employee says he has a problem with authority, coworker is praying for me to have a baby, and more

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

1. My employee warned me he has a problem with authority

Six years ago, I took a job in a new department. At the time, I only had two years of managing experience and I was eager to not step on the toes of my new four-person team, who had a combined total of 85 years of experience. On my first day and in my first meeting with my employee Fergus, he smirked and opened with, “You should know I have a problem with authority.” To his credit, he was not lying. It’s a nightmare to deal with him but he does just enough to not be let go (we work for the government, it’s harder to get fired).

At the time he told me this, I was so concerned with being liked and learning the ropes in the new department that I tried to approach all interactions with Fergus with that in mind instead of just asking for what I needed. But now I wonder, what would have been a good response? Am I wrong in thinking that the response should have been something that let Fergus know that it indeed was *his* problem and not mine? Or is that just my dislike for my current situation bubbling up?

Ideally, when he told you he had a problem with authority, you would have asked, “Can you be more specific about what you mean?” Let’s pin him down on exactly what he’s talking about here, and then respond to that. If he replied with something like “I don’t like being told what to do” or “I prefer to work independently without a manager,” then you could say, “Well, I certainly appreciate knowing about people’s preferences and I respect the expertise you have, but part of my role here is to oversee that work. You can see how that goes and decide whether it’s for you or not. If you decide it’s not, I’ll certainly understand.”

It sounds like you know this now, but you can’t let an employee dictate how you’ll do your own job (which includes managing them) or value being liked over being effective.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My coworker is obsessed with me having another child

I share an office with a woman who I like very much. She is about twice my age and very kind. We have gotten along very well professionally and we click great. The only problem we have is a personal one.

She has two kids and they are both out of high school. I have one toddler and am very happy with my family situation. “Mary” asks me constantly when I’m having another child, to the point where she stated today that she is going to start petitioning God for me to get pregnant. She mentions it every day.

I can’t get pregnant. In fact, I am in the process now of getting my tubes tied. I have an appointment for next month. My first child was an accident and I nearly died giving birth to her. I was advised to not have anymore children, something my husband and I agreed with. I chose the best birth control available and my husband scheduled a vasectomy, but I ended up getting pregnant again (my doctor called it one in a billion odds). It turned out to ectopic and we had to terminate. It was a traumatic experience for me and my family.

I don’t want to bring any of this up to Mary, as it’s not her or anyone else’s business. But how do I get her to drop it?

Mary may be lovely in many other ways, but she’s astoundingly insensitive in this regard. Even if you did plan to have another baby, her relentless comments and questions would be incredibly rude. What if you were struggling with infertility? Or simply didn’t want to discuss your reproductive plans on work? She’s being shockingly pushy and thoughtless.

That said, it sounds like throughout these daily comments, you haven’t actually told her you don’t share her hopes or shut down the questioning, and either of those will likely help.

To be clear, you shouldn’t need to tell her you’re not planning another baby (it’s none of her business), but because she’s made so many hopeful comments about it without you telling her “actually, that’s not our plan,” it might be more effective to say, “Mary, I appreciate your kindness, but I’m happy with my family size the way it is and it’s not something I want to discuss at work. Thanks so much for understanding.” (You said you otherwise consider her kind and really like her, so I’m softening the language here.)

You can also modify that language so it doesn’t share anything about your plans: “Mary, I appreciate your kindness, but I actually don’t want to discuss my family planning at work. Thanks so much for understanding.”

If she pushes, then you say: “I should have been clearer about this earlier. I’m not comfortable discussing my reproductive choices at work, and I need to ask you to stop.”

If she brings it up after that: “Wow, I’m sure you didn’t mean to bring that up again! So let me ask you about (work-related topic).”

3. HR director is violating boundaries with Facebook

I’ve got a situation with my HR director and the way it’s affecting my direct reports (I am a department head at a municipal organization, so theoretically I am on the same level as HR, although of course HR is its own thing).

I was in a meeting recently with my department and HR, when my HR director referred directly to something one of my employees had posted on her personal Facebook page. My employee seemed uncomfortable, so I checked in with her later. She told me that the HR director had sent her a Facebook friend request, and she’d been reluctant to reject it because she wanted to stay on the HR director’s “good side.” She had been dealing with it by heavily filtering HR, but was feeling really unhappy to have something she’d posted mentioned in a meeting with her coworkers.

I advised her that no one she works with is entitled to be friends with her on social media, and that if she wasn’t comfortable she should unfriend the HR director, or even block her. She says that she would like to, but she’s heard the HR director make negative comments about other employees who take this route.

I know that my employee isn’t the only one who’s been made uncomfortable by the HR director’s friend requests. I think I need to raise this matter with our mutual boss. How would you approach it? Am I right in thinking that this situation is super unprofessional?

There are offices where coworkers friend each other on Facebook — but frankly it’s a bad idea for managers and HR. Especially HR.

I’d start by talking with the HR person about it. Explain what you’ve heard (without mentioning names) and say something like, “I know you put a high priority on ensuring that employees feel you’re fair and impartial (this may be a lie but it’s going to be useful to say) and would never want them to feel pressured for outside-of-work connections, so I wanted to flag this for you. Personally, I don’t friend employees while they’re working for me, and I thought you’d want to consider that as a policy for HR as well, considering the nature of the work.”

If you get pushback, you can absolutely mention this to whoever’s above her. Put the emphasis not on the friending, but on people feeling intimidated by HR and as if their privacy and boundaries are being violated.

4. How important are the first 100 days?

In December, I was excited to start a new job in a different but similar third sector organization. After doing direct client work for many years, I am now managing people doing the client work, and have a lot more responsibility for running the service. It obviously isn’t all rosy — I am trying to set up a service within a new organization, which is finding it difficult to get us the resources they agreed to. I know if I go in there demanding and heavy handed, it will backfire on the client work, so I’m being clear, but not pushy.

However, in a recent conversation with my dad about the ups and downs of the new role, he started telling me how the first 100 days are the most important and how that really sets your tone for role going forward. While I’ve always worked for charities or public service organizations, my dad worked for the private sector for most of his life, before moving into a top level role in a country wide charity. 

So how important is the first 100 days? Am I being too soft, which will cause me trouble later? Or is he off due to our different job backgrounds?

It’s certainly true that the impressions you make and tone you set in the first months of a new job matter. People will be taking your temperature and drawing conclusions about you, and first impressions can sometimes (not always) be hard to shake. But it doesn’t follow that that means you must always take a particular tone/approach, which I think is what your dad is recommending. Different situations call for different approaches; what’s important is that you’re thoughtful and strategic about the one you’re taking (and that you test that with people who know the situation well, such as your own manager).

Sometimes it makes sense to spend your first few months listening and learning. Other times you’ve been brought in to make changes, and you’ll need to make them fairly quickly. Sometimes you know enough about the context to know that approach A will backfire, but approach B, while slower, will be better in the long run. It’s definitely true that sometimes people err on the side of moving too slowly, and it ends up hampering them with stakeholders and the people they manage. But each situation is different, and it sounds like your dad might be just throwing general principles at you without understanding the nuance of your situation. (That said, I’m working from very limited info here, and it’s possible that your dad is right that your current approach is too soft. I can’t tell from here!)

5. Two-hour daily meetings

I’m looking for your opinion on something that a friend’s company does that strikes me as unusual and a waste of time. Her company has about 65 employees who all work in the office every day. The CEO recently implemented mandatory daily meetings that last from 10 am – 12 pm. The idea is that each person will go around during these two hours and discuss the latest projects they’re working on and let people know how available they are to take on new work. Everyone also uses this time as a touch base with different departments. Then from noon to 5 pm, the idea will be that everyone is hard at work at their desks, with no additional meetings planned.

I would find this to be a colossal waste of time, but I also work in a large nonprofit with 500+ employees located across multiple states, so clearly nothing like this would ever work for us. My company typically has quarterly all-staff meetings to update on large ticket items like budget, strategic plan, etc., and then we all work to schedule individual meetings and touchbases on an as-need basis with our team leads, immediate team members and coworkers in other departments.

I’ve never heard of something like this before, so I’m wondering — is this a typical practice for smaller companies to have?

No. This would indeed be a colossal waste of time in the vast majority of organizations. Some companies do this weekly, not daily (and usually for closer to one hour than two). There’s rarely a context where you need daily updates on everything each of your coworkers is doing. (And I love that part of this is to discuss how available they are for new work, since they’re all now 25% less available than they were before these meetings started using up 10 hours a week.)

