, my state agency was forcing me to apply for things like part-time warehouse jobs that required heavy lifting. I’m a wimpy short woman. There’s no way I could manage that.

      Plus, a lot of the part-time positions they made me apply for would have paid less than unemployment and had insane multi-hour commutes. They found it perfectly reasonable to make me accept jobs that would take up a ton of my time that should have been spent job searching, were physically infeasible and that I would have probably gotten fired from, and that would have left me unable to pay rent or feed myself. But at least I’d be off unemployment!

    6. ceiswyn*

      It’s got worse; they now expect you to job-hunt for 37.5 hours a week (HOW?!) – AND to CONTINUE JOB HUNTING EVEN IF YOU’VE ACCEPTED A JOB AND HAVE A START DATE. Apparently instead of spending the week before you start work preparing, you should spend all your time seeking some crappy temp job.

      Entertainingly, since I found a job within the first month of looking, they expected me to do all this when they weren’t even paying me anything. The gods wept.

      1. anonintheuk*

        The last time I was claiming JSA, I worked out that spending 2 days a week doing admin as a temp at £9 an hour would get me more money than they would pay me AND mean I had 3 days a week to do actual job interviews.

  30. Seeking Second Childhood*

    #4 I would like to point out that there can be other reasons besides control to not want food at desks–including basic sanitation. I was asked to get a cubicle ready for a new hire–and I learned that my former co-worker’s snacking had left her space nasty. Her desk and the drawers and the keyboard had a layer of food dust and nut bits, there were sticky patches on the desk and equipment, and even the carpeting & chair showed signs of food spills. The keyboard was a total loss.
    If that had been the 1920s building I’d worked at in midtown Manhattan, we’d have had a serious mouse invasion.

    1. HannaSpanna*

      While I do agree with this (that cleanliness is a good enough reason to ban food at desks) the manager is also not allowing quick mid morning or mid afternoon breaks to eat snacks in the break room.
      I feel the manager is someone who just eats at main meal times, so doesn’t understand that people are different and others want/need to eat a bit more regularly.

      1. HannaSpanna*

        I so need to learn how to be more concise! Akcipitrokulo said the same thing in a sentence rather than my paragraph. Probably should also refresh before commenting, oh well.

      2. all the candycorn*

        I feel perpetually ill when I visit my parents because they don’t have anything resembling a meal schedule. Breakfast at 10, then no lunch, then dinner at 8 or 9. I often end up sick from dehydration because they’re not fans of bathroom breaks either, if we are out.

        1. valentine*

          Why not separate when necessary? Do they get angry if you need to tend to your body on your own schedule?

    2. WS*

      Yes, there are legitimate reasons to not want food at desks, but then you let people have a break and eat them in the appropriate place.

    3. Alton*

      I feel like that sort of solution should be a last resort, though. Adults should be trusted to be able to clean up after themselves, and a lot of issues like that can be minimized by having some basic cleaning supplies on hand.

      1. ainomiaka*

        For cleanliness I would agree. For things where eating at one’s desk would be an OSHA violation and might get you shut down-pharmaceutical labs are the example I’ve worked in- the rule has to be there. However, other people have already made the point that if you are going to forbid eating at the desk you as a complany allow break time with access to a place to eat. Always, shouldn’t be a question.

        1. Alton*

          Right, but the example I’m responding to was someone’s workspace being dirty with crumbs and spills, which is a cleanliness issue. Banning food in a context like that feels more like punishing everyone because a few people aren’t tidy, not enforcing a safety rule that applies to everyone.

    4. ACDC*

      OldBoss (who was also the owner) banned “smelly” food from our desks. We asked her how to determine if a food is smelly or not. She said to bring it to her first and she’ll let us know.

      I’ve worked for some serious whack-jobs…

    5. Lucille2*

      I worked in an office in a newly developed area. The snacking at desks led to a problem with field mice as they were finding a new way of life when the buildings started taking over their space. That company also imposed a no-food-at-your-desk rule, but we all understood and appreciated the reasoning.

      But the boss is annoyed when people pop into the breakroom for a quick snack. That pushes this into unreasonable territory. It’s not all that uncommon for people to need a little fuel between meals to maintain focus.

  31. Kell*

    #4 Your boss sounds like a tyrant. I work at a call centre where the calls have to be taken and even our supervisors don’t say anything when we go to get a quick snack or to the bathroom. They might tell you to wait 5-10 minutes but they will not refuse you to go. It’s ridiculous. Even if you didn’t have the health problem it is just not normal to not be able to eat anything for 5 hours!

  32. Akcipitrokulo*

    #2 – tell manager/HR – and if you’re in the EU, tell your DPO immediately! Depending on where you are, and what kind of confidential information is at risk, it could have serious legal implications. Where I am (UK) this could result in very hefty fines for the company – and to be honest, the financial hit would be the least of our worries if we got fined for a data protection breach like this.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Not to mention the whole “Stop handling data. yes, all of it. Now. Yes, that means you can’t talk to any customer or take any orders or calls” action ICO can take….

        And the publicity. The publicity would kill us if the actual ICO actions didn’t.

        Just… no. Tell your DPO (if you’re in EU).

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          (Or tell whoever handles data protection if you’re elsewhere that has data protection laws, and manager/HR if you’re not.)

      2. TooOldForThisNonsense*

        Quite right, too! Whatever motivation the colleague and her husband have, and whatever they may say, this is not access to data and confidential spaces which they’re entitled to.

        Straight to the boss on this one!

    1. HannaSpanna*

      Great idea. If you are in the EU, GDPR concerns would be an easy way to flag this, especially as it’s only just been implimented so everyone is getting training on it.
      Is there a US equivalent? I know GDPR is still required if you have any EU clients/users, but does US (or wherever your based) have privacy laws you could reference?

      1. Cat wrangler*

        Where I work, the husband would hear a fair bit of swearing and also a lot of proprietary/confidential information about my organisation including some private information about the employees. My feet wouldn’t touch the ground being perp walked out, as nice as my bosses are. Tell your manager.

        1. London Calling*

          Never mind the privacy issue about the husband being able to see and hear people all the time. It’s like being a bit part player in 1984. Agree, tell your manager.

      2. Lucille2*

        US does not have data privacy regulations as stringent as GDPR….yet. However, many corporations have their own strict codes of ethics which would ban this type of behavior. I handle a lot of customer data, and my company has pretty strict guidelines regarding what is and is not ok as far as handling of company property. Even having work conversations or having sensitive data in view on a laptop/phone in public can be problematic and can cost one their job.

        OP might want to explore the company handbook. It’s possible the company has a policy against this.

  33. Ozcs*

    #1). My first thought is that your Co worker has hearing issues and the phone is a problem for her. I have hearing loss and avoid the phone whenever possible, however, my employer is aware of this and makes accommodations. Could this be what is going on?

    1. Jasnah*

      This sounds like something OP would have found out by interacting with her in the office, or when OP first brought the issue to the owner and was told “Hmmm, I think I hear her on the phone sometimes.” I have a coworker with hearing issues and anyone complaining that he doesn’t answer the phone would have gotten a different answer from the owner.

      1. DaisyGrrl*

        It’s possible for there to be a hearing issue and colleagues not to know. I had many coping mechanisms before I got my hearing aids, but I don’t think most of my coworkers were aware of how bad my hearing was.

      2. Izzy*

        Not necessarily – my dad has major hearing problems but appears mostly fine in person, because he’s had them for so long that he’s essentially learned to lip-read to compensate. If he’s talking over the phone or for any other reason can’t see your face and body language, the problem becomes clear very quickly.

      3. Jasnah*

        Let me clarify: I understand that it is possible to have a hearing issue that is not immediately clear to coworkers, but if it’s impacting phone conversations or other work, then that’s on the individual to tell their coworker/boss, “Actually I can’t do the phone because of my hearing problem, let’s discuss accommodations” instead of avoiding the phone and forcing coworkers to deal with the fallout. Surely DaisyGrrl and Izzy’s dad wouldn’t do that!

    2. AliceBD*

      My first thought was hearing issues, even undiagnosed ones. Like how you may not realize you need glasses until you get them and suddenly you can see detail you didn’t realize you were missing.

      1. Works in IT*

        As someone who wears hearing aids and occasionally has to call people for work, I have most of the people I have to call regularly trained to speak VERY LOUD AND CLEARLY because even with hearing aids hearing phones is a pain. But that wouldn’t work in a situation where one has to call unknown clients.

      2. Kelly L.*

        I’ve sometimes wondered whether I have an undiagnosed hearing issue that only manifests itself on the phone. I can hear people fine in person, but probably 50% of the time I have a phone call, I come away from it thinking “Damn, that person has horrendous cell signal.” This happens even when I’m on a land line and know it’s not my own signal causing the trouble. I get so many calls that are static and echo hell. (I think another part of it is people putting me on speaker without telling me they’re doing it, but that’s another story.)

    3. Violet*

      That’s a good point! I have hearing loss, too. I’ve known it for years but didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until an anesthesiologist walked in and spoke to me. My brain did its quick analysis of the situation (new person entering a room and speaking) and heard “How are you today?” I said, “I’m great! How are you?” My husband turned to me and half-yelled, “She said, ‘ARE YOU ALLERGIC TO ANYTHING?”

