anonymous note said to pick up my feet when I walk, a coworker with greasy hair, and more

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

1. Anonymous note told me to pick up my feet when I walk — and I have a limp

Recently someone left an envelope on my desk. In it was a piece of paper that said “please pick your feet up when you walk.” I have a leg condition that causes me to limp. I thought it was not noticeable. I brought the note to HR and informed my manager. It’s being investigated.

In the meantime, I am so suspicious of everyone and self-conscious every time I get up, or more accurately, take a step. I know I need to let this go but I am having trouble working with people who might have been the note writer. I can’t help my limp, I can help how well I do my job. How do I move on from this?

Someone in your office is a huge jerk. Even if you were dragging your feet for the hell of it, that shouldn’t be anyone’s concern … and anonymous notes are an especially cruel and cowardly way to deliver messages (in most cases, at least, and certainly here). That said, I’m betting that this person will feel like an enormous a-hole if they learn this is a medical condition, and I’m hoping your office assists them in that realization about themselves.

I can understand why it’s awful to now have to suspect everyone you work with of writing this note (one of many reasons why anonymous notes are cruel), but the best thing to do is to tell yourself that this is only evidence that you work with one ass; everyone else can still be perfectly lovely. (And that one ass may be feeling deep shame soon. Let’s hope, at least.)

2. Talking to a graduate assistant about greasy hair

My coworkers and I are in a weird situation that we could use some input on. We work as staff within an academic department at a college, so we routinely have graduate assistants working with us. For the most part, this is just fine. They typically work hard, though most need direction on some aspects of professionalism.

Right now we have a GA who is likable enough and works hard … but who doesn’t wash her hair. Like, ever. As far as we’re able to tell, she might wash it once every 15 days or so … but I kind of doubt it’s even as often as that. She has long hair that she typically wears down, so there’s no hiding the effects of her irregular wash schedule. When I first saw her this morning, I thought her hair was wet — turns out it’s not, it’s just that greasy.

I and a couple of others have privately mentioned this to her supervisor, our longtime peer. While she agrees that it’s gross, she is afraid to say anything about it for a couple of reasons. First, our dress code does not address hair at all; only clothing is covered. We also looked for references to grooming in our employee handbook, but found none. Second, she feels, and we agree, that this student is the type who might make a fuss over something like this. She’s very aware of her own rights, and doesn’t hesitate to speak up about anything that even remotely affects her. She’s also very green-oriented, which I think may be leading her to shower/wash her hair less often to save water. Basically, the push-back might not be worth the attempt.

While I understand why our coworker doesn’t feel comfortable speaking with her, someone has to, right? It’s not work-appropriate, and it reflects poorly on our office. To be clear, I am not advocating for daily hair-washing; even I don’t do that. But I also think there’s a limit, and she’s way past it at this point. Any advice?

You don’t need to have hair or grooming covered in your employee handbook in order to address this. Dress codes are intended to lay out broad guidelines; they generally won’t foresee every possible way someone might be outside standards of professional appearance. Moreover, you don’t need to have a written policy in order to ask someone not to do something; written policies can’t address every potential problem in a workplace (and you wouldn’t want to work somewhere that tried). That said, universities can be very bureaucratic and policy-oriented, so if you’re worried about this, you can certainly consult with your HR department.

But generally speaking, it should be absolutely fine, despite the lack of policy, for someone to address this with her. Ideally that person should be your manager; if she’s not willing to do it, you’d want to make sure she’s okay if you or someone else does (since her “I don’t want to” may mean “and I don’t want you to do it either”).

Your graduate assistant may indeed push back, citing environmentalism or personal preference or whatever else. If that happens, it’s fine to respond, “We do need you to adhere to professional grooming standards when you come to work, which means being freshly showered with clean hair.” Alternately, you could present it as “this is something that will hold you back professionally” — but the bottom line is that even if she doesn’t care about that, your office does.

3. My manager thanks me publicly for the smallest things, and it’s humiliating

I have a manager who takes great pride in being a positive, cheerful person. It is the dominant aspect of his personality, and he’s stated time and time again how he believes optimism and acknowledgment in the workplace are key to our team’s success. As part of this, he’s constantly thanking people and telling us what a good job we’re doing.

This didn’t bother me when I first joined the team. But it increasingly feels icky. For example, on a team call today where I was sharing my screen, I was publicly praised for flipping between two digital documents. “Wow Jane, you’re doing a great job!” A few hours later, I was lauded for successfully changing the header color on a PowerPoint table.

When each tiny thing I do is praised, it leaves me feeling oddly humiliated. I end up wondering: is my work awful, and my manager is seeking little ways to build me up and give me confidence so I can grow? When I step backward and look objectively at the situation, I’ve gotten nothing but glowing reviews my entire time at this job and I was promoted in early January — I know my work is high quality. But I can’t help feeling degraded more each day when my larger contributions are ignored and the sum total of an advanced degree and years thriving in a cutthroat field is … compliments on knowing how to hit ctrl + tab.

Am I reading too much into this? Should I just accept this is my manger’s personality and work with it? (For the record, although he is quite older than me and I’m a woman, he treats everyone this way.) I feel stupid saying, “Oh, my boss is nice, it’s so annoying!” But I find myself resenting him anytime he gives me a compliment, and it takes more and more of my energy to keep a smile on my face. I’m getting close to slipping into snark and sarcasm when we communicate. I’m also incredibly conflict adverse and don’t want to insult him when this is such a core part of his identity.

I can see why this is annoying, but taking it personally and feeling humiliated means that you’re ignoring the fact that he does this to everyone — and that therefore it’s 100% about him and not you (and your colleagues witnessing it will know that from their own experience with him). If he only did it to you, that would be a problem, but since he does it to everyone it’s not a commentary on you or your work. So yeah, I do think you’re losing sight of the facts of the situation and should accept this as a weird quirk of your manager.

If you ever did want to address it, you could bring it up in an evaluation-type situation (where you’re talking big-picture about how things are going) or if you’re ever invited to give feedback about him, pointing out that you’d prefer to receive praise for substantive parts of your work rather than your basic computer skills. But beyond that, you’re going to be happier if you see this for what it is — his own weird style — and realize it has nothing to do with you.

Read an update to this letter here.

4. Coworker starts droning loudly when anyone is on the phone

I share an office with two coworkers on a very quiet floor (lots of signs in common areas reminding people not to speak loudly because others are at work, etc). The three of us all get along well and try to be respectful of each other, but there’s one quirk that my colleague Joe has that drives me up a wall. If Jenny (my other officemate) or I spend more than a moment or two on the phone, Joe starts murmuring to himself very loudly, as if he is trying to drown us out. He’ll just read whatever email or website or other text he’s looking at out loud, for as long as our phone conversation continues. He stops as soon as we get off the phone, and acts like nothing happened.

While he might be struggling to focus, it comes across as a passive aggressive way to say “you’re making too much noise and I’m distracted.” I don’t think either Jenny or I spend an unreasonable amount of time on the phone. I mostly communicate via email and other channels online, and I generally shift to my boss’ office if I’m joining a conference call (he frequently works from home), as a courtesy to my colleagues. Jenny does like to chat a little when she’s on the phone, but from my perspective, her volume is reasonable and she’s not acting inappropriately or running her mouth off for too long. If it’s just her and me in the office and she’s on a call, I can tune her out, but I get SO annoyed when she answers a call and within seconds Joe is loudly droning to himself, only to stop abruptly when Jenny hangs up. I’ve glanced over at him a few times but he won’t look back.

Our department gets along remarkably well—perhaps the best of any I’ve ever worked in—but Joe is known for being a bit socially awkward, passive aggressive, and uncomfortable interacting with others. What can I do to minimize this annoyance?

This is so bizarre that I wonder if Joe has difficult concentrating when there’s any background noise and reads things out loud to himself as a way to try to stay focused? Either that or he’s being remarkably rude.

Why not just ask him? “Hey, when one of us is on the phone, you start reading out loud to yourself. How come?” And then, depending on the answer, you could say, “It’s pretty distracting! Since we can’t get around having to be on the phone from time to time, could you try headphones instead?”

5. Should my resume list this as two different jobs?

Three years ago I began working at a library in the children’s department. A year and a half into the job, our reference librarian retired and I was able to apply for her position. I got the job, but my job title and working location (and salary!) remained the same. I’ve been in that job for a year and a half.

I find myself looking for higher paying jobs, and am wondering how I should present this job change on my resume. Right now, I have these two positions combined into one job (current job title at current job location for three years). Under the job duties and accomplishments, I list duties and accomplishments for all three years I’ve been at this location. As the job duties are very similar, it made sense. For example, I used to maintain the children’s collection, and now I maintain the adult collection. Both use the same skills and techniques, so my resume just says that I’ve been responsible for maintain adult and children’s collections. Same with answering reference questions for kids and adults, planning programs, etc. Technically these were two different jobs, but my duties are so similar and I’ve stayed at the same location with same salary and job title so it seems like this is just the logical way to approach it.

A friend who looked over my resume disagrees, and thinks I should list these as two different jobs with two different start and end dates. I think this would make my resume too redundant. What do you think?

If the job titles are the same, the way you’re doing it is fine.

But even if the job titles were different, you still wouldn’t need to make them two totally separate listings. Since the duties are so similar, you’d do it this way:

Employer name, January 2016 – present
Job title #1, January 2016 – June 2017
Job title #2, June 2017 – present
* accomplishment
* accomplishment
* accomplishment

{ 747 comments… read them below }

  1. Laura H.*

    Op 2, please do it/ find the right person to.

    I was the recipient of that sort of conversation at my first (a student work-study) job. It helped me a lot. That STILL helps me actually.

    And my lack of grooming (yay back of head knots that I didn’t notice- frequently enough-) was a factor that led to me not getting a permanent position from a temporary.

    Those conversations help! It helped me.

    1. AJ*

      It is a favour.

      It’s also sad that maybe she doesn’t have anyone else in her life to tell her, but perhaps she does but went off on them.

      1. Topcat*

        She may genuinely be doing “no poo” and have convinced herself that her hair looks great. I’ve known people who have done it, who go on about how they “no longer need to wash their hair, it cleans itself!” – but their hair actually looks AWFUL. Greasy and dull and lank.

        However unless it actually smells offensive and is affecting other people in the office, I don’t think there’s a lot you can do.

        1. Emily*

          This exact situation is my sister! My whole family has kindly but directly told her she needs to wash her hair countless times, and she just won’t. She has also convinced herself that it looks great. But since she doesn’t smell, well …… not much more to be done.

          1. Windchime*

            I have a cousin like this. Her hair is just so lank and oily-looking that I can hardly stand to see it. It just seems like it would be so itchy and unpleasant feeling.

        2. Same.*

          Yes! I’ve had friends who’ve said that also, and it’s like… What would it have to look like for you to think it needed to be washed?

        3. Samwise*

          I do think that even if it doesn’t smell, someone needs to tell her it looks unprofessional and that it will hold her back.

        4. Lara*

          If I recall correctly (at least according to the curly girl method) in order to go “no poo” you still need to be washing with conditioner–a lot of it. Someone who just decides not to shower is not doing it right.

          1. ContentWrangler*

            They also make shampoos specifically for the curly girl method called No Poo, because they’ve removed most of the hard chemicals that make shampoo foam/suds. Just not showering is definitely not the right way.

            1. the corner ficus*

              I was about to say the same thing. If it’s the shampoo aspect that’s the problem for her she could just go with a low/no sulfate shampoo like Aveeno Pure Renewal. Or other green alternative that leave out even more chemicals like Love and Beauty and Planet (I haven’t tried but will the next time I need to buy shampoo).

          2. But you don't have an accent...*

            And even with Curly Girl, you’re supposed to clarify to get rid of product build up.

          3. Joielle*

            Yeah, I used to do that when I was trying to maintain a colorful dye job. You have to apply conditioner pretty much every day and SCRUB with your fingers to manually get rid of the grease and product buildup.

          4. Carbovore*

            Co-signing here–I’ve been doing curly girl for almost a year and you still have to wash it! The idea is to just get rid of sulfates, parabens, and silicones in your shampoos to encourage better curls/waves. Some people can manage co-washing (that is, no shampoo, just using conditioner) but I’ve found that for me with my oily scalp, I have to use shampoo and wash everyday. And like someone else said below, even if you’re co-washing, you still (ideally) would use a clarifying shampoo once a month or so to remove product build-up.

            I feel for the OP, this is a more awkward conversation to have but it will help the GA to know that this could hold her back professionally! (Maybe even dry shampoo could be suggested if it’s a conserving water issue for her?)

          5. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            My sister actually does this with no product at all (and has for several years), and it looks absolutely fine now, though she said it was probably a month of adjustment before it got to normal. However, she does shower every day and has very curly hair which might hide it a bit better than straighter-haired people.

            1. Rainy*

              It also works a lot better if you have dark hair. I tried co-washing my curly strawberry blonde hair for a while and I still had to use a stripping shampoo weekly or my hair turned a weird dingy colour. I gave up after a while and went back to using shampoo.

              1. Charlotte Collins.*

                Fine, pale hair, whether straight or curly, is not the hair to try this on. I have thick but fine hair that’s a light color. I cannot go 24 hours without it being obvious if I haven’t cleaned it. The oils from my scalp redistribute themselves too fast. I work with someone who has dark curly hair, but it’s too fine for her to not clean it daily. (She has pointed out that the internet lied to her about her proper hair care.)

                Coarse or curly hair benefits from less shampooing, though. Because you want the oil from your scalp to work through your hair, so that it doesn’t become brittle.

                I didn’t read the whole thread, but I wonder if the student has fine hair. It could look terrible after just one day of not being washed.

            2. Micklak*

              I didn’t know it was called something but I guess I’m “no poo.” I don’t ever wash my hair unless it has sawdust or something in it, so maybe twice a year. I get it wet but don’t wash it.

              I don’t think anyone thinks I’m gross.

              If this woman doesn’t smell I think the LW should step back.

              1. Maggie*

                “I don’t think anyone thinks I’m gross. ”

                Or they, like the OP, don’t know how to approach you about it.

          6. Emily S*

            When I did no ‘poo in my younger years, I kept a tub of baking soda and a squeeze bottle of diluted white vinegar in the shower for cleaning and conditioning. I made a paste with the baking soda to scrub my scalp clean about once every 3-4 days, and rinsed in vinegar for shine and smoothing every 2-3 days.

            1. Kat in VA*

              I did the same and my hair looked FANTASTIC – to the point where people actually commented on it.

              I quit because unfortunately even though my hair was shiny! bouncy! full! it also smelled like vinegar if it got wet or I started sweating. Not a huge problem in north Idaho but still…we had enough warm days in the summer, or I’d sweat up a storm snowboarding and I didn’t fancy smelling like Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinegar dressing on those occasions.

              If I could find a substitute for the vinegar rinse, I would go back to “washing” with baking soda* and rinsing with whatever doesn’t smell like salad dressing in a heartbeat!

              *i did a bit different than you – I used a few tablespoons of baking soda in about two cups of water so it was more of a dilute solution. Using the paste method irritated and dried out my scalp. It’s different for everyone though.

              1. Venus of Willendorf*

                I have used lemon juice as a natural mild lightener for my hair in the past, and I know you can use it with baking soda in cleaning mixes, since it’s also a mild acid, like vinegar. I don’t know how it would work with a no poo system, though; I’ve never tried it.

          7. Eukomos*

            There’s a bunch of versions of no poo, ranging from washing with conditioner only most of the time all the way to never so much as getting your hair wet. I do conditioner-only myself, works quite well, but I’ve known water-only washers (was fine for short hair, not sure how it would do on longer), and talked to people on the internet that were no-wash-at-all types, often people with very long hair. They tend to say that their hair behaves differently now but they like the new texture, I have no idea what they look like in person.

          8. Alexandra Lynch*

            I have straight hair, and it is happiest if not washed daily. It likes washed about once every 3-4 days in summer, and every 6-8 days in the winter. But you can’t tell that I am doing that unless it’s day 8 in the winter and it’s too late to wash it so I’ll do it in the morning. (I have hip-length hair, and it wants to air-dry without being combed or messed with. This takes about forty minutes.)

            I cannot imagine not washing it at all. I just can’t. Gah.

            1. catwoman2965*

              Nope. Me either. I have thick wavy, not curly, not straight hair. Which is about chin length. it does what it wants, so I have to straighten it to make it look presentable. I wash mine about 2x a week. Sometimes 3, but I know when its time as I have very dry skin and my scalp will itch like I have fleas! I also wash at night, and let it air dry.

              But not wash ever? nope, I’d be scratching ALL the skin off my scalp! i still recall about 20 years ago, being in the hospital and finally allowed to shower after close to a week. My hair was NASTY. They actually had the nurse come check on me as I had been in there for a good 30 minutes or so!

        5. Smithy*

          On the “no poo” front, I’ve known two men with traditional male hair cuts and you genuinely would not know. Both appearance and touch (should you have permission) don’t give that appearance. In conversations about it, both men mentioned that there was a period of time where it looked bad but then settled out.

          I’ve never met a woman (especially one with straight hair), have that success that I’m aware of. But I could see a case of giving it a go, having a period where it looks “bad” and then feeling that it looks better. And that “better” being fine.

          1. Socks*

            I am a lady, although not one with straight hair! I have super long, super dry hair that legitimately takes two+ weeks or so to start looking greasy (and I’ve never even seen it get grease all the way down to the ends), and I can really scrub that oil out with just water if I put the effort in. Before I switched to products for curly hair, it legitimately did look and feel best if I washed it as little as possible (now I use a super gentle shampoo and load it up with conditioner and that’s better, but either one is better than back when I was just using, like, pantene). I’ve verified this with people who would absolutely tell me if I looked or smelled weird, and they were certainly vocal about how much prettier it looked when it was straighter, but, like, yeah, no visible oil or weird smells, anyway. My scalp just doesn’t want to produce oil, I guess. Also, the rest of my skin. I’m just super dry in general.

            Clearly not the same situation as OP, just… it’s possible, but you really have to have the right hair type, and if that IS your hair type, you’d still be better served by switching to better products, rather than just never using any ever again.

            1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

              I have similar hair and only wash mine when it is looking dry. It never looks oily, which is impressive because I work out almost every day and run wearing beanies in winter.

              1. Emily S*

                Salt water is actually degreasing, so many people find that if they shower after working out, the salt in their sweat means they don’t need to use shampoo.

            2. Katie the Fed*

              Yeah I have really thick dry-ish hair that can go two weeks between washings before it looks greasy. Plus I wear it pulled back a fair bit which helps I think. As soon as I see the first sign of oil, it gets washed. Usually once a week.

          2. Working Mom Having It All*

            As someone with straight hair that tends towards being oily, I cannot do no-poo. Especially with long hair. That said, I now have a pixie cut and can now handle washing every other day (and rinsing in the shower on days I don’t shampoo). Even so, I’m always worried that people at work thinks my second day hair looks dirty.

            So, yeah, women with long straight hair are not great candidates for this.

        6. Mockingjay*

          I have a friend who sells (MLM, of course) organic, vegan, non-allergic, healthy, planet-safe (and so on, fill in adjective) products, including shampoo. Her hair looks EXACTLY as OP 2 describes (not to mention her oily, reddened skin). If the Grad Assistant is using a similar product, I’m not sure what can be said or done. She can’t be compelled to use chemicals on her hair.

            1. AvonLady Barksdale*

              Yup. In fact, “It’s the product I’m using” is probably the best answer, because it’s the easiest to fix. Vinegar. Baking soda (probably not at the same time). Egg wash. Beer, like our mothers did in the 60s.

              1. Paxfelis*

                I don’t understand why people use baking soda. It’s abrasive and seems like it would make hair softer by destroying the hair strands.

              1. Mia*

                I was gonna recommend this! My hair is weird and finicky and Big is one of the only shampoos that it’s taken to.

            2. thathat*

              Honestly, I just finished up my sample of a Lush shampoo and…it’s not good? Normally it takes a week or more for my hair to get greasy. With the Lush, it didn’t matter how much I used–my hair always felt greasy and lank by the time it was dry.

              1. Jadelyn*

                Yeah, I didn’t do so well with Lush shampoos. I love their body washes and some of their other stuff, but shampoo didn’t work for me. I’ve switched to the customized Function of Beauty stuff and it’s an investment, but my very picky hair likes it so it’s worth it to me.

            3. Eukomos*

              Lush’s stuff is all super harsh, regardless of their “natural” marketing. It’s also wildly overpriced. There are better “natural” brands out there, I wouldn’t try to push that one on someone, especially someone who’s as underpaid as most grad students are.

              1. whingedrinking*

                Lush has never marketed themselves as all-natural. Their emphasis is on cruelty-free, environmentally safe, and fair trade (hence the price) ingredients, whether natural or synthetic.

                1. Eukomos*

                  It’s definitely in the natural/clean beauty/etc marketing category, which I think is why it was suggested here. That kind of marketing is often used to imply the products safer and less likely to irritate your skin or trigger allergies, which is very much not true in the case of Lush. If she’s avoiding shampoo or using excessively weak ones because she’s concerned about health effects, Lush is not her company. But my primary issue with recommending them is the price point, not the marketing. Grad students are appallingly underpaid, and Lush is really quite expensive, so it would be a bad suggestion to offer this woman.

            4. Kat in VA*

              Actually, I kinda bought into the whole “organic and all natural” Lush hype too…

              Then did a bit of research and discovered their solid shampoos were big discs of sodium lauryl sulfate with assorted goodies added in, but the main ingredient was still a detergent (and a synthetic one at that) that’s found in most regular shampoos.

              That doesn’t mean I don’t use Lush and enjoy it – because I do – but it’s not any safer or less harsh on your hair than, say, Suave or V05.

              1. whingedrinking*

                Just as a side note, this being one of my particular pet peeves – whether something is safe or good for you is completely unrelated to whether it’s natural or synthetic.

                1. catwoman2965*

                  This 100%. And while not at all beauty related, at my last job, as a paralegal for a firm that did asbestos litigation, i was surprised to learn asbestos is a natural mineral, that is found in rocks! i had no clue, and figured something so harmful HAD to be man made.

          1. Emily S*

            I think the key thing is that you don’t tell GA how to take care of her hair. You just tell her that it needs to look clean, and it currently is not. She can then research solutions that she will feel comfortable with, whether trying other natural products, dry shampoo, brushing with starches, or whatever she pleases. You aren’t telling her she has to use chemicals – she just has to look presentable.