{ 511 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    About letter #2 and the “how can you say Mary is kind?” comments — the letter writer says she’s kind, and she knows far more about Mary than we do. Obviously this particular action of Mary’s is not kind, but the writer doesn’t sound like she wants to snark at Mary or be hostile to her, so advice suggesting snarky/aggressive responses won’t be useful to her.

    1. Kit Kat*

      I think when someone says “X is kind” it’s often because they feel guilty and unentitled to their valid complaints about that person. It can do someone a real disservice if you don’t question this.

      1. Myrin*

        That’s absolutely possible, but I feel like it happens equally as often that someone is friendly and sweet in all aspects but has a weird “blind spot”, so to speak, regarding one particular issue. (I also think this is especially likely here, where the offending blind spot is something that’s very insensitive and annoying but not “evil” like, say, violent homophobia or thelike.)

        1. Emi.*

          I agree with this. I actually think childbearing is extra likely to become a blind spot, because there’s something about it that makes women extrapolate wildly from their own experience. Sometimes I say I hate pregnancy and other women insist that “But it’s so joyful!” or “No, pregnancy is a magical experience!” or “Don’t worry, the nausea will go away in three weeks!”

          1. Tisiphone*

            Yes to this! I’ve known women who love being pregnant. I wonder if “Mary” is the same way. She sure is pushy, though.

            1. AKchic*

              Mary may also be feeling a bit of empty nest syndrome and wanting to live vicariously through the LW.

              It doesn’t really matter though. Mary is not LW, and really needs to learn how to deal with her own emotions and learn proper boundaries in the workplace (and ideally, outside of them, but that isn’t the topic for this forum). All LW needs to do is work on her part in setting up those boundaries and enforcing them; and if Mary continues to stomp over them, then go above Mary and have someone else shut Mary down.

        2. The Other Dawn*

          I agree with this and that’s how I read the letter. There are definitely a couple people in my work life that I feel that same way about. They’re nice, giving, friendly, but they have one annoying trait that grates on me.

        3. Mary*

          I agree, but I also think that if Mary IS kind, then both LW and Mary herself could benefit from knowing that this behaviour is not kind.

          LW, it might be useful for you to think about whether Mary is genuinely kind, and would be shocked and regretful to hear that her behaviour is hurting you, or whether she’s someone invested in the idea of herself as kind to the extent that she would blame you and become defensive if you suggested this behaviour isn’t kind. If it’s the former, maybe it would be helpful to label this behaviour as hurtful: “Mary, I value your kindness and I appreciate that you’re coming from a good place, but I feel that my plans for my family are very private and you talking about it is upsetting to me. Could we please not discuss this any further? I don’t want to know if you’re praying for me or that you’re thinking about this at all.”

          If you think she’s the latter, give yourself permission not to think of Mary as kind and perhaps to be a little more brusque in your response. You don’t owe it to Mary to think of her as kind when she’s being unkind just because she wants to think of herself as kind.

          (There was also a GREAT comment on Twitter, I think, about how praying for someone is an intimacy and *telling* someone that you’re praying for them rather than *asking* them if you can pray for them is a non-consensual intimacy. I don’t know if that’s a useful thought for you, but I found it quite clarifying.)

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yes to that last bit! Saying that she is praying for god to get her pregnant is so beyond even normal annoying “when are you going to have another baby talk.”

            1. TootsNYC*

              It’s especially bad to be praying for God to get her pregnant, when our OP has never SAID she WANTS to be pregnant!

              That’s like praying for God to get you hit by a bus or something!

              Not that having a baby is getting hit by a bus, but an UNWANTED pregnancy would be!

              (and I love that “intimacy” point above!)

              1. Decima Dewey*

                There are also all sorts of reasons people might not want to get pregnant. OP was advised not to get pregnant again. Another person might carry a gene for a deadly condition.

                It’s none of Mary’s !@#$%^ business. Whether she means well or not.

                Odd thought: aren’t practitioners of Wicca warned that whatever they wish on someone else comes back to them three times?

                1. Jadelyn*

                  Or they just…don’t want kids, and could really do without the hassle and expense of having to terminate a pregnancy? I mean, I physically could carry a pregnancy to term safely, I don’t have any serious contraindications or anything – but I’m deliberately childfree and the whole idea of the Pregnancy Experience(tm) scares the crap out of me, so while I *could* have a baby if I suddenly came up pregnant, you can bet your body part of choice I’m not going to. Praying to your god for me to get pregnant is basically wishing on me a few hundred dollars in medical expenses. Not a particularly kind or friendly thing to do!

                  (re Wicca, yes – it’s called the rule of 3, but it’s less about *wishing* things and more about your actual actions.)

            2. Nic*

              Yep. As a six(ish?) year-old child, I told my parents that I was going to have a sister because I’d prayed for it and so I knew God would make it happen. In a young child, that’s a cute and funny kind of “she doesn’t realise [X]” story that parents store up for future ammunition – but in an adult? Wow. So inappropriate in so many ways that she should be old enough to think of for herself!

              And I know it’s coming from the impulse of a kind heart – she has two kids and is blissfully happy, and she can’t imagine OP being happy unless her family has the same – but her tunnel vision needs to be called out somehow. If she’s the good and friendly colleague that OP suggests, I think I’d be inclined to try matching her language for the first try; something like “I understand that you want me to be just as happy as you are, with your two children, and that’s lovely of you – but [Husband] and I are happy and complete as a family of three, and we feel no need to ask God for any further blessings in that direction. Please don’t pray for me on that front.” might meet her in a language she understands. After that, if she gets pushy, then we’re back to the more formal options that Alison suggested.

          2. Allison*

            Right! Part of being kind is being willing to change your behavior when you realize that it’s not having the positive impact you’d intended. Getting defensive, and insisting that your actions are justified because you MEANT to be kind, and anyone who didn’t like that is ungrateful and rude, is NOT the mark of a kind person, it’s the mark of a jerk who feels entitled to a god star just for trying to be a good person.

          3. Michaela Westen*

            Growing up in a fundamentalist area I saw the phrase “I’ll pray for you” being used as a way of pushing religion, and especially as a last-ditch lashing out. Example:
            Fundie to random person: “you have to come to my church to be saved and go to heaven!”
            RP: “No thanks.”
            Fundie: “But you have too, come with me now, if you don’t you’ll go to hell!”
            RP: “No, leave me alone, go away” and walks away.
            Fundie calls after RP: “I’ll pray for you!”
            Saying “I’ll pray for you” in this case is continuing to try to force religion on someone who doesn’t want it. The Fundie is saying “you reject me and my church? Fine, but you can’t stop me from forcing prayers on you!”
            It’s disrespectful.

            1. Lavender Menace*

              My in-laws, both pastors, use “I’ll pray for you” as their substitute for “I’m disappointed in you.” We do something they don’t like? “Well…we’re praying for you.”

          4. Artemesia*

            She is insensitive but since the OP has a toddler she assumes having kids is something she wants to do and hasn’t imagined that some people are ‘one and done’ or didn’t really plan on it in the first place, or have secondary infertility or have other reasons for not having more kids. She is not being kind but she thinks she is. So the OP needs to firmly let her know without being snarky or mean because they SHARE AN OFFICE. Even if she were not generally kind, it is a delicate situation. The OP needs to be clear that she doesn’t want to talk about this at all or hear about it without putting down her insensitive conventional office mate.

      2. RUKidding*

        How many times have we heard/read “he’s great most of the time except when I maje him hit me. He explained that my family doesent understand our love so he said I shouldnt talk to them anymore. Plus my friend are trying to poison ne against him so I cut them off too. He’s such a great guy, he’s smart and so nice and kind?”

        1. Just Employed Here*

          The OP is not in a possibly abusive personal relationship with Mary, they just share an office.

          So the stakes in the whole “is she actually kind or is she manipulative or something else” question is nowhere near as high as if this did involve a relationship. Which makes that question much less relevant.

          1. RUKiddingMe*


            Apologies to everyone I offended. I was trying to show that “X is nice” doesn’t always paint an accurate picture of their true character.

            I failed. I offended people which was completely not my intention…I take DV *very* seriously, but nevertheless I did. Again, my apologies.

        2. neeko*

          You are going to hurt yourself with that reach. The comparison is way out of left field and isn’t helpful to the OP at all. We are asked to take the OP at their word and there is absolutely nothing in the letter to suggest that anything nefarious is going on.

        3. Crivens!*

          Oof. Please don’t make this comparison. It’s offensive. (someone who has actually been in an abusive relationship here)

      3. Asenath*

        I see “X is kind” as a recognition that everybody has more than one facet to their personality, and the kindest person in the world has some situations in which she is not kind.