      I talk to my friends on the phone, but they’re used to me and just laugh when I mishear something. But strangers tend to get quite irritated when I can’t understand them. When I worked retail, rude customers would actually ask me if I’m stupid. I know it’s them, not me, but being snapped at and treated rudely gets old in a hurry. I spent years avoiding phone calls before I learned to make it work.

      I’ve found that it helps to be proactive. The first time I mishear somebody, or even at the beginning of a call, I explain that I’m half deaf and need for them to speak very clearly. And if I speak a little loudly, they do, too. Most people want to be helpful, so revealing my difficulty ahead of time gives them a chance to shine. I still dread phone calls a little but not nearly as much, and they go much better now.

      OP’s coworker might not be hard of hearing or might not be comfortable admitting it. But if she’s like me, revealing her difficulty and/or getting accommodations from the boss could make a big difference.

    4. Armchair Analyst*

      This is very empathetic of you. Thank you for bringing it to attention! I didn’t consider this.

    5. M. Albertine*

      The issue isn’t WHY the coworker won’t talk on the phone. The issue is that the coworker not talking on the phone is causing a burden on the OP’s workload.

    6. Sleepy Librarian*

      This is what I came to say too: my hearing problems (hearing on the phone is not the same as in person, either) coupled with having ADHD (I prefer things in writing) makes me avoid the phone like the plague. BUT. I am open and clear with my supervisor and my colleagues about that, and I don’t treat it as something to shirk. I believe, and I think ADA is pretty clear as well, that there’s a difference between a reasonable accommodation (“talking on the phone isn’t the bulk of Jane’s job, so someone else can pitch in when the phone is absolutely necessary and Jane will make up for it with her stellar, succinct emailing skills”) and unreasonable (“Jane’s job requires that she talks on the phone a lot and she can’t so she’s going to make everyone else’s lives harder, oh well.”). So even if there’s a disability at the heart of the issue, there’s a responsibility on the part of the phone-dodger and their supervisor to find out what is a reasonable accommodation that doesn’t make it difficult for OP to do THEIR job.

    7. All day phone user*

      I don’t think so. I have known her for almost a year. We have been in numerous social situations together and I hear her frequently call her mother and her brother on breaks. However, I can never be sure. She may be private about a hearing issue.

      1. Works in IT*

        That’s what I prefer to do. I will talk to family members whose voices I know well, but prefer skype or email for business stuff with people I don’t know well. Learning someone’s voice makes a huge difference in whether I can understand them on the phone or not, and I have found that it doesn’t matter how many times you explain “sorry, my hearing aids are making it hard to hear that” people either get offended (outside of job interviews) or write you off as not understanding the material (phone interviews) when you ask them to repeat themselves.

    8. rogue axolotl*

      I think there are lots of potential reasons why the coworker is avoiding the phone, but regardless of what they are, her current solution of pushing all of the work onto the LW isn’t working. I also don’t think it makes much difference to the LW what the root cause might be.

  34. nnn*

    For #4, it’s not clear from the letter whether or not you’re allowed to drink at your desk (e.g. a cup of coffee or a bottle of water). If you are, those meal replacement shakes could be useful, or if the cost is prohibitive you could make a smoothie or a shake at home and pour it into a thermos or one of those reusable water bottles.

    When I was going through a medical situation where I needed a small portion of a meal replacement shake but a whole shake was too much because of Reasons, I’d pour the portion of my chocolate and vanilla shake into my coffee like flavoured creamer, thereby getting my liquid nutrition input while still feeling like my normal self with my normal morning coffee. If subterfuge should be necessary, this might be a way to conceal it.

    Of course, you shouldn’t have to smuggle in nutrition in liquid form and a more sustainable solution would be better, but this might be an option for gettin you through the day in the meantime.

  35. Amelia Pond*

    With #1, I bet she had a phone phobia (telephonophobia) which is actually more common than most people think. It’s also got a huge shame component to it, even bigger shame than say, arachnopbobia. I even been shamed for having it by DOCTORS. So those of us with it go pretty far to get around it without other people. However, she is absolutely going about this the wrong way IF that’s her problem (it’s the wrong way to go about it no matter what) and it seems like her boss is willing to put up with it. Alternatively, this could be the solution she worked out with her boss but boss feels like explaining it would “out” the co-workers phobia. Ideally, someone will a phobia that is THAT out of control while still being a vital part of the role means this job just isn’t a good fit for now. That’s just my take – signed, a Telephonaphobic.

  36. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP4: I am surprised Alison didn’t suggest you see the doctor to rule out hypoglycemia or other condition. If you can get a diagnosis from a doctor, you may be able to get a medical accommodation.

  37. Rebecca*

    #1 – I think the owner needs to know people are contacting you and then not staying with the company because your coworker won’t talk to them on the phone. That’s the most important thing. Secondly, you’re covering for her, so she doesn’t have to do her job. You’re doing it. Again, this is something you need to push back to the owner. Everyone here always has good scripts for this! “I’m finding myself spending X hours a day talking to Jane’s clients, which is not allowing me to properly follow up on A, B, and C. How do you want me to prioritize, and what can we take off my plate in order to continue?” something like that.

    What I didn’t see in the OP’s letter is why the coworker won’t talk on the phone – is it a phobia? Does she have hearing issues? She just doesn’t want to? Maybe it’s time to get to the bottom of the “why” and determine if there’s an accommodation that can be made for her.

    #3 – more paid time off or money.

    As an aside, I think it would be fun to see what holiday gifts others receive, maybe a good idea for a Friday open thread closer to the holidays?

    #4 – time to have little bit sizes snacks in a little plastic bag and pull them out on trips to the copier, bathroom, whatever, and as the others have suggested, if liquids aren’t banned too, make a protein drink or have some sort of other beverage mixed up in a coffee travel mug. Unless there is a good reason for this, like lab safety or something along those lines, your manager is unreasonable.

  38. Madeleine Matilda*

    #2 – pre-smart phones I had a co-worker who was on his non-smart cell phone with his wife frequently throughout the day. There was nothing controlling about it, they just liked to be in touch with each other all the time. It was pretty annoying to those whose desks were near him. In another job we had a married couple in my office – different teams, same department. Their desks were about 100 feet apart. The wife sat next to me and all day long they would call each other about the least important stuff (“Hey my mom is coming for dinner.” “Don’t forget we need to take son to soccer by 4 pm” etc.). They commuted together and ate lunch together every day. There was plenty of time not on the clock to discuss these things. When I finally raised it with my boss, she blew it off like it wasn’t a big deal. I don’t think I was clear enough about how disruptive it was. Luckily for me I soon moved to a new work space away

  39. SigneL*

    #1 – I agree with AaM, with one thought: when you talk to your manager, s/he may suggest you handle your coworkers calls. I’d suggest you be prepared to say that if you do that, you will not be able to do (specific task) and ask that some of your tasks be given to coworker.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I wondered if the job could be split into phone calls & client coordination vs grunt-level paper pushing. And I suspect OP could spin that as a job-enhancement on her resume. ie She’s focused on client interaction, and helping someone else plan their low-level tasks.

      1. Liane*

        I would bet that coworker would swiftly find another job duty to ignore and try to foist off on LW.

    2. MLB*

      I can’t tell from the letter if she mentioned her work load when she spoke to her manager. If she didn’t, that definitely needs to be a point of emphasis.

  40. LGC*

    4 – as someone who works with documents (in a cramped open setup, to boot, so I smell A LOT of stuff), I’m TOTALLY okay with your boss banning food in the work area. But why is it her business whether you eat on break?!

    That’s the more pathological thing, in my opinion – she’s allowed to be bothered by whatever bothers her, but she can’t be upset by people using the kitchen for what it’s supposed to be used for!

    2 – I’m honestly less concerned about the office than I am about the coworker. The way LW2 made it sound, the husband SET UP AN ADULT BABY CAM. That’s…pretty messed up.

    1. London Calling*

      I never cease to wonder at what crazed notions managers will get into their heads that make life a little more difficult than it needs to be. We had one that banned spoons because people left them lying around on the kitchen surfaces and their desk and in the sink and he didn’t like to see spoons lying around, so we had to have plastic stirrers instead. Because of course no-one ever leaves those lying around on their desks or chucks them into the sink, do they?

      1. LGC*

        As a Crazy Boss myself, he’s drunk on his own power and doesn’t know how to pick his battles. And I think that’s pretty common – you know you have the power to tell people what to do, but then you go wild with it and become unreasonably controlling about your own bugbears.

        (Related – I just told one of my employees to take his ramen out of the office! Even though I said last week that I was not allowing people to eat in the office.)

    2. LGC*

      So on LW2, because I did hint at it: the situation reads as if the husband is demanding that he monitor the coworker’s whereabouts. He has HIS camera taped, but hers isn’t. She’s aware that this isn’t strictly allowed because she hides it from their supervisor.

      Obviously, I’m hearing this third-hand – through a letter on an advice blog. But I also think that the LW should frame it more like concern for her coworker than concern for the work environment. She might be the person most in need of support in this situation. (Or this might be entirely consensual. I doubt it, but it’s a possibility.)

      1. London Calling*

        That really creeps me out – that he can see them but they can’t see him. It’s control not just over his wife but over everyone in the wife’s office, who haven’t consented to being monitored at work, let alone by someone with not authority to do so.