            1. Oxford Comma*

              I agree with this. It’s no concern of yours how the GA goes about having clean hair. All that matters is that she finds a solution.

            2. Junior Dev*

              Yes, thank you. There’s no one correct way to care for hair, because there are many different kinds of hair. I have curly hair I wash about twice a month, and rinse maybe once a week. Many Black or mixed race women wash their hair even less frequently, if at all; it has to do with the texture of the hair and how much oil your skin produces, among other things. The point is not that she needs to use X product or wash every Y days; the point is whatever she is currently doing is not working for her hair and she needs to research on her own how to correct it. It’s not a good idea for OP to get too far into solutions or product recommendations. The desired impact is that co-worker’s hair not look greasy; it’s on her to figure out how to get there.

        7. Clorinda*

          Some people can do ‘no poo’ and some can’t. I am older and my scalp produces far less oil than it used to; I only get my hair wet in order to condition it, otherwise it dries out to straw. But in my twenties my hair NEEDED shampoo a couple of times a week, and my teen daughter needs to wash hers every other day.
          LW mentions that the person has long hair. She might be looking at the length of her hair and thinking ‘this is fine’ while being unaware that the scalp area, which she doesn’t see, is greasy. It’s time to tell her.

        8. Anonforthis*

          My daughter was doing this (she’s 15) and I finally said that I was happy to help her find whatever environmentally friendly products she wanted, but she had to wash her hair regularly. She of course didn’t listen to me, but someone at her part time job mentioned it to her, and now she’s back to using regular shampoo.

        9. LadyofLasers*

          I’ve looked into ‘no poo’ out of curiosity, and it does look like there is something to it: our current regimen of daily showers is actually a really recent phenomenon. But like others have said, there’s a pretty rough transition period. And also… it’s a lot of work to do it well! Some people do use conditioner instead, but some people just use water, and very frequent brushing with boar hair brushes and its the brushing that cleans out build up and spreads out natural oils. Women in the 19th century would brush their hair for 100 strokes just for that reason. I hardly imagine this girl is spending time doing this.

          1. mrs__peel*

            There’s a wonderful book by the historian Ruth Goodman (“How To Be a Victorian”) that goes into a great deal of detail on how everyday people did things like washing their hair in the 19th century. Washing with soap was rather fraught and infrequent then because the soap of the time was so harsh, but people used all kinds of conditioners and pomades.

        10. Kelly L.*

          I tried a shampoo and conditioner for a few weeks that did this to my hair. I was washing it every day, but it looked like an Exxon disaster. I think it just wasn’t for my hair type, and possibly not even for my ethnic background at all. I have naturally dry hair and am always fighting a battle to hydrate it, but this was too much even on me, and it was expensive enough that I was loath to admit it wasn’t working.

          It smelled amazing, though.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            I would freak out if I knew the student didn’t wash their hair – ever. If they have disregard for something so basic, I’d wonder what else they skipped! Ick. Hence my concern about them carrying extra friends.

          2. Emily S*

            Fleas and lice don’t spring from the void on unshampooed hair and they can’t be gotten rid of by regular shampooing. They are transmitted from contact with a host and require specialized treatments to get rid of. There’s not much reason to think a person who foregoes shampoo is any more likely to be carrying parasites than anyone else.

            1. Jennifer Juniper*

              Thanks for the correction. I tend to think that unclean appearance = unsanitary = breeding grounds for disease. Then I have to remind myself that we have modern sanitation and modern medicine. People in the past didn’t have either, hence the prevalence of disease.

              1. Fuddy Dudd*

                I get what you’re saying, but it’s also a myth that “dirty” hair is more likely to carry lice. Lice prefer clean hair, because it’s easier to move around in.
                So realistically… someone who cleans their hair often is more likely to have lice than the gal in OP2’s letter.

                1. Fuddy Dudd*

                  EDIT: I researched this a bit further, and I’m not totally correct. It turns out lice have zero preference for cleanliness of hair. But the point is still correct; she’s not more likely to have lice than you or I.

                2. Clisby*

                  I was just coming here to say that. Someone with greasy hair is far less likely to have a problem with lice. Not just because it’s harder for the adult lice to move around – it’s harder for the eggs the lice lay to get a firm grip on the hair shaft. There’s a reason that the old-fashioned remedies for lice included things like saturating your hair with Vaseline or olive oil.

        11. Ada*

          Or she’s using a “green” product that’s not doing its job. I had that problem for a little while. I have sensitive skin and had such a hard time finding shampoo/conditioner that didn’t have an irritating fragrance or something in it, which meant sticking to green/Whole Foods-type brands. Let me tell you, some of those are just awful at getting the clean-to-conditioned balance right.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            I recommend Dread Head Dread Soap. It is really excellent for cleaning and detangling. Stuff is expensive, but totally worth it if you have issues with hair care products. You don’t have to have dreads to use it, either.

        12. many bells down*

          I tried going no-poo because it’s supposed to be so good for curly hair and I couldn’t STAND it. My scalp was so itchy after a week and my fine, frizzy curls had gone limp and stringy.

        13. The Dig*

          I’ve been doing no poo for almost 3 years, and from what I know, it does not mean you just stop washing your hair, it just means you stop using shampoos with silicone, sulfate and parabens. Some people choose washing their hair with water only, and it works, but it does not come overnight. This does not work on me, for example, so I use either clay or an egg to wash my hair.

          The point is finding alternatives. There is almost always a transition period where your hair looks awful, and the length of it changes for people. For me, it was something like 3 months, but I was a student working part time in a computer lab, so nobody cared about how my hair looked.

          For some people, it just doesn’t work. The GA may be in a transitional period, or has yet to find her routine. This does not mean the conversation should not happen! Personally I would like if my coworkers told me if my hair looks bad, because then I could make changes to my routine.

            1. The Dig*

              Well, I say “wash”, but it might not be the right word.
              Basically, the clay (rhassoul in my case, but some people use other types of clay) absorbs the excess oil in the hair, without being too rough on the scalp. Depending on how you apply it, it also works as a mild scalp exfoliation. You just mix the clay with water (you can add other stuff in it for hydration or scalp problems), apply the mud like a hair mask, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, rinse very thoroughly (the most important point), and you get non-greasy, fluffy hair.
              So it all comes down to what you consider to be “clean hair”. Is it synonymous with “non greasy, non smelly hair”? If so, then yes, I wash my hair with clay.

        14. Nic*

          Huh, interesting. My dad did the “no shampoo, no wash unless it actually gets dirty somehow” thing as an experiment, after he read an article about historical hairwashing, and after a transitional period, his hair settled down and looked completely normal. It apparently felt completely normal, too.

          I wonder if his scalp or short hair style was just more suited to the practise, or if OP’s coworker is either still in that transition phase where the scalp’s re-adjusting to not having natural oils regularly stripped away, or if they’re not brushing sufficiently to move the natural oils along the hair shaft and away from the root (apparently this is where the old “Always brush your hair a hundred times” advice comes from). Or maybe it’s because they aren’t doing anything with their hair (plaiting, pony tail, bun etc.) that it looks bad – hair dressing to keep it out of the face would have been historically important too, when keeping hair unwashed wasn’t a practise associated with bad hygiene.

          Either way, it’s probably worth a conversation that balances bringing up people’s concerns with her appearance as a representative of the department with asking her about her hair care regime and how she thinks it’s working/not working for her – without straightaway jumping to cast judgement on natural/old-fashioned/eco-friendly hair care theories if that’s what she’s doing.

    2. Approval is optional*

      I’m possibly going to be an outlier here, but the OP hasn’t said the student smells – all she mentions is that it ‘looks gross’ – so I’m not sure lecturing the student about cleanliness is appropriate if it’s just related to appearance and not unpleasant odours. And I really don’t think management’s should be telling people they have to be ‘freshly showered’ before they come to work. How fresh is fresh for a start; a lot of people shower at night – are they fresh enough? And who defines ‘clean’ hair? If she had short hair and used oil would it be ‘gross’? Probably not – even though it would look similar. It is possible that much of the reaction to the student’s hair , is related to the assumption that she must be unclean, which may well not be the case. After all a lot of people are converting to ‘no shampoo’ hair washing (and, as I understand it, it can take a while for the hair to adjust) ; this doesn’t mean they don’t shower – it just means they use water only to wash their hair.
      The, ‘this might hold you back..’, talk is different -though it would be interesting to know how people would approach it without telling her she looks gross (or whatever euphemism you use), if that is the only issue.

      1. Jasnah*

        I don’t think management should have to tell people to be bathed and groomed before coming to work.

        It doesn’t matter that 467 minutes have passed between her shower and appearing at work, it’s that her hair looks an unprofessional level of gross. It doesn’t matter that she showers daily and doesn’t shampoo her hair; her hair still looks gross. It doesn’t matter whether or not she smells; her hair still looks gross (and of course management can patrol appearance without regard for odor, that’s what dress code is for).

        We/this woman’s management don’t need to split hairs here (pun not intended)–the message is not “this is the routine you need to use,” the message is “your current level of hair cleanliness is not enough.”

        1. Approval is optional*

          Well, one man’s gross etc. Putting that aside though, IMO AAM’s response did suggest the message ‘this is the routine you need to use’, by saying ‘freshly showered’ . This is what I was (mostly) responding to.

          1. sacados*


            I think you’re probably getting too hung up on the “freshly” part — it’s not meant to indicate a specific length of time, it’s all about appearance. And it is incredibly subjective, I will grant you that. OP’s coworker — or even other managers/companies — may feel that the hair looks perfectly acceptable.
            But at the end of the day, it’s the company/boss’s right to state whether someone’s level of cleanliness or hair non-greasiness is “enough,” by whatever standards they see fit.

            It reminds me of the letter a while back where someone was asking AAM if it was unprofessional to not wear a bra to work. Whether or not you are actually physically wearing one is irrelevant — once it becomes noticeable/ people look at you and think “hey, I think she’s not wearing a bra!” is the point where it becomes unprofessional.

            1. Approval is optional*

              What I’m ‘hung up on’ is advising someone to use a word/phrase that results in an unreasonable and/or ambiguous direction. Freshly does indicate a length of time (or a small bandwidth of time) to many people – which is why I didn’t think it should be used by whoever speaks to the student. Words have meanings, and if we want the directions/orders we give to our employees to be reasonable, fair, appropriate etc, it behoves us chose our words carefully.

                1. KHB*

                  The word choice in question is part of a script (in quotes) that Alison is suggesting that people use. If someone thinks that script is suboptimal and could be improved, there should be space to discuss that. This is different, I think, than nitpicking the words that a LW or commenter uses to describe their own situation.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  KHB, agreed — it’s fine to nitpick word choice in my suggested scripts. And I think you could change “freshly showered” to “showered” or “clean.”

              1. Totally Minnie*

                But this script has to be somewhat ambiguous when it comes to time frames. You can’t realistically tell your employees “you must shower every other day,” but you CAN tell them that they need to be clean when they come to work. Bodies are weird and different from each other, and what it takes for me to look and smell clean is different from what another person’s body might need. The only other word I can think of is “regularly,” but that’s ambiguous too. Twice a month is regularly, but almost certainly not enough.

                1. sunny-dee*

                  This. I shower every single day, and I need to. I feel gross and smelly if I don’t, even if I didn’t work out. My mom can legitimately skip a day and my sensitive nose doesn’t notice at all.

                  Body chemistry is all different.

              1. AKchic*

                Ah, but unfortunately, this GA feels she *is* appropriately groomed for the office, whereas others do not feel the same about her.
                “Appropriate” is subjective, so now we are trying to narrow down what “appropriate” means in this context.

                1. Emily S*

                  It’s fine for it to be subjective. You just need to help her calibrate her sense of appropriate grooming. You can give her some time to implement changes and give her continued feedback – not clean enough yet, clean enough now.

                  People often shy away from giving feedback or requirements that can’t be quantified and measured in an objective way, but that’s a mistake because a lot of things that are necessary to good job performance are subjective. And you can’t allow employees to logic their way out of being disciplined on a technicality. If you are the boss, ultimately you can make whatever rules you want, and you should strive for fairness, but you don’t need to have airtight objective scores for everything such that you could code a robot to take your place. This ability to apply judgment and discretion is one of the ways that being human makes you a better boss than a robot would be.

                  Think about something like work attitude – if you had someone who was being grumpy and rude, you don’t need to tell them, “You can have up to one expression of frustration, two interrupting another person, and three complaints per week, but anything more than that is too surly. Also, you must give a compliment every day.” Nor do you need to institute some kind of zero tolerance for negativity policy which would obviously not be applied evenly, because in real life we do have some amount of tolerance for the occasional grumble or snap as long as it’s not part of an ongoing pattern and the person is otherwise a good worker. You can tell the person who is coming off rude or crotchedy that they need to work on improving their attitude, and give them feedback on whether or not they’ve done a sufficient job of becoming more pleasant to work with.

          2. KipKipper*

            “Freshly showered” stuck out to me too. I actually had a few moments of self-conscious worrying. I shower at night. My hair cannot handle daily washing (many hair textures can’t). I don’t think I’m showing up to work gross and greasy, but the advice does make it sound like you should shampoo every day last thing before leaving for work or people are secretly judging you.

            1. Mimi Me*

              It stuck out to me too. I have very thick, coarse hair that gets washed about once every 5 days. If I were to do anything else, everyone would notice because I’d look like a scarecrow. Being told to be “freshly showered” would really upset me. On the other side of that…I have a friend who partakes of a daily shower and shampoo. Within 2 hours of her shower her hair looks greasy and dirty. She’s tried all manner of products or lack of over the years and the results are still the same. Her hair is just so fine and prone to oil that she can’t help it and she is “freshly showered” every morning.

              1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

                Your friend’s situation made me think of something else the LW should be prepared for: What if the grad student tells her she does wash her hair every day and this is just what it looks like? Where could she go from there with giving direction to the student?

                1. nonymous*

                  On a personal level, if my own hair looked that greasy so quickly I would consider getting it cut very short and the seeing if the spray on dry shampoos could be used as a pick me up. Or develop a habit of headscarves or something like that.

                  However. I don’t think the manager needs to jump to offering solutions. She can start with the script that @sacados offered. Student’s appearance is not professional because people think (right or wrongly) that she is not clean. If student thinks this is a hill to die on, she can get an accommodation from her doctor (but set a deadline and identify that the request needs to come from a board-certified practitioner affiliated with the university medical center).

                  Since schools are supposed to be a safe place to train up young adults (who may not have the wisdom of workplace norms), I would ask her to inform management of her plan at the start of her next shift. She may come up with a reasonable solution on her own (headscarves) or she may catastrophize (my hair is genetically this way, employer is discriminating! muh rights!). If the latter, either have the detail convo about alternatives and/or send her off to the campus medical center for an accommodation request.

              2. Michaela Westen*

                Dry shampoo absorbs oil in the scalp and keeps it from looking greasy. Maybe that would help both your friend and the OP’s employee.

            2. Allison*

              I do agree, it might not be the best word choice. I do agree with the overall point, that workplaces don’t necessarily need to have it in their dress code that people are expected to bathe regularly, but if someone’s hygiene or grooming is affecting the professionalism of their appearance, it’s okay to talk to them about appropriate grooming standards – whether that person is coming in with a noticeable odor, or their hair is too dirty. I, like you, don’t wash my hair every day, and sometimes I use a bit of dry shampoo to freshen up my roots if they look a *little* greasy before work, but if my manager felt my hair was too greasy, or if my coworkers raised a concern about it with my manager, I’d appreciate a heads-up about it so I can adjust my grooming routine. I’d hate for it to hold me back professionally, and I’d also be mortified if everyone was talking about my gross hair behind my back, when it’s so easy to fix!

              But there are people who, for one reason or another, reject society’s bathing standards, and will get defensive and belligerent if you tell them they need to bathe more often, or wear deodorant, or wash their hair.

              1. MattKnifeNinja*

                I have two family members who totally shower maybe once a month? They do pits undercarriage, face and wash hands when using the toilet etc, but a bottle of shampoo would last them over a year.

                Neither of them reek. Both change their clothes as needed. Both have past the shoulder length hair that looks like the OPs intern.

                You don’t know if this is just clueless, or a conscious thing. With my relatives it is a life style choice, and belligerent and defensive an understatement.

                The relatives wear the hair up at work as a concession. They are men (if that matters). You can’t smell them from the door BO. In our society, long oily hair is considered gross.

                There are more people now that flat don’t do the daily/every other day shower thing, at least where I live. If they don’t stink, they push back hard.

                OP ask if she would consider putting her hair up. That was enough to have my relatives not lawyer up. (Yeah. I know.)

          3. AK*

            I think just saying it needs to appear freshly showered should cover your bases. It doesn’t matter to anyone whether your last shower was a week ago and there’s so much dry shampoo in there that your hair crunches when you touch it, as long as it looks like it was recently cleaned is all that matters.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Even “clean” hair isn’t really clean. Look at it under a microscope some time…actually nah you really don’t want to do that LOL.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            We did. You know how polar bear hair is actually clear, and its just the cumulative effect that makes it look white? Turned out to be the same for my son’s white blond hair. Going up through the family you basically added more and more patches of brown melanin to a clear base, resulting in white blond, medium blond, dark blond, and light brown.

        3. B*

          Meh; clothes can be “clean” but still so stained/worn/strange they don’t fit with office norms. If someone is sticking out like a sore thumb, especially at an early job, I think it’s good management to let them know. Person can decide if it’s something they want to change, or if it’s a must have part of their persona. Saying “I wanted to let you know, your hair appears very greasy, to the point it may effect your professional impressions.” And, i don’t know if it’d be helpful to give suggestions (ie, wash hair more frequently) vs ask if something’s going on, but it’s worth finding out more and addressing at least once.

          1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

            That’s a good point, you can be clean with clean clothes but still stand out from office norms. Most people know that a conservative office norm is no neon pink hair and nose piercings. Someone needs to tell her that the office norm is clean looking hair.

          2. Samwise*

            I wouldn’t give suggestions on how to address it unless the student asked. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they find a savvy friend who will help them.

            The only exception is if I get the sense (or the actual information) that the student having other sorts of problems that outweight “gross hair” — I may then be walking over to the counseling center with them, for instance. Of course a university is different from other sorts of offices in that way. If the OP were not campus-affiliated, they could alert the student’s advisor or the internship coordinator back at the university that there seems to be a more serious problem.

          3. Smithy*

            I strongly agree with this. Dress codes often serve to protect from having difficult conversations, when those are actually what is needed. I’ve known “no shampoo” people who’s hair looks and smells perfectly clean. I’ve also known people who use lots of hair pomade/gel/oil for a shiny look that could read greasy to some but is done as part of a style.

            And then as B said – you can have someone wearing clothes that are cleaned after every wash that are unprofessional. I work in a business casual office where lots of men and women wear jeans. However they’re all largely black/gray/very dark wash fitted jeans. Wearing standard blue jean Wranglers would not be appropriate.

            I think this is a case where a manager needs to be both empowered and comfortable having the conversation about what does and does not appear professional for this workplace. And therefore what is and is not appropriate. Maybe this woman could start wearing her hair in a bun and alleviate most issues? I don’t know – but I think that’s more what needs to happen vs prescribing what is or is not a professional bathing routine.

        4. Phoenix Programmer*

          Completely agree. They should just focus on the fact that he hair needs to look clean and professional. It may help to even say that you don’t care how she achieves this, dry shampoo, washing regurlarly, it’s up to her but her hair must look clean, professional, and currently staff have noticed her hair is greasy and unkempt.

        1. Foreign Octopus*

          I’m with you here.

          There are certain standards that people need to uphold when in a professional environment and greasy hair is one of the things that is a no-no.

          Now, I’m not saying that if she has an ethical objection to washing her hair because it damages the environment then she should do it, but she should be made aware that what she’s doing right now isn’t appropriate and she needs to find a better way to do what she wants to do: be that a hair wrap, braiding her hair, whatever. But she does need to make alterations.

          On the other hand, if this is just simply a matter of her not knowing better, then a quick conversation should hopefully solve this.

          One way or the other, it’s not appropriate for her to come to work with greasy hair. It is necessary to be appropriately groomed for work. That’s that.

        2. Ruth (UK)*

          I think it’s because people have different understandings of what being ‘clean’ (and ‘professional’) is. and also it can vary depending on whether we’re talking about hygiene, appearance, or a bit of both.

          Norms of what is acceptable and counts as ‘clean’ can vary across cultures, classes, social groups, (and time periods), as well as individuals, and workplaces.

          From a very personal point of view, I have no issue at all with greasy hair unless there is a bad odour. I have naturally dry hair which gets very static wispy if I wash too often.

          1. Mary Ann*

            This is true. I worked in a ‘70’s style health food co op and this girl would have fit right in.

        3. Rez123*

          Professional is is very subjective tern. Varies between cultures and work places. In the past year I’ve read a lot of times how certain clothing and actions are unprofessional and I’m seriously wondering if I live in different universe since they seem totally appropriate to me.

      2. Uncertain*

        I’m with you on this.

        Firstly, since there’s no mention of the GA smelling, it’s probable that they are washing regularly, so we’re not in the “my co-worker stinks and it’s distracting everyone from their work” territory that we sometimes see in letters here.

        Secondly, as the GA is described as likeable and hard working, the greasiness of their hair is not impacting the quality of their work.

        Thirdly, who knows ‘why’ their hair is greasy? Maybe they’re not washing it, maybe they’re using products that make it greasy, maybe it’s naturally greasy and they’re already self-conscious about it. Whatever the reason, it’s nobody’s business but hers. Would we be encouraging someone to approach a subordinate with, for example, a visible rash, to tell them that it looks unprofessional and that they’re not doing enough to make it go away?

        Finally, OP has written this:

        “this student is the type who might make a fuss over something like this. She’s very aware of her own rights, and doesn’t hesitate to speak up about anything that even remotely affects her.”

        That’s… good? Surely we want our students to be the kind of people who, when others try to police aspects of their appearance that have no impact on the quality of their work, they push back? Who are aware of their rights? Who speak up?

        There’s a lot of “you’d be doing them a favour” comments BTL so far. I’d suggest OP that, if you want to do them a favour, praise their good work, give constructive feedback on their bad work, and if others in your workplace comment on her hair, say: “You know, I’ve been thinking about this, and I don’t think we should be making comments on other people’s appearance or speculating on their washing habits, so I’m going to ask that we don’t do that unless it’s impacting their work or our ability to do our jobs”.