          1. PhyllisB*

            I have worked with kind busybodies before. I have shared the story of a co-worker wanting to see my baby bump…after I had a miscarriage. I was a bit snarky to her, but in retrospect, I realized she had no way of knowing. I had been off work for two weeks, but the way we worked (phone company, long distance operators) it wasn’t unusual to not see someone for two weeks. I understand LW doesn’t want to get into details, but I don’t understand why she doesn’t say something along the lines of, “we are happy with our family size, and I would appreciate you not bringing this up again.” Then, if she does, get a bit more frosty about it. You can be direct and shut things down without disclosing personal information.

            1. TootsNYC*

              we are happy with our family size,

              I personally would go with, “I don’t want to have another baby, Mary.”

              1. Mari*

                Yeah. If she’s to the point of praying for another baby for someone else, who knows but she might be one of those “family size is in God’s hands” people. [shudder]

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              Being able to be direct and shut things down without disclosing is an actual, learnable skill, and maybe OP doesn’t have it fine tuned yet. I’ve learned a lot from reading the scripts here and at Cap Awkward.

        1. username*

          No, we all know from the Gift of Fear that any breach of etiquette or norms is a giant red flag indicating that Mary is probably planning to steal the new baby and raise it as her own.

              1. Crivens!*

                Okay? Obviously many people HAVE found it very helpful, especially many women. It probably saved me from a very dangerous person at least once, personally. The fact remains that painting a complex book as hysteria is inaccurate and probably damaging. Anyone who ever actually read it would not conclude that any breach of social etiquette= dangerous person.

                1. Middle School Teacher*

                  That’s great you found it helpful, and obviously you were in that situation. The problem is too many people here trot it out for the smallest provocation. Personally I also enjoyed username’s comment.

                2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  I see far more jokes (like username’s) than I do sincere suggestions about the book. I don’t know why Gift of Fear-hating has taken over the internet, but it’s a joke well past its prime. (Much like hating Comic Sans. It’s performative, unhelpful, and uninteresting.)

                3. Lissa*

                  I didn’t realize that making jokes about the book was common! The only anti-GoF stuff I hear tends to be around the domestic violence chapter – other than that I hear people complaining about how it gets applied in ways that the book doesn’t even support, like “this person made a mean comment to me once, RED FLAG” which definitely happens, but that’s the nature of the internet

                  It’s funny because before I read the book I thought it would be fear-mongering but it’s actually the opposite. But, “trust your instincts” and all that *should* mean we take the LW’s word that Mary is generally a kind person, not assume everything questionable is automatically a threat. The chapter on determining which threats were legit and which weren’t is kinda the opposite of how I often see the book used in discussions online.

            1. Snark*

              It’s useful. Just not in contexts like this, where applying models of abusive relationships is at best not helpful and at worst offensive and deeply off base.

        2. PB*

          Exactly, and the letter writer isn’t going to explain everything about Mary’s personality to us, or enumerate all the ways that she’s kind.

        3. ThursdaysGeek*

          This is exactly true – As Solzhenitsyn so eloquently puts it: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

      4. Arctic*

        I think we should trust people to be smart and capable enough to know people in their lives. And it’s incredibly condescending and rude to just say “oh, no, you’re just saying that. I, a stranger on the internet, know far better than you.”

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Nah… obviously the internet strangers are the experts /s

          To the OP, because wow did these comments take a turn!

          Telling someone that a topic is off limits is not rude, it can be done without damaging an otherwise good relationship with someone. You just need to be clear and firm.

    2. Labradoodle Daddy*

      I think a lot of motivation behind those kinds of comments are trying to dispel the notion that nice = good (at least I’m hoping…)

    3. Mrs_helm*

      Thank you! I was also wondered ng where that came from. Certainly the quantity (daily) is a little much to take. But otherwise…well, OP hasn’t told her she is NOT interested in more children, or that she has issues around that, or even asked her not to bring it up. It’s super common for women to bond over child-related things. And praying for someone is a supportive act, y’all, not an attack. (As long as I she doesn’t force you to pray with her.) Sheesh. If OP goes straight to “don’t discuss my reproductive choices” the formality of that language is going to come across very hostile, in what has otherwise been a kind relationship. (According to OP!)

      OP needs to address this at the level it comes from before she escalates it. “That’s very kind, but we’ve decided we’re not, and I’d rather not discuss it further.” And then give her something else to talk about on a personal level -hobbies, books, anything to substitute for this discussion.

    1. Fried Eggs*

      This must have been a (shockingly risky) way of testing the waters to see what he could get away with.

      1. Sapphire*

        It’s also pretty telling that he did this to a new manager. I’m willing to bet he wouldn’t try this with a manager who had 10 years of experience.

        1. OP#1*

          I think age has something to do with it for sure, though his previous manager was still in the office when I started (in a promoted roll) and when I told him and my new boss what Fergus had said, both just sorta smiled. His behavior and comment wasn’t shocking. There was a lot of “Fergus will be Fergus.”

          1. M&M's fix lots of Problems*

            I was wondering if you had talked to Fergus’ former manager about his “authority issues.” I’ve worked with a Fergus in the past – she didn’t like me and it was mutual. I just did my best to stay out of her orbit, but when I wouldn’t do something she wanted me to do (that I knew would have gotten me in trouble big time) I requested “clarification” with the boss and the head of the dept that would have also been involved copied on the email. I knew it would get her busted, but what she wanted me to do would have gotten me fired at a minimum. . . . .I gambled that her anger at the situation would be the least of two evils. She took a different job three weeks later, only one person was sad to see her leave.

      2. embertine*

        Well it worked; LW tailored her interactions to him rather than expecting him to tailor his to her new level of authority. No shade to LW, it is very difficult to set boundaries with people who abuse the social contract. But Fergus does this crap precisely because it is effective.

        1. OP#1*

          Absolutely. The dilemma in my head at the time was this: I knew NOTHING about what Fergus did. And neither did anyone else. My job description includes being an expert in all the things my team does. I was hired because of related experience. I was coming from Teapot Handles and this team does Teapot Spouts. I mistakenly thought that if I didn’t flex my authority, Fergus would be more open to sharing his knowledge on teapot spouts and how they attach to the pot. And I thought it worked for a time. I’ve since been around long enough to see the pattern is Fergus gives just enough information to appease and make it seem like he’s sharing but not enough to truly understand the issue.

          Fergus also loves to claim to be an expert and to not be an expert and just a button pusher depending on what he wants.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            There’s something familiar about this pattern, especially his announcement that he has a problem with authority. I think it’s a dominance pattern? He wants to dominate and get his way regardless of his position or your position, and his focus is on finding ways to do that. Announcing he won’t be dominated, then passive-aggressive ways to avoid complete sharing – he seems focused on controlling…

            1. OP#1*

              Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Fergus’ personal life and relationships are strained and filled with tragedy. I often think how awful it must be to want control so badly in your life that you choose to exert it this way at work.

          2. Observer*

            So, how have you changed your style to manage him better? Or is that something you are just beginning to navigate now?

            Lots of luck with this guy. He sounds like a winner.

            1. OP#1*

              1. I ask myself what I need and act/request accordingly instead of asking ‘what’s the best way to get Fergus to do what I need?’ because, and it took me 5 years to realize this, trying to cater to him was not working.
              2. I picked up on his pattern of popping in to my office immediately after I send an email he doesn’t like or after he sends an email he knows he shouldn’t have sent. He would try to negotiate or do damage control. So now I send emails to him at times I won’t be available to him in this way. If that’s unavoidable, I indicate it isn’t a good time and give a time later when I am prepared to discuss.
              3. I document EVERYTHING. It takes forever. It makes me feel icky. It takes away my time for other things. But I’ve got to do it in order to have any chance.
              4. I started meeting with him more frequently than I meet with others so I have dedicated time to address expectations.
              5. I focus on maintaining detachment from him and I read the definition of ‘gaslighting’ to remember that I’m not crazy.
              6. I’ve gotten to know more people in my office and I enjoy those coworkers. They help keep it light and they validate when I need it that his behavior is absurd.

              1. Jadelyn*

                This all sounds like a really strong strategy! Have you looped in your own manager on this whole thing? They might also be able to help support you.

              2. BethDH*

                This is a really helpful list and I’m saving it for my own Fergus-lite types. I especially need to work on that first item!

              3. Observer*

                This sounds like a good strategy.I hope you can turn this around. But if not, at least you won’t go nuts and hopefully you’ll be able to get rid of him.