        1. LGC*

          Yeah, that’s what makes me worried – but from a slightly different angle. If he’s that intrusive in this area where he’s violating HER COWORKERS, I can’t think that everything else is okay.

          I might as well say it because I was dancing around it – it really sounds like she’s in an abusive relationship. I hope I’m wrong, but given the evidence I feel like the discussion needs to be framed as supportively as possible.

      2. Observer*

        Nope. While I do think that you have a really good point about what the husband MAY be doing, that’s not really something the OP has standing to go to the boss about. It also opens up the very real possibility that the CW will vehemently insist that everything is ALL RIGHT! And then what? There is no way to push this line without risking far more harm even – perhaps ESPECIALLY – if you are correct.

        On the other hand, the privacy and confidentiality issue is real and MUST be dealt with, regardless of the reasons for this behavior. And, if you are right, it also gives the CW some cover with her spouse to say “I’m fine with this, but boss says we are not allowed to do this.”

        1. LGC*

          Oy, like…yeah, I actually agree with this to an extent. But also…my read on it was that the answer was “confront HER about this behavior,” and my opinion is that whatever LW does, she should be sensitive about it.

          I don’t think the LW should parachute in and rescue her coworker from her monstrous husband. I do think that however this conversation goes down, everyone involved needs to extend the coworker some compassion.

  41. SigneL*

    #4 – your manager won’t let you eat at your desk AND she won’t let you take a quick break to have a snack in the kitchen? This is totally unreasonable. I actually think this IS medical – your blood sugar is dropping. I might take a quick bathroom break and sneak some crackers, to be honest, but your manager is being really unreasonable. (I have to wonder, what else is she doing that’s crazy?)

  42. Works in IT*

    Oh, my. If the coworker in #2 was in my workplace she would be fired, immediately. It doesn’t matter if he’s her husband, that’s confidential information she’s sharing, and depending on the workplace, letting this go on for even a day would be a major lawsuit waiting to happen. It sounds like this could be an abusive situation, but this… is wrong in a workplace and cannot go on.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      I *think* my workplace is nice enough to have a “WTF WERE YOU THINKING!!! NEVER DO THIS AGAIN!!!” meeting with our data protection officer rather than treating it as gross misconduct and an immediate firing – but it is that level of seriousness.

      We’d also be legally obliged to report it, and hope that swift reporting + immediate actions taken meant that we wouldn’t be hammered for it too badly.

      I am concerned for her – and would offer support in case she’s in a bad domestic situation – but that doesn’t change anything about how you handle the data breach.

      1. Works in IT*

        Unfortunately getting rid of the employee who is comitting something so egregious is a large part of avoiding getting hammered so badly. Our data protection officer would probably ask me to help him and the head of security escort her out. Depending on how long this has been going on and what was discussed, once the news gets into the media costs could add up to millions of dollars. It’s just not possible to not fire someone who is risking that much, extenuating circumstances or not.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Agreed – which is why, even though I am working for one of the most reasonable, employee-friendly and generally try to be nice companies I’ve ever worked for – it’s only a *might* on the not being escorted from the premises.

    2. Cassandra*

      The thought did occur to me that if OP2 can’t get redress from management, going to IT and asking about video chat as an acceptable use of the work network might be fruitful, if rather passive-aggressive.

    3. efb*

      Seconding this comment — depending on the type of confidential information you work with (esp. if it is medical and financial) there could be some very strict reporting requirements for a data breach like this, and your manager may need to consult with your company’s legal department to determine next steps.

  43. Birch*

    I’m a little confused about the snacking/break rules. If you’re hourly, I know at least in some places there are laws about having a break every x hours and I’m pretty sure it’s always less than 5 hours! (My frame of reference: temp job got 2 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch break, but I had to take the 15-minute breaks within the first and last 4 hours of the workday). If you aren’t hourly and don’t have enforced break times, you should be able to take a break whenever, right? Is this an actual policy to make you go 5 hours without a break, or is this something your boss is trying to do?

    1. OP #4*

      Hi, I just wanted to jump in and provide further detail.

      I am salaried, and we are a small company (around 20 people, including admin and executives). My direct boss is the office manager, who is also the accounting and HR department all rolled into one. We don’t have specific scheduled break times, but we are allowed to take breaks at whenever we need to.

      The thing is, though, is that people rarely ever take a break except for lunch (including myself). We really don’t need to, as our work, while voluminous, is not usually overly taxing. So, even though we can take a break, it’s a bit out of the norm to do so, if that makes sense. My manager herself never takes breaks, and sometimes doesn’t even go to lunch, so I think she has something of a bias towards it.

      Like I mentioned, sometimes people will take a break and have a snack (not commonly, though). And my manager just has a weird thing about snacking. We used to be able to eat at our desks (with the understanding that it would be discreet and not overly messy). I mean, so sloppy joes, y’know? And that was fine–but one of my coworkers used to bring a full-on breakfast with her to work every morning and set it up at her desk. Like, the works. So, I think that was a big reason for them banning food at our desks and, while it’s better to snack in the kitchen, I think my manager is just worried that will get out of hand too.

      Also, some people mentioned that I may be hypoglycemic. Maybe so–I have no idea.

      1. Fergus*

        And my manager just has a weird thing about snacking. That is her problem, and shouldn’t become everyone else’ problem. If it was me I would have a problem, and then look for another job, and then another problem for her would be filling my position.

        1. valentine*

          she thinks eating of any kind should be reserved for when we’re not on the clock
          OP #4, do you clock out for lunch or does your manager think you shouldn’t eat at work at all? It seems like she has a problem with how much food any one person is having at one time and that’s still excessive and ridiculous to micromanage. Maybe Jane needs a full English, as someone here mentioned. So what? If someone wants to sidle up to a trough for lunch in the kitchen, why not? The fact you don’t need breaks from the work makes it more likely eating isn’t going to reduce your productivity.

      2. Observer*

        In that case, stop asking hr about taking breaks. Just GO take a quick break and have something to eat.

        If she pushed back on it be straightforward – “I get sick if I don’t eat after a certain amount of time. Dizzy, nauseous, completely unable to work sick.” I would be tempted to add “So either I eat at my desk, I take a snack in the kitchen or I don’t get any work done for an hour or two each day.” but that might not go over so well.

      3. gmg22*

        I guess my first question for your boss would be: If the kitchen isn’t for snacking, what is it for? (Besides lunch, obviously.) It just feels like you and your colleagues are being infantilized with this. Grownups get to decide when they eat. And if you have flexible break time within reason, eating a small snack ought to be a thing you can use that time for. The story about your colleague with the full breakfast on her desk (I am envisioning an English breakfast here — black pudding, baked beans, stewed tomato etc) is pretty funny, though. :-)

        1. Birch*

          I actually had a job once where my supervisor set up a George Foreman style electric griddle and cooked bacon and pancakes on my desk. It was supposedly a special treat for one week but man was that weird!

      4. gmg22*

        “My manager herself never takes breaks, and sometimes doesn’t even go to lunch, so I think she has something of a bias towards it.”

        Sorry, had to PS because I just reread and noticed this. You are legit full-on working for a real-life Miranda Priestly! This is not normal and you don’t have to let your boss’s weird hangups about food negatively affect your work life.

        1. Janet (not a robot)*

          I posted a longer comment below, but I wanted to highlight this part. The manager doesn’t take breaks or go to lunch because she herself doesn’t need to – but there’s still a better-than-average chance that this attitude doesn’t extend to her employees. So obviously I don’t know the boss, but my guess is she doesn’t notice or care whether other people take breaks or not, and she assumes that people are taking care of their needs accordingly.

          (Yes, I’m aware that there’s a counter-example elsewhere in the thread of a boss who does believe that because he doesn’t take breaks, no one else should either! But that’s not necessarily common or reasonable – I think it’s safe to assume that most people are reasonable human beings who understand that different people have different eating schedules.)

          1. gmg22*

            Except that the LW’s original post states quite clearly that the boss IS policing people who eat on their breaks, even if they are taking said breaks in an appropriate place to consume food: “There are some people who will take a short break and have a yogurt in the kitchen, but my manager doesn’t like this (she thinks eating of any kind should be reserved for when we’re not on the clock). She sometimes allows it, but she tells us not to make a habit of it.”

        2. AsItIs*

          Manager could well have food issues, hence even the sight of people eating is setting him/her/it off.

      5. Dr. Anonymous*

        Ah. Just go ahead and take the snack break, eat some almonds, and let your manager have the weird feelings. If you are getting the work done and your manager comments on the snacking, point to your productivity and push back.

      6. Janet (not a robot)*

        Oh, this is really useful context! There’s a logical reason for the “no food at your desks” rule (even if we don’t agree with the logic, at least we can now see where it came from.) And it’s not that breaks aren’t allowed, it’s just that people don’t usually take them.

        So given that, can I propose an alternate scenario? I wonder if the boss (over)reacted to the person bringing in a full breakfast by banning all eating at your desks, but she assumed that people would continue to take breaks as needed. And she didn’t specify that breaks were allowed, because they always had been allowed. But because she hadn’t made this clear, people started to assume that breaks were also no longer allowed – and then all this miscommunication and assuming has led to a culture of people not taking breaks.