        1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

          And if, in some future job, people find her off-putting and distasteful and avoid working with her because she doesn’t look clean, it wouldn’t have done her a favor to give her a heads up at a job that is supposed to be a learning experience?

          1. Uncertain*

            That’s possible – there are plenty of jerks in the world. But that would be true if she had a visible rash, or was overweight, or a limp like OP1 – there are always people who think they have the right to police perceived “imperfections” in others. Should we have to account for all the jerks who find greasy hair off-putting on an otherwise likeable, hard working employee?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Well, yes, because it’s widely considered a violation of professional grooming norms, and it’s going to hold her back. Not just with jerks, but with lots of people — the same as if she was coming to work smelling bad or in stained, unkempt clothes.

              There are a bunch of people in this thread saying they’re grateful someone had this talk with them early on.

              1. Uncertain*

                I respect that your advice is targeted at the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be.

                But it would be remiss of me not to say that re-enforcing the idea that people should just surrender their bodily autonomy to their employers because they didn’t like the look of you (not because it impacted your work or the work of those around you) feels like a missed opportunity.

                It’s not immediately clear to me why policing hair greasiness is considered ok while policing other aspects of a person’s appearance that some people feel obliged to comment on, or might hold them back professionally because of others’ reactions, are not.

                1. Snark*

                  Oh, for god’s sake, this is becoming entirely ridiculous. It is not surrendering one’s everloving bodily autonomy to wash your hair before going to work, and suggesting it is makes me wonder if you have any understanding or experience of “the world as it is” whatsoever.

                2. Snark*

                  Oh, and “policing” hair greasiness is acceptable because it’s a matter of basic cleanliness, not a disability, injury, feature or otherwise some immutable reality of someone’s physical body.

                3. NerdyKris*

                  Asking people to bath is not “surrendering bodily autonomy”. You don’t consider “dress professionally” to be surrendering bodily autonomy, do you? Because it’s the same thing. Unless there’s a medical issue behind the hair, it’s acceptable to ask someone to maintain basic grooming standards.

                4. AvonLady Barksdale*

                  Greasy hair is usually something one can easily fix. Even if someone’s hair is naturally greasy, there are ways to make it look better. Braiding it, for starters. A rash or being overweight or having a limp– not the same thing. Not at all, not even close. Asking someone to use some soap (or some other cleansing agent) is not asking them to surrender their bodily autonomy, but if that’s too much to ask, then there are consequences. If one is prepared to accept those consequences, then great! Good for them! But if they want to be a professional, they will likely have to make some adjustments. We all do. There are days when I would rather not shower and do nothing with my hair and just show up, but I don’t because I’m a professional and I work with people and there are norms that go with that.

                  People used to tell me that I had to straighten my hair to look “right”. I stopped doing it. My hair is clean and relatively neat and I get compliments on it, but it is not straightened. I would not want to work in a place that insisted my hair be straight. THAT would be a violation of my bodily autonomy, not asking me to keep it clean.

                5. Uncertain*


                  I don’t appear to be able to reply directly. While I understand I have a different perspective to you, could you keep the ad hominem attacks to yourself? I’m comfortable with my level of understanding and experience of the world as it is. I was simply stating my view that that hair greasiness can be caused by a number of factors not related to person hygiene or cleanliness, and policing it on the assumption that that the person is being negligent in some way is ill-conceived.

                6. Snark*

                  That’s not how an ad hominem attack works, so climb down off that cross, if you would. If I said, “you chose ‘uncertain’ as your username so obviously everything you say is wrong,” that’s ad hominem. “When you say than an expectation that employees to come to work clean and groomed is an infringement of their bodily autonomy, I wonder how well you actually understand professional norms in the real working world” is a statement of perception, and not fallacious (or an attack!) at all. Because, real talk, that’s pretty far out there.

              2. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

                What if the LW has this talk, learns that the GA washes her hair every day, sometimes twice, and just has very oily hair? how should she take it from there? What would be a good way to approach a grooming issue that is the best it is going to be for whatever reason?

                1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

                  I would offer sympathy, but gently express the fact that–clean or not–looking unwashed is going to harm her professionally, and offer some suggestions. She could use dry shampoo, keep her hair tied back, and check the internet for other ideas.

                  Just because achieving a professional appearance is more difficult for her than it is for others doesn’t mean she shouldn’t make an effort.

                2. Totally Minnie*

                  There are hairstyles that can disguise greasy hair better than just leaving it down. Buns, braids, headbands, any of those could do the trick.

                3. Michaela Westen*

                  All the hair-care magazine articles say washing your hair too often can make it look greasy because the scalp tries to catch up by making more oil. So I would suggest washing it less often and maybe using dry shampoo.

              3. Flash Bristow*

                I’ve had to suggest to someone that they could borrow my deodorant if it would help? Hint taken. Also someone with really greasy hair which I said “always looked wet”. Their response was “oh. No it’s just really greasy!” which is what I’d really guessed – but it got the dialogue going, so I could offer them a hairband to keep it back. That worked, without any offence taken, so far as I could see.

                OP, maybe try mistaking grease for “wet look”, assuming that itself wouldn’t be acceptable / professional for your office? Maybe it IS a product, or at least you’re letting her hide behind that while cluing her in.

              4. nonegiven*

                Do we know that she didn’t used to wash her hair every morning and that the way it is now isn’t better than it was then?

                I saw up thread, someone say their relative’s hair looks just as bad 2 hours after washing it. Are we sure she can do better without a wig? Where does that stop?

            2. Snark*

              It’s not jerkish to expect profesional standards of grooming and dress from an employee, and I have to wonder how you drew the conclusion that it was. This is not “policing imperfections,” it’s expecting that people present themselves professionally, and I have never once worked at a workplace where that was not the norm.

              Greasy hair? Unkempt, wrinkled, or smelly clothing? Body odor? All things which one does not expect from a professional at work. It’s really not opaque or subjective.

              1. Uncertain*

                I think we should stick to the topic of greasy hair, since the OP didn’t mention body odour or unkempt clothing.

                I guess my difficulty is that greasy hair can be caused by any number of factors, it isn’t impacting their work, and this idea that an employer has the right to say “you need to better police the grease that your hair follicles produce, lest it offend mine eyes” sits very uncomfortably with me.

                I appreciate, though, that I’m in a minority here.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  And if it turns out that the greasy hair is caused by something other than not realizing professional norms in this area, they can talk about that and figure out if there are other solutions (people have suggested some elsewhere in the comment section) or whether this is just going to be something everyone will live with. But the fact that it *could* have another explanation isn’t a reason not to bring it up, particularly when a very common explanation *is* obliviousness to professional expectations (and again, there are people in this comment section talking about how grateful they are that someone did that for them).

                2. Snark*

                  The other factors really don’t matter at all – it being an issue regardless of the cause – and it could very well be impacting their work if they are public- or client-facing.

                3. Uncertain*

                  @ask a manager

                  Sexism is also a professional norm. It is still wrong. Just because something is a professional norm does not mean that it is a) ok b) something to be accepted as normal without resistance. Why should people have to find a “solution”?

                  I accept that some of your audience may not agree with me.

                4. Uncertain*

                  If we don’t agree on the question of “suspicious hair cleanliness” as a matter of sexism, I suspect this is where we will have to agree to disagree. Thank you for the civil conversation.

        2. Observer*

          That’s… good? Surely we want our students to be the kind of people who, when others try to police aspects of their appearance that have no impact on the quality of their work, they push back? Who are aware of their rights? Who speak up?

          Not really. It’s true that you want people who won’t take abuse or excessive policing. But the OP seems to be trying to tactfully describe someone who is SO “aware” of the “rights” that they go past the bounds of reasonableness – and legality and rights. Like the people who push back on any dress code. Or requirements to act like decent human beings and not be rude to people, etc.

          1. Greasy hair OP*

            This is exactly what I was trying to describe. She speaks up about everything, and has pushed back about things most of us would view as normal policy. She’s very vocal about routine-type stuff. I did not intend to make it sound as though being aware of our rights isn’t a good thing; at our university (as at most), we encourage that. It’s the pushback that gets tiring.

            1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

              I can imagine. You’re probably not wrong to brace for a righteous tirade about “you can’t police my appearance!”

            2. AvonLady Barksdale*

              I figured that’s what you were talking about, and… it’s exhausting. I used to be like that, too. I exhausted myself.

              Preparing yourself for her pushback is the best you can do. In fact, go into it expecting her to push back and let her surprise you– or not– but know that you are doing her a service. I wish you much luck.

            3. Ice and Indigo*

              Hi OP. :-) If she pushes back on the grounds of environmental impact, do you think it’d be tolerable for all parties if you asked her to tie it back in a bun or a decorative hairnet? That would hide the effect somewhat, and at least not leave people feeling dangled over.

              I mean, I think it’d be better if she kept her hair clean, obviously, but if you feel the fight isn’t worth it, would a compromise work?

              1. Greasy hair OP*

                This is something we hadn’t thought about, but I think it would be acceptable… if she pushes back. Obviously we’d prefer that she wash her hair, but a scarf, bun, etc. would definitely mitigate the issue!

            4. Jules the 3rd*

              Oh dear. You may also want to find Alison’s posts about the interns who pushed back on the dress code and got fired, to see some ways to help interns deal with professional norms.

              1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

                That was my first thought – the interns that made a huge fuss about what shoes they could wear and all got fired. When you are an intern is not the time to overthrow the system.

            5. Jennifer Juniper*

              She sounds like the kind of person who would not be described as “likeable” in any setting I’ve ever been in, personal or professional. That is for the pushback, not for being aware of her rights.

        3. Snark*

          “Surely we want our students to be the kind of people who, when others try to police aspects of their appearance that have no impact on the quality of their work, they push back? Who are aware of their rights? Who speak up?”

          I’m certainly not aware of a right to be perceived as professional and squared away with unkempt, dirty hair (or BO, or stained and wrinkled clothing, or whatever). And one’s appearance can absolutely have an impact on the quality of their work, since of course work includes professional relationships and reputation, not just the tasks one completes.

          And frankly, no, my friend, I do not want employees who think “hey, maybe come to work looking groomed and clean” is a friggin’ hill to die on.

          1. WorkBee*

            speaking of hills to die on…my goodness. In my opinion it benefits no one to be this worked up over how folks choose to take care/not take care of their body.

            1. Annette*

              Some commenters and people = very emotional. When you’re all feeling and no reason everything becomes a hill to die on.

              1. Uncertain*

                If that’s referring to me, I’m really not that worked up about this. As discussions “on the internet” go, I’m pretty sanguine. If anything, I’m a bit surprised at the strength of the reaction my comment has received – I honestly didn’t think it was that controversial. Shows what I know, I suppose.

              2. Jadelyn*

                Thanks for providing a great example of what actually *is* an ad hominem attack. Gods forbid people have emotions about anything at all, amirite? Clearly having emotions is completely antithetical to the ability to reason, and it is completely impossible for someone to have an opinion based in BOTH reason and emotion!

                1. WakeUp!*

                  Sorry, that’s really not what ad hominem attack means and your tone is way out of wack.

                  Someone who’s melting down and lashing out at other commenters based on almost no provocation (I’m guessing the original commenter meant Snark, but the same describes you right now!) is obviously acting based on some strong emotions and not using their common sense to say “wait a second, this isn’t worth getting upset at strangers about.” Ie, choosing an insignificant hill to die on.

        4. Greasy hair OP*

          Pretty sure I worded this badly. We absolutely do want our students/employees to be aware of their rights; we encourage it. This student, however, pushes back against almost everything; professional norms, office policy, some social customs. It can get exhausting to have someone so vocally opposing every little thing. And the thing is, I know some people are just like that, and can feel empowered that way; but it’s not usually the best way to approach a work environment.

            1. GreyjoyGardens*

              I think this is a great point as well – the greasy haired lady might well not have a tolerant boss and/or coworkers in the future, and it could really impact her career. I think bosses who supervise interns or young people in their first professional jobs don’t do the interns or beginners any favors by being excessively lenient and letting professionalism slide, because, chances are that later bosses won’t be like that.

            2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

              Yes – Not only does she need to know that she is exhausting and no one wants to deal with her, which will be bad for her career (probably worded differently), but she needs to learn to pick her battles. If she is crying wolf and making a big fuss over everything, no one is going to take her seriously about anything and she will use up all her capitol getting nothing done. If you truly want to make a change to a system you have to save up some good will and make a strong case just focused on that one thing. Otherwise you’ll just end up with people going “What is Snape going on about today?” “Who knows, it’s always something, just ignore her and don’t make eye contact.”

              1. GreyjoyGardens*

                Oh yes, the “crying wolf” is a big thing too. I’ve known people like that, and it always, always ends up that this person is ignored or avoided even when what they say has merit. It’s like with kids: parents who squander their capital on nagging about hair color and taste in music wind up with kids who ignore and blow them off even when they SHOULD be listening to the parent.

                Internships are like workplace training wheels, and eventually those training wheels have to come off. A good boss will step up and say the hard stuff because that is doing the intern a huge future favor.

            3. Eukomos*

              This could be a survivorship bias thing, but my general impression is that people like that either learn to channel their energy more intentionally or go into professions where that’s the norm. It’s very, very hard to talk them out of doing it, as well, so letting her figure it out on her own may be the only way.

              1. Jadelyn*

                Perhaps that will wind up to be the case, but I don’t think it’s an argument for not even trying to broach the subject.

          1. nonymous*

            I wonder if anyone has ever pulled her aside to talk about this in a professional context? Exactly what you said about supporting awareness and assertiveness but that when pushback violates local norms (and that can even just be due to being a more direct person than the local culture) there can be professional consequences. Of course whether she chooses to conform or experience those consequences is entirely her decision. But in the specific case of the greasy hair debacle she may find her hours reduced or shuffled off to a more solitary role despite her competence and willingness to work.

            It sounds like she is not aware of how she comes across on multiple fronts and it would be a kindness to point that out now vs six jobs later. Part of maturing in the workforce is about learning when pushback will be well received, and when the consequences are worth it, she might as well start working on this now!

          2. Ophelia*

            I wonder if you could frame it in the context of professional norms and explicitly link it to the *difference* between norms and rights. Because while it’s obviously her right to wear her hair however she wants, we do live in the world as it is, and the *norms* of our world mean that she may be (“fairly” or not) passed over professionally if she doesn’t change the way she presents herself. I think that’s really the lesson here for her–she may have the right to do something, but there is the potential for the exercise of those rights to come with subtle and often-unspoken professional consequences. That isn’t necessarily a GOOD thing, but it’s reality and I think it would ultimately be a kindness to point that out to her.

        5. thathat*

          “Thirdly, who knows ‘why’ their hair is greasy? Maybe they’re not washing it, maybe they’re using products that make it greasy, maybe it’s naturally greasy and they’re already self-conscious about it. Whatever the reason, it’s nobody’s business but hers. Would we be encouraging someone to approach a subordinate with, for example, a visible rash, to tell them that it looks unprofessional and that they’re not doing enough to make it go away? ”

          Yes, thank you. I think that’s what really makes me uncomfortable about this. There could be a lot of reasons for this, and some may not be feasibly within the student’s control.

          1. thathat*

            And honestly, it’s interesting to me that this is paired with LW1.

            Because I could honestly see someone making the complaint that their coworker shuffles when they walk and it looks unprofessional, etc. They would still be jerks, but if they don’t know it’s a medical condition, then they might just be assuming something else. And even for medical conditions, if they don’t impact the quality of work, they’re exactly no one’s business.

            1. Rainy*

              I’ve had a coworker comment that I needed to take the stairs more so I’d be better at it.

              As it happens, I sustained pretty serious knee and hip injuries twice in three years as a child and 30-35 years on, my joints are pretty well fucked. I do okay walking around most of the time (not always, but mostly), but stairs are a killer. It made me angry and embarrassed to be called out like that by a colleague for something that I can’t help.

              1. Jennifer Juniper*

                What? Who even monitors how often someone takes the stairs? Sounds like your coworker needs more work to do.

                1. Rainy*

                  I was walking too slowly for her, because I was having a bad hip day and had to make sure I was firmly holding the handrail at every point so that if my hip folded under me I wouldn’t fall. As she breezed past me she said I should take the stairs more because I was clearly out of practice.

          2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            For the record there are many professions where a viable rash really needs to be kept covered – food service chef among them. I’ve mentioned before I have a coworker who stocks the kitchen who has some kind of skin condition that often leads to open sores on his arms and it makes me *very* uncomfortable. It is not his fault that he has a condition, but it is on him to take steps to appear more professional/ keep things sanitary. I would also expect him to keep them covered if he had to meet or shake hands with clients.
            In the same vein, there are all kinds of reasons this persons hair could be greasy, but also many, many solutions that have been presented here that will help it look more professional. Different styles, dry shampoo, covering it with a scarf are all options. We can’t just sit back and refuse to act because *maybe* there could be something really sensitive behind it. Actions should be taken especially because this person is an intern, literally part of being an intern is learning professional norms.

          3. Uncertain*

            @thathat – thanks for your comment, I’m glad to hear that I’m not in a total minority on this issue :-)

        6. Jennifer Juniper*

          I apologize for my earlier comments. I was being extremely classist and disgusting. Maybe the student has a medical condition but can’t afford a dermatologist.

        7. Oma Morris*

          The letter writer needs to lay off about things like hair that are none of her business. We aren’t all destined to be the Breck Girl! And wasn’t there just a thread about how we women don’t have agency over our own bodies?

          1. Totally Minnie*

            There are plenty of jobs where the way you wear your hair is mandated. It is not a violation of an employee’s bodily autonomy to say that food service workers need to cover their hair or that people who work with machinery need to pull their hair back to avoid accidents. Neither is it a violation of an employee’s bodily autonomy to say her hair needs to give the impression of a certain level of cleanliness. She doesn’t have to shave her head or use harsh chemicals, she just has to do a little something before she comes into the office, whether that something is dry shampoo or a ponytail or a headscarf.

            1. Oma Morris*

              Being a graduate student isn’t one of those jobs and its none of the business of department staff what grad students or faculty wear. If it’s that professionally important the faculty can comment.

              1. Totally Minnie*

                Working in an office does require a person to tailor their appearance to specific norms. My boss is allowed to require me to come in looking a certain way. It’s disingenuous to pretend that this isn’t the way jobs work.

                1. Former grad student*

                  Not according to the graduate students who have unsuccessfully tried to unionize. The argument the faculty uses is that they are junior professional colleagues, not employees.

          2. Oxford Comma*

            Usually when you work with a grad student, or student employee or intern, there are certain professional norms that the students/interns may not have learned yet.

            Now, if you know the norms and don’t want to adhere to them, that’s one thing. But I think it’s a kindness to make sure they know what those norms are and that there may be consequences for doing something else.

      3. Snark*

        I would agree that I would substitute “Neatly groomed with a professional appearance, including clean hair” but I entirely disagree that it’s not management’s place to expect employees to be neatly groomed and looking professional at work.

      4. GreasyHair*

        Agreed. I wash my hair daily and it’ll still be greasy at that time of the month. I do try to do an extra wash when it’s greasy, but sometimes that doesn’t cut it still. Some people’s hair is naturally greasier than others. Mine was worse as a teen/early 20s.

        Oh, and some natural shampoos don’t cut it for me. Got this stuff from the natural food Co op that left my hair greasier than it was before the shower. So it’s entirely possible that this woman is showering and shampooing but it isn’t working. I did solve my situation by making an emergency trip to the store I normally buy shampoo from.

      5. thathat*

        Nah, I’m kind of feeling this. Like…sometimes hair is just like that? My roommate’s hair gets greasy within a day.

        LW mentioned she has long hair. I have long hair and I used to have hair down to my knees. Washing it was a very time and energy-intensive process. It still can be, and sometimes my depression gets the better of me and I go a little too long without washing it.

        I dunno, this whole thing makes me uncomfortable. There could be any number of reasons her hair looks like that.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Okay but…there could be any number of reasons for a lot of unprofessional behaviors and that doesn’t make them not unprofessional anymore. Like the recent letter about the guy who’s in treatment for cancer and is being a jerk when he’s in the office. He’s very much got a reason to be stressed out and lashing out is pretty common as a stress response – but that doesn’t make it okay, and that doesn’t mean his manager should just shut up and let him do whatever he wants because he has a reason for it.

          Same thing here. Just because there may be a reason, doesn’t mean it’s okay to appear unhygienic – and whether you’re actually bathing regularly or not, the fact remains that having hair so greasy it appears wet is going to make people think you’re not clean – when you come to work. Nor does it mean that nobody can say anything about it.

      6. Janie*

        Yeah I wouldn’t mention when someone showers unless they smell and in that case it’d be more of a “more” or “deoderant” thing. I will shower when and how often I want to, thank you.

      7. Genny*

        I think management absolutely has the right to “police” how you look. If the GA were coming into work with excessively wrinkled or stained clothing, the response would be the same. There’s a basic level of professional polish at this workplace and the GA isn’t meeting that standard. She needs to be told what the office’s expectations are and then held to the same standard as everyone else.

    3. Clementine Danger*

      Another person who made a manager have an awkward talk about grooming standards here. I was mortified, the manager was NOT enjoying having to do that, and I’m eternally grateful that she did it anyway.

    4. Ginger ale for all*

      There was someone who received a hygeine talk where I work. He was crushed and then asked me if I thought he stank too while tears were running down his face. I lied and said no and it is one of my biggest regrets of my working life. He didn’t last long after that and I don’t know if he quit or was fired.

      I saw him a few years later in the local Walmart and he looked gray, literally gray. His skin was almost silvery looking and it seemed as if he had aged twenty years and I still wonder if it was something medical that made him smell. The smell was almost fish like and sweaty when he worked at the library but it was difficult to pin down to what it exactly was. You could smell him from five or six feet away.

      So if you are going to speak to someone, please speak with kindness. It won’t be an easy talk for either of you.

      1. NoSweat BobaFett*

        A girl I knew in college who lived on the same floor of the dorm that I lived in during freshman year had a very pungent odor to her that I would describe in the same way you described your coworker’s odor. People would avoid her, make fun of her behind her back, go to lunch without her when she had asked them just moments before if they wanted to go, she even had a roommate move out of the room she was in. It must have been some type of body chemical issue because even after she had showered (she kept her dorm room door open at all times, making it easy for people in the hallway to easily hear the shower running) the smell was still there. A couple of friends and I were discussing how bad we felt for her and decided that one of us should take her aside and talk to her about the smell. We had hung out with her multiple times for lunch and we all had the same minor so we saw each other in class a lot so we figured it would be better than coming from a stranger. My friend, the most gentle, kind, and empathetic person I know talked to her about it (I was not present for the convo) and reported back to us that she simply said, “olay”. The few times I saw her that year she still had that odor but during my senior year I talked with her a few times and noticed that I had not noticed any odor for the first time, so sheust have found something that worked for her.