          3. Artemesia*

            I once consulted in a dysfunctional office where Fergus controlled all of the information around data management which was a big central part of the mission of that department. The first thing I did was make sure his manager was trained in the data management process used in the office and we began to look at changing/upgrading that process (it was long ago and it was a house built junky system Fergus had helped create — we moved to a much better professional programs and new computer equipment to manage it). It was critical to not let a dysfunctional employee hold everyone hostage to his knowledge. And he also made people think it was much more complicated than it is as a way to make everyone kowtow to him. I have told this before, but he presented me with ‘well you can’t expect (names of staff) to handle this; it is complex boolean logic’. to which I laughed and said ‘you mean “and” and “or”?’ He was taken aback that anyone could see through the BS. At any rate, we trained the director and then cross trained the staff so he no longer could block progress or demand authority. If you don’t know what Fergus does and no one else can do it — finding out how and making sure others are cross trained is Job 1.

      3. wittyrepartee*

        I feel like a useful response would have been a giant shark grin and “well this will be fun”.

        1. OP#1*

          In general I’m a person who comes up with the right thing to say many days later and ‘well this will be fun’ was on my short list of things I wish I had said.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          “Well, if you ever find that job with no authority figures, let me know. I’d be interested also. Meanwhile, we both work here and we if want a paycheck we have to follow our leadership. My boss holds me accountable for holding you and all the others in our group accountable. It’s really not avoidable.”

          Some people have a knack for making life/work unnecessarily hard.

    2. Jenny*

      I kind if see it as part of someone who has this very defined self image of themselves that is often toxic. Like people who pick fights with others and insist they are just passionate. One of those “I am a jerk but let me couch it as if I am some kind of rebel” things.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        This is where my thoughts landed. It’s something he’s been told all his life and he’s absorbed it as his identity. He has learned (subconsciously? unconsciously?) to use it and it’s become an advantage. He announces it at the beginning and every subsequent interaction is filtered through that.
        Manager: “Fergus, you will be point person on this.”
        Fergus: “We’ll see.”/Eye roll
        Manager: REACTS TO THIS

      2. OP#1*

        In a recent meeting with others above me, because this situation has escalated recently, he was asked if he had a problem with authority. He said “no.”

        I think Fergus views himself as part of the old guard and has seen and done all the things in the office. In his mind, he does a great job and so there is no reason for him to have to report to anyone.

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Or people who say they are “honest” but are just really rude. They take a bad trait about themselves and turn it into a ‘good’ quality. Drives me nuts.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I have NEVER, not once, met a person who made how “straightforward” or “honest” or “just a truth-teller/straight-shooter” they were a central part of their personality… who wasn’t actually just a huge a-hole. Not once.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            My husband holds ‘honest’ as a central part of his personality, and is not an a-hole. He keeps me grounded and I can always trust what he says. He is known in our social group for being honest and clear – if a woman asks about a phone recommendation, or a guy asks about whether there’s too much tarragon in his baked whitefish, they can trust that Mr. Jules will say what he thinks.

            He doesn’t use ‘truth-teller / straight-shooter’, he doesn’t *talk* about being honest much, and he sticks with things he actually knows about, maybe that’s the difference?

            1. Anna*

              Therein lies the difference. Those of us who know honest people or are honest people don’t tend to tell people about it and they certainly don’t use “honesty” as an excuse to say crappy things or be a crappy human.

            2. Parenthetically*

              They key difference in my mind is whether they talk/brag about it or not. “Hey, hey, I’m just an honest person, sorry you got your feelings hurt by my Bold Truth-Telling, I’m just a Bold Truth-Teller, sorry you Weak Losers can’t take my Bold Truth-Telling” is really different than having truthfulness or transparency as a personal moral value.

          2. Jadelyn*

            I’ve seen it said that people who claim to be “brutally honest” are generally more interested in the “brutality” part than the “honesty” part.

          3. Artemesia*

            I worked my way into a high level job precisely because I was the straight shooter who told the boss like it is after a disaster that came because higher ups had lied to him (he was new) and I thought the info was bogus but he seemed so sure and so didn’t say anything; I thought I might be wrong. When it went sideways, I sat down with him and filled him in on the history of the organization before he was hired; after that he always went to me for the ‘cut through the nonsense’ response. I don’t think I am an A-hole although probably from time to time I play one.

            1. Parenthetically*

              Yeah, that’s really different, IMO. I’m specifically thinking about the person who talks a LOT about how honest they are, as a brag.

        2. OP#1*

          Yes, in Fergus’ mind, he is direct. In reality, he is often curt. When I’ve tried to address that, Fergus cites all the other people who appreciate his direct style. The issue is they are also curt. But he doesn’t mind it.

          1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

            “And you point is…My mother thinks I’m a great singer, that’s not going to get me onto the stage at the Grammy Awards. What you need to know is your blunt reactions to my requests are unnecessary, unhelpful and unwanted. When I ask you to do something, I need you to do it. If you have a pertinent question, I will answer it. If you are simply going to ask me why you should do it or why you should do it the way I asked, you should know it’s because I’ve decided to.”

          2. Close Bracket*

            Fergus cites all the other people who appreciate his direct style. The issue is they are also curt. But he doesn’t mind it.

            Just let that one go. I am sure that on top of everything else that is a problem, his directness/curtness must rankle. However, as evidenced by all the other curt people who don’t have a problem with it, this is just a stylistic difference. He’s not singling you out for it–that is, he treats everyone the same way. Even with employees who have control issues and challenge authority, sometimes a difference in personal style is just a difference in personal style. Maybe look up “functional versus relationship building” communication styles. Then let it go. Focus on the information trickling and general weaseliness.

    3. Liane*

      I’m trying to imagine Fergus telling my late mother-in-law this, and how his tenure as her report would have gone, and shuddering a bit. Very softspoken woman, and not a loon who pulled bats**t stunts like you read about here. But she didn’t tolerate that kind of attitude in her reports (or her family) and she would put in the hard work of firing a Fed employee when they needed to go.

    4. Not Today Satan*

      It could have been that she was trying to share a weakness she had–like instead of, “sometimes I’m not great with deadlines” as something your manager should be aware of, she said, “I have some issues with authority.” Or maybe it was an awkward way of saying she doesn’t like to be micromanaged.

      Either way, i’s definitely a comment that should have been parsed out more at the time.

    5. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      You’d be surprised. I once took over a new group (actually was a brand new manager at the time) and one of my new employees in our first meeting told me “Your predecessor and I had an arrangement… I don’t report directly to my Supervisor Sam, I went straight to Sally (the former manager). Sam and I don’t really get along.”

      I was honestly shocked… I couldn’t figure out if she was being truthful or just testing me to see what she could get away with. Either way the setup sounded stupid to me. Why would a manager allow an employee to bypass their immediate supervisor? No matter the reason it just set everyone up for drama, confusion, and hard feelings.

      My response: “Hmm… well that was certainly an interesting way to organize things, but we won’t be working that way. Sam is your supervisor and I expect him to give you direction as needed and for you to follow it.”

      Found out that there really was some truth to what she said and that she didn’t functionally report to Sam, instead went straight to Sally. I’d love to tell you that it all worked out in the end, but the employee quit within 6 months of me being there. Mostly because I enforced the chain of command and came down on the petty sabotage. Don’t get me wrong… Sam wasn’t the greatest supervisor, but middle of the road and mostly effective, nothing that warranted the end around from the employee.

    6. ISuckAtUserNames*

      Fergus knows how hard it is to get fired and knows exactly what he can get away with and he’s taking full advantage.

    7. Statler von Waldorf*

      I’ve told almost all of mine. It’s my standard response when asked what my biggest weakness is. It’s not a power play in my case, it’s self-selecting against a manager who considers that a deal-breaker. I’ve found that it’s better to get it out in the open right from the beginning than wait from them to figure it out.

      1. ThinMint*

        Presuming your boss didn’t ask you first thing what your weakness is, you didn’t lead with this right? I think that’s the difference in this case with op1.

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          No, I’d actually lead with that if I had a new manager come in. I could totally be the guy in that letter.

          You see, I’m both a Satanist and an Anarchist. Thus, I question all authority religiously. It’s not so good for long term employment, to be honest. You tend to get fired a lot, and it’s hard to keep references.

          1. Electric Sheep*

            Perhaps it’s time to explore getting a job where you have no manager, given that you have found reporting to someone else doesn’t work for you.