        Meanwhile, the boss either hasn’t noticed what’s going on, or has noticed and is assuming that people aren’t taking breaks because they don’t want to. And either way, she’s not going to say anything, because nothing has changed from her perspective about the breaks, so why would she? So you have employees assuming that this is a rule (but not checking), and not taking breaks because nobody else is taking breaks, and the boss assuming that everybody is doing what they need to take care of themselves (because why wouldn’t they.)

        TL;DR – take your breaks. I think you’ll be just fine. :)

      7. Birch*

        That makes sense, so it’s more of a culture thing. I think you really just need to push back on this and MAKE snack/coffee breaks a culture thing! Do you know if anyone else would appreciate it? I think you just need to be the brave one and start making it a habit. If you’re really consistent about it, it might look better to your boss, too, e.g. you make a habit of taking a 5 minute toilet and snack break at 10.30 and 2.30 every day. (TBH this is not even close to enough breaks, but if you’re taking NO breaks, start small.) And maybe ask an office friend or two to join you in changing your culture. If you get pushback, say you absolutely have to eat something, and you’ll be back at your desk in five minutes, which is more than reasonable. More pushback and I think you have the right to ask your boss “I get all my work done and I’m looking after my health. Not to mention, there are many studies that show taking several small breaks throughout the day is much better for physical and cognitive health. Is there a reason you are so opposed to any breaks at all?”

        P.S. I also get the hungry-faints and hunger nausea and for me it’s linked to protein more than sugar. Yes, sugar will get you through, but you’ll also crash in an hour. High protein drinks and energy bars are a godsend. My favorites are chocolate soymilk and oatmilk (can even get fruit and latte flavours), Innocent smoothies, and Leader energy bars.

      8. rogue axolotl*

        Honestly, in your position I’d just go to the kitchen and have a quick snack when I needed it. The boss is being beyond unreasonable if she objects to that. Maybe it will count against you in her great internal scoreboard, but if it’s just an unwritten norm and not an explicit rule at this point, I’d prioritize my own health above that. If she actually tells you to stop doing it, then it’s time for Alison’s script.

  44. MuseumChick*

    OP 1, just want to say I completely agree with Alison. Stop letting this not be your co-worker’s problem. Be polite to her clients on the phone but do not answer their questions. Transfer them to your co-work; I also suggest keeping a log of how many calls you are getting.

  45. Anon For This One*

    Letter 3: Gifts. I worked for a small business that always cried the blues when it came time to give raises and bonuses. Morale was less than zero. Owner went out to lunch with a friend at a local lunch spot. (it was sort of close to the office, but not exactly convenient) He’d never tried it before and was pleasantly surprised by how much he liked it. His response was to buy every employee a gift card to the lunch spot. Every gift card was $200. So, we all got enormous gift cards we couldn’t easily use. Three years later I still have $37 on my card. tl;dr – gift cards are okay, as long as they’re not a) insulting and b) ridiculous.

    Letter 4: Same dumb business Owner. Didn’t care if people ate at their desks, necessarily. Did once say when he hired a new office assistant that he didn’t think he needed to permit her to take lunch breaks because he personally didn’t normally take lunch breaks. His exact words were, “I eat a big breakfast so I hardly ever take a lunch break. I don’t see why she thinks she needs a break.” Maybe the manager in Letter 4 suffers from the same mentality that the boss’s way is the only way.

    1. MLB*

      I had a boss with a similar philosophy when it came to bad weather. Her work from home policy changed every time we had bad weather, but what she really meant was “if I can drive in, so can everyone else”.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I had a similar boss! He was generally ok about letting people leave early if the weather was bad. Once, though, one of our coworkers’ roads washed out in a very major storm and she couldn’t get in. His response was “I got here and we had the same storm at my house.” It took coworker making a video of the stream cutting through her road and posting it on Facebook for him to believe she legit couldn’t come in.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      ODL yes. Somewhere in my family’s “deal with it later” boxes there may be a gift certificate to a specialty store around the corner from my husband’s employer’s house. It was so not close to OUR house or the office itself that my husband misplaced it. He’s sure he didn’t discard it, but it’s been so long that we’re pushing the limits of our state’s law that no gift certificates expire. Here’s hoping it won’t have faded into oblivion.

  46. It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's SuperAnon*

    #3 – my very large company has a “catalog” of gifts for milestone anniversaries, along with a plaque signed by the president and an extra week of vacation. Items range from household items to jewelry to luggage, none of which have the company logo. While the gifts weren’t exactly impressive, it was still a nice gesture and I picked up something for my home that I wouldn’t have paid for out of my own pocket.

    1. It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's SuperAnon*

      The company does have annual merit raises as well so this isn’t something I’m looking for at a milestone, but of course I wouldn’t turn it down if offered!

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Wow, I like this My two very large OldJobs both had the catalog. Since I hit the five-year mark at each, I am now a proud owner of a (barely working) vintage-style clock and a vase. While the clock and the vase are, I guess, nice, I would have REALLY appreciated an extra week of vacation in addition to that!

    3. CupcakeCounter*

      I think you work at my friend’s company! That is exactly what she gets. Her last gift (15 years I think) was a Nutribullet blender. She loves it – we make margaritas!

    4. Governmint Condition*

      I’m a government worker. At your 25th anniversary, you are given a form where you can select from a plaque, a picture frame clock, or nothing. You can also choose if you want a ceremony. Since I’ve never seen such a ceremony, and only 1 plaque and 1 clock among many long-time employees, I think “nothing” and “no” are the most popular choices.

      1. Red 5*

        My spouse recently hit a milestone at their job the same week I hit a milestone at mine.

        One of us got a nice card personally signed by the boss with a very hefty gift card.

        The other got a pin that’s not even a half inch across with the company logo on it.

        You can guess which was appreciated more and who would have picked “nothing.”

        1. Red 5*

          I should be clear, the person who got the pin also gets other incentives throughout the year and has other reasons to like their job. It was just the particular contrast that was amusing.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Oh no, that doesn’t sound fun. I’m guessing it’s the restrictions that come with working for the government?

        I only have one friend who made it to his 25th (not in government) and he got a dinner and an induction to some secret long-timer society for his 25th. He was pretty excited. There was probably a gift from a catalog too.

    5. The Original K.*

      My old company had this too, except the plaque was a certificate. The bigger the milestone, the bigger the gift options. I picked up a coffee grinder. I knew a few people who chose vacuum cleaners (I think that was the most popular ten-year option, and probably the one I’d have chosen if I worked there 10 years). I wonder if it’s the same catalog?

      1. It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's SuperAnon*

        Ours is GiftNet dot com. Some of the options are junk, but I’d happily take a new vacuum!

  47. Jam Today*

    #2: Your coworker is not in a safe situation. I would look for a way to let your boss and/or HR or your EAP people know about this *without* firing her — which I say because if she has a job, she has her own money. If she has no job, she’s trapped in a house with that guy with no means of getting out. Please help her.

    1. ThankYouRoman*

      Her own money? This kind of dude is monitoring her paychecks.

      It sounds like the “her checks go into the joint account and my checks are in my personal account” set up.

      But I’m also an avid Lifetime Movie Network fan. So don’t pay attention to my paranoia :|

      1. Jam Today*

        No, I thought that too, but at least with her own income she can open her own bank account and work with Payroll to switch up her direct deposit, or cut her paper checks, or something. I really think this woman is in a bad situation and even with all the considerations about confidentiality etc. and workplace protocols and rules, checking into her home life and offering her a (possibly literal) lifeline would be the moral thing to do.

    2. wafflesfriendswork*

      I had the same thought–maybe I consume too many true crime stories, but this is giving me real bad vibes.

  48. NewBee*

    LW1 – Make this your manager’s problem. Let her compensate with the clients. For example, client calls in and wants to speak to someone and your co-worker won’t take the call – Call you manager and say something like “Larry’s Llama Grooming is on line one and they want an update on pricing. Letitia wants me to send it to voicemail, but they want an answer now. Can you take the call, I’m on a deadline with the Alice’s Alpaca Breeding account. Thanks!”

    Repeat as necessary.

    1. ainomiaka*

      This is what I would do, honestly. Transfer to manager. Maybe coworker gets one first shot transfer. Yes, it’s going to make manager’s work a little harder-but she needs to see the extent to which it’s happening and this is about the only way.

  49. Workfromhome*

    #1 I agree action needs to be taken immediately and you need to CYA when you do it. If the coworker customer calls you let them know you are transferring them and then send an email to coworker letting them know you transferred customer name to them at 10 am regarding the Lama Brush order and that they requested they speak with you over the phone. I know its sounds a bit weird to use email to tell them they need to pick up the phone but you need to CYA. If they continue to not pick up the phone you can start to CC your boss on these emails. You need a paper trail so that if someone tries to blame you for not helping the customer or coworker says “well I emailed them” you have proof.

    I’ve had the opposite battle with several direct reports in that they instead on avoiding email and speaking over the phone. I avoid phone calls unless I know the subject of the discussion and or have a time frame booked. Leave me a message that says give me a call and 95% of the time you’ll get an email that says “le me know what you need and I’ll get it for you or look into it and arrange to call and discuss. There are times to call when things are complex and it sounds like the bad coworker wont use the appropriate communication method for the conversation.