        1. it_guy*

          I had a roommate in college who never washed his clothes. He just grabbed whatever looked ok, threw it on and left. He showered and was very careful in his body grooming, just didn’t want to wash clothes. I offered to take them with me when I did my laundry, and his reply was: “Thats ok, I just throw them away at the end of the semester and buy new ones” I’m not sure if it was a cultural thing since he was a foreign student, family or personal thing. I changed roommates as soon as I could.

      2. Vampire Manager*

        Just tossing in my two pennies: There is a genetic disorder called Fish Odor Syndrome. I wonder if he had it. Some people cannot control the odor.

      3. Allison*

        Yes, learning that there’s something wrong with your body – whether it’s your weight or your odor or anything else that people are often sensitive about – doesn’t feel great. There’s no way around that, it’s not a fun conversation to have, it’s not enough to just be neutral and not-mean, you do need to be kind and considerate of that person’s feelings.

        1. Oma Morris*

          If there is something wrong with your body you shouldn’t be having that conversation at all, fun or not!

          1. ket*

            Why not? Sometimes you could uncover a serious medical condition for someone and save their life. Sometimes you could eliminate a tiny barrier to promotion that’s easily taken care of. Sometimes you could find it’s a genetic condition that can’t be changed or treated, and you learn a little empathy and how to work with it.

            There are employers who will just refuse to hire her in the future. That sucks, but also saves a lot of trouble because then you don’t have to have that conversation at all, fun or not!

      4. Flash Bristow*

        I worked with someone who smelt like sour milk, everyone noticed, but because she had a particular condition we didn’t feel we could comment because she was known for using that as an excuse even when it wasn’t… It’s hard isn’t it? Especially when it *might* be meds that are the cause.

        I feel sorry for your colleague, sounds like he didn’t do well for whatever reason. Not sure what I’d have said when on the spot like that, too. The difference with OP’s situation is they get to plan what to say…

    5. Erica B*

      It could also be that this person DOES shower, but the shampoo isn’t working to remove the build up. Has the OP ever tried a mew shampoo/conditioner that didn’t work right for their hair? Happened to me once.. And it was frustrating. I shower daily, and the sham/cond i was using slowly built up, and i couldn’t figure out how to get it to go away.. But then i read online somewhere to use dishsoap-it’s designed to breakdown oil.. And i did and it worked like a charm. My nephew has a similar issue. He showers often, but his hair suggests otherwise. He is a teen and thinks he knows everything, but wont try the dish soap idea… Anyway, i just wanted to mention this theory as it happened to me!

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        I have to alternate between two different shampoos as if I just use one the product builds up in my hair.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I use Dread Soap from Dread HQ. It works beautifully for cleaning and detangling my thick waist-length hair. No product build-up, either. No conditioner needed.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I had months of hair problems when I moved to a house with a well with hard water….my former shampoo didn’t cut it. Add in a shoulder injury and I was not happy with my hair, even freshly showered.

        1. Clisby*

          Same here. Years ago, I could *not* figure out why my hair always looked greasy, even though I washed it often. Fortunately, a new hairdresser clued me in about using a baking soda paste to remove the buildup. I do that a couple of times a month even now.

          1. Kittyfish 76*

            I second this, the baking soda really works! I do not have greasy hair, but I still use baking soda in my shampoo several time a year and it really does get rid of build up.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            When I was coloring my hair I used a shampoo called “Undo Goo” that was great for removing buildup.

      3. Aveline*

        Yes, or that they put something in their hair that’s causing the issue.

        We have no idea if the person showers or not. We only know what the hair
        looks like. Talking about the cause of it is speculation.

        And LW doesn’t need to be concerned about the cause. Only how the hair looks.

        The needs to be approached as a “hair is greasy” issue and not a “you need to shower more issue.”

        It’s entirely possible that the woman showers daily but something else is going on.

        LW should care about how often the woman showers. Only how she looks and how she smells.

        1. Allison*

          It’s true, when I was in middle school I put gel in my hair to smooth down the frizz. It didn’t work, and it made my hair look gross!

        2. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Right. The reasons here do not matter. I don’t care if someone wants to go “no poo”, I don’t care if someone chooses not to shower every day, I don’t care if someone washes their jeans three times a year. I only care if I notice. The LW said that she thought this woman’s hair was wet but it turned out it was greasy– if that’s something someone notices, then there’s an issue. If it turns out to be something completely unavoidable, then the LW has that information and can proceed from there.

        3. Oma Morris*

          The needs to be approached as a “hair is greasy” issue and not a “you need to shower more issue.”
          It doesn’t need to be approached at all. The hair is not smelly. The letter writer doesn’t like the way it looks which is NONE OF HER BUSINESS.

      4. Move Over Thrawn - Florian Munteanu is BIGGER than you!*

        A couple of decades ago I unfortunately used shea butter on my hair, that I think was really meant for a totally different hair texture (thanks beauty magazine for that). Looked like I hadn’t washed it in three months, and I couldn’t fix it no matter how often I washed it that day. I went off to a salon in tears and they used tea tree oil shampoo. Fixed it right up. Also, the end of my hair adventures.

        1. Lizzy May*

          I bought a hair mask one time thinking it would really help my hair. I followed the directions, rinsed 20 minutes later and my hair was a greasy disaster. I tried washing and rinsing again and again and again and had to eventually do an apple cider vinegar rinse just to get my hair looking halfway decent. It was hell.

      5. Michaela Westen*

        I was using purple shampoo for my partly gray hair and a salon conditioner that contained silicone. Over a few weeks my hair got so stiff it was like wax. It looked ok but felt terrible.
        I did research and discovered conditioner-only washing which works well. I wash it with the purple shampoo every two weeks and use a natural, silicone-free conditioner the rest of the time.
        When you get older and have gray hair you don’t have near as much oil in it – if OP’s colleague is doing conditioner-only at her age it may not be enough, and she may need to add a good natural shampoo.

    6. Samwise*

      I’ve had similar conversations with grad interns over the years: inappropriate clothing, dirty or unkempt hair, body odor, unbrushed (so much that anyone could tell) teeth… It is *really* hard and uncomfortable, and never gets easier. What helps is knowing that it’s going to really help the intern. Sometimes you discover that they can’t afford the clothes or personal hygiene products, and then you can direct them to resources (see if your institution has a TRIO office; student affairs may have emergency funds, student health may have a social worker, etc.) Sometimes they just don’t know the norms, or don’t realize it’s that bad. Or they are ill. Almost all of them, even the chip on the shoulder or I know my rights students, are grateful to be told if you are kind. If you do get pushback, kindly but firmly reiterate that these are the professional standards of this office and of most offices. If the student won’t do anything about it, there’s not much more you can do (greasy hair is gross but not so gross that people can’t sit next to her — unless it smells bad) except not rehire her.
      One might also note in any reference letter that the student would not abide by explicitly stated office standards, but that’s harder to do right. It’s the kind of thing that would come up in a reference check phone call, perhaps.

      1. Greasy hair OP*

        Thanks for this, Samwise. We’re as sure as we can be that this student is not in financial difficulty, and that she has the resources she needs to be appropriately groomed. My thinking is that it’s a social consciousness issue – save water, stay away from chemicals, etc. – but I could be wrong!

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Why do people think that not washing will save the planet? Corporations do far more damage than one person taking a shower can ever do. These people are also harming their own cause by grossing the rest of us out. Be kind and have a wash, please!

        2. Samwise*

          Definitely have the conversation, because sometimes students who seem to have resources, don’t. (I just last week worked with a student who appears to have resources, but is in fact homeless during breaks = when the res halls are closed.) At any rate, your intern needs to know that your office has expectations; if she decides not to do anything with the advice, at least she has been informed.

          Good luck, it’s a haaaaaard discussion!

        3. Khlovia*

          If she were to perform the following experiment, she might be surprised by the results:

          Step into tub or shower. PLUG THE DRAIN. Take a quick, normal shower including a quick, normal shampoo; spend about five minutes on body and five minutes on hair. Turn off water, step out, towel off.

          MEASURE THE WATER before pulling the plug. I think she will be astonished at how little water she has used. It seems like such a lot of water is being wasted when one showers because it’s going straight past you and DOWN THE DRAIN, OH NOES! But actually it’s the equivalent of maybe a day’s worth of family dish-washing. She washes her dishes, doesn’t she?

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        I think it’s good that you are having these conversations with your interns now, when stakes are lower. As I’ve noted, future bosses might not be as kind or as tolerant. That’s why I think bosses absolutely *must* enforce professional norms and behaviors (of course, according to industry/field) with their interns or first-job reports. I don’t think it does interns or new hires (especially if the division or company is known as “young” with a whole raft of interns or entry-level people) a favor to be lenient and let professionalism slide. That’s kicking the can down the road, and the next boss might not – or probably *will* not if this is no longer an entry-level position – be as forgiving or kind.

    7. JustDessert*

      Same here. I had a hormone imbalance that made my hair super greasy as soon as it dried. Literally 1 hour after washing it, it looked like I had dipped my head in oil. A prior boss introduced me to dry shampoo…it was a lifesaver until my hormones got back to normal.

      1. AKchic*

        We’ve been dealing with this with my 16 year old. Dry shampoo doesn’t even cut it. Poor kid goes from wet hair to greaseball in an instant. Doesn’t help that he has horrendous acne, back acne, and hormonal nausea.

    8. Memyselfandi*

      Laura H. I am glad you were helped. My reaction to this letter is that I work with someone whose hair always looks greasy to me, but it is clean. She just has very slick hair. It would be awful if the graduate assistant couldn’t do anything about their hair. I gather that they have indications that she does wash her hair and that it does look different (the hair of the person I know always looks the same) when washed, so maybe it really is greasy.

    9. Hey Nonnie*

      OP, is your GA clinically depressed? That was the first thing I thought of based on your description. Even the overzealous pushback / argumentativeness could be a symptom. I think asking her about this would be a good way to open the conversation, because not only is it a compassionate approach if she is struggling, but even if she’s not it flags in a very concrete way how her hair’s appearance can be misconstrued.

      I’m kind of surprised that the “is she depressed” question didn’t come up right at the top, honestly.

      1. Greasy hair OP*

        We are as sure as we can be that she is not suffering from depression. One of the good things about our campus is the readily available *free* mental health service. We make a point of making sure our students know about the service and make accommodations for appointments as needed.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Depression can make asking for help feel overwhelming or like another way in which they’ve failed, though, even with accessible resources. It might still be worth asking.

    10. RP*

      For OP2 – I work in a higher ed academic space and a few thoughts.
      1. Hair styling politics/policing is a sensitive subject so make sure you are differentiating how her grooming is impacting her work and what just “looks messy”. Based on your description, it sounds like the GA is just oblivious and quick. But how we police women and particularly women of color looks/appearance is important to think about.
      2. To that point, I would make sure you can clearly cite why it impacts the work. Being unprofessional is a broad term. I would say ” As a GA, you are required to greet people and be an approachable resources that represents our department. Part of that includes professional grooming and dress.” I would treat this conversation as if she wore pajamas to work. It shows that she does not feel she needs to devote enough time to prepare to come into work.By taking a few extra minutes each day to ask – do I look like i want to be at work today – will go far.

  2. Robot*

    #5 The only time I’d call out the differences explicitly is if there was a job where it’s particularly important to highlight working with children vs adults. You say you use the same skills, but I imagine you end up answering different questions for adults than children, for example. If you were applying for a position where you’d regularly interact with both groups, it would make sense to call it out either in the resume or cover letter. Mostly though, I think it would be fine to leave it as one role.

    1. Christy*

      Right, it could really matter that you have specific experience with each population.

      And I’ll emphasize to you, LW5, that just because you have the same bureaucratic title within your library (system) doesn’t mean that’s the most useful to put on your resume. I’ve been a “management and program analyst” for years now but what that has meant has changed radically over time. You could put “Librarian I: Children’s Librarian” and “Librarian I: Reference Librarian” or something like that.

      1. Jessica*

        I agree with this take. Librarians as a group, while very generous and collaborative) are very title focused. Calling these jobs out separately in a resume will help highlight the different responsibilities and audiences that LW5 has worked with (source: am librarian).

        1. LaurenB*

          Yup, I would definitely highlight the difference between those jobs, especially if you’re applying for another adult/children’s librarian job. A lot of libraries won’t even consider you for a children’s position if you haven’t already been a children’s librarian.

      2. Anne of Green Gables*

        I was coming to say essentially what Christy says. I’m a librarian who does a lot of hiring. I would want to know that you worked in a children’s department and a reference department. In every situation I can think of, that distinction would work in your favor.

      3. LW 5*

        I wound up combining them on my resume, and explaining more about how I held two different positions in my cover letter. That approach landed me an interview for this coming Friday.

        1. Sleepy Librarian*

          Congrats! My fingers are crossed for your interview!

          Librarian here. The advice I was going to leave was that it depends on the job you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a children’s job I’d focus heavily on that, and adult services job, likewise. Sometimes when I am reading resumes it’s hard to glean what (and how much) experience people have, and at least in my experience, libraries are really bad about giving everyone vague job titles. For instance, many people in my library have the exact same title but it means nothing and their responsibilities are wildly different.

          1. LW 5*

            Yeah, I want to stay in the world of adults, so the only thing working with kids really gives me at this point is increasing my years of experience in libraries. Hence my desire to just combine it so that it says I’ve been with my current library for a total of three years instead of two listings with 1.5 years each. If I was applying for a job that had a lot of interaction with children, then I would definitely do more to highlight that.

            That being said, kids *really* don’t care that I’m the reference librarian and just ask me for stuff anyway and I feel like because of my previous experience, I’m not equipped to help then most reference librarians I’ve come across.

  3. Bostonian*

    #3 Ooooh that is really annoying! If you have a good relationship with your boss, and if he has ever asked for feedback, you can definitely bring it up in a low-stakes way, framing it as how you prefer to receive feedback/praise.

    1. valentine*

      Kill two birds by bringing it up with this: my larger contributions are ignored. His comments are infantilizing and gross. I’d struggle not to experience them as sarcasm.

      1. Mookie*

        My reaction, either as recipient or bystander, would definitely read first as intentionally publicly undermining someone. After a while, I’d catch on that this is a weird idiosyncracy, but it would remain a distracting and unnerving habit that would probably make me anxious for the rest of my career reporting to or interacting with him.

        I don’t know how others, including the LW, would handle it, but this would be a deal-breaker for me. Coupled with his inability to recognize substantive progress and achievements and weigh them accordingly, I’d literally find another job. I could not spend more than a working day around someone who equates sharing out loud a running commentary on everyone’s innocuous behavior with ‘good and competent management.’

        1. Botanist*

          Ha. My dad’s new wife manages to give the most bizarre, infantilizing, and sometimes insulting sounding compliments. I think in her case she’s just really unaware and socially awkward but it still makes me grit my teeth so hard. My current plan of attack is to address the small things on the spot: “I like how you’re cutting those peppers, Botanist!” (said peppers were literally just being cut in ordinary, boring strips) can be responded to with “What do you mean?” or “Do you do it a different way? This seems pretty ordinary to me.” Bigger things, I’m still working on. My favorite is how she now likes to thank me for taking care of my baby. Isn’t that what parents do?

          1. Khlovia*

            Oh god my mom. It was like she was complimenting a six-year-old for tying her shoes. “Wow, you really have a low opinion of me, Mom.” “What are you talking about? I just gave you a compliment!”

    2. Teapot Helpdesk Manager*

      I had some success with this by calling out a specific situation. My boss made me “manager” of a specific section of the office, say, the Teapot Helpdesk. He’d say, “Hey, Teapot Helpdesk Manager!” every time it was remotely relevant for weeks. Finally I told him that he was making me feel like I was 16 and had just been put in charge of the banana stand. Boss didn’t even realize it was coming across that way. Hopefully if OP’s manager has even the slightest genuine motivation behind that behavior, they’ll realize it and stop. I’d jokingly say, “Um, ok, it was like two clicks but thanks?” in response to the color changing thing.

  4. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – I shattered my leg badly as a pre teen. It took years to get full range of motion and decades before I totally lost the limp. I can still tell you when a storm is coming in.
    I was often teased mercilessly in jr high because that’s what mean girls do.
    I found the following:
    Ignoring their barbs makes it less fun for them
    Ignoring their barbs drives them crazy (because you are ignoring them!!!)

    Limp away and drive the person nuts. They’ll hate it that you are ignoring them. They dont bae control! And they can’t say anything about it without outing themselves to HR. BwaaAaa ha ha!

    The rest of the people either haven’t noticed or don’t care. And they are in the majority.
    Let the nice guys win.

    1. Jen*

      I have a genetic joint issue that makes me walk out toed (my dad and sister have it too). I get comments more from older people than peers, I gave noticed. I generally ignore it, but I did once have to tell a boss about it. My poor dad was forced into all kinds of braces and orthotic shoes back in the day, so the obsession with it seems to have lessened.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        No ones’s ever commented on it, but I’ve observed (when walking through the snow and such) that my stride is very turned-out. I don’t know if it’s a result of a bad ankle injury several years back for which I didn’t get proper PT, or if I’ve always walked that way and never paid attention.

        1. JSPA*

          Tight IT band can do that. There are various stretches and some deep kinds of deep tissue work that can bring back a fuller range of motion. Not as a “you should to make others happy,” but because joint wear and muscle stain can become increasingly painful as you age, and are often exacerbated by unbalanced muscle tension and wonky alignment.

        2. Hold My Cosmo*

          Agree with JSPA. If I’m interpreting you correctly, you’re an over-supinator. I do that as well, and it’s part of what caused my patellofemoral syndrome. My kneecap was wearing sideways in the groove, and thus shearing itself down as I walked. I needed physical therapy and special insoles.

          1. Carbovore*

            I have patellofemoral as well but for the opposite reason–knock-kneed and flat footed! lol

            Exact same thing fixed it though–physical therapy and insoles/better shoes. (RIP flip flops forever and ever.)

            My knees still have the crepitus though so frequently in the office my knees will crack, snap, and pop and if a coworker is nearby, they’re always horrified, hahaha. It doesn’t hurt for me so I just regard it as a gross party trick. :X

            I feel for the LW with the limp though–I would be horrified to get a note on my desk telling me to cut out my joint popping, as if I could help it.

        3. CupcakeCounter*

          I walk very oddly down certain sets of stairs. Not sure what it is but the steps at our lake cottage make me walk very bowlegged with my knees and toes turned almost completely out. No issues going up the stairs or at my house/work but the entire family has commented on how I walk down those stairs.

          1. Yvette*

            It could be that the stairs are not constructed quite right. There is a formula (I checked a few sites because I could not remember exactly) and generally the measure of two risers plus one tread should equal 24″ to 26″ inches, as the riser gets shorter the tread should grow and vice-versa. In the US it tends to be a 7 inch rise and an 11 inch run (tread depth). This is why most people can generally walk up and down a flight of standard stairs without having to look at their feet.

            The steps at your family lake house may not quite fit that.

            1. Mpls*

              +1 – if its an older house, then the stair treads are probably more narrow than normal and if you have large feet, then it’s a contortion to place your foot so you can get down the stairs without falling.

              Sideways works too.

                1. Jennifer Juniper*

                  I used to walk down stairs a lot more slowly than I did walking up. One eye exam later, I found out I am nearsighted: 20/30 in one eye and 20/80 in the other. I couldn’t see the stair edges evenly when walking downstairs. One pair of glasses later, problem solved.

                2. nonegiven*

                  I have steps where I hang onto the hand-grip and step down backwards. Nobody asked me what I needed before building it, so I do it in a way that I don’t fall.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed re: ignoring people who are being boors. It’s going to be hard for OP#1, but at bottom, they shouldn’t let whoever wrote the note occupy their mental space. That person don’t deserve that much of OP#1’s consideration or time.

      Someone who is going to be rude in this way (even if it was unknowing or unintentionally rude) is going to smolder with frustration if OP#1 ignores them. So although it’s uncharitable of me, I hope that person feels the warm discomfort of persistent annoyance (or better, the hot flush of shame).

    3. Mockingbird*

      Yeah I love that now they are an HR target if they try to do anything again. So personally I’d limp away as an FU. (I have a bad ankle for various reasons and am supposed to wear an orthotic. It’s very hard to find shoes that fit it and it’s usually not a huge pain issue. My best compliance was the year in high school when a friend decided to mock one of my other friends for wearing orthopaedic shoes. So I wore mine as kind of a dare to make her make fun of me too. She wouldn’t so it worked. I got private joy out of putting her in her place lol, that’s probably how I’d try to start seeing this situation.)

    4. TL -*

      I don’t think this is a bully thing – my guess is someone in the department is really annoyed by the sound of dragging feet and doesn’t realize it’s a medical condition. The sound of dragging feet sets my teeth on edge, particularly if it’s on on hard flooring.
      The sound of anything dragging on concrete is about as bad as nails on a chalkboard – I will leave the vicinity or plug my ears if at all possible.

      Probably not intentional meanness or belittling, just someone annoyed and acting more immaturely than is ideal.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        There is a lovely gentleman at the other end of my office who has Parkinsons. When he’s having a bad day, he physically cannot lift his feet beyond a shuffle and it’s like he’s trying to ice skate across the carpet. Besides a momentary thought of “Oh, here comes Wakeen, he’s having a day”, it barely registers. There are enough other noise distractions in our open office. Mr Mumbles, for example, is far more irritating.
        There is also another man, on a different floor who also shuffles. There’s nothing physically wrong with him, he does it when he’s feeling anarchic and wants to annoy people.
        (For the sake of disclosure, I need to know the mobility status of everyone in the office – not a full medical history, just whether or not they can make it across the office and down the stairs without assistance in the case of an evacuation)

        1. Mookie*

          I worked with someone who danced / prancersised when walking in order to bypass the Parkinson’s shuffle and maintain his legendary fast pace. He liked it when people walking with him in the field and other public places would join; it made him feel less conspicuous.

          1. Karen from Finance*

            A bunch of businesspeople PRANCING around? I love this!

            Also it’s always so sweet when people don’t just kind of thing to include others.