    8. Anon this time*

      You’d be surprised. I had an employee once who wasn’t quite this direct about it, but after a few months, she did basically say this to me. After telling me a story about helping her child subvert a rule at primary school that they both felt was a stupid rule, she wrapped it up by basically explaining that she doesn’t like authority or following rules or procedures or processes unless she fully agrees with them. I had the chance to ask some follow-up questions, in the context of this non-work anecdote, and it explained SO MUCH about her behavior. It helped me deal with her when we had conflict in the future because I understood the why behind her reactions, and I could be clear about the unmovable boundaries and consequences.

      As shocked as I was in the moment, it was actually really helpful to know. I think Alison’s advice was spot-on that ideally it would be good to draw out what he meant up front.

    9. Not So NewReader*

      Some people tell us upfront what they are going to do. Since we don’t see this often it can really catch us off guard.

      OP, the one comfort here is I bet this one is never going to get by you again.
      And I’d like to add, that bosses who have worked with people like this can become stronger leaders and more articulate leaders.(Ever wonder how Alison got to be the way she is? It’s the difficult people/difficult situations that grow us.) In the long run, you will keep the tools that this guy has forced you to develop. And probably it will be a long time before you have someone this difficult.

  2. Approval is optional*

    What is it with some people and their inappropriate pregnancy discussions?
    I wouldn’t tell Mary I wasn’t planning to have more children. Given her incredible behaviour around this issue, I can see the subject shifting from ‘when’, to ‘why not’, and offers to petition God (I didn’t know that was a thing) to help resolve any problems (even if you don’t mention it’s because of a ‘problem’).
    I’d go straight to AAM’s second script – shut her down without mentioning your plans. If it were me the ‘I appreciate your kindness’, would be said through gritted teeth, but you sound like you’re a nicer person than I am . :)

    1. The Conversation Killer*

      The nuclear option here is “if that happened, I’d need to terminate the pregnancy”, but this is not recommended for anybody who needs to maintain a working relationship with Mary.

        1. Marzipan*

          Yeah, I think saying that to Mary would most likely be a nuclear option but perhaps not in a helpful way.

      1. VictorianCowgirl*

        It’s a shockingly arrogant and unseemly phrase, to think that a person could force their god’s hand, which is usually what a petition is trying to do, to force a change, versus a request or prayer. I’ve not heard this phrase before reading this AAM.

        In a work context, that would be too much religious talk for me.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Using “petition” to mean a prayer request made to God is really common across Christianity, fyi. It’s frequently used in The Book of Common Prayer and many other liturgical books as a functional synonym for “request” or “cry for help” or just “prayer.”

          It’s absolutely inappropriate for OP’s coworker to talk like this, though.

    2. Jasnah*

      I wonder if Mary has baby fever–she enjoys that stage of parenthood and her kids are too old/too young to have their own, or she sees children as a blessing no matter the circumstances so why not have AMAP–and this is her way of wishing you happiness. I have experienced similar pressure–“It would make me so happy to know that you are as happy as I am/was.”

      I think you should absolutely shut this conversation down, but maybe you can auto-translate all baby-related comments as “I wish you every happiness” or “I hope you enjoy your child’s babyhood to the fullest” and maybe it would help you ward off frustration, since you otherwise get along with Mary and know she means well, in her own way.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        I feel bad for Mary’s kids – the pressure for a never ending stream of grandbabies is never going to end.

    3. MJ*

      “Mary, I appreciate your kindness…”

      I don’t see any kindness here, and it’s certainly not coming from a position of kindness. It’s what SHE wants, and is exceedingly personal and pushy. What happens in another colleague’s uterus is NO ONE else’s business.

      “Well Mary, it’s never going to happen. But if you find yourself expecting, I’ll be more than happy for you and ready to organizing a work shower for you.”

      1. Marthooh*

        Right. I get that Mary is a kind person in general, but OP should not give her the idea that constantly talking about pregnancy is a kind thing to do. Just tell her she’s being intrusive.

    4. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      A surprising number of people seem to think this kind of talk is appropriate. When I told coworkers I was getting married (I’m a fairly private person at work, so this was in the context of “I’m taking time off because I’m going to a wedding. My wedding, specifically.”) one person felt the need to ask “So when are you having kids???” I gave a vague non-answer, along the lines of “Haha, kids sound like a lot of work!! Haven’t decided yet!!” he then started trying to *persuade* me. Like “Oh, you have at least have one!” Alrighty then, guy I’ve known two weeks…
      (That workplace was dysfunctional in a myriad of ways, but the boss allowing/encouraging this kind of prying as ~team bonding~ really takes the cake…)

      1. Jenny*

        I married on the younger side (early 20s) but didn’t have kids until I turned 30. So I got a lot of comments (not from close friends/family but ancillary acquaintances). Some people assumed we must have fertility issues and I got weird tips. It was frustrating. Any engagement did make it worse though. Pushy people push through detail, changing the subject sadly worked the best.

    5. Dust Bunny*


      I would finally snap and tell Mary the truth (in my case): That I cannot have children and that her needling is *incredibly* hurtful. Followed by a stare-down so I didn’t miss a moment of her reaction.

      And if she ever brought it up again the gloves would be off: No more gentle responses.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        I would not reveal the full truth to this person – but let her know she is hurting me. “Mary – I do not want to discuss family planning at work, and it is very distressing to me every time you bring it up. Please stop.” Then the next time she tries “Mary – I’ve told you that it is upsetting to me when you bring this up, why would you keep doing that?”.

      2. Joielle*

        Yeah, I feel like the OP should try using Alison’s excellent script once or twice, but if the needling continues I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting OP’s distress show. Personally, I don’t think I’d be able to avoid it. If Mary really is a nice person, she’ll at least drop it when she knows she’s hurting OP.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Totally agree, do not give Mary more info to work with.

      Since OP has not asked her to stop at all, I think OP needs to start there. If Mary is overall a nice person then Mary will realize that being told to stop is because she has said something that is Not Good. And she should stop.

      OP, the rule of three. If we see something three times we have a pattern. If we have a pattern then it is okay to address it in some manner. I am a fan of coming in on the same level as the other party. In your setting, that means since Mary is nice, then you can go ahead and politely say that you will not be discussing expanding your parenthood with her any more.
      If the subject comes up again, then you make a big stronger statement.
      Third time is stronger than second time and so on.

      I have had good luck with saying, “That’s really not cool.” Something about that sentence that seems to catch some people. “Mary, I asked that we stop talking about my pregnancies. Now I am asking again. Talking about my pregnancies is really not cool. We can find other things to talk about.”

  3. Anon for this*

    I really wish someone who doesn’t have fertility problems would tell the Mary’s of this world to cut it out.

    Kind person: Mary, do you often ask people when they’re going to have a baby?
    Mary: Yep!
    Person: You do realise 1 couple in 10 has fertility problems, right? That’ll include some of the people you talk to, and they’ll find your questions agony. Please stop doing that to them.
    Mary: Oh, but surely they’d tell me if that was the case.
    Person: A lot of people keep infertility private, so nope. Please stop it.

    As a childless-not-by-choice person, I can’t do this, because Mary would be “Oh no, do you have fertility problems?” and I just couldn’t. But I’d love it if other people would.

    1. Â*

      Mary: Oh no!!! Do you have fertility problems?

      Me: Why yes, in fact, I do. My fertility problem is you asking about it. Stop mentioning it; problem solved.

    2. Jasnah*

      That’s also not the only reason to stop asking people about having babies! It can feel like pressure to people who want to have kids but haven’t found the partner yet, or have the partner but aren’t ready to have a baby yet. It’s even weird if you ask someone who is actively trying! Why do you care so much about my sex life, Mary??

      1. Tyche*

        I’m tempted to reply something like “I’m petitioning to God to stop your inappropriate inquiries about my reproductive habits”

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Or just start going into graphic (fake) details about your efforts to get pregnant.

          “Well, we’ve been trying this one crazy position from the Kama Sutra. It really hurts my neck, but apparently it has a 90% success rate for people trying to conceive.” And then every time that person even sort of brings up the subject, very deliberately stretch your neck and wince or rub it.

          (probably don’t do this)

          1. PhyllisB*

            I did a version of this to one lady who would. not. stop. asking me when I was having a little brother or sister for my older child. Not quite as graphic, but enough for her to gulp, “well, I didn’t ask for so much detail.” She never brought it up again.

            1. AKchic*

              I love going into graphic detail when little old biddies in the store would ask me “you know what causes that, right?!” when looking down their noses at me and my kids (I had four kids under 10, three of them were within 4 years of each other). The scandalized looks I got were priceless. A few husbands were downright gleeful to see their judgmental wives getting a bit of comeuppance.

      2. LavaLamp*

        I can’t have kids and am a snarky person about it cuz the contents of my uterus really aren’t random peoples business. People only ask me about it once; and my default response is ‘actually I can’t have kids’. They turn an uncomfortable crimson and drop it.