    That is the key. You can prefer one method over another but ultimately you need to use the required method or you cant do your job.

  50. LSP*

    OP #5 – I spent years working in the state and federal labor and workforce development field, and I can tell you the feeling about these career centers is the same even within the field. As Alison says, most of the people who work in those places haven’t done much hiring, but more than that, many haven’t had to job search in upwards of 20 or 30 years. They haven’t updated their own resumes in all that time, and haven’t bothered keeping up with the latest interviewing and resume writing techniques. Most do not read blogs like this one. And, I’m sorry to say, I witnessed many people who saw the people coming in for help as a “burden” rather than a client. Of course, there are people who care deeply about helping people find employment, which is why they go into that line of work to begin with, but I am sorry to say that from my experience, they are the minority, and public entities are too often willing to let them fly under the radar, rather than retrain them.

    1. LW #5*

      Thank you for your comment, I’m glad to hear some insight from someone who’s actually worked in the field. I wonder then why do we even have workforce centers to begin with if they don’t do anything to help job seekers?

      The one time I went to my local workforce center, there was woman who had been misinformed about the time of a resume workshop & the receptionist was pretty rude & told her that no one would tell her misinform her about said workshop. I’m paraphrasing this conversation, but I felt so bad for this woman because she was really desperate for a job & not only was she given wrong information, but the receptionist was so rude to her.

      The one positive thing I can say was that they at least had computers you could use for free?

      1. London Calling*

        From my experience of working in a social security office – a job I left as soon as I could because even unemployment was better than that – there are people who actively enjoy the power they have pushing around people who are less well educated, uncertain of their rights and not inclined to argue back because of the fear of sanctions.

  51. ThankYouRoman*

    We gave out gift cards for Christmas. One still hasn’t been used (Amazon e-gift cards tell you if there redeemed or not). So there are people out there who don’t use them!

    My mind is indeed blown as well. I have gotten gift cards to places I’ll never go but I’ll always re-gift them to someone who is stoked.

    My overall point is yes majority says cash or gift cards. But someone somewhere will always be “meh this gift sucks”, you can’t please everyone.

    I’m the jerk who doesn’t want more PTO, I struggle to use what I have now. I’m not going to gripe about it though. I’ll just say “that’s nice, thank you.” the same as if you hand me a check or logoed jet.

    1. It's me*

      it would be an extra perk if the unused PTO was paid out to you. That way you’re kind of giving employees a choice between PTO or cash. Maybe something to consider if a company was looking at changing policies anyways.

    2. WellRed*

      I am someone who would take a while to use an Amazon card. Is it for say, $25 and I’d have trouble finding something within that price point (plus shipping if I am not a prime member?). And that’s if the thought of shopping for something, anything on Amazon didn’t overwhelm me with indecision ; )
      I mean I’d still appreciate it, but yeah, nothing is the holy grail of gift cards.

    3. Quackeen*

      But someone somewhere will always be “meh this gift sucks”, you can’t please everyone.

      One of my previous employers gave out American Express gift checks. People complained. By the time I reached the milestone necessary to get a gift, they had changed to a catalog of gifts that you could choose from, so I ended up with an ice cream maker that I never used.

  52. Dance-y Reagan*

    #1 The nature of LW’s industry really doesn’t allow for this e-mail workaround. HVAC and plumbing people are often grimy, sweaty, and covered in dope/insulation/flux/other messy things. They are not going to be willing to fuss with a laptop or a phone keypad to get quick answers on a jobsite.

    If the colleague truly needs this accommodation, her job may need to change quite drastically. LW, I would prepare for needing to leave this place. The owner may not be willing to do anything other than make you handle all the phone calls.

  53. Computer Mousey*

    #1: I worked with one of these phone-phobic people. I had to hold a firm line. “They’re on the phone and I’m transferring them to you.” She eventually got the message I wasn’t going to deal with her work because I had enough of my own.

    #2: Am I the only one that thinks the husband is a control freak? Like why do you need to video chat with your wife while she’s at work? This behavior needs to stop but I wonder if there’s underlying abuse there, too.

    1. Works in IT*

      You aren’t, and my manager and I would feel bad for her while we had security escort her out of the building but he would still make the call to have her fired for opening us up to millions of dollars in lawsuits. It’s like the person who sent their boss to Italy by mistake and got fired, yes there are extenuating circumstances but the extenuating circumstances don’t make up for the fact that this is going to cost a TON of money and someone is going to have to pay. Only with an added degree of “the media is going to be all over this”. Frankly, keeping her on because she’s trying to leave an abusive relationship might be harmful to her because once the media starts digging, that story will likely come out and then the abusive husband knows she’s trying to get out because he read it in the news.

  54. AMA Long-time Lurker*

    Christ…#4, as someone who has recovered from an eating disorder, this is my absolute NIGHTMARE. Waiting hours and hours on end to eat is not only garbage for your metabolism – it can create an emotionally charged relationship with food as well. (For a long time, the only way I was able to eat was in a steady, small stream of snacks – big meals made me feel too sick.) There are a slew of other medical conditions that this would be problematic, if not prohibitive for – diabetics, hypoglycemics, etc. Your boss is an ass.
    Would it be possible for you to “drink” your snacks? There are a lot of great protein/fruit smoothies out there that I sometimes have for breakfast, or when I’m starting to feel tired around 3/4 in the afternoon. If you’re allowed to drink coffee at your desk, there should be no reason you can’t drink other kinds of beverages as well!

  55. Dust Bunny*

    For the record, I do work with rare books and we’re totally allowed to snack as needed, because our boss is not a sociopath. We just eat in the kitchenette or the spare office.

    1. Dance-y Reagan*

      Would love one of Alison’s “talk about your job” articles from you! Fascinating field.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        It’s honestly not as exciting as one would think. I’m in a medical school archive, which means I spend a lot of time putting papers into new folders and acid-free boxes. It’s a great job for somebody who does well with tedium and minimal human contact. Not that it can’t be interesting, but it’s small-scale interesting, not, I don’t know, lion-tamer interesting.

        Example: I was putting away some very old journals one time and found a piece of blue paper tucked into one of them. It looked new, so I thought maybe somebody had stuck a piece of scrap paper in as a bookmark. No, it was a receipt for tuition for the girls’ school that operated in the city in which the journals were published. Dated 1848. It had been closed up all these years so the paper was pristine. We gave it to the historical society of the county in which the town was located (in upstate New Y0rk. We’re in Texas).

        1. NforKnowledge*

          I think small-scale interesting is plently interesting myself :)
          Also repetitive tasks and minimal human contact sounds lovely, may I ask how one acquires such a job?

          1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

            Ah, Archives! I miss my work there myself. I once found a 1848 writ appointing some one a Texas justice of the peace folded up in a plastic bag in a shoebox. I sort of developed a theory there was an inverse relationship between how important records are and how they are stored.

            I got into the field with an MLIS and archives specialization (several information science schools have that track).

            And to comment on the job center – I had to go to an unemployment office once because I’d been on unemployment for six months and was told I had to apply to a fundraising job. I pointed out I was a legal records person. The person seemed absolutely certain that since the fundraising job (it was a donor schmoozing job) wanted someone with “legal knowledge” I was a shoe-in. Um, right. I once did a six month job where I pretty much worked in a room alone not seeing anybody more than once a few minutes a day…

    2. Jaybeetee*

      I also work with archives, also obviously can’t eat or drink at my work station, and also am allowed to step out for a snack or drink whenever I want to, because my manager doesn’t treat me like a kindergartner. My blood boils on behalf of LW4, because based on her letter, there’s no actual *reason* for any of this, aside from “boss doesn’t like it and has the power to forbid it.” Lots of people, for many reasons, can’t go hours and hours on end without food or drink, and it strikes me as so out of line that LW’s boss’ irrational preference might well be overtaking other peoples’ actual needs (unless they’re up to disclosing their medical info). Do LW and her colleagues need to ask permission for bathroom breaks too?

  56. Bigintodogs*

    #5 I think you should do a little digging to find out who to address the cover letter to. You can usually find it on LinkedIn or the company’s site. Even if you don’t address the letter to the job poster, you can address it to a manager in the department you’re applying to.

    1. Char*

      Right, I’ve always been told that addressing a cover letter is key to demonstrating you researched the company and position. And, the advice on graduation years isn’t uncommon either, as age discrimination is real. So, while their advice about resume paper-quality is dated, it sounds like the letter writer was predispositioned to reject any advice.

      1. No Secrets Please*

        I agree, and really did not get why the advice in this letter was considered so bad. I do a lot of hiring and I am impressed when someone personally addresses their application to me or their prospective manager. Everyone who I’ve hired who has done so (I’ve hired for a few hundred positions and only a few have done this) has turned out to be a exceptionally productive employee who delivers outstanding work. I also advise people I know against including a graduation year unless it’s fairly recent. I always consider all applicants, however, I know there are employers who will automatically throw out a resume from someone who earned a degree in the 70s or 80s.