            1. Chinookwind*

              That was my first thought when I heard about someone calling out OP’s limp – if she were my colleague and told me about this, I would just start walking with a limp as well and see how many others would join in so she wouldn’t look conspicuous. It would have the added bonus of outing possible suspects.

              On the flip side, if the OP works in a dry climate and around electronics, there could be safety issue if the dragging causes electrical zaps. Of course, that can be solved with rubber soled shoes and metal ground points near computers. The OP’s limp is irrelevant.

            2. Karen from Finance*

              I just saw the typos due to me posting from my phone. Above comment is supposed to say: “Also it’s always so sweet when people do this kind of thing to include others.”

          2. Michaela Westen*

            Mookie, that’s awesome! As a person who loves to dance, he’d fit right in with my crowd. :)

        2. TL -*

          It might barely register to you. It is an irrationally irritating sound to me (everyone’s got something and I’m sure I’m someone else’s irrational irritant in some way) even in a big noisy office.

          1. Going annon-y*

            I appreciate that it’s an irritating sound for you, and thank you for acknowledging that it’s irrational, but for op and, I would suspect, most people, you are being critical of a medical condition. I think it’s safe to say that someone with a limp or a Parkinsons shuffle would be more than happy to oblige you if they could.
            – signed someone with a recently diagnosed parent.

          2. Minocho*

            Yes, I find it frustrating too. I found shuffling to be much more common in Japan, for some reason, and it drove me a little bit bonkers.

            I actually have coworkers at my current Perfectly Alright Job that do it. And I note it, and it annoys me sometimes.

            And it is my problem, and I would never dream of bringing it up with anyone, let alone leaving an anonymous nastygram. Ugh.

            You have one coworker who is a boor. Do your best to ignore them, whoever they are, and be your awesome self!

            1. Former Employee*

              I had forgotten about the Japanese having a tendency to shuffle when they walk. I used to work around a lot of people from Japan and it was pretty common. I never asked anyone about it. I just figured that it was part of the cultural aspect of not standing out too much, which night occur if someone walked with a heavy tread. Shuffling would avoid that possibility.

              Of course, I could be completely wrong because, as I said, I never did ask anyone about it.

              1. Minocho*

                My personal theory is it has to do with traditional footwear, like geta, and the ubiquitous presence of slippers all over the place. But what do I know?

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            Sounds like you might have a touch of misophonia, TL.

            Being bugged by it isn’t bullying. Putting an anonymous note on OP’s workspace is headed in that direction.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        I’m sorry, but no. You do not leave unsigned notes on someone’s desk unless it is very intentional.
        And most real adults realize that you do not get to tell someone how to walk.

        1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

          Exactly. Noises can be annoying, true, but the main problem is the anonymous note. Had the coworker been mature enough to speak in person, they would have caused less pain. And would also have learned that it’s a medical issue, and avoided making an ass of themselves.

        2. BuildMeUp*

          TL isn’t saying the note was okay, just that there is an alternative explanation to flat-out bullying.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            This is like saying someone’s laugh or pitch really annoys you–that it annoys you may be true and genuine and not your fault. That doesn’t mean the other person has to change their laugh or pitch so that they curate a pleasing soundscape for you. (And I get it: Radio Lab’s sound overlay is like nails on a chalkboard to me, unnoticeable background to my spouse.)

            I don’t think bullies go around thinking “I’m a bully! I’m going to bully someone today!” They go around thinking “I am RIGHT. I am going to helpfully issue corrections to other people today so they can improve.”

            1. BuildMeUp*

              I didn’t say anything about changing because of the note, and neither did TL.

              For the OP, if HR doesn’t find out who left the note, would they rather spend the rest of their time there thinking one of their coworkers hates them specifically, or that one of their coworkers did something thoughtless? That is the distinction TL is making.

            2. Stacy*

              Just here to say that I’m glad I’m not the only one who cannot stand that cacophonous Radio Lab opening!

          2. Samwise*

            When they went to the note, it became bullying.
            It doesn’t matter WHY they thought leaving a note was justified, the act itself is aggressive and hurtful.

            1. BuildMeUp*

              I don’t disagree that it was hurtful. I do think the way the OP frames this can be helpful to *her*, though – “one of my coworkers hates me and bullies me” vs. “one of my coworkers did something thoughtless and rude.” Framing it the second way would make a huge difference in how I felt about going to work if I were in this situation.

          3. Observer*

            Except that it’s really not far from it. Because someone is assuming that it’s their place to school the OP (it’s NOT) and ignoring the information that they already have. At the very best and kindest interpretation it reads as “So what? The noise annoys me and they need to stop.”

          4. cryptid*

            leaving a note or otherwise commenting is still bullying even if your “reason” is that you’re annoyed, wtf

      3. Jem One*

        I think leaving an anonymous note is a pretty textbook example of intentional meanness / belittling. There is absolutely no need for reasonable adults to behave in such a way.

        1. TL -*

          People leave notes all the time as a way to avoid confrontation or a difficult subject. It’s immature and I think it often ends up being a really bad way to handle the situation, but leaving a note is more often immaturity than cruelty – and if people were good at difficult conversations in the workplace, Alison wouldn’t have a blog. That includes a number of people who have asked if leaving a note was better than having an awkward conversation.

          1. Mookie*

            It’s not a conversation or confrontation that should be happening at all, though. It’s unreasonable, and adults should know and abide by that.

            1. TL -*

              Oh absolutely. My point is, there’s probably not someone in the office who secretly hates the LW. There is more likely someone who is particularly irritated by scraping sounds and, in (a moment? a fit? a larger pattern?) of immaturity, left a note to assuage their annoyance, not to bully the LW or make them feel bad.

              Also, LW, I have never blamed anyone for scraping their feet and I would never want anyone to feel bad for making a normal sound that I happen to be sensitive to. I hope your coworker comes to their senses about this as well.

              1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

                The noise factor never really occurred to me – although I can identify most of my coworkers by their tread. I assumed it was someone really fussy about appearances. There is always one person in an office who is pointing out when you still have tags on your clothes or your one shoe is a little untied or your shirt became a little un-tucked. I want to use the phrase OCD, but less in a medical context and more as a descriptor as someone who focuses on small irrelevant things and has a hard time letting them go.

                1. Someone Else*

                  Please don’t do this:use the phrase OCD, but less in a medical context and more as a descriptor as someone who focuses on small irrelevant things and has a hard time letting them go.
                  In general. It’s hurtful.

                2. Jules the 3rd*

                  Yeah, as someone with OCD, the ‘descriptor’ stereotype is a real pain in my a**. Those letters, they do not mean what you think they mean.

                  Try pedantic, fussy, persnickety, rigid. Persnickety is especially evocative.

              2. Falling Diphthong*

                I don’t think anyone gets to leave an anonymous note and tell themselves that at least they didn’t make the other person feel bad.

                I also think motivation gets too much emphasis–if the action is cruel, then arguing that you TOTES meant for a different outcome from the easily foreseen one doesn’t really mitigate that.

              3. fposte*

                I get what you’re saying–I had a terrible boss years ago who loved to wear scuff slippers around the office, and we had hard floors. She wasn’t mobility impaired; she just didn’t like to pick up her feet when she was wearing the scuffs. So it was an unusual and frequent noise associated with somebody who I already had issues with. That made it pretty irritating.

                The problem is that OP’s co-worker has forfeited sympathy for being annoyed by their action of leaving an anonymous note. It’s not obnoxious to be annoyed. It is obnoxious to criticize somebody’s behavior without owning up to who you are. Even if the OP didn’t have a mobility reason, dragging your feet, unless it’s done to directly impact somebody, is less of a problem than leaving an anonymous note.

      4. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

        Sorry but no. I can understand that some noises are very irritating (though I never thought that dragging feet made a very annoying sound, I barely register it), but leaving an anonymous passive aggressive note complaining about it, *is* bullying. That co-worker is an *sswhole.

        1. Kix*

          I’d probably take the note, have it placed in a nice frame, and hang it in the office for all to see (including the insensitive asshat who wrote it).

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Use a ready-made frame you put the note in yourself. Professional framing costs a fortune! ;)

          2. Khlovia*

            Oh, that’s good. That’s better than mine: I’d be so invested in making the anonymous griper feel like a pile of trash that I’d sacrifice my desire for medical privacy to it: “May I have everybody’s attention, please? I would just like to apologize to the person who sent me an anonymous note to register their annoyance that I walk funny. I’m afraid I have [condition] and there is no cure. I am so sorry it bothers you. I will endeavor from now on to pick up my feet as much as possible, no matter how much it hurts or how long it takes. I would hate to think I was being rude to anyone by walking wrong.” But that would be childish, of course. As I said, yours is better.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            I was thinking along a similar line.
            I have had leg problems all my life but I have been most fortunate that for the most part people don’t seem to notice. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of it. I don’t have the degree of concern that OP has.
            At some point, OP, your give-a-damn may break. And you might find it in you to put up a public response that says, “I will VERY gladly stop shuffling if this anonymous writer will inform my doctor how to fix my gait. Since this advice would be absolutely priceless to me, I will be UNable to pay the advice giver. But I will be most appreciative for their special insight.”

            I know for myself, that I cried about my setting. And then one day I just stopped crying in recognition of the fact that this is the hand I have been dealt. Behind the tears and upset lies a part of us that is just kickin’. Get your “kick” on, OP. There is a heck of a lot more to you than a shuffle. You’re out in the world doing your thing and being a nice person. You have it all over this myopic cowardly cohort who hides behind anonymous notes. Chin up, at least 75% of your cohorts would be visibly upset to know that someone felt free to do this to you. The remainder would probably be quietly upset for you. This leaves the myopic cowardly person standing alone.

            My suggestion is give the good people around a chance to support you. And a way to do this is to tell one or two trustworthy people what happened. Let the grapevine handle the rest.

            Let us know how you are doing, no matter what way you decide to proceed here.

      5. Observer*

        Eh. Firstly, if you can’t act like an adult, you don’t get an adult response most of the time. And, seriously, how does an adult think it’s ok to talk to a coworker as though the coworker is their little child who they are trying to raise? Also, the OP has a limp – how does any reasonable person not realize that limp = mobility impairment.

        I get that the sound is highly unpleasant for some people. That doesn’t excuse acting like a high school bully. (See the “get off my foot” thing.)

      6. Ellex*

        I’ve noticed that among women in particular, the type of shoes they’re wearing may force them to drag their feet. I’m so glad that that trend for backless shoes seems to have died down somewhat, because when it was at its height, it seemed like every woman in the office where I worked dragged her feet when she walked.

        Don’t get me started on the “slap-slap” sound made by flip-flops. I now work in an office where even “fancy” flip-flops would be considered unprofessional, and I appreciate the lack of noise.

        On the other hand, as a woman who is also quite short, it seems like there’s always someone asking me why I don’t wear high heels – which are not a requirement where I currently work.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I once heard a flapping sound by a coworker and she was wearing 4-inch wedge-style pumps. What?
          I watched… the shoes came loose from her heel and flapped when she walked, like flip-flops.

      7. Ice and Indigo*

        If that’s what’s happening in this department, the person involved needs to look up ‘misophonia’, figure out if they’ve got it, and if they have, sort out some accommodations of their own. Or just do what you do and avoid the sound. Otherwise, well, they may not mean it in a bullying way, but it’s clearly been felt as a bullying effect.

      8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is an impact v. intent situation, imo. There could be all manner of explanations for why the note was not intended to be cruel or bullying. But unfortunately, when leaving an anonymous note like this, the method of delivery almost always has the effect of making the recipient feel bullied. When you add in that OP has a medical reason for their gait, the situation becomes especially appalling. All of those outcomes are awful, regardless of the note-writer’s original intent.

    5. Topcat*

      I’d be tempted to shame them. I think I’d stick a printed notice up in the kitchen, addressed to the: “Dear Person who commented on my walking style” and just state that I had a physical condition which caused the limp.

      Whoever wrote it is going to be enormously ashamed, and that’s great.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Oooohh, I LOVE this idea! Return the awkwardness–or in this case, the passive aggression–to sender. Heee!

      2. Asenath*

        I’d be reluctant to give the writer the satisfaction of knowing about my physical condition, although it should embarrass anyone to know that there was a physical reason for the shuffling. Reporting the note to management is good. Letting it be known among co-workers that there’s an anonymous note-writer around, with or without mentioning the limp might be good, too. In a polite, but baffled manner, of course, what could this person be thinking, and isn’t this an odd thing for someone to do? That might get the message across that what was done was inappropriate, and you aren’t intimidated. One of the nastiest effects of an anonymous note is that the recipient is left in doubt as to which apparently pleasant co-worker is really two-faced and untrustworthy; if you talk to some of the ones who don’t go behind your back with criticism, their response might make the two-faced one decide that anonymous letters aren’t the way to go.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I was thinking that I’d make some pointedly loud comments about apparently needing to go through HR to get an accommodation for my disability.

        But I’m an asshole, so this is probably not advice OP should take.

    6. C*

      This. Please, OP#1, drag the hell out of your feet in that office. If it doesn’t sound like sandpaper, you’re not doing it hard enough. Teach that anonymous asshat not to send passive aggressive notes to people.

      1. BadWolf*

        Maybe a long “step and draaaag” of the other leg. Then a deep sigh. Step and draaaaaag. Sigh. Step and drag. Pause for note-writer to freak out.

        Don’t really do this.

    7. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      My feet are flatter than pancakes and when I walk in socks on hard floors it sounds like a seal is flapping his way down the hall. I remember one of my friends pointing it out and me being mortified because I had no control over it. I hope that they find the note writer and explain how everyone is not made from a cookie cutter.

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My children’s dad walks with a limp due to a childhood illness. There is nothing he can do about it. Believe me if he could magically heal his leg, he would!!! I’m not even married to him anymore by my choice, and I am still so angry at OP1’s anonymous note writer right now. Yes, my ex’s limp made an odd noise as he walked, which is what I assume prompted the note. But it is what it is. I’m sure the anonymous note writer has, or will someday have, a health issue or two that mildly annoy their office mates. Living with that mild annoyance is part of being a human in a society. I’m glad that OP went to HR with the note. To OP – I bet that, like Engineer Girl said, most of the people you work with feel the way I do about this, not the way this one obnoxious note-writer does.

    9. Kat in VA*

      I had someone commenting on my “odd” habit of turning my entire body to talk to someone next to me instead of my head.

      I told them several ounces of titanium in my upper spine contributed to that.

      I’ve had countless people comment on my voice, which on a good day is raspy and on a bad day, can sound like someone repeatedly throttling a hoarse, honking goose.

      Being told I have a speech impediment but thanks for noticing usually shuts them up.

      Sometimes you have to be an asshole to shock people back into realizing there’s a modicum of propriety required in the office space, and that modicum includes not commenting on someone’s disability, no matter how weird it is (the speech thing is rare as hell so I don’t expect to know about it, but for heaven’s sake, you don’t have to make a big deal over it).

  5. Boobookitty*

    Unfortunately, the kind of person who would leave a cruel anonymous note, about something that is no concern of theirs, isn’t likely to be the kind of person who feels shame about their treatment of others.

    1. Someone Else*

      I disagree in this context. I think it’s likely the note-leaver was frustrated by the sound and couldn’t fathom any of the many possible reasons someone might walk in a shuffley way. The note-leaver probably got all frustrated, and assumed it was something being done carelessly, and foolishly left the note in a huff. It is certainly possible the person is a jerk and upon finding the reason would remain in a huff and not care about the difference, but I think it’s equally possible once they’re informed there is a medical reason OP walks the way they do, they’ll be completely mortified and realize they were being a short-sighted asshole.

      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        I agree with this. There was a person who worked in my office for a while who would shuffle her feet while walking, and it was very irritating and distracting when trying to concentrate on something. We have carpet, so normally you can’t hear people walking by almost at all, but you could hear her coming as soon as she walked in and the whole time she was shuffling to her desk. I could easily see someone in my office writing an anonymous note in irritation after a bad day where their concentration was broken by her shuffling from the door to her desk several times, and would feel horrible afterward if they found out it were due to a medical issue.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      They might if they didn’t realize when they left the note – which is cruel and rude and thoughtless and lots of other very uncomplimentary adjectives – that this thing that annoys them is caused by a physical problem. I mean, they should feel bad anyway, because really, whose business is it? But if their thought was, “This person is just doing this because __(pick a frivolous reason)___,” and they find out that the person is doing it because they physically cannot help it…well, that actually might make a difference. It won’t with everyone, of course, but it would with most people. And what a valuable life lesson that would be!

  6. CastIrony*

    For OP#1, I’m raging in anger with you because I have been told the same thing when I was young!
    People are jerks, and there’s lots of reasons why people do things differently. I also wonder if the person who reported you also doesn’t like you or how you work in general. Still jerk-oriented.

    For OP #2, I don’t know if “freshly showered” is a good phrase to use. Most likely, it is, but it gives me the vibe that I have to shower every single day. It’s just me.

    Other than that; for all I know, your graduate assistant could have autism to the extent that they hate how water hits their hair!

    For OP #3, it sounds like your manager is trying to be more positive and nicer in their lives to improve themselves, but I do understand that it’s so annoying. Let them work on that and let them know what you prefer.

    OP#4, Yes, your coworker isn’t being nice about it, but it’s good for him to explain why. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that some people are just really sensitive. Perhaps he could have his own office so he could work in more relative quiet if that’s the case.

    1. DT*

      You…. do have to shower every single day. And she can hate how water hits her hair, but she still has to figure out a way to present herself with clean hair (i.e. wash it at least every three days) if she wants to work in the professional world. These are the realities of the work world.

      1. JSPA*

        You and your clothes have to be fresh smelling by local standards and in the local climate, and fresh looking. The details and norms actually do still vary.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          Yes – the actual frequency depends on your personal body chemistry, your activities, and the climate, but it’s a lot like wearing underwear – it’s a problem if people can tell you aren’t doing it.

        2. Jasnah*

          This. It doesn’t matter what exact routine anyone uses, as long as no one can tell how (in)frequent your routine is!

          1. Allison*

            That’s a good way to put it. If your hygiene practices differ from the norm in a significant, obvious way, there might be a problem.

            I mean, I don’t think there’s such a thing as “too clean,” but if I traveled to a country where it was uncommon to shower every day, and I didn’t stay in a hotel that was used to hosting American tourists, they might say something about my water usage being excessive.

      2. Sam Sepiol*

        I shower about every 10 days.
        I use conditioner but not shampoo on my hair.
        I WASH every day.

        I promise, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a day when I showered and conditioner-washed my hair, and the day before.

        You don’t have to shower every day, as long as you get clean another way.

          1. Aveline*

            As long as one washes their face, armpits, genitals, and feet on the regular standing in a shower of taking a bath are not necessary. The good old “military wash” is sufficient. No need to be immersed or submersed in water.

            The US department of defense once studied this and determined the face-feet-pits-privates routine was all that mattered for health or smell.

            And taking a full shower or a bath really is not the same thing as washing up. For example, if the employee really hates taking a shower, she can use a dry shampoo to clean her hair. One does not have to submerse oneself in water to get clean.

            I say that as someone who would bathe three times a day I could. I love being in warm water.

              1. Aveline*


                The point is not that some people don’t need daily showers but that it’s not a universal requirement.

                I hate it if I can’t bathe or shower at least twice a day. But I’m a weirdo.

                She says writing this from her bathtub.

                1. Allison*

                  The problem is that while there are people who legitimately don’t need a daily shower, there are people who only *think* they don’t need it, but when you’re near them, you can tell it’s been a while since their last shower.

                2. Jennifer Juniper*

                  I have a very weak sense of smell. If I can smell your BO, you need to wash or see your doctor.

            1. Mpls*

              Dry shampoo doesn’t clean your hair. Its powder that soaks up oil and sits there/gets brushed out. It’s meant to reduce the appearance of oil, but doesn’t clean in the same sense shampoo/soap does.

            2. Jaid*

              I’m reminded of the George Carlin and those immortal lines on cleanliness:

              “And I’ll tell you something else my well-scrubbed friends… you don’t need to always need to shower every day, did you know that? It’s overkill, unless you work out or work outdoors, or for some reason come in intimate contact with huge amounts of filth and garbage every day, you don’t always need to shower. All you really need to do is to wash the four key areas; armpits, a$$hole, crotch, and teeth. Got that? Armpits, a$$hole, crotch, and teeth. In fact, you can save yourself a whole lot of time if you simply use the same brush on all four areas!”

              1. MtnLaurel*

                Reminds me of my sister-in-law’s reference to her PTA baths when her water’s out: Pits, Tits, and A$$. :-)

                1. Cherith Ponsonby*

                  Ha! Mine is “pits, tits and (rude) bits” :)

                  We’re on rainwater here and there’s been a prolonged dry spell, so daily showers are impractical and baths are right out. It’s amazing how clean you can get with Dr Bronner’s and a couple of litres of water.

                2. My Cabbages!!*

                  My mom called it the “P&P wash” for “pits and puss.” The second “P” would of course change dependent on sex.

          2. JSPA*

            How much water is used! Our forebearers did most of their washing at a sink, or with a dipper, or from a bucket. Amazing what you can do with a quart or two of water, bit of soap and a wash – cloth (+/- some rubbing alcohol +/- dry shampoo) and close attention to detail, if need be.

            1. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

              They also tended to die of things like typhoid and infected wounds, so I’m not sure their standards of cleanliness are something to look up to.

            2. CheeryO*

              Sounds like a lot of work compared to a quick (<5 minute) shower. I'm sure they'd trade if given the opportunity.

              1. Goya de la Mancha*

                This – I don’t wash my hair everyday, but I shower everyday. 5 minutes is the max it takes to jump in, soap down, and rinse off when you take hair (washing/shaving) out of the equation.

              2. Kelly L.*

                Yeah, I’ve always found that the steps involved in cleaning-self-without-shower are more annoying than just showering, and don’t take any less time, but YMMV.

            3. JSPA*

              I’ve been in places with severe water restrictions. Places where people knew the art of washing well with a quart or two were not nearly as odiferous as places where people only knew the shower routine. And if you’re at risk of spreading typhus with your hair…uh… can’t even go there.

          3. Sam Sepiol*

            I get a flannel (washcloth), soap and water and clean my genitals and armpits. Feet go into the sink. Face gets a rinse.

            I am friends with enough small children who don’t have filters that I know this is working (if it wasn’t they would be asking why I stink). I also check with trusted relatives every so often.