        1. Ginger ale for all*

          I said that once because I can’t have children either and the guy who asked was so embarrassed so I resorted to try and never say it again. I wasn’t trying to be snarky, just truthful. I felt bad about his reaction but a child free lifestyle is working out well for me, I am well suited to it and am happy. I can’t quite figure out why some people think that it is an awful thing or that I should be pitied. It happens to many people, some are upset with it and others are not.

          1. ssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

            I have a lot of empathy for those who have clearly told me that they hoped to have children, but for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. They’ve made peace with it (or publicly they appear to have made peace) and instead are the best auntie ever.

            I also have known people who clearly didn’t want children, clearly said so, and I supported that decision too. They are far from pitiable. Because, every child should be a wanted child.

                1. Jennifer Juniper*

                  I apologize for hurting and upsetting you. Thank you for having the kindness to call me out on it. I appreciate the opportunity to correct my behavior and be more mindful in the future.

          2. Blue*

            I don’t think you should feel bad. The question was inappropriate, and, with any luck, he may’ve felt badly enough that he resolved to never ask such a question again. You likely saved some other people some grief!

          3. Beatrice*

            I have one child, and I don’t want more, but I had two miscarriages after my son was born. If someone gets super pushy about me having more kids, I’m absolutely able to get choked up and tell them we decided against it after losing two. Shuts ‘em right up, and probably keeps them from doing the same thing to someone else.

            1. BetsyTacy*

              I’m sorry, that sucks. Yes, I desperately would like more children but medical complications following birth make it an absolute impossibility. I have had a Mary.

              I usually respond with a simple: “It’s not in the cards for us.” or the classic “Why stop when you’ve hit perfection on the first shot?” If that doesn’t work I go with a long pause and, “Are my private decisions something that is important to you?”

              But I honestly have done the world the gift of flat out telling people the truth. They get incredibly embarrassed and apologetic and I make a point of saying, ‘And THAT is why you should never, ever make assumptions about someone.

            2. Aggretsuko*

              Your post is reminding me of my shrink saying that the only thing that shut people up about nagging her to catch a man was to run away crying.

              I actually think that the OP needs to straight up say something like “If I have another baby it will kill me. Do you want to pray for me to die?” Which is extreme, awful, TMI, more than she wants to disclose, etc. However, Mary is not taking polite hints and I really, really think she isn’t going to take any of the polite things discussed for an answer. I think that only dropping a big ol’ anvil on Mary’s hopes will stop this track. Mentioning that having another baby has already been tried and was nearly fatal, or however you want to phrase it, is probably the only thing that will stop her because some folks don’t want their hopes crushed for anything.

              1. AKchic*

                I actually agree with you that shocking Mary is the best way to go. LW may not want to give Mary personal details about her health or life, though. You can’t hide a full-term pregnancy, which is probably why Mary knows about the first child. She knows nothing of the rest of the issues. LW does not appear to want Mary to know about any of it. I trust LW’s judgement in not wanting Mary to have that information.

                However, saying something, anything, in order to shock Mary into stopping would be appropriate.

              2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

                I’m also sort of concerned that, given Mary’s “I’m praying for you to have another baby” perspective, saying something like “I can’t have kids,” or “If I have another baby it’ll kill me,” will just lead Mary to “pray for a miracle!”

              3. Not So NewReader*

                Many times my go-to is “Our society has changed and actually, that’s not cool to talk about with people any more. It used to be a fairly common conversation but the problem was that many people ended up being upset or hurt. I don’t think that was where you were going with that, but unfortunately that is the impact people can have when they talk about such a private matter. Your best bet is to just talk about other things.”

          4. Dust Bunny*

            I would not feel bad at all for that. People need to stop asking. Let them squirm, and I hope prevents them from asking anyone else later on.

          5. Michaela Westen*

            It’s the cultural pressure, it’s never-ending.
            You have two dates with someone: “when are you getting married?”
            You get married and instantly: “when are you having a kid? You have to have a kid! Married and childless is Not Allowed!”
            After your first kid (hopefully because you wanted one and not because of this pressure): “when are you having another kid?”
            And so on… :p

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Don’t forget:
              When are you getting a house?
              What school is Junior going to?
              When are you getting promoted at work?

              It’s a moving target, I tell ya. Why can’t people just accept others as they are right now, in this moment???

              1. Michaela Westen*

                And let us live our lives the way we want/need to! Not everyone is suited to the suburban house and picket fence.
                So much fun for children whose parents had them for the wrong reasons, growing up in an unfriendly car-dependent suburb, with miserable parents who work all the time to make ends meet.
                The American Dream! /s

        2. Blackcat*

          I have found great success specifically using the phrase “the contents of my uterus.”

          Why are you asking about the contents of my uterus? That’s weird.
          It’s weird you care so much about the contents of my uterus.
          The contents of my uterus are between my doctor, my uterus, and myself.

          It’s a good phrase.

          1. VictorianCowgirl*

            It is a good and quite visual phrase. I’m also childless-not-by-choice and when I subjected myself to the horror of office life (I now work from home for myself, thank the dark gods), would get the old “what are you doing this weekend? Oh, you don’t have kids, so anything you want I guess!” which was so so painful to hear after our 4th miscarriage. There really should be a universal office rule that this subject is as off-limits as sex. The way childless women are treated in the office is shameful. It’s a very intimate question and I don’t believe I ever even asked my sisters their plans.

    3. Electric Sheep*

      People can also have other health issues that make children a bad idea/ not possible, even if they have no reproductive specific medical issues. Just in general, if people volunteer reproductive information without being prompted, respond appropriately, otherwise stay out of it.

    4. Kit Kat*

      You don’t need to be a person without fertility problems. You don’t answer questions like that from someone if you’re trying to instigate and model good boundaries.

      1. gecko*

        Not necessarily! Good boundaries means that you know your own lines in the sand and you respect other people’s when you find them out. Some people would be totally ok making small talk about their kids and their family plans–“Oh, I’ve always wanted six kids ever since my little sister was born!”–and neither talking nor hearing about that would be violating their boundaries. That’s probably the type of conversation Mary is expecting, is used to, and is comfortable with.

        She doesn’t seem to be picking up on any social signals that OP is done with the conversation–but OP also hasn’t explicitly said anything about it, and I’m guessing they’re doing some nod-and-smiling when the topic comes up.

        Instigating and modeling good boundaries isn’t slamming the portcullis down the instant anyone asks a personal question, in case other people might find it violating. Instigating and modeling good boundaries is, asking verbally/nonverbally if someone wants to talk about this personal thing & paying attention to the answer, and making it clear on your own end what’s ok and not ok to talk about.

    5. embertine*

      I’m childless by choice and I take great glee in telling rude people to butt the **** out of other people’s child-having, precisely because it doesn’t hurt me and I know it hurts those who would like children but cannot have them. If I can make one more nosey parker think twice before telling a person struggling with infertility that they need to have aaalllll the babies, my mission will have been worth it.

    6. Managing*

      Pedantic, but it’s actually 1 in 8! And the frequency gets even larger for the number of couples who’ve experienced a loss. I use the numbers to illustrate to people how easily they could hurt someone

    7. Kelly AF*

      I read a great reply to questions like “so when are you having (more) kids??” in Carolyn Hax.

      “I have one friend who would look the other person right in the eye and say, in an extremely kind tone of voice, ‘You never know when you’re going to cause someone tremendous pain by asking that.'”

      1. Joielle*

        This is PERFECT. Husband and I are on the fence about kids now but leaning towards not having them, and I’m saving that for future reference.

    8. irene adler*

      I dunno, maybe I wasn’t raised right, but when anyone asks about any topic that isn’t really their business, politeness tends to go out the window. Guess I’m just out of patience these days.

      “[insert nosy question]”
      My response: “And you need to know this because-?”
      Then dummy up and let them answer. Meanwhile, I’m not gonna spill. Not their business.

    9. TootsNYC*

      Some of us do!

      My parents do; I do sometimes.

      Maybe it works for that one person, but sometimes I think it doesn’t.

    10. Michaela Westen*

      Over the past 35 years I’ve gotten good at avoiding people like Mary, but if I ever get the opportunity, I will!
      I have friends of all ages, many are childless-by-choice couples, and none would ever ask such personal questions unless it was indicated by previous interaction. People who are respectful and polite are out there! :)

    11. Treecat*

      I am childless by choice with no known fertility issues and I do, 100%, push back against the Marys of the world. It horrifies me that anyone thinks it’s appropriate to try to encourage or convince other people to make certain reproductive choices.