        1. Someone Else*

          I don’t think it’s bad if someone goes out of their way to address it personally, or not necessarily bad, but it seemed to me the advice the LW was describing was rather that to do anything else other than address is personally is bad, as opposed to addressing it personally being extra good. There’s nothing wrong with using “Hiring Manager” if you’re not sure of the name of the person, and especially if it would take a lot of extra effort/guessing to use the name. Because if you’re going to use the name, you better be sure you’re right. At least that’s my take. So if the advice the LW got was “never ever address it generically”, that is bad advice. It seemed to me like a lot of the example advice the LW was citing was less so “that’s a terrible thing to do!” and more so “that’s not entirely necessary but has been presented as though it’s a must”.

  57. Armchair Analyst*

    Re: government-run career centers.
    I went to one to register for unemployment or to handle a payment or mispayment or something and the career center had posters about how to follow the State Department of Labor and the Unemployment Office on EVERY social media platform – Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter. And I, standing in line, still did not have a job. But good for them for using social media? (No. Their social media presence is very poor.)

    Another time, I moved to Georgia after being in Washington, DC. And I was explaining this to the unemployment center employee. And she, looking at her Super Duper Computer, said that there was no record of me working in Washington. I said, Washington State or Washington DC? It turned out she’d been looking for me in Washington State. And I thought, she has a job, and I don’t?


    1. AudreyParker*

      Our local workforce centers (they seem to have different names in different states) have a central Twitter account that seems to post things periodically, so I decided maybe I’d have luck tweeting @ them. They replied *several weeks later* referring me to the website I’d mentioned was useless in my original message :| Nope, not bitter about all of this at all…

  58. Essess*

    You are having a clear physical reaction to going without food (nausea/head swimming). This makes it a medical issue even if it’s not tied to a specific condition such as diabetes. I recommend speaking to your doctor about getting a medical note stating that you need to be able to eat a snack at a more frequent interval to avoid negative physical effects and take the note to HR. In a decent office, this should allow you the accommodation to have a small snack at your desk. If others complain and the manager tries to refuse because of not wanting to allow everyone to do it, you have the ability to say it was covered by a doctor’s note.

  59. Essess*

    If your office deals with confidential information, I assume you had to sign some type of confidentiality/non-disclosure form when you were hired. If so, you are legally responsible to bring this breach of confidentiality to your manager since the husband is being given unlimited access to listening to all the confidential information being discussed in the office. If you do not report it and management finds out about it later, you could also lose your job for being an accomplice!

  60. Jay*

    I am going to tell a brief story about the unthinkable, even the blasphemous.
    In 2002 I found myself out of work when the K-Mart I was employed in shut down (yes, of course we found out from a newspaper article. A full two weeks after the store-wide meeting where Management assured us that there was no danger of the store closing).
    I turned to my local state run Job Center (the state was North Carolina, for what it’s worth).
    It was an absolute Godsend.
    You see, at this time, in the rural Southern U.S. internet access was limited to non existent. It would be close to two years before Dial-Up was available. Job hunting still consisted of walking around with a pile of resumes, dropping them off with any business that would take one and getting an application from anyone who would give you one.
    The center supplied me with limited internet access, a central database of job openings (many of which weren’t in the classifieds), a nice, comfortable, well lit place to do research and prepare resumes and applications, and even a nice person at the counter to answer what questions they could.
    I understand that these places are typically understaffed and underfunded, but the one I used did amazing things with what little they had.

    1. Observer*

      It sounds like you had access to a place that was smart about what they chose to do. Basically, give you some genuinely useful tools and get out of the way.

      I’m so glad these places exist.

  61. Xarcady*

    #5. I was on unemployment during the recession. Because I was over 50, I was put in a program for extra special counseling to help me get a job.

    What a joke. I had to report to the office for a half hour session every other week. The only advice I got–and I had to ask for this–was to remove all dates from my resume, so employers couldn’t tell how old I was. She’d suggest resume workshops–and the instructor would tell me that he’d never seen such a good resume and there was nothing he could suggest to improve it.

    My half hour appointments were spent sitting by the counselor as she scrolled through job listings in the same job database I was required to search through at least once weekly in order to keep my benefits. She’d find jobs I had already either applied to or decided didn’t match my skills. She’d read the job descriptions out loud, conveniently eliminating the bits that were for skills I didn’t have and didn’t want–like the job was 75% sales and 25% what I could actually do–she’d make it seem like the job was tailor-made for me, make me promise to apply, and then I’d get home and start the application, only to realize there was no way I could do this job. But I still had to apply.

    I got a part-time retail job during this time, and had to report my earnings. The computer system was so out-dated that I could not figure it out. When I went to the office to have someone show me what to do, no one there had a clue. So my unemployment checks were routinely held up for a week or two while I had to file an appeal and get someone to figure out how much to pay me for that week.

    I get that at the time, the unemployment system was over-burdened. But my tax dollars were being spend on the Over 50, Needs a Job program and it did absolutely nothing. Someone in the office should have known how to file for partial benefits when you had part-time or temp work–I mean, they really, really encouraged you to work if you could. I wasted gas money every other week going to the office to have someone scroll through listings I had already checked. So much of this simply made no sense.

    1. Observer*

      Part of the problem is that staff are under pressure to show that they are Not Wasting Money. And to show that by showing high levels of activity. They have to meet quotas around how many meetings they have, how many jobs seekers apply for, and how many jobs they get you to apply for (not the same number). And neither their bosses – nor the public – want to hear that you really couldn’t apply for X number of jobs because there just AREN’T x number of jobs.

      It’s not the whole story, of course, but I’ve worked with this space for long enough to see some of the ridiculous stuff that happens at the back end.

  62. Not a robot*

    When we moved into a new building, my worries instituted a no food or drink at your desk rule. Even the managers thought the re was ridiculous because they know that most of us tend to get wrapped up in a project and keeping a small snack at our desks allows us to hit pause, eat, and gain some energy quickly. Plus most of us are salaried and there are the time when I will even eat lunch at my desk because of deadlines. The rule was never enforced and I think it might even have been disbanded all together.

  63. Isobel Debrujah*

    I currently work at a nonprofit attached to a state job center. A lot of the reason things are so bad at job centers is the attitude of “we have always done it this way.” I’m in my 40s and I am literally the only person at my job who understands that physically sending out 10 applications a day or making cold calls or visits to jobs isn’t how things are done anymore.

    In short, they give outdated advice because the people in charge are functioning in an outdated mindset.

  64. Close to retirement, but not close enough*

    Re: #1 I work for a university and one of my responsibilities is to answer the phone. All day. Every day. From all over the country ( – and world), to internal calls, about pretty much anything you can imagine. This, in addition to my major tasks. There are at least 5 others who should be answering the phone, but keep it on silent and selectivity, but still RARELY pick up. (Caller ID – a blessing and a curse…) I think it’s part phone-phobia and part they don’t know how to answer the caller’s inquiry, regardless of what it may be. Since we’re all pretty much out in the open, embarrassment at this might be a factor? Well, laziness has to be one as well.
    I’ve told my manager, her manager and even a few higher-ups, but it falls on deaf ears. (No pun intended.)
    TOTALLY frustrating and unfair, but there it is…
    I hate old transfers, but I’ve learned to embrace them, as if I announce the call – IF they decide to pick up – they tell me what to tell the person or that they can’t help them. If I see they’re in their office and not on the phone, but refuse to pick up, I hit the “transfer” button and off they go.
    Beyond annoying.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I think if I were you I’d ‘accidentally’ turn my phone on silent too. That’s terrible. And yes, cold transfers are they way to go. (Although 9/10 times they end up calling back “Bob didn’t pick up or told me to call back for this other department”) Sigh… been there and done that

      1. Close to retirement, but not close enough*

        Oh my yes- spot on re: calling back b/c someone told them to or they demand immediate attention.
        And thanks for getting that my “old” was a typo for “cold”. I am…old. Haha. :)

  65. Cedarthea*

    3 – Please make it some sort of option or catalogue if you aren’t going to make it cash.

    My organization (Child Care) acknowledges anniversaries (every 5 years) with jewellery (a ring with small diamonds and sapphires in a band). I am dreading my 5 years because they are going to spend all this money on me for something I am not going to wear and everyone things I am really going to want.

    I work in the charitable sector and I would rather the cash become a donation back to the org for my program or to buy a piece of equipment for my program (or have the cash in hand) rather than in ring I won’t ever wear.

    I would rather get nothing than get one.

    1. ACDC*

      YES! The choice is imperative in my opinion. Last year my office gave everyone a prime rib and bottle of wine for Christmas “because it’s tradition.” Well I’m vegetarian, and I don’t drink alcohol, both facts were well known in the office. It was even a joke to the bosses when they handed out the gifts, “Hey maybe you can regift this to someone you know!!!” Some sort of a choice would have been preferable to two useless (to me) gifts that I just gave to my neighbor. These gifts valued at over $100, probably close to $200.

    2. Hey Nonny*

      I recently hit my 5 year mark and the company gift for it was “anything you want up to $150, not cash or giftcards”.

  66. Orange You Glad*

    #1 – As someone with severe anxiety around phone use, I think your coworker is being unreasonable. If her issue with the phone is really bad then she should be looking into a different job/industry that doesn’t rely on telephone communication. Right now she is not performing an essential part of her job. There’s a reason I don’t work in a call center, I know it’s not one of my strengths or in my comfort zone.
    If she is aware of her problem, it’s something that can be worked on. I find that scheduling calls in advance helps to calm me down because it removes some of the “fear of the unknown” on the other end of the line. Preparing what I’m going to speak about before picking up the phone helps prevent me from clamming up mid conversation. I also do better on the phone with people I already have a relationship with vs. total strangers.
    Finally, it can be ok to not answer the phone the second it rings if you are not ready to speak to the caller yet. However you have to call them back in a reasonable amount of time, especially if they leave a voicemail instructing you to do so (this sounds like an area the coworker needs to work on).