                1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

                  How could someone have too few spoons to step in the shower, but enough spoons to stand on one leg, lift their feet 36″ up in the air to put them in the sink, balance on one foot to wash their feet, then switch?

                2. Val Zephyr*

                  This doesn’t seem like a spoon situation though. It sounds like this is Sam Sepiol’s daily routine.

      3. CastIrony*

        DT, you do have a point, but “the realities of the work world”? That’s kinda harsh, but then again, I’m not in a very tolerant mood today. I understand what you are saying, and I know it’s important to be clean and not show up with really greasy hair. I like these other commenters’ views on this issue, too. There’s lots to think about, for sure!

        P.S. If I showered every day, that’s just… a lot of laundry and water that is never cheap! :o

        1. Rubber duckie*

          I produce no more laundry showing daily than not; I change my clothes each day, shower or no, and reuse my towel when I do shower (hang it up to dry each day). I think you might be approaching showering in a way that is different to many other people, just as an FYI in case you didn’t know? (Apologies if you did know, just wanted to explain why your perspective might not echo with other people’s when discussing this.)

          Anyway as other people pointed out you can keep yourself clean in ways that don’t involve a shower, but when working with others it’s important to make sure that’s happening and happening quite regularly.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I’m also mystified by the laundry one. You don’t have to use a new towel from the laundry every shower. I think most people hang their towels to dry. (When I stay in Air bnbs the norm is one towel per person, and I’m always grateful if there’s a couple of extras–but it’s nowhere like 20 towels for the 5 night stay for our family of 4.)

            1. Dragoning*

              I definitely use a new towel every time, because after being expected to share the same towel daily with four family members growing up, the habit of grabbing a new one for my shower is pretty ingrained.

          1. CMart*

            If you live in a humid climate it’s very likely that your bath towel will still be slightly damp by the time you take your next shower. Which isn’t a problem necessarily but… ick. A fresh towel every time + frequent laundry keeps down the mildew issue.

      4. Harper the Other One*

        I’m going to second those below. *I* definitely have to bathe or shower every day. My husband could go up to a week in the past (he now has a scalp condition that requires a twice-weekly treatment.) At the end of that week, he would look/smell like me at the end of a day.

        I agree that she has to find a way for her hair to be presentable, but it really doesn’t matter how she does that.

        1. BadWolf*

          Indeed. I had a guest stay for a long weekend and didn’t appear to shower the entire time. But she looked and smelled totally fine. Whatever she did, it was working fine for her.

      5. Detective Amy Santiago*

        No, as a matter of fact, you don’t. My PCP advised against it because of severe dry skin issues.

        She may have medical reasons for not washing her hair regularly. That doesn’t give her a pass to look like a mess, but there are ways she can address how her hair looks without necessarily needing to shower daily or wash her hair every three days.

      6. Aveline*

        Nope. This is highly variant by region, ethnicity, and other personal and environmental circumstances.

        And most Americans bathe too frequently

        I say this as a lover of hot baths and devotee I’d hit steamy hour long showers: the practice is not good for most people’s skin and isn’t environmentally sound. There are also recent studies that support what scientists have long suspected: bathing daily screws up out microbiome. In short, we are making ourselves sick by being too clean.

        1. Clisby*

          Well, if this intern’s job requires her to work in a coal mine maybe she needs to shower every day. But ordinarily, no.

        2. Kat in VA*

          You don’t, true. But some prefer to.

          I shower every day when I’m working – not because I work in a coal mine, so to speak, but because I’m a smoker and the smell is in my hair and my skin. While obviously the second I light up a cigarette there the smoke is again – but it’s not the same as “didn’t take a shower this morning” smoke smell (per my husband, who is a nonsmoker). I also have the kind of hair and skin that just sucks up ambient odors, so you can tell if I’ve been to a McDonald’s or in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond store.

          Showering also wakes me up in the morning, since I get up at 0530 as it is. On the weekends, depending on activity, I might skip a day or two – and I can definitely tell the difference (not just in stale smoke smell, but general…uh…stickiness and griminess).

      7. The elephant in the room*

        It’s actually pretty bad for your skin to shower every single day. This is a myth that has taken hold over the past couple of generations. If you look and smell clean, you don’t need to shower.

        1. Rainy*

          I can look and smell just fine and still need to shower because of my allergies. Too much pollen buildup on my skin or in my hair gives me hives.

      8. Seeking Second Childhood*

        My phone just glitched and ate a longer, better crafted reply so you get just the tl;dr version:
        You don’t NEED to shower every day — you need to be CLEAN. To the eye and to the nose.
        Some people do not sweat enough or make enough body oils to get smelly that fast, at least in cool weather without a workout. Some people actually get dry cracking skin if they shower daily.
        We get taught as kids to shower/bathe daily because kids get into dirt all the time. And because teenagers will take a while to figure out how much they stink. We can learn as adults what our reality is.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          After giving it some thought, I tend to agree. I’m not that invested in my coworkers’ lives. As long as they don’t trigger my gag reflex when they walk past (and I had a coworker that did…), I don’t care if they shower ten times a day or once a year on Christmas morning. I shower at least once a day (more after heavy physical work, workout etc), and will fight anyone who’d try to make me stop doing it, but what other people do is their business.

      9. wittyrepartee*

        Not everyone has to shower every day. I can go 3ish days and no one cares. Less if I work out.

      10. iglwif*

        Umm, no you don’t.

        You just have to meet acceptable local norms of looking clean and not being smelly, whatever those norms are.

      11. Iris Eyes*

        Showering everyday isn’t a universally accepted law. Nor is there a need for everyone to wash their hair “at least every three days.” Do you have any idea what a HUGE time and money sink that would be for some people for no discernible benefit?

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      And maybe she doesn’t have autism. We really shouldn’t speculate.

      Plus it gets really tiring whenever any questionable, unacceptable, negative, aggressive, uncooperative, etc., etc., etc. thing happens/is done that someone throws out “but maybe autism.” Oh and then there’s the fact that it insults people on the spectrum.

      Nope, not autistic and no one in my family is on the spectrum. Just really exhausted of the “but autism” excuses.

      1. Lonely Aussie*

        And as someone who is on the spectrum as it were, I’d love it if people were a little more unstanding about how sensory issues can hinder people’s hygiene. Though I force myself to brush my teeth twice a day, the feeling of a toothbrush on my teeth and gums, feels like a combination of ants/bugs crawling and broken glass being dragged across them. I’ve tried every brush I can get in various softnesses with no success. Most toothpastes are mint too, which I find a very over powering scent/taste. Sometimes it’ll take me an hour to just convince myself to brush them, some days I cry and some days I just can’t. I can kind of see how if that is an issue a busy student could decide to skip such things. Especially if she’s got other stresses going on in her life.

        Sometimes it is just autism and, especially for women, life is a massive struggle to “pass”. It’s exhausting.

        1. Mongrel*

          Have you looked at childrens toothpaste? They’re often non-minty and generally mild flavour because ‘adult minty’ can be overpowering for them as well?
          You may need a fluoride mouthwash or there may be some options available if you ask your dentist.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              Where do you get unflavored toothpaste?? I keep a stockpile of the one good non-minty fluoridated flavor I can find here (I hate the children’s sweet flavors and for some reason the other non-minty ones are often the hippy non-fluoridated kind).

              1. Anonny*

                It’s called OraNurse and I get it off Amazon. And yes, it’s fluoridated.

                There’s a kid’s version too but the main difference is that the tubes are smaller and have a picture of a cartoon shark on them.

              2. Ice and Indigo*

                Biotene is a useful brand too. It’s recommended for people undergoing chemo, or suffering from dry mouth. It’s not flavourless, but it’s milder-tasting and generally less overwhelming.

                The phrase to google if you’ve got a sensitive mouth is ‘non-foaming toothpaste’. Obviously this isn’t a complete solution – it depends on how sensitive your mouth is – but non-foaming stuff tends to be gentler, if a bit pricier.

                (And speaking as one with an autistic kid – sensory sensitivities should absolutely be respected and accommodated. Dirty hair is, by itself, not a strong reason to assume that this grad student is autistic; try telling my son he can’t have his evening bath and see his little face crumple. His sensory issues mean he adores getting wet. And there are a lot of other reasons someone might have dirty hair. But yes, sensory sensitivities can suck, and it sucks that they suck.

                Just once I’d like to see someone say ‘Maybe they’re autistic!’ because somebody did something awesome. They made a perceptive and original observation? Maybe they’re autistic! They have a zany sense of humour? They solve problems quickly because they’re unhampered by useless traditions? They’re super-productive when they focus? They have a strong sense of justice? They’re loyal, honest, practical, unpretentious…? Somehow autism never comes up on those occasions. Sigh. So many marvellous autistic people, so few ‘maybe’s.)

                1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

                  Wouldn’t someone who had sensory sensitivities to bathing such that they were visibly dirty, but was able to attend graduate school and have a professional job, etc., have received occupational therapy to bring their personal care regimen up to what’s acceptable for where they’re working?

                2. Ice and Indigo*

                  To be honest, it’s never that great a bet to assume anyone will reliably receive adequate support for a disability. Maybe there’s a great country somewhere out there where it reliably happens, and if so, I’d like to move there please. Till then, the smart money is usually on ‘wasn’t helped enough’.

          1. Rosalind Franklin*

            My kids have bubble gum, fruit punch, and strawberry flavored toothpastes currently cluttering up the bathroom. All have fluoride too! Might be worth the investment to try a couple kid flavors (or if you have friends with kids, ask to borrow a tube for a few days).

          2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            I loathe mint, it is the worst flavor/smell in the universe. Crest used to have the *best* vanilla toothpaste, but they discontinued it. Then Target brand had some for a while too, which has also gone away. There are still a few vanilla flavor off brands for kids on Amazon, but I had to give them up because I needed special sensitive teeth stuff.

            1. Rainy*

              Oh man, that vanilla toothpaste was the bomb.

              I think it was Crest, but some toothpaste maker also used to have a lemon that was really nice, and then one day I bought it and it had become lemon MINT.

        2. Harper the Other One*

          My 8-year-old daughter is on the spectrum and while brushing isn’t as hard for her as it is for you, it is definitely a challenge. We’ve done a lot of experimenting to find the right combination of toothbrush/toothpaste/brushing pressure that takes it from “I am NOT putting that in my mouth” to “I don’t like this but I can put up with it to ensure my teeth are clean.” Weirdly when she recently had to have a dental appliance put in – something I thought FOR SURE would trigger her sensory issues – she had no problem!

          By your user name, am I right that you’re in Australia? If so, there’s a strawberry toothpaste for adults from Jack and Jill that it looks like you can get on Amazon’s Australia site that you could look at. My daughter finds fruit flavours so much easier than mint.

          1. UKDancer*

            You could also try Marvis Italian toothpaste. They do a licorice one which tastes really good and a Cinnamint one which tastes more cinnamon than mint. Also Lush (if you can get it where you are) do a range of non mint solid toothpastes including a lime and lemon one. I don’t like mint either so enjoy finding a non mint version.

            Not sure if either are available where you are but I thought it might help.

          2. Allison*

            Yep. I don’t know if I’m on the spectrum but I do have oral sensitivities, and sometimes the foam from the toothpaste can make me gag if it’s a certain consistency. Getting fluoride treatments as a kid was a nightmare, one hygienist decided to “paint” it on instead of put the foamy trays in my mouth. I have to be really picky about what toothpaste I use and the water HAS to be cold.

        3. JSPA*

          more alternatives: Try using the edge of a warm wet wash cloth or even a dry handkerchief (alone if need be, eventually with a dab of paste or baking soda if it works for you). Plus one of those floss- alternative toothpicks. If you can face it, dilute some peroxide further (to where it barely fizzes) and rinse vigorously with a modest amount, every few days. The goal is “clean teeth,” not “toothbrush usage.”

        4. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Re: Toothpaste
          Tom’s of Maine has some really interesting flavors from fruits to fennel. Some are with flouride, some without, so consider whether you’re on well water before you buy.

        5. Super dee duper anon*

          I can’t help with the toothbrush part, but for the minty toothpaste part I have a recommendation – look into Japanese toothpaste brands! Breath Palette is my absolute favorite. It comes in dozens of unique flavors – my fav is green tea. It’s kind of pricey and sometimes hard to find in the US, but whenever I do find it I stock up. One time when I ran out I decided to try a different Japanese brand and it also worked way better for me than US brands.

          I guess my mouth is just really sensitive bc all US brands seem to leave my mouth burning and then both minty and non-minty brands are so sickeningly sweet (to me), that I feel like they leave me with bad breath. Japanese toothpastes have been milder in terms of mint and less overwhelmingly sweet.

        6. RUKiddingMe*

          I completely understand what you’re saying and I absolutely sympathize. I wouldn’t want to diminish anyone’s struggles, I have enough of my own that get dismissed by otherwise healthy people who say stuff like, “well you don’t look disabled.”

          I was only saying that “maybe autism” seems to be the go to for pretty much any behavior that someone/people object(s) to. Not just here (in fact rarely here TBH) but all over the internet, and it gets exhausting. Sometimes something is just someone being a PITA and we need to accept that without always, always trying to find a justification for crap behavior.

          I’m sorry if I offended anyone.

        7. Former Employee*

          There are ultra soft toothbrushes and even one I’ve used that is called post surgical that is whisper soft. The one I got was GUM brand – I don’t know if it is available in Australia. I got mine online from GUM. And, yes, I was post surgical and very concerned about how I could do dental care while also being really worried that I might injure myself.

          Best of luck.

        8. Charlotte*

          I couldn’t use mint toothpaste when I was pregnant because it made me nauseous. I used the strawberry kids one from Toms of Maine instead. Still contains fluoride.

      2. JSPA*

        This one’s more legitimate, in that sensory issues with bathing are a pretty common spectrum thing (and one that doesn’t seem to be commonly talked about outside of spectrum families).

    3. Aveline*

      It just occurred to me that we don’t know at all if this is a lack of showering issue. It could be that the woman is bathing but has dry hair and is adding something in.

      I used to know a woman who put olive oil in her hair daily. People thought she didn’t shower. She did.

      Address the state of the hair, not the cause. LW and we don’t really know if it’s lack of showering, adding something to the hair, a medical condition, etc. and it’s nkt the point. The point is fixing the hair.

      1. The elephant in the room*

        That was my thought, as well. If she doesn’t smell, then she could be adding gel or something that is making her hair look that way.

      2. Kiki*

        Yes, there are definitely oils and treatments that make hair look greasy when over-applied or not properly washed out. Unless the OP has reason to think the student isn’t washing themselves regularly (odor, knots in hair, visible grime), I would address the greasy appearance of her hair being unprofessional rather than insinuate she isn’t clean.

      3. ElspethGC*

        I went through a phase in my late teens where I put oil products in my (very long, very thick, wavy) hair because I heard it would help with getting back the defined curls I lost due to those weird hormone-related hair texture changes during puberty. Maybe it does for some, but I’ve learnt the hard way that with my particular hair texture, it just makes me look greasy. I still miss my curls, but I avoid using heat on my hair, so I’m resigned to vague waves.

        I’m sure that for the span of six months or so, lots of people thought that I didn’t wash my hair enough. I did, I just went through a *lot* of different oil-based products in an attempt to find one that worked. It cost a lot of money, given how many I never used again. (Some of them worked as body oils, though.)

      4. Iris Eyes*

        Ok but if its just the look of the hair does it need to be fixed? I think there is generally a movement toward “what’s it to you if their hair looks like…” Common hairstyles for some cultures look very much like greasy/oily hair.

        Maybe saying it needs to look “on purpose” would make sense.

    4. Observer*

      for all I know, your graduate assistant could have autism to the extent that they hate how water hits their hair!

      You are are of the rule against armchair diagnosing, no? This situation provides a perfect example of one of the reasons for that rule. It simply makes no difference if that’s the reason – it is STILL a problem and she needs to find a solution, whether it’s forcing herself to shampoo occasionally anyway, using dry shampoo, putting her hair into a hair style where this is less noticeable, etc.

    5. Olufsen*

      I agree that “freshly showered” is not a good phrase to use. It is weird and invasive to tell employees how to get clean and how often to engage in that activity. Just say that the standards of professionalism are to appear clean, which includes clean hair.

  7. SusanIvanova*

    There are also dry shampoos and other ways for people to avoid frequent hair-washing while still being well groomed.

    1. KR*

      I was thinking this! I hate washing my hair more than I have to and if my hair is cooperating it is not getting wet for at least a couple days. Dry shampoo is a life saver.

      1. lammmm*

        Same. I wash my hair 1-2 times a week depending on what I have going on. And it’s mainly because I have super long hair that takes forever and a half to dry – I’ll wash it at 8-ish and it’ll still be wet when I go to leave for work 12 hours later. I don’t know what I would do without my dry shampoo.

        1. Kill ItWithFIre*

          Yes! I know your pain. Mine is pretty long and super thick – I had it thinned recently and the floor looked like someone had shaved a medium sized dog. I am a huge bun and braid fan, lets me keep it to 1-2 a week washing since I’ve given up trying to use dry shampoo properly (I just cannot get the hang of it and end up with an ouchy scalp or flakes everywhere).

    2. Lilith*

      Could you compliment her whenever she does show up with freshly shampooed hair? “You look extra nice today, Delilah.” Just something to drive home the point.

      1. PurpleMonster*

        Oh, a comment like that could go so very wrong. I mean I see your point about positive reinforcement, but a) they could take it in completely the wrong way that leads to complaints being made, possibly sexual harassment allegations, or even just a high degree of offence taken about someone having the temerity to comment in any way on their looks (this is the world we live in, right? *rolls eyes*), or b) missing the point and thinking they meant their new top or something.

        Situations like this call for directness, however awkward.

      2. Frances K R*

        I feel like Alison has written *reams* about how directness is so much a better option, we don’t know that LW#2 has ever seen the hair looking not-greasy (‘maybe every fifteen days’ feels more like “it… it has to be at least twice a month, right?” than “it definitely happens every other Tuesday”) so there’s not definitely a point at which they’d comment, and there’s no guarantee that a compliment on appearance is necessarily going to be associated with hair rather than mood / makeup / a flattering colour.

        Also other commentors (so many other commentors) have pointed out that we don’t know that she isn’t shampooing her hair (she might be doing so and then adding oil or gel or shea butter or leave-in conditioner or…).

    3. Mookie*

      I’m on the fence about whether the student in question ought to be confronted or engaged on this point, but my hair looks wet, as the LW describes it, a few hours after shampooing no matter what products I use. I’ve always been nervous about long-term reliance on them, but, yeah: I go through quite a number of dry shampoo bottles a month because no matter how unfair I think it is to be judged by the limpness of my ‘do, it’s the only thing that blots out the greasy look. I’ve opted to color a few outer layers with a soft lilac silver to conceal /minimize the cobwebbish cloud of powder that envelopes my head whenever I leave the house.

    4. Aveline*

      And blotting paper. For someone extremely allergic or with neuro-sensory issues, it helps tremendously.

      I used to work a woman on the spectrum who could not stand washing her hair or dry shampoo. Blotting her hair daily worked well enough for all concerned,

  8. bunniferous*

    For number 4-To me that sounds unbelievably passive aggressive. I do believe I would put one hand over my receiver and simply say “Hey, Joe, knock it off.”

    He can either use his words if he is having an issue or get earplugs but no way on earth would I put up with that nonsense. Maybe the two of you could approach him together and tell him not to do it anymore. There is absolutely no excuse for it.

    1. Lena Clare*

      Do you mean he is being passive aggressive? I think Allison’s script is direct! It does sound (from the title) like he’s doing it on purpose but it is feasible that he’s doing it because he’s distracted by the noise around him and doesn’t realise he’s doing it.

    2. Pomona Sprout*

      I would have already done that by now. I have a hearing impairment that makes it extremely hard to decipher what people are saying when there’s any background noise, AND it’s worse on the phone than face to face. As soon as he started that droning, much as I hate to say it, I probably would have snapped at him. Not proud of that, but I get very stressed when I’m straining to hear what someone is saying.

      At any rate, Wakeen is either being very rude or incredibly oblivious, and either way, it needs to be addressed.

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      It could be passive aggressive but I’m erring on the side of he has trouble focusing when people are on the phone and so he starts muttering to himself. I’d approach him and say: “Hey, I don’t know if you realise this but when Jenny and I are on the phone, you start reading aloud what you’re doing and it’s very distracting for us. Could you keep an eye on that, please?”

    4. ADHsquirrelWhat?*

      This honestly sounds like something I would do – totally without knowing I do it. I’m routinely making weird noises without knowing – and when someone else is talking about something that I /shouldn’t/ be listening to, I’m even more likely to mutter to myself simply to not-hear. I have ADHD, and tuning people OUT is seriously hard for me. And not responding as though someone’s talking /to me/ is difficult if I can hear them.

      Of course, headphones might not help there – I’ve also been known to not realize I was singing along to music … and with headphones, there’s also a much harder time /controlling one’s own volume/. Not saying what that person’s doing is okay by any means – but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s deliberate. And it could well be an /accommodation/ issue, not just a /stop being annoying/ issue.

  9. ThinMint*

    Since you said the GA is the type to know her rights and outspoken, I think your best bet is to mention it as something that could hold her back professionally rather than something she must change. Seems like she might balk at being told to change outright.

    1. Mary*

      But that can backfire if she decides that’s a risk she’s willing to take. Realistically, if you need her to present herself at work differently now, you need to say that directly.

      1. Human Sloth*

        If GA decides that’s a risk she’s willing to take, it may take write ups and/or firing for it to get through. If this is the hard nose path she is taking, it is also best coming from a manager.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I agree. If it truly is something you *expect* her to do, make sure to present it that way, and not as something optional that will help her in the future should she decide to accept your advice.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      If she does not look presentable enough to represent their office – then yes it is something she must change. I feel like she needs to understand that it is just not acceptable to continue to both work there and look so unwashed. If it is so important to her to go around with greasy hair that she’s not willing to try to deal with it then she needs to figure out a carrier where she can do that without repercussions.

      1. ThinMint*

        Having worked in a similar capacity to what OP writes and her not mentioning customers and being public facing, I just wasn’t sure if it truly was a ‘you’re not representing the office well’ issue. My experience with academia is that people are hesitant to enforce norms that should be expected in professional settings.