      Sending you good thoughts. I’m sorry about your fertility problems.

  4. Grand Mouse*

    #2- Even just reading about it, Mary is making me wicked uncomfortable. People always do this to women, not to the men that would be the parent too. It’s so invasive and sexist.

    (People criticized my mom’s choice to have me so everyone’s gotta have an opinion on what a mother does, and it’s none of their business)

      1. Lena Clare*

        So true! It’s completely a socially sanctioned sexist thing. Women’s bodies are not their own. Perhaps Mary being religious couple with the fact OP just had one child compound the idea that it’s A-OK to go ahead and talk about.
        And pray about! Good grief.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My husband did get questions about why we weren’t having kids! At a point where we’d been trying for 2 years already and were talking with doctors about IVF.
      He was no more comfortable with the questions than I was.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Ps on second thought he might have been MORE uncomfortable because the guys in his office were epic-level tactless. “Is it you or her?”
        If I remember right, he says he mumbled something about the doctors aren’t saying yet.

        1. Kelly AF*

          I am so, so sarcastic that I probably would have blurted out something like “it’s so weird, but the doctors actually said that YOU were the problem! I don’t even understand how that happens — I think their write-up of the situation is going to be in the New England Journal of Medicine!”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The comment about praying slays me.
      It’s pretty well recognized among praying people that a person can pray all they want and sometimes they get an answer and sometimes they don’t. Mary would do well to put her prayer energy into the hopes and wishes of people who are actually asking for prayers. I have also seen people ask, “How best do I pray for you and your concerns?” I like that one because there are no presumptions going on there. But to randomly decide that a person wants a child/dog/house/whatever and not even know their thoughts on that is bizarre.

  5. Â*

    Daily stand ups are A Thing in some industries. It usually involves a team of about 10 (+/-) people sharing yesterday’s wins, today’s plans, and anything they might need from the team. It’s a quick accountability and communication tool meant to take no more than 10-15 mins (which is why they’re called “stand ups,” cuz there’s not even time to sit down before they’re over.)

    Sounds like the CEO caught wind of this (otherwise brilliant and very effective) idea and decided it was worth fully 25% of the company’s resources to implement. TWO HOURS DAILY?? Where is my eye roll emoji?!?!? I can’t even.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Alternately, I would have a weekly 30 minute staff meeting with my reports where we’d talk about news, accomplishments, and sticky problems.
      Two hours is ridiculous for normal meetings.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          No. Structured short meetings are a necessary tool. Not everyone reads shared documents. Especially if it’s a page long. It also is effective at keeping the office readily engaging with one another.

          1. SusanIvanova*

            When only one person is talking in a room of 20-30 people, those people are not engaging with each other.

          1. Just Elle*

            Agreed. I personally hate all of these new ‘social communication’ tools. It takes so much more time to communicate in them than it does to just have a short meeting. And things aren’t lost in translation like they can be over text.

            1. valentine*

              You would rather sit around for two hours of information you may not need than look at a spreadsheet to see if Abeja and Miel are available for your next project and who’s leading Operation Boniface?

        2. Antilles*

          That’s way too strong of a take. Shared documents versus meetings are equivalent to “should I email or call?”. The newer technology solution definitely has benefits and has a valuable place, but due to the limitations, it’s not a full replacement for the old standbys.
          On the plus side, shared docs avoid the meeting issue of having one person monopolizing the conversation – even if Johnny Talkative writes a novel, people can just skim it or (more likely) tl;dr it and skip it entirely. They also tend to be easy to coordinate since people can update their information whenever they have a few spare minutes.
          However, the fact that shared documents don’t have a specific set time like a meeting means that it’s very common to have a few people who never update their stuff. In fact, if your sharing software tracks downloads, you’ll likely find a depressingly large percentage of people never even bother to open the document. There’s also usually a lot more trouble with back-and-forth discussions – you can often accomplish more in five minutes of talking things out than you can in a day’s worth of email discussions.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Oh God, yes. My boss loves to communicate by text and has refused to acknowledge how much harder a back-and-forth about a complex situation is. Though he’s been better lately. Wonder how long it will last.

    2. Japananon*

      Yes, these are very common in Japan, and they’re usually less than 3 minutes long. My old company used to do department-wide announcements (30 seconds or less, sometimes “nothing to report”), subdivision announcements (another 30 seconds or less, or “nothing”), then finally team.

      I don’t know how anyone is supposed to do enough to have free time for other work or update others in 5 hours. Does he imagine breaking the meetings up so that ALL necessary meetings would happen in that 2 hour block, or is it “go around the circle” style??

    3. TechWorker*

      They’re also called standups because you’re meant to literally stand up to encourage no-one talking for too long :)

      1. Antilles*

        True story: At my old company, the best thing that ever happened to our meetings was when a water pipe burst and destroyed our conference room. Suddenly meetings that were unproductive hour-long affairs turned into a brisk and effective 15 minutes tops, because nobody drones on when we’re all standing

    4. Tyche*

      I work for a small company and we have a small briefing every morning: ten minutes to discuss what happened yesterday, if there are problems or sticky situations, what we have to do today. Ten minutes!

    5. T3k*

      Yes, it’s common in companies that use Agile/Scrum/Lean methods. Granted where I worked that did this many still sat down, but still went quick very quickly (2 hours is ridiculous).

      1. EPLawyer*

        that was my thought too. What is it with companies wasting 2 hours of productivity a day every day. That’s money people.

    6. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      I worked in an office that had 1 1/2 hour daily meetings; about 15 minutes of this was actually useful (logistical planning, updates on new hires) and the rest was… well, clearly the boss intended it as ~morale boosting~ and ~team bonding~ (this is the same workplace I mentioned above, where the boss thought it was totally fine & appropriate for a new coworker to try to ~convince me~ that I should have kids), but I just found it draining and frustrating. Over an hour of pep talks, ~training~ (on things we all knew already) and games. Literally games – Family Feud, “Werewolf”, Taboo, etc. If I’d been paid for the time, I probably wouldn’t have cared, but this was a sales role, my pay was straight commission. Plus a weekly Team Night – always in a bar, despite at least one employee being under legal drinking age – which wasn’t, strictly speaking, mandatory – but if you didn’t go, you’d get a lecture the next day about how important it was to be a Team Player.

      1. seller of teapots*

        Oooh, time wasting meetings when you are in sales are an extra level of upsetting! You’re wasting my time *and* cutting into my paycheck in one fell swoop.

      2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Boss: You know Fergus, it’s really important to be a Team Player, I didn’t see you at Team Night last night
        Fergus: The bouncer wouldn’t let me in because I’m underage!
        Boss: If you were a real team player you’d get a fake ID so you wouldn’t miss it.

        Next week:
        Boss: Fergus, what is it with you not being a Team Player, you skipped Team Night again!
        Fergus: The bouncer confiscated my fake ID and threatened to call the police
        Boss: Well, if you were a real team player you would have snuck in the back door.

    7. Just Elle*

      Agreed. I think this is a classic case of ‘manager heard about a great tool and applied it terribly’.

      Agile is a management system originating from software development, and one tool is a daily ‘scrum’ or stand up. The goal is that everyone on the team shares their ‘blockers’ at the beginning of the day, so that everyone is aware if the plan needs to change and also people can get the help they need.
      But that’s it, its like, literally 2 minutes long, and its only among people working on the same deliverable, not across the whole company! There is a weekly ‘scrum of scrums’ where leaders from each team get together to share their blockers. But again, not the whole company for TWO HOURS!

      I’m a big believer in scrums, but I’m also hugely against status meetings. Because chances are while Bob and Sue find one discussion helpful, the other 20 people are sitting around rolling their eyes waiting for it to be over.
      We actually have a specific phrase for this – “lets avoid solutioning in the meeting please.” aka – the only discussion that needs to happen is who is going to get together after the meeting to work on a solution. No solutions are discussed in the meeting, or else it goes from 2 minutes to 2 hours in a jiffy.

    8. Aggretsuko*

      I have these “everyone go around and say what they’re doing” meetings for 2 hours once a week. Mondays at 8 a.m. That sucks badly enough, but every damn day?

      That said, I think my boss is moving away from this in recent weeks because (a) we have actual business to cover and we are not getting to the business when it takes over an hour to cycle though every person’s activities, and (b) we actually had to adjourn yesterday’s meeting early because the meeting room was so cold. So there you go.