    1. FD*

      Yeah, I agree with you. In my experience, most clients will want to do phone calls some of the time. Some clients prefer/insist on phone as their primary method of communication.

      If you own your own business, you can tell clients you’ll only communicate via email/text, and simply accept that you won’t get some clients as a result. But when a person takes employment where you can’t just pick your clients…this probably isn’t a great fit if someone has trouble with the phone.

      If this is the situation, perhaps the most compassionate thing to do would be for the owner to talk to the person honestly, maybe say something like, “I hear you and I definitely sympathize. However, because this job’s primary responsibility is to work with clients, and a fair number of our clients like to call, it’s not a requirement I can change. With that in mind, do you think this is a role you want to continue, or do you think it would be better to make a plan to transition out?”

    2. Lucille2*

      I lean this way too. I can’t really say why, but I hate impromptu phone calls at work. I always get a pang of anxiety and have to take a breath before answering. But it is part of my job, and I’ve learned to manage it well. I’ve found with practice in a safe work environment (meaning stakes aren’t too high if I struggle), and having a strong understanding of my company’s product/services is a huge help. And you also have to give yourself permission to not know all the answers. It’s ok to tell someone you will have to follow up on something, but be sure to follow through on the promise.

      If the coworker really cannot bridge that skill gap, then I agree, it’s not a good fit. But it’s possible coworker just needs a little coaching and support to move out of the email comfort zone.

  67. CRM*

    #3: Money all the way! Even if it’s only $10- great, I can treat myself to a few chai lattes or put it towards next week’s groceries. Would much rather receive $10 in cash than a gift that was worth $10.

  68. Name Required*

    OP #1, have you tried finding a solution directly with your coworker? It didn’t seem like you’ve talked to them from your letter. It may seem obvious to you that you’re picking up her slack, but she might think that you’re micromanaging her process.

    On the flipside, I could see your coworker equally writing into AAM on this: “I have a process that I think works well for me to funnel my clients through email. My coworker is good on the phone and prefers to answer calls, and thinks that I’m not doing my job well. Because of that, she keeps answering calls from my clients and not redirecting them to my email, which is how I work. My manager, the owner, doesn’t have a problem with my work or process. How do I get my coworker to stop answering calls from my clients?”

    I’ve been client-facing at a marketing agency. Many small business owners or “soloprenuers” just don’t have time to read an email, especially when they are jetting around town and if they are about complex processes they are trying to contract for. I get it. But it’s up to the owner to decide if “training” a client to respond only through email is an acceptable route, and it’s also their job to evaluate how their employees are doing. I’ve found that it’s best not to get too attached to preferred outcomes when I’m working at small company or agency … but I’m terrible at that, so now I work for a corporation.

    1. Drop Bear*

      Anything’s possible! But I think the answer is the same – stop doing it. Either the LW will no longer be picking up the slack, which makes it not her problem any more, or she will be not interfering, ditto.

      1. Name Required*

        I think it does change the answer, in a nuanced way. She does need to stop taking the calls, yes. But she’s really frustrated with her coworker for not doing things “her way,” and she needs to find a way to let that go. It might be easier to let that go if she put herself in her coworkers shoes.

        I also wonder why the first suggestion wouldn’t be to talk directly to the coworker. “Jane, I am getting daily calls from your clients. They think they can’t get a hold of you, and they want me to explain your emails to them. I can’t continue taking their calls, so I can transfer them back to your or recommend that they email you. What do you prefer?”

        If she chooses a route that leads to poor customer service and displeased clients, then there is a pain point that might be more visible to management. But it seems like it would cause to drama for OP to go directly to manager to make a plan with manager about how OP intends to handle coworker’s clients’ without having tried to talk to coworker first.

        1. Drop Bear*

          You’re right of course- broadly the ‘solution’ is the same, but there are differences in the approach too. I think your wording for the conversation with the coworker is good.
          As an aside, I often wonder what a letter from the ‘other side’ would look like.

    2. All day phone user*

      I have. But it is possible I have not been direct enough. I have said things like ” wow it took up half my morning talking client X off the ledge about ABC, why did you email him when he asked you to call and go over his report?” And she said, “oh i told him everything he could want to know in the email”. Then I will say “ok maybe call next time because he seemed pretty annoyed” and she shrugs and says ” meh he’s always annoyed haha”.
      Keep in mind she works from home a lot! I often can’t transfer to her. I have tried saying I will get her a message and she will reach out. Then she never does and they call me back.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        “oh, I told him everything he could want to know in the email.” And that’s the problem. If I have a couple of specific questions to ask a vendor, I might want just these questions answered so I can go about my day. I’m expecting to spend no more than a few minutes asking specific questions and getting answers. If instead I get a 5 page email answering a bunch of questions I didn’t ask which I have to read in it’s entirety and pick out from this info dump the specific info I need, I’m going to be really annoyed that they wouldn’t just pick up the damned phone.

        And if, after all that extra effort on my part, I still have questions but can’t get my vendor to talk to me, I’m figuring my business isn’t worth anything to them and will probably go elsewhere.

        Info dumping in an attempt to preempt all possible questions is making extra work for your client. Why make it extra difficult for people to do business with you?

        1. valentine*

          #1: All day phone user, if you can’t forward the calls to her or conference her in and then exit, maybe ask your manager about having coworker’s calls forwarded to her home or how should you proceed when coworker is not returning calls whilst working from home.

      2. Name Required*

        Try being more direct with her about the volume of calls you’re getting. She may not realize how big a deal it is, and think that you guys have different styles.

        Obviously you can’t stop answering your own phone. Try this to help deter incoming calls: “I can’t help with this; Coworker is the point person you should talk to. The best way to contact her is email.” You will definitely get pushback. Keep repeating, “I’m sorry to hear that” or “I understand that you’re frustrated” … followed by, “But Jane is definitely the best person to help with this. I can’t transfer your call over to her; your best option is to email her.” Ultimately if you get a really outraged client on the call, transfer to your manager. You might find the problem is then solved more quickly.

        For what it’s worth, I had a coworker like this who would do my tedious administrative work if I would please take her phone calls. I’ve always liked being on the phone and I’m good at it. It worked for us, but we had a really good synergy on what was an equitable tradeoff and our manager thought it was good problem-solving.

    3. Observer*

      Except that your version does nt match reality. The OP is explicit that this is NOT working. The clients are NOT good with it and it’s affecting the business.

  69. Anonymeece*

    #3 – If time off or money isn’t within the realm of possibility, I’ve found that any gift plus a well-written, thoughtful card is a great gift. I gave out homemade cookies to all my employees, but included a hand-written card to each telling them what I appreciated about them. I took care to be very specific – not just a “Thanks for all you do!” – and really wrote what I valued about them.

    Afterward, nearly every single one thanked me for the card, and the cookies were an afterthought.

    It costs nothing, but it means so much more than just saying, “Good job”.

  70. Red 5*

    OP4-You may not be diabetic, but you DO have a medical condition and you do need to accommodate that. Low blood sugar even without diabetes is no joke, it’s a problem for a lot of people, and your manager can and should respect that. I would hope that most doctors would be willing to back you up on this too. There are a ton of people with a lot of different issues of varying severity that need to snack every few hours.

    Which is why this no eating thing is a crazy thing for your manager to do (if she won’t allow it at desks for whatever reason she should chill about stepping into the break room, because seriously) but at the end of the day, don’t think you don’t have any case to stand up to this. You DO have a medical reason to ask for this.

    1. Annie Nimity*

      I am the same way, not diabetic but I definitely get a headache or feel nausea if I go without eating a little something every few hours. You should definitely push back about this rule. It sounds as though your manager doesn’t want people taking breaks at all, which is ridiculous. And what one does on their break is their own business. If pushing back doesn’t help, then I say she can’t stop you from eating a banana or a cheese stick (or whatever it is) on your way to/from a bathroom break. Surely she doesn’t monitor bathroom breaks, too…. ??

  71. ACDC*

    Nothing to add to #3, but just wanted to share my annoying experience with gift-giving in the workplace. OldJob apparently has a “tradition” of giving a bottle of wine and prime rib to employees for Christmas. Well, I was vegetarian at the time and don’t drink alcohol. Both of these facts were well known, and often the butt of jokes, in our 10 person office. I was given the prime rib and wine along with a slew of jokes. One of our warehouse workers was currently incarcerated and part of a work-release program, and he was given cash instead of the gifts that he couldn’t use. I asked why I wasn’t given the cash option ($150!!), and was told it’s “tradition” and they don’t account for “weirdos like [me]”

    1. Sacred Ground*

      That’s awful. The whole point of giving gifts is to express appreciation and affection. In this case, the “gift giving” became a straight-up bullying tactic. Kind of defeats the purpose, yes? I’m glad you’re out of there.