  10. Leela*

    #4 – I can’t weigh in on why Joe in particular is doing this, but if it gives any perspective:

    I have ADHD, and I have a very, very, VERY hard time concentrating while reading if something keeps popping out of the background, and phone calls are the worst. With conversations it’s more constant and I can kind of tune it out unless someone’s very loud, but with a phone call there’s the constant pausing that lets me sink back in and get started and then my concentration is abruptly shattered by a giggle out of nowhere, or a “oh no wayyyyy” or “uh huh, uh HUH” etc, and mouthing what I’m reading and reading it out loud truly does help tether me to what I’m trying to do, and my other option would be to just stop working until the phone calls (the lengths of which I don’t know) are over and that’s not viable. I take you at your word that you and your coworker aren’t being overly loud, for someone not neurotypical it really can be an issue though, and this could potentially just be Joe’s way of still being able to do his work and he’d never consider saying “hey, could you keep it down” because he thinks you’re just doing your stuff as well and he doesn’t want to be an ass about it.

    He could also just be acting like a passive aggressive ass! Just wanted to throw that out there because it’s something I struggle with as well.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Worth suggesting but not mandating — those aren’t universally appropriate. For one, extra noise can make tinnitis worse. (Personal experience…just an HVAC system can trigger my symptoms.)

    1. Vada a Bordo, Gatto!*

      There is something about others’ phone conversations that completely break my concentration. Murmuring TVs in the background do the same thing. I’m lucky enough at my job to be able to take a walk around the office when needed but I can’t always do that.

      If I can’t get up and leave when someone is having a medium to loud conversation I will start mouthing the words and need to follow the text with my finger on the screen. I’m convinced I do it softly but I find myself getting louder the longer it goes on.

      My ADD is much better but I can’t seem to get past these two things.

      1. boo bot*

        I have the same problem with phone conversations and TV in the background. I would bet a lot that Joe is just desperately trying to focus. Like you, it’s one of the ADHD things I haven’t really found any workarounds for.

        Joe should try headphones if he can. I know for me, I can’t listen to music and work, and headphones with white noise just makes me feel weirdly defenseless, like I don’t know what’s coming up behind me – if that sounds dumb, fine, but regardless it’s pretty distracting.

        If I were him I would see about working in a more isolated space, or getting up and walking away when the OP had a call, but that’s only feasible if the calls are few and far between. Realistically, I don’t know that I have much in the way of recommendations – I get around this by working from home.

    2. Margaery Moth*

      I get sad about these sorts of posts because I could very well be the guy in #4, and in my mind it’s a pretty neutral act to read out loud when someone’s on the phone. I don’t see it as passive-aggressive because I don’t see why anyone would do that unless they were having issues concentrating. If he’s not otherwise an asshole, why assume he’s doing this on purpose? Headphones don’t work if you can’t concentrate with music, and earplugs are physically uncomfortable for long periods of time. It’s so tough to work in an open office with ADHD (or at all).

      1. valentine*

        Doing anything, especially creating noise, only when someone’s on the phone, is going to come across as passive- or downright aggressive. I quiet down so the person can hear their call. I can’t stand competing noise when I’m on a call and I also hate when people read aloud. OP4 says he’s loud. He doesn’t necessarily need to hear himself read so loudly, but OP and coworker need to be on calls.

        1. Anonny*

          I have so much trouble hearing people on the phone that if someone was talking in the background, I would not be able to take the call.

          (There’s a reason I try to avoid phone calls as much as possible.)

        2. JSPA*

          “Most people wouldn’t need to” is fair enough. “He doesn’t need to”? That’s an unknown. Maybe he does. And if he does, it’s likely frustrating to him.

          That’s why we ask “is there a reason,” and “is there another solution” and “are you signaling irritation or is this something else,” rather than telling people what they are feeling, what they are thinking, and what their motivations are.

      2. Avis*

        You don’t need to listen to music with headphones. Having them in your ears without anything playing muffles the noise enough to help a little, and there are plenty of white noise tracks available.

        1. Leela*

          I’ve actually found headphones with no music make it worse for me, because it won’t block the call out but it does block out pipes, humming lights, refrigerators, any other white noise that was helping a little and the phone call issue would be much more pronounced for me

      3. TL -*

        It is not a neutral act to provide extra noise when someone is on the phone. It is a neutral act to maintain the same level of noise as previous to the conversation and a kind one to make an effort to be reasonably quiet.

      4. a1*

        If you’re reading out loud, you are impacting the other person’s ability to hear the other end of the phone call. You do know that, right? Most people try to be quieter when someone else is on the phone.

      5. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        The OP did say that “Joe is known for being a bit socially awkward, passive aggressive, and uncomfortable interacting with others.” so he already has a history of passive aggressive behavior, and when you are already known for that and do a thing that could go either way people are gonna lean towards passive aggressive because they already know you are that kind of person. So he does get less reasonable doubt then someone else who was nice to their coworkers most of the time.

      6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        But he’s disrupting people when they’re on the phone, and that’s not okay. If he does have ADHD (or any other type of condition causing this behavior), he needs to find something that works for him when others are on the phone, that doesn’t include making noise.

        1. Leela*

          If you know what that is can you pass it on to the rest of us? Saying “find something that works” when we’re telling you this is what works doesn’t help us and is something people with ADHD have heard since childhood by frustrated parents and teachers who don’t understand our condition. What we do out of being atypical isn’t just entitled preference, it’s how we manage our condition

          1. LilyP*

            If he truly can’t focus on reading while his officemates are on the phone “something else” might be that he agrees to take a break from reading while they’re on short calls and they agree to take longer calls outside the office. There are options beyond “he magically fixes himself” and “they put up with the murmuring without complaint forever”.

          2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            So you think that I should find a solution for someone’s else’s issue when they’re the one keeping me from doing my work? Talking over someone while they’re on the phone is more than a minor annoyance. It’s affecting LW’s ability to properly do their job. I’m not unsympathetic to an actual medical condition, but this is not the LW’s responsibility to figure out.

            1. Robert EV*

              1) So you think that I should find a solution for someone’s else’s issue when they’re the one keeping me from doing my work?
              2) Talking over someone while they’re on the phone is more than a minor annoyance. It’s affecting LW’s ability to properly do their job.

              You don’t see how your statement #2 is the LW effectively asking that ‘Joe’ find a solution to the LW’s problem?

          3. Observer*

            If you are doing things that disrupt others, though, you really are not “managing your condition”, though. Now, you can argue that open offices make it hard to manage conditions like ADD, misophonia etc. And, I would agree. It’s one more reason why the whole open office thing is a problem (among the many well documented reasons!) But, it’s still not being managed appropriately for the environment.

            As for “passing on what works”? That sounds like a pretty passive aggressive comment to me, because if there is anything someone with ADHD should know is that there is NOT *a* thing that works for everyone.

      7. OP4*

        OP4 here. Yes, he might be struggling to focus – I mentioned this in the question, and I’m sympathetic, because I get easily distracted too! But I should also have mentioned in my question that he keeps a pair of headphones at his desk, and I see him wearing them at other times when he listens to music, etc. Despite this resource, his go-to response when we are on the phone is to start reading out loud, to the point where I struggle to carry on my own phone conversations.

        Thanks Alison! As soon as I hit send, I thought, “I just need to talk to him,” which I will, but he is often a challenge to talk to because he will literally run away from people approaching him for a conversation! Grateful I don’t have a more belligerent office mate, though.

        1. valentine*

          OP4: Even if you think Joe would be more receptive to email, the running away is something to bring up with your supervisor.

          It’s almost like Joe is experiencing the calls as a personal affront.

        2. Robert EV*

          Hey OP4, have you considered using headphones yourself when using the phone? That might drown out Joe’s talking.

      8. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

        Can’t you use headphones without music? If I need to really focus, I just put on noise canceling headphones to block out noise, but never play music because ti would defeat the purpose for me

      9. Joielle*

        What? No. If you have issues concentrating when someone’s making a normal amount of office-appropriate noise, then it’s on you to figure out what to do. Maybe you need a private office as a medical accommodation, or you need to be able to work remotely. But you can’t just start making a disruptive noise yourself. That’s rude.

    3. JM60*

      If Joe has similar problems concentrating, then he should find some other solution. If Joe was asking for advice, I’d recommend using headphones.

      1. OP4*

        Thanks! See above thread – I should have mentioned in my comment that he uses headphones at other times, but not when others are on the phone, curiously. Gonna try talking with him next time it comes up.

        1. Dragoning*

          I would, when he starts doing this while you’re on the call, apologize to the person you’re on the phone with, mute yourself, and then go, “Joe, I need to ask you to be quiet, please, I’m trying to make a phone call for [insert work related reason]” loudly enough that he can’t help but hear it.

    4. C*

      I have the exact same experience as you. But if I started doing what Joe is doing it would be extremely justified for someone to tell me to knock it off.

      If it gets unbearable (and it does sometimes in my office) I’d just put headphones in or move to a private room if there’s one available.

    5. Lady Jay*

      I read somewhere that phone calls are harder to tune out than a full conversation between two physically-present people. Because we’re missing half the talk, our brain keeps trying to fill it in, which pulls us away from whatever we’re working on. This, and the start-and-stop aspect you find out make phone calls hard to deal with.

      That said, Joe needs to learn to deal.

    6. Anononon*

      But, this goes both ways. I find it difficult to concentrate on phone calls when there’s an unusual background noise.

    7. Lynca*

      As someone with ADHD as well, I feel you. I end up sometimes having to read my emails out as I’m writing them to make sure I’m coherent and actually answering the question asked. I’m lucky enough to have an office with a door though.

      I agree that they may need to take into perspective that he’s not doing it to intentionally annoy/distract them because this is a very common thing for people with attention deficit to do. But in an open office he’s going to need to find some other way to cope. I’ve used ear plugs before. Headphones are too bulky/set my sensory issues off and I get distracted by music anyway.

    8. Super dee duper anon*

      I have the same issue – I can tune out in person convos (and tv noise or music) pretty well, but phone calls are like a flame and I’m a moth. My brain can not help but get sucked in. Even if the other person is speaking quietly/office appropriately, if it reaches my ears I’m sucked in.

      To combat this I often have to mouth out what I’m currently working on to stay focused. I do my best to just read silently – like my lips moving but no sound, but I have caught myself whispering unintentionally. So if I can go from silent to whisper without realizing, I think it’s very possible that this guy doesn’t realize how loud he’s being.

      It doesn’t change the advice – Joe needs to cut it out and the OP has every right to address this with him, but keeping in mind that it’s very possible that this is unintentional will help the OP approach the situation kindly and compassionately.

    9. OP4*

      Thanks! I am really sympathetic, as I’m not neurotypical myself and it does result in workplace challenges. I also struggle with continuing my own phone conversations when I hear him do this, as it’s loud enough to be distracting but not so loud as to be intelligible. He keeps a pair of headphones at his desk and uses them at other times, and I hope to encourage him to use them when we have to take a call.

    10. cheluzal*

      People who talk on speaker phone IN PUBLIC must drive you as crazy as they do me….oh, the dirty looks. I’m tempted to start talking to the other person.

  11. mark132*

    @lw3, personally over the top praise for my work irritates me a lot. I.e. I just fixed a bug not solved some huge conundrum.

    I expect praise inline with the accomplishment.

    1. Iris Eyes*

      Praise is usually in line with what they perceive not what you actually do. You could do something quick and easy that dramatically remakes my everyday processes in a positive ways. You bet I’m going to thank you profusely possibly for months afterward. You labor weeks over a change that is cool but has less of an impact you get thanked still but I’m probably not going to bring it up as much.

  12. grumpymillennial*

    I feel like younger (I’ll say it…millennial) women are more likely to adhere to an aesthetic that overlooks greasy/unkempt hair. I’m taken aback every time I get to work and someone has her hair up in a bumpy, greasy messy bun style. I feel like I’m seeing it more and more, too. As far as I can tell, it comes from social media trends that state washing your hair strips it of healthy oils and so forth…while that’s true for certain hair types, if you have long, fine, straight hair you’re not going to look professional after a few days without washing it (and I will wonder when you showered last.) Business casual doesn’t mean “just rolled out of bed.”

    I am particularly irked by this trend because I’m also a millennial and worry this unprofessionalism will reflect poorly on me: at my last employer, I presented at a meeting with a colleague who took this look too far — I was in a suit, she wore leggings and a tunic and had greasy “couldn’t be bothered” hair. Never found out whether our boss spoke to her, but will not forget how mortified I felt standing up there with her. I felt like she probably reminded the senior staff of their high school and college age children, and there I am getting assigned projects with her.)

    1. Clementine Danger*

      As Allison once pointed out on this blog, there’s a huge difference between “entitled idiot millennials” and “new to the working world and naive about standards”. Guess which generation is still young enough to be considered new to the career world?

      Never attribute to millenialism that which can be adequately explained by youth.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Aren’t millennials starting to push 40 now? How long are we going to keep considering them “kids?”

        1. A.N. O'Nyme*

          Yeah, the issue with the name “millenials” is that a lot of people think it refers to people born around the millenium. Depending on where exactly you draw your imaginary line, most, if not all, millenials are now legal adults. I’d attribute this more to “youth and inexperience” rather than “silly millenials”.

          1. londonedit*

            It’s ridiculous. At 37 I’m often technically lumped in with ‘Millennials’, but no one can agree on the actual boundaries (I’ve seen everything from 1979 to 1984 as the start point) and anyway people’s experiences are hugely different whatever their age. And while I might enjoy the occasional avocado toast, I graduated nearly 16 years ago, I’ve been an adult for 18 and a half years, I’ve been driving for 20 years, and I really don’t think any sort of ‘kids these days’ trope applies to me or other people who are, indeed, pushing 40. People can be clueless about how to behave in the workplace whether they’re 20 or 50.

            1. Anonny*

              I suspect ‘millennial’ has become the current slang for ‘the yoof of today’ and if this keeps up, we’re gonna have middle-aged people in 20 years time complaining about the darn millennials and then someone’s gonna pipe up with “But, we are the millennials.”

              1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

                I’m a tail end Baby Boomer but hate being lumped in with them, mainly because I missed out on many of the juicy financial and job perks most of them got over the years. Now I’m literally watching kids on my lawn waiting for their school bus.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  Yup. I was born in ’63 so ever so technically a boomer but really emotionally, (pop) culturally, etc., etc., I am an X-er.

                  I am not the same generation as my parents and certainly not a different generation than my four years younger sister just because someone drew an arbitrary line around “X children born in this 20-ish year period following WW two.”

                  Ergo, reject the boomer label and I refuse to be called one. I am a Gen-Xer. My son (born 1987) was a millennial and even he would be over 30 by now, so not a “kid.”

                2. GreyjoyGardens*

                  I honestly think that cohorts are overhyped snake oil. “Boomers” has come to stand in for “old people who I don’t like” and “millennials” for “young people I don’t like.” And it keeps people from having to see others who aren’t their age as individuals rather than a great undifferentiated mass of cohort.

              2. Karen from Finance*

                Oh it’s already happening! I’ve had a former supervisor complain a lot about millenials to me. He was only a couple years older than me and we’re both comfortably millenials. I pointed out “but WE are millenials” and he replied “yeah but we’re not THOSE kind of millenials”. Which broke my brain a little bit. The “I’m not like other girls” version of millenial bashing.

              3. The elephant in the room*

                There are 30-somethings in my office who make comments about millennials and all I can think is, “You…you ARE the millennials.” I’ve found that the people who complain about them are just jumping on a bandwagon.

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  I once witnessed the funniest conversation between my son and his college friends that went something like “hey guys are we millennials?” – “yes” – “NOOOO, there’s no way, we’re not” and they proceeded to discuss it, and their feelings about it, for a few more minutes. I guess they all went home humbled that day.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            Yeh because I was under the impression that “millennials” are those that came of age around the millennium, so almost 20 years ago now, which would make them …what 37-ish? I think those born around 2000 are Gen-Z or is it Gen-Y?

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          The longer they pass for kids, the longer we Gen Xers can pass for young adults! I’m fine with that. (kidding, kidding, age is just a number etc etc)

        3. Murphy*

          Exactly. Pew’s definition is 81-96, which is what I usually use, which would make us 23-38 years old. Most of us are hardly kids.

          1. ElspethGC*

            I’m a ’98 baby who tends to lump myself in with millennials more than with GenZ – while I did grow up with technology to a greater extent than the millennials in their 30s, I also grew up with a childhood where getting a flip-phone was a *big deal* and where I remember having to ask to use the phone so it didn’t cut off my dad’s internet while he was working. I feel like 96-99 could fall into either, depending on the sort of childhood you had.

            (Eg, were your family buying the new tech or not? Mine was not, and I’d imagine that my life had I been born a couple of years earlier would have been almost exactly the same. The girl at my school who got the newest and best of everything as soon as it came out? Closer to GenZ than I am.)

            1. SechsKatzen*

              Really for me the technology aspect is a minor part of who I see as really in “my” generation, regardless of what the cutoffs say. I was born in 86 so safely within Millennial territory, and really what I think of as being the defining moments of my generation were Columbine and 9/11, both which happened during adolescence when we were old enough to remember the way things were previously and then to have them suddenly change in a way that felt like overnight. That’s an experience I really don’t share with those born at the later end of the generation. Right behind that is the experience of being pushed into higher education, taking on insurmountable debt to “afford” it because that’s just what you do as it was supposed to improve our lives, only to have the economy tank and be 25, six figures in debt and being utterly unemployable. I think that issue is still experienced by the younger end, but from what I observe it seems to be “slightly” more realistic in the sense of “you’ll go into six figures of debt and you’ll probably be able to pay it back but you’re still taking a risk that you won’t be able to.”

              But back to the point, Millennials even at the younger end aren’t really kids anymore. At 23 I was in my second year of law school and a lot of people I grew up with were married with kids of their own. That was the “someone every other week is getting married or having a baby” age. It’s not someone just out of high school by any means!

            2. curly sue*

              I’m in the other blurry zone — born in the last week of 1979, but my parents worked in computers so I grew up with them in the house in a way many folks my age didn’t have until high school. I was cruising around Usenet in 1992, with an email and login courtesy of IBM’s family plans. I’m too old to really be a millennial, but I’m very definitely on the other side of the digital divide from my solidly Gen-X husband.

              1. GreyjoyGardens*

                I always wonder, facetiously, if a set of twins, with one born at 11:59 on December 31, 1980, and the other born at 12:01 on January 1, 1981, would therefore be entirely different cohorts and generations? Yeah. That’s how much sense the concept of a “cohort” makes.

      2. LQ*

        “Guess which generation is still young enough to be considered new to the career world?”

        …I can’t keep track of what the label is for the new one, Zennial? Generation Z? But it is not millennial.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          I’ve heard them referred to as centennials which is even dumber than the term millennial.

      3. grumpymillennial*

        After reading a lot of the replies, I realize that a lot of people took issue with my phrasing, and a lot of you made good points to keep in mind. However, to clarify: I’m talking about myself and my contemporaries–I’m not bashing “kids these days”. My point is that we AREN’T new to the work world, so I see this as an aesthetic choice for this group–people in their late 20s thru mid 30s–that’s as inappropriate in an office setting as athleisure, but both of which are making inroads. I understand not grasping norms when someone is new to a professional setting, but my point is that this uncombed, messy look is a choice that some people think is “cute”, even though they’ve been out of college for 5-15 years. If the graduate student is 23, she needs the “oops you’re new” talk. If she’s a late 20s woman returning to school after a few years in an office setting (common in many graduate fields), then the commenter is up against shifting generational norms, and the student might have the attitude of the commenter below who said she was “a millennial woman with a business casual job who will never do her hair in a way that would please people like you.”

    2. Pop*

      I have worked with people of all ages/generations who do not have the same level of hygiene/dress that I would adhere to for my office job. People may not know about professional norms of appearance when they first enter their field, but that spans generations.

    3. Lena Clare*

      That is a ridiculous statement. As Pop pointed out there are people of all ages who don’t know professional norms of appearance/hygiene – and this isn’t something that is a recent development either.

      If you’re younger too (your username suggests you might be) you might not have noticed older people making the same faux pas at the beginning of *their* career, so saying you’ve noticed younger people making that mistake isn’t a reliable source of data.

      I do think it seems incredible that some people can’t adult but there it is – there could be lots of reasons for it – so, I say OP should do the student a favour and tell her, matter of factly.

    4. WS*

      It’s not millennials. I’m Gen X and there were definitely a lot of us dressing unprofessionally at the start of our careers, including lack of hair-washing (but if it’s in a bun no-one will notice, right???) and leggings. I’m sure Baby Boomers did the same!

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        With me, it was the Madonna Wanna-Be/Cyndi Lauper costume jewelry and cheap lace for days look. I wised up.

    5. Paperdill*

      I’m a nurse and my colleagues are aged from not quite out of high school to should have retired years ago. In contrast to your experience, I have found “the millenials” are the ones who are best groomed and presented at work where as those with the greasy, unkempt hair, runs in their stockings, un-ironed shirts, unshaven etc., tend to be the older people.

    6. Indie*

      This was true at the start of my career too. Im thinking of a peer who didnt brush her hair, but it had nothing to do with the grunge trend, she thought it made her look busy and important. It has nothing to do with being a millenial and the people you work with will have seen it before. It is common for people to get mixed up about office norms. It is also actually quite odd that you think other people will judge you for what other people your age are wearing, especially since age isn’t really a hierarchial factor once youve left school. Maybe just focus on yourself and stop categorising yourself by age?

    7. OhGee*

      Get over it. You can’t choose how other women do their hair.

      — a millennial woman with a business casual job who will never do her hair in a manner that would please people like you

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        You can, though. Setting aside all question of generation, you can absolutely require your employees to look professional and presentable. Looking and smelling clean shouldn’t be optional.

        1. OhGee*

          This isn’t a comment from somebody’s boss, and it’s not about the LW’s situation. This is a woman colleague complaining about how other women do (or don’t) style their hair. She’s blaming “social media trends” for what she feels are ‘messy’ or ‘greasy’ hairstyles and gets in to concern trolling when she assumes people must’ve seen her casually dressed colleague as a ‘high school student’. I’m certain I work with people who think my visible greys and slightly wavy hair that is rarely styled beyond a simple brushing in the morning (and is washed after a workout, or every few days) is ugly or doesn’t meet their standard of professionalism. My managers have never said a word (in fact, one puts about the same effort it to her own hair), and that’s all that matters. It’s not your hair! Get over it.

    8. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Ugh – I was just hanging out with a bunch of my husband’s high school friends who started bitching about millennials – I stopped them and pointed out that they were only one to two years removed from being labeled one – and that I was one, and that millennial were a lot older now than most people think. They didn’t believe me and I had to google it. One of them was only six months out of the age range. It was very satisfying.

    9. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      I don’t want to get into generalizations about generations, but there may be a certain performative aspect to the young woman’s unclean hair, particularly because she keeps it long and loose. It could be demonstrating her earth-friendliness, or showing that she’s unwilling to concede to societal norms about appearance.

      And honestly, to me, there’s a time and a place where that’s okay. I’ve gone out by myself on weekends looking like a hot mess because in a weird way it makes me feel super confident to be among strangers and not give a damn how I look. But I leave that out of the workplace.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        And young women can get away with that more – if I (50something) did that, I’d be rocking the “panhandler” aesthetic.

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        The length got me too! I’ll admit I tried to limit washing my hair for a while when I was an undergrad, but at the time I had extremely short hair – practically buzzed – so it never looked greasy. Which was probably the only reason I felt bold enough to do it.

        I can’t fathom the idea now that my hair is butt-length. It’d be a real statement, which as you say may well be part of the point for this particular person. In which case the concept of professional norms is unlikely to hold much sway for her.

    10. Liza*

      I could see generational difference being a factor, especially being the younger end of the millennial range and new to the workforce. But I also think changing fashions and a more relaxed, nuanced culture surrounding work attire can make it very difficult to judge where the lines are because there are no hard rules in a lot of places.

      I’m an older millennial (34) and have recently both reentered the workforce after a 7 year hiatus, and switched from a business formal to a casual workplace. I… really have no idea what business casual means. I tried to look it up, but even examples of “this is ok/this is not” left me baffled because I honestly could not see the difference. In some cases, I thought the “not ok” option looked smarter. My manager and co-worker regularly wear the tunic and leggings look, and I personally favour the loose bun hairdo because my hair is very fine and fly-away and it looks awful within 10 minutes if I try and scrape it back into a tight style, even if lacquered down with gel. So far the only thing I’ve been asked to change was to not wear sweatshirts with large brand logos, but that’s it. This is going to be very workplace dependent (mine leans very casual), so with each environment differing wildly, a lot of us are in the dark and have to feel out what the rules are in our workplace for ourselves.

    11. Quinoa*

      As someone firmly rooted in Generation X whose hair has occasionally been greasy at work because it took me a while to figure out that dry shampoos flat out don’t work on my hair, I have to say that I totally disagree with you. The millennial women I work with are invariably better groomed and more put together than I am. I’m like The White Queen from Through the Lookingglass.

    12. Joielle*

      I don’t think a standard messy bun is considered an unprofessional style anymore. Of course, your clothing has to be within your office norms… so it sounds like your colleague was probably out of line (assuming wearing a suit was required in the context of your presentation) but not because of her hair.

    13. MissDisplaced*

      “As far as I can tell, it comes from social media trends that state washing your hair strips it of healthy oils and so forth.”

      Ah yes! There are so many trends like that going around. Remember when using coconut oil to “pull” your teeth instead of brushing them was popular? Then the charcoal toothpaste trend. Ick! The ‘no shampoo’ thing has also been a beauty thing in the last few years, though generally I thought it was for dry over-processed bleached hair, not normal hair.

  13. Clementine Danger*

    LW#2: I once worked with someone like that. The boss was sympathetic to her environmental concerns and it really would have hurt this person emotionally to use shampoo every other day. (Agree with it or not, the psychological harm was real to her.) The compromise was for her to wear her hair combed back in a tight bun, covered with a small knit head scarf. And let me tell you, it makes a world of difference from a greasy mop of loose strands! It looked more than professional and groomed enough for the environment they were working in (although YMMV, of course) and everyone was pleased with the compromise. Maybe that’s something to consider with this person?

    1. Kc89*

      I’m so curious about how shampoo every other day would cause psychogical harm to her, can you share why?

      1. Clementine Danger*

        As far as I understood it, she was raised extremely environmentally conscious. Things like keeping a tub in the shower and using the water to flush the toilet, vegan, no store-bought cleaning products ever, went to a school that encouraged all of that as well. Being raised that way caused her to associate store-bought shampoo with “bad” and “harmful” and “disappointing my family”. I’m sure she had great internal conflict about the way she was raised and the compromises we all have to make day-to-day living in an imperfect world, where none of us get to be the people we truly want to be. So being told to use shampoo daily (something her loving family who she liked very much would consider the height of materialism, wastefulness and environmental neglect) was genuinely upsetting to her.

        I personally don’t agree with the way western society pushes the idea that environmental destruction is a moral failing of individuals rather than an outgrowth of materialism and capitalism. But I do certainly understand how being told to go against strongly held beliefs you have been raised in since childhood could cause a person emotional distress. It’s kind of like how Americans tend to bristle when they learn that horse meat is a staple food in my country. It seems loopy and weird to them, but around here, we eat horses. But I could certainly understand an American moving to my country being distressed at being told they MUST EAT THE HORSE. It not a bad or evil thing, to eat the horse, or to use the shampoo, but cultural indoctrination and relative normativity is a bitch to overcome.

        1. Jasnah*

          Fascinating! I’m glad you/r company had the cultural awareness to find a compromise you both could be happy with!

          Someone who has eaten horse (it tasted OK)

        2. Lena Clare*

          “I personally don’t agree with the way western society pushes the idea that environmental destruction is a moral failing of individuals rather than an outgrowth of materialism and capitalism.”
          This is so true! Amen to that.

        3. Topcat*

          But the idiotic thing is that there are plenty of alternative options to commercial/store-bought shampoo. You can buy amazing all-natural vegan biodegradable products these days. You can make your own shampoo from various natural ingredients. Even using a rosemary rinse can help to some extent.

          I don’t get how someone can be this vegan/greenie and not be in touch with all the alternatives that eco-people have come up with to conventional products.

          1. LadyGrey*

            It’s a social context thing- vegan upbringing and awareness of new products aren’t automatically paired. I’m betting it’s either disconnecting from any wider vegan community, or not perceiving vegan shampoos as any different- water waste, etc.

          2. Seacalliope*

            It makes total sense if she was also rejecting the profit motive of companies, regardless of their supposed green status. Now, the economics of scale may not make it legitimately more green to make something yourself, but “alternative” companies are still companies that still want profit.

          3. Clementine Danger*

            I personally don’t get it either, I use some home-made products myself, but this person wasn’t a close friend or anything. If she was, I might have gently inquired about this if it came up in conversation, but with a co-worker I file that firmly under None Of My Business. I just assume that yeah, they know and if they rejected it, there’s probably a reason that makes sense to them.

            I do happen to know that as a family group they distrusted any and all for-profit companies as well, so I think Seacalliope is right about that, but what do I know? All in all they appeared to me as a bunch of nice people genuinely wanting to do the right thing but being a bit hazy on the facts, and their discontent with modern society and capitalism specifically may have lead to some not-entirely-unreasonable paranoia.

        4. Indie*

          I really dislike environmental zeal when it is directed at individual habits too. Like go after a company’s packaging strategy all you want; or come up with ways to reduce waste water in sewage design…but let me shower? I just think there is something deeply hinky about telling a creature belonging to the Earth that they no longer qualify to use their small share of its resources any more. Spreading a sense of shame at using water is a vastly different thing to being thrifty and careful with meeting what you as an individual need.
          Though I am puzzled as to why homemade soap wouldn’t have cleaned her hair?

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            “I just think there is something deeply hinky about telling a creature belonging to the Earth that they no longer qualify to use their small share of its resources any more.”

            Yes. Thank you. We tend to forget that we belong to this planet/it belongs to us as much as other animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, et al.

            Also, I will be stealing borrowing your words, verbatim.

          2. Tyche*

            As an aside, as a chemical engineer who has worked for environmental r&d, I find that some beliefs going around in certain zealot environmental groups are quite ineffective and/or detrimental for the environment. I understand that they steam from people’s goodwill to be more aware and more environment friendly, but they don’t have a real impact and they only help to ease one conscience.
            As others said there are many eco-friendly choices, but the problem is to approach coworker with a request that is quite personal and awkward.

            1. Harper the Other One*

              I’m glad to hear you say that. This has been my suspicion about a number of environmental initiatives but I don’t have the knowledge to say if it’s so. Of course there are some changes that really do make a difference, and I’d rather people focus their energies on those than take “feel good” actions that don’t mean much.

            2. Où est la bibliothèque?*

              This, on a very small scale: if you come into my office looking particularly unwashed, after you leave my prissy ass is going to start disinfecting stuff. With chemicals! The horror!

          3. C*

            Exactly. 100 companies are despoiling the Earth every day and leading us to extinction but I have to stop showering to save the planet?

            1. Zip Silver*

              That list of 100 companies is made up entirely of companies in the energy sector (surprise surprise, fossil fuels pollute). It’ll balance out when we figure out alternative power supplies, or manage to make fusion work.

        5. Vin Packer*

          This is such a great comment, along with the one that started the thread. Compassionate/nonjudgmental yet practical.

        6. Diana*

          You must be a true pleasure to work with – this comment is so empathetic and compassionate. This was a nice reminder to slow down, take a breath, and try to understand the person on the other side of the interaction. Even if the end result is exactly the same, the entire process can be better, kinder, more productive with patience.

  14. CS*

    OP 1

    My sympathies, I’m sure that felt awful! But, what a jerk coworker! That’s not the kind of person I want to be! That note was 100% about their jerkiness and is 0% your responsibility to fix!

    Limp proudly,

    Fellow limper with 2 “lucky fins”

  15. Kc89*

    I remember at my first job (food service) they said we had to shower every day before work and have clean hair but we were welcome to not shower on our days off which I thought was a funny way to address it

    But it was deff something that needed to be said.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      My first job was in McDonalds and they said something similar to me when I started as well. I wondered why the hell they were telling me that because of course I’d turn up to work showered and clean, but I soon saw the point of it. It’s a first job for many young people and they need to be told these things.

      I like the way your people addressed it though.

      1. Rainbow Roses*

        As a person who worked at restaurants, the odor of the cooking food can cling to a person even if you don’t shower for just one measly day. Even though customers can smell the food in the building, they don’t want to smell it on a person. The restaurants want to project the image of clean employees.

        1. Hold My Cosmo*

          Yes, it gets bad. When I was a server I was washing my hair in Dawn regularly, which is terrible for it. Not even the harshest clarifying hair products could get out the fryer grease.

        2. Tiny Soprano*

          Oooh it’s horrible, isn’t it! I hate the way my hair absorbs the smell of coffee. One shift at the cafe and three days and a wash later, my hypersensitive nose can still smell freshly ground beans.

  16. Coffeelover*

    #1 Honestly I would have taken the note into a meeting and announced the situation. “Someone left an annonymous note on my desk asking me to pick up my feet when I walk. I have a limp that makes this impossible.” Mic drop. Let the person feel the shame.

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      My gossipy co-worker: Hey, how was your one-on-one with Dora?
      Me, also gossipy: Oh my gosh, she is such a stickler! And those painted-on eyebrows!
      Co-worker: oh. You know she had cancer, right? Breast cancer? She lost all her hair. I don’t know if the eyebrows grew back.
      Me: …. oh.
      Co-worker: Yeah, don’t you feel like a (glassbowl) now?
      Me: Heh, yeah. Well, she’s still a stickler…
      Co-worker: Yeah, she’s the worst.

      1. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

        Oh, I groaned out loud at this! At least it sounds like your co-worker understood!

  17. Doctor Schmoctor*

    #1 I’m not particularly fond of people in general, so if I got a note like that, I would react in an equally ass-ish way. I would make a copy of the note, make it big, write on it “I have a medical condition”, and put it the office notice board.

  18. GermanGirl*

    #1 Maybe you’ll feel better about it if you frame this in your head as coming from someone who means well and hasn’t thought this through?

    A relative of mine developed pain in his foot that his doctor didn’t find a reason for. But his spouse noticed that he didn’t really pick up his painful foot and sent him to physiotherapy where he relearned his gait and started to pick up both feet evenly – he’s been pain free ever since.

    I could totally see someone with that kind of history thinking that they are doing you a favor by making you aware of it, and totally not thinking that your case might be quite different from theirs.

    Putting that in an anonymous note is still jerky of course, but maybe it’ll feel less bad if you think of it this way.

    1. valentine*

      I don’t get the “this is definitely mean” stance. I would feel worse if someone told me to my face (might cry) or signed the note (Do they expect me to confront them by this Wednesday?). Sometimes an anon is wanting to help you save face.

      And if the issue is the sound, the reason isn’t necessarily going to mitigate it.

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        If the note was meant kindly, the language would be kinder.

        “Please pick your feet up when you walk” might be “I noticed you don’t pick up your feet when you walk, it might be healthier to try to shuffle less.” Or even “it’s sometimes distracting when we can hear you shuffle as you walk.” Now, both of those are still absolute nonsense, but the might be coming from a slightly kinder place. The note the LW received? Plain ol’ bitchy.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Except this isn’t their business in the first place; it’s not like they had to communicate the message and tried to find the nicest way of doing it.

        1. JamieS*

          Well I mean it is somewhat their business if the feet shuffling is distracting and/or otherwise causing them an inconvenience. Something I’m guessing is likely the case.

          Agreed the note was a lousy thing to do but many people are nonconfrontational, notes are an easy out, and not everyone handles potentially awkward conversations with the best of grace. Unless the person turns out to know OP has a physical limitation I don’t think they should be viewed as a jerk or someone who deserves to feel a large amount of guilt. At least no more so than someone who left an anonymous note about something like food smacking or incessant humming.

      3. Observer*

        Anonymous notes don;t help anyone save face. Also, as Alison points out, there was no reason why the note-leaver needed to communicate this, nor is there any indication of an attempt to communicate kindly.

    2. Observer*

      I don’t buy it. If you notice something that you honestly think might help them then you actually tell them that. “If you pick up your feet when you walk it might help your limp” is stupid but it might be well intentioned. “Please pick up your feet” is NOT – it’s clearly a request (read demand) that the OP do something differently because someone doesn’t approve of what they are doing.

  19. goober*

    Re #2, I wonder how this would play out if the college was in New York City in light of the recently announced ban on discrimination based on hair. (Not including the link so my comment doesn’t get caught in moderation, but the NY Times headline is “New York City to Ban Discrimination Based on Hair.”)

    1. Jasnah*

      I haven’t read the article but I imagine this ban tied to issues like bigoted judgments of certain cultural hairstyles being “unprofessional,” religions and cultures that prohibit the cutting/display of hair, and that sort of thing?

      I don’t think you’d fall afoul of this because the reasoning is different (ie you can style/have your hair however you want as long as it’s clean, like how you can fire minorities as long as the reason isn’t BECAUSE they’re a minority). But I’m not sure how the ban is worded, and if fantasy hair colors are now protected even if they’re against most dress codes.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        I think part of the challenge goober is referring to, though, is that the “argument” against some of the cultural hairstyles has been that they “aren’t clean” – that they can’t be washed in the way the majority culture deems “normal.”

  20. Jasnah*

    Oof OP#3, I just snapped at a coworker who complimented me for the tiniest things. I couldn’t take it anymore! “You type so fast (3 words in the google search bar),” “Wow, you’re so eloquent (in your native language),” it’s infuriating! Finally I said, “Raise your standards, man!” I’m not proud but I share this to commiserate with you. My situation is a little different because your manager treats everyone like this, while everyone just treats me like this, but I definitely know the temptation to reply sarcastically when it feels like you’re being patronized.

    I think as Alison says we have to remember that this isn’t about us or our work. It’s like a greeting, a social nicety. They feel the need to fill the silence with something, and ideally something positive that makes us feel good, and having a low bar means they can reuse these topics often. Let’s try to not take it personally!

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      Eloquent in your native language? Wow, just…I would kind of just assume that a given person speaks their native language pretty well.

      1. Mookie*

        I think the person who said this was under the impression, probably arising from unexamined xenophobia or racism or both, that Jasnah is not a native speaker of the language in question, so the praise was both presumptuous and over-the-top.

        1. Asenath*

          Ah, that would explain why it wouldn’t come across well. I’ve always been a bit flattered by comments about how good I am at my native language – I do secretly pride myself that I can write reasonably well, but it’s nice to have that acknowledged. It would be different if the implication was that I was doing well expressing myself in my second language when it was really my first!

          I don’t get complimented on my typing skills, mainly because having someone watching me makes me hit all the wrong keys.

          There’s two sides to this sort of thing – yes, it can be annoying to be constantly praised for trivial things and not for substantive achievements. On the other hand, it’s important to say “thank you” when praised because I have a tendency, which I think isn’t unusual, to put myself down by saying “Oh, it was really nothing” instead of graciously accepting the compliment as deserved. That, of course, only works if it’s a compliment on an important skill or achievement.

          1. Mookie*

            Well, I could be wrong about that. It could be classism and racism. Every culture has its tells. Here in the US, there’re communities of unmistakeably native-born Anglophones who are given the “so eloquent!” “articulate!” “well-spoken!” “whipsmart!” headpat treatment in performatively pleasantly surprised tones. If I recall correctly, one of the more prominent recipients of such verbal largesse became head of state for a time.

      2. Turnip-face*

        Perhaps it was meant more in the sense of having a wide vocabulary and using more interesting words than you commonly hear in everyday conversation? Or maybe the comment related to public speaking or presenting, or the ability to convey ideas clearly?

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        From what I’ve heard, in the US, it is often being said to the POC. This exact word, “eloquent”. As an acquaintance of mine put it, “no sh!t, I’m a writer”. The assumption behind “wow you are so eloquent” being that a POC is by default undereducated or something similarly awful.

        1. Turnip-face*

          That’s interesting… I’m not from the US so would never have got that meaning from “eloquent”.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          My husband a native of Morocco whose first language is Arabic, and who speaks six other languages, including English fluently gets the “wow your English is sooooo good crap all the time. It’s absolutely based in racism/xenophobia.

          During the first years here while he was still getting proficient he was taking some college English classes. They weren’t high level classes, think like Comp 101 or something. One of the professors was constantly giving him a hard time over rough draft writings, which what? To be clear they were about as perfect as they could be by the time he turned in a final draft of anything. I’m talking first drafts!

          This guy was just such a dick to him. I mean sarcasm, insults, the whole thing. One day Husband had enough and said, “you know I’m not illiterate. I speak six languages fluently. How many do you speak?”

          *It wasn’t ESL…he tested out of that in like 3 weeks…he was already too far advanced for what they were able to teach because even though I insisted he sign up for the classes, because I am *not* an ESL teacher I’d already spent a year teaching him, so he was ready to hit the ground running … so to speak.

          1. Jasnah*

            Yeah it was a similar scenario for me. On the one hand, your husband’s English is really good! And it’s nice to be complimented for skills you have acquired! But on the other hand, come ON already, these people have no idea how hard or easy it was for him to learn English, and it’s got that twinge of “wow so smart barbarian, u learnt how to talk right, what a good boy!”

            But you can’t dump that on each and every person you meet…so you just find ways to take it less personally.

  21. Rez123*

    #2 Does the intern smell? If it’s just a greasy hair then that is much less of a problem. My hair gets greasy in a day and if I wash it every day then my skin gets irritated. So I need to use dry shampoo but I’m not a fan of using chemicals in my hair every day. I’ve wanted to try the no ‘poo but it takes some time for hair to get used to alternatives. So because my hair would be greasy this time, I can’t try. Maybe something like this is happening with the intern? If they don’t smell and are clean otherwise, I might be tempted to see a bit longer what’s happening. If there is a smell and she is clearly not clean then I would just bring it up. There is no polite way to do it.

    I’ve never understood written down dress code or grooming instructions. Unless there is an actual reason such as safety, uniforms etc. so I discourage adding or referring anything to an employee handbook.

    1. misspiggy*

      Going through a no-poo hair transition would be something to do in the holidays, so colleagues don’t have to look at it.

    2. Quoth the Raven*

      I wonder this, too. Hair that goes unwashed for two weeks (!!) would not only look greasy, but also smell.

      Honestly, my first thought was that she might be using a hair product or hair care regime that makes it greasier, or even just appear that way — I know I’ve fallen to that before (including no ‘poo, which is supposed to be great for my hair type but makes it look and feel terrible no matter how much I try to stick to it; and baking soda, with very ugh results). She could be piling products on unwashed hair daily, which will make it look dirty even if was washed a day or two before. She might actually be overwashing it and making it worse!

      That said, it does need to be addressed, because it’s apparently bad enough to be considered gross, but there may be more to it than her not washing her hair.

    3. Tim Tam Girl*

      Alison, please feel free to delete if this is a derail, but: Pure corn starch/cornflour is an excellent natural alternative to chemical dry shampoos. It can be tricky to use at first because it clumps a bit so is easy to overuse, but if you can get an empty powder shaker (like a commercial body powder would come in – travel size is ideal) and brush it through well that makes it heaps easier. (It’s also the best thing for heat rash/‘chub rub’!)

    4. Indie*

      To me, the oddest part is that she leaves her hair loose. If she was aware that hair is just very naturally greasy, she would surely weave it back into a braid or bun it.
      One idea for you personally to try Rez might be lo-poo? You might be able to use non sulphate shampoos without irritating the scalp?

          1. INeedANap*

            Wearing your hair pulled back too tightly can cause traction alopecia. It’s caused by pulling force on your hair, not just wearing your hair up or back every day.

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        This – or leaving it long in general. I don’t understand why people who don’t take care of their hair seem to be attracted to longer locks? It’s way less of a hassle to have to deal with shorter locks or keeping them tied back.

        1. schnauzerfan*

          But if you have it short you have to keep cutting it to keep it looking semi-decent. And, it gets really expensive.

  22. Phil*

    LW1: You may never find out who wrote the note, so do the next best thing: make it more pronounced just to piss em off.

    1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

      I once worked with a young woman who used crutches to help her walk when she was having a flare-up of a joint condition. She was told (luckily not anonymously) by a snooty supervisor to make her crutches ‘less clicky’, so you can bet your life we spent a lunchtime slightly adjusting them to make them MORE clicky…

        1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

          Trust me, if we had been in walking distance of Pets At Home that lunchtime we’d have bought a bunch of those little bells that go on cat collars… but castanets would have been better :)

  23. Pomona Sprout*

    Re #1:
    “…I’m betting that this person will feel like an enormous a-hole if they learn this is a medical condition, and I’m hoping your office assists them in that realization about themselves.”

    From your keyboard to God’s ear, Alison!