    2. Khlovia*

      Well, heck, at least they could accommodate criminals. Just not weirdos. You should have gone out and held up a gas station or something; then they could have made an effort to accommodate you.

  72. H.C.*

    #5 reminded me that I still have a half-full package (~50 sheets) of textured resume paper that I haven’t used since the mid-aughts. Oh, the memories.

  73. Jaybeetee*

    LW2: Sounds weird, man. I had a colleague at a previous job who would call/Facetime her partner CONSTANTLY throughout the day. Our job was such that she never could have gotten away with doing it during work (call centre), but every single break, before and after work, she was on the phone with him. Lots of people noticed and commented on it, because it basically meant she never interacted with colleagues. That was my mega-commute job that I held briefly, and that colleague and I briefly carpooled. During the hour+ drive, her and her bf would call back and forth about 3 times for 10 minute phone calls – usually just chatting about what to make for dinner or other mundane stuff. I’d pick her up, we’d be on the road 10 minutes and one would call the other. She told me there were some other controlling overtones to that relationship (he’d go through her phone periodically), he was about 20 years older than her (she was mid-20s), she had no other friends in our home city outside of him and his family, and the whole relationship just skeeved me out.

    LW, you ought to say something, as this seems like a distraction to your (and her) work. If you’re comfortable to approach your coworker about the video chat in particular, do so (you probably can’t stop her from *talking* to him all day if she wants). If you don’t feel comfortable approaching her, bring it up to your manager. You should not be working in an environment where your colleague’s husband is watching you via camera phone all day! That is so many layers of wrong.

  74. chocoholic*

    OP #3 – We have, in the last couple of years, implemented service awards for 5, 10, 15, 20 years. For these, we have done a Visa gift card. So, $50 for 5 years, $100 for 10, etc. The one employee we have who had her 25th anniversary a couple of years ago received a laptop computer as a gift from the company. These have been well-received by employees.

      1. chocoholic*

        Well, we are a small nonprofit. It is what we can afford. People who have received it have appreciated it.

      2. Teacher Lady*

        I’ve been teaching for 25 years. At my “milestone” years (5, 10, 15, etc) they invite me to a banquet but I have to pay for the ticket. I’d take $100. Heck, I’d take a nice note from a principal thanking me. But no, I get a rubber banquet that costs me $20 for me and $30 for a guest.

  75. Lucille2*

    #1 – Admittedly, I’m the person who can easily become the email-only communicator. The best thing that happened to me was a boss I had early in my career who used to tell me to get off email and chat and walk over to the person’s desk to talk it out. He had to reinforce this with me several times, and I found it was a much better way to get to the bottom of things quickly and build relationships with my colleagues. Now I’m in a role where I work with remote teams and clients, so I don’t have the luxury to talk things out face to face. I will typically follow up a phone call with an email to document what we discussed/decided so there is room to correct any misunderstandings. But I work in an industry where email is king. But I have had several clients who always prefer the phone. On days where I’m in back to back conference calls, I will send a quick email response to a voicemail stating that I’m not available over phone for X hours, but can address over email or call back when I can.

    OP, you might be able to approach your colleague about this as a friend and it may be received well – especially if she comes to you for advice and looks up to you. But as Alison suggests, this feedback probably has to come from a boss. If CW really thinks there’s no issue with this behavior, the boss is only reinforcing it by not addressing it.

  76. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#1….about the phone (apologies if another commenter already brought this up)

    I too HATE the phone and avoid it whenever possible. I now tell people this from the get-go, but my position is very different from yours and, as you said, some things just require a phone call which may be lengthy. While my suggestion doesn’t really help you, it may help your co-worker. What I’ve found to work well for me is to return phone calls on a designated day (to the extent possible), especially ones that I know will be long/involved. I do this because I have to psyche myself up to make phone calls so when I’m in the groove and feeling outgoing/schmoozy, I try to knock it all out at once. I’ve also been known to close conversations by letting the person know that I’ll be unavailable via phone for the next few days and they’ll need to e-mail/fax/Skype/send smoke signals if they wish to reach me. It puts their expectations in line, but lets them know that I’ll still be reachable if the matter is urgent. I also greatly prefer VM if I just need to convey a small amount of info and don’t want to get caught up in a lengthy convo with someone that has a tendency to do that, I’ll either leave messages really early or really late and tell them to e-mail with questions or concerns. Again, not appropriate for all contexts or clients and may not be a good option for the co-worker, but just a thought that might get her to take a small step in the right direction.

    Depending upon your position, this may or may not be a viable solution for the co-worker and there will realistically always be some calls that she’ll have to take even when she isn’t in the mood. And yes, don’t take her calls for her.

  77. DaniCalifornia*

    I have noticed with my generation (I’m considered an older millennial) that some of my peers do not like using the phone and prefer email. I got trained out of my phone phobia at 21 in a receptionist place and now find it easier than sometimes going back and forth with 10 emails. But it extends to all generations I think. My current coworker is late 40s and always been in customer service roles and she is constantly complaining about having to answer the phone.

  78. Kitty*

    OP4 – could you get a doctor’s note to say you have low blood sugar and need to eat regularly? I had to do this for a similar situation where management issued a bizarre diktat that we were only allowed 1 toilet break in the morning and 1 in the afternoon (we were in an office where no-one had to cover if someone was away from their desks, the phones never rang, and we were all massively underworked so toilet breaks weren’t meaning work wasn’t getting done). Once faced with a doctor’s letter my manager had to let me use the bathroom when I needed it. So your manager might allow you to snack in the kitchen when needed.

  79. nd*

    #4 – if you are in California, then you are legally entitled to two 10-minute paid breaks if you work an 8-hour day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. If you’re not in California, check your state’s laws on breaks.

    Please also get checked by your doctor. You should be able to go quite a bit longer than three hours without food and not get the symptoms you describe.

    1. nd*

      Okay, I re-read your letter and see you can take short breaks. But to modify my response, if you’re in California, your manager has limited control over your breaks and really cannot stop you from having a quick snack.

  80. LadyCop*

    #2 I can understand all of the OP’s concerns…but I would be blown away if Jane is about half as productive as she should be. And that’s not even mentioning the co-dependency/control issues that may be at play here. Sheesh, if she can’t have hubby on the phone all day, is she going to call mommy next??

  81. attornaut*

    #3 – Don’t get me wrong, I’d love cash or an extra day off. But I have to say, the thing I’ve gotten that I’ve valued the most from a boss was a very sincere and detailed thank you card talking about specific accomplishments. Great for a limited budget.

  82. Allison*

    #5 – I agree that any kind of generic career center tends to be generally unhelpful, but besides printing the resume on nice paper, which is super dated, the other advice isn’t that bad? I might be filling in the gaps the wrong way, but there’s an argument for leaving off your grad year (I see many people do this on LinkedIn) if you have a lot of other career experience since. My resume is grouped by skill set/industry rather than chronologically (unless they mean here just pick a random order?). And I don’t think its’ a terrible idea to find out who’s hiring, if not make or break.

    1. Nope.*

      I work in workforce development policy, and I can also say that government-run workforce centers are often aimed at people who have very high barriers to employment. That could include long gaps because of health problems, homelessness, frequent moves, or stints in prison. I would absolutely urge people with those experiences to group their resumes by content/experience type, rather than showing long, repeated gaps. They also do quite a bit with people who have been laid off or whose industries are changing, in which case it would also be advantageous to de-emphasize your age and focus your resume by skill, rather than by employer.

      Also I definitely leave my graduation year off, because I’m trying to appear slightly older than I am — I did my Master’s and worked full-time simultaneously, so I want people to think I’m Years of Work Experience + 3, rather than just counting the years of work experience.

  83. Akon*

    #1. Phone anxiety is real. It’s the same feeling when you approach a busy 4-way stop sign. But avoiding all phone calls is definitely not acceptable.

  84. Melanie*

    To answer no. 5, it is due to lack of training and employers who know nothing of what they are doing.

    I had to work at a nonprofit provided career services (not solely, but additional to other services). While I enjoyed my clients, I did not enjoy how my manager and boss seemed to treat it as a for-profit business model, meaning all they cared about was the bottom line and not the process. For instance, I was never trained properly according to state guidelines. It’s quite possible my agency got a waiver for this due to their size, but no one informed *me* of that. I basically had to wing everything. I’m fortunate that I read blogs like this, as well as similar websites, and find human resources and the hiring process interesting, so I had a higher standard. But alas, I was still not equipped to do the job in the way someone with a degree in this particular discipline would. Which is a disservice to the clients, imo.

    It annoyed me that this place was supposed to be a nonprofit, but they wholly treated it like a for-profit enterprise to the point that if a client did not care for their job and wanted a different one, my manager told me not to return or answer their calls. I felt that was unethical, to be honest.

    Anyway, I left that place for those and various other issues. It is not the type of place I would ever want anyone to go to for career services.

  85. Randy H*

    #1, The co-worker who doesn’t like to conduct work on the phone may have hearing difficulties. And the manager may be aware of if and accommodating it, while also protecting the employee’s privacy by not announcing it to others in the office.
    A hearing impairment that is not an issue for in-person conversation can make it very difficult to use phones, both because all the supplemental information we get in-person is missing, and because phones transmit only a small portion of the sound they hear, and partial deafness in that range can make phone conversation unintelligible.

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