      1. Just Elle*

        Wait wait you actually have a boss who’s willing to adjourn a meeting because the room is cold?
        At ToxicJob we had a weekly Monday 3-5pm meeting.
        The room was so cold that people were wearing straight up winter coats in July and bringing in personal space heaters to plug in.
        And the meeting didn’t actually end at 5, it routinely went past 7, and the poor woman who took night classes got scolded for trying to leave at 6:30.

    9. ArtK*

      “Daily standup” comes from the Agile/Scrum area and what the company in question is doing is not being used properly. First off, a standup is usually very fast, 15-30 minutes max. Second, the reason that they call them “standups” is that they are often done standing up! That’s a way to keep the meeting moving. Two hours is ridiculous.

      I have a rubric: The value of a meeting is inversely proportional to either the number of participants, the length, or both.

      1. DenverCoder9*

        I once witnessed a tech consulting company of 100+ people hold a daily stand that took _less than 15 minutes_. My teams of 5-10 normally take less than 5 minutes to do standup. You gotta have someone willing to cut folks off and say, “Sounds like a topic you and Bob should meet after stand about!” (In one gig, this was literally the PM with a 30-second timer.)

      2. Tara R.*

        I think 30 minutes would be ridiculous for a standup. Ours is like 3 minutes max (we have a “one breath” rule, that you’re supposed to only say what you can say in one breath– obviously we don’t really enforce that, but it really is a few quick sentences).

    10. Zombeyonce*

      I really want someone to work up the numbers of what this is costing (the hourly pay of all the people involved) and show the CEO. Surely they care about how much money is being wasted. If they don’t, I’ll be the CFO does.

      1. FabTag*

        65 people meeting for 2 hours is 130 hours of work per day and 650 hours per week. The cost to the organization must be staggering!

  6. OyHiOh*

    I’m so sorry for your loss! I can’t allow off-topic comments here or they take over the comment section (and when I make one exception, the volume of other off-topic posts invariably goes up), but I hope you will repost this on this coming weekend’s open thread. – Alison

  7. NeonFireworks*

    “[Y]ou can’t…value being liked over being effective.”

    I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear this today. I’ve been feeling anxious after saying no to a subordinate this morning. It was the logical and ethical thing to do – the request was out of line – and I was gentle about it but firm. I did exactly what I should have. And I’m very apprehensive about it still. I can say no but I need to learn how to feel okay doing it. I’m always afraid of possibly making enemies. And yet being too nice draws in people who are big problems for me in a myriad of other ways!

    1. GermanGirl*

      Well done saying no, NeonFireworks!

      It might help you to know that the people you say no to might appreciate a reasonable no over a gritted-teeth-yes.

      I for one wouldn’t want to get a gritted-teeth-yes and then think what I’m doing is ok when it really causes problems for the other person or gets on their nerves or whatever. Much better to get a no right away, especially when it comes with kindness and a reason.

        1. SarahKay*

          For what it’s worth, I definitely appreciate an honest no. It give me confidence to ask for other things in the future because now I’m not worrying that I’m walking all over someone who doesn’t like to tell me no.

      1. ScienceTeacher*

        Seconded on the reason- I will go to great lengths or accept a big disappointment when it comes with a good reason. I really appreciate it when people trust me enough and think highly enough of my intelligence and judgement to be honest and transparent about these things, rather than hiding behind their authority.

    2. irene adler*

      If you were my boss, I’d be glad you did what you did. It tells me that you are using good judgment and that no one can ride roughshod over you.

      Course, I’d never let you know I felt this way. **wink!**

    3. OP#1*

      It is so hard, isn’t it? Good for you for doing that!

      I have started doing it to and it’s scary each time still. After it’s over, I’ve tried to stop replaying and reviewing every word spoken and instead I say to myself something like “It is ok to be detached emotionally from the reactions to the situation he is having. This is work and the items I am asking for are reasonable in work setting.”

      And hell, sometimes I just power pose right before the meeting to psych myself up.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I have a few tools in the tool box because saying no really wears on me.
      1) Telling a child, “NO, do not touch the hot stove” is an act of love. The child will cry/yell at their parent. And so it goes, many times we tell people/pets/children no and it is for safety, their own self-preservation and general well-being. They, in return, are Not Happy with us. Protecting people/beings sometimes ticks them off.

      2)In a similar vein when we tell a subordinate NO, we are telling them how to KEEP their job. “This is what the company expects from you.” It’s good to explain why. Not only does the explanation help to prevent variations on the same question, it’s also a teaching moment. Maybe the employee has a reasonable idea if brought into the boundaries the company allows. The employee can tweak their idea into compliance.

      3) We ourselves get told NO. Sometimes I could relate a story where I asked a similar question and was told NO. Watch the people who are good at saying no. These folks come across in a professional manner and are able to minimize awkwardness. Sometimes you can minimize awkwardness simply by shaking your head first as a visual warning that NO is coming up very soon.

      4) Many times the person basically has a good idea. Tell them, if possible, what you liked about their idea and encourage them to bring more ideas. “I liked how you were trying to consolidate steps in that process. If you have more ideas about consolidating steps, please be sure to let me know.”

  8. Shannon*

    I can’t have kids and my sister almost died having her kid after losing her first one in the NICU. I know I’m not OP but I get really serious with people like this. The cushioned talk would not be happening. “You need to consider that some people are unable to have children, or don’t want to have children, or countless other options and not ever mention this again and I mean EVER. FRAKKING. AGAIN. Are we crystal clear, MARY?”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Sadly speaking to her like that will most likely up her “petitions” to God. These people who are so socially stunted are typically ignorant and snapping at them makes them assume something is wrong with you, not them.

      1. TL -*

        The OP says Mary is a nice person and even nice people can have a blind spot. I’ve found statements like, “That’s a bit of a sore spot/sensitive subject for me” or “My family is complete as it is – no need for prayer.” to be effective. Followed up by, “Nope, really, all good!”

        1. RUKidding*

          Even better:
          “Do you have kids?”
          “I had (notice the past tense) one son.”

          “How okd is he…etc.”
          “He would be 32 this June but he died right before his 23rd birthday.”

          Way more info than they’re entitled to, but whatever. Most people stop there.

          “Oh what happened.”
          “He died.” ::stare::

          Amazingly there are people who *still* keep…asking…for…details!

          1. Alli525*

            Once I was on the NYC subway (visibly wearing headphones) and a woman standing across from me noticed my Claddagh ring, which was a gift from my father. Father has since abandoned our family, so I usually just say he’s dead. This woman Would. Not. Let. It. Go. She actually asked me HOW he died, as if that were even the tiniest bit her business. So I very pointedly re-inserted my headphones and turned my back on her. OP could try just completely icing Mary out (after one last try at “please never bring this up again”) when she starts up with the baby talk.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I just don’t understand people who think they are entitled to others’ personal stuff. Even my dysfunctional family, which to be clear has dysfunction to spare, with the exception of my sister who tried to make my child’s death all about her (!!!) didn’t press me for details.

              Agreed, one “back off” and turn away and refuse to engage going forward.

        2. Flash Bristow*

          I find that considerate people ask “may I pray for you?” and respect my “no, please don’t”.

          People who announce that they ARE praying for you do have a bit of a blind spot in my experience.

          (I’m visibly physically disabled and get this quite a lot..!)

          1. Not Australian*

            Yup, although IMHO there’s nothing wrong with praying for someone – whether you’ve asked their permission or not – as long as you keep quiet about it. Religion is not a performance art!

            1. Liane*

              You have it, Not Australian. Jesus warned people 2000+ years ago that prayer (and charity) as “performance art” only got rewarded on earth, not in heaven.
              I love the comparison.

            2. Labradoodle Daddy*

              They even specifically mention this in the bible! “”And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

            3. Bagpuss*

              Yes. I don’t want people to pray for me but if they do it quietly in their own time without telling me, or anyone else, that they are doing it then it is their business, not mine.

            4. Not So NewReader*

              I am amazed by all the stories of strangers saying they will pray for someone whether or not that prayer is welcome. Most people who I send up a quick prayer for never know it and they never will. What happened to “private thoughts”?

          2. Cedarthea*

            I saw someone one above say something they saw about praying, that it is intimacy and that telling someone you are praying for them (rather asking if they can pray for you) it is a forced intimacy.

            I am not someone who prays or wishes to be prayed for, but I found that intimacy correlation really meaningful to why I don’t feel comfortable when someone talks about prayer with respect to me.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              A “forced intimacy.” Yes! That’s a perfect way to describe it. I have never really been able to put my finger on why it feels gross, but that’s exactly it.

          3. Ajana*

            I had to tell a persistent priest to f— off when he insisted on “blessing” me (variants of “no thank you” were ignored). I was in a hospital bed unable to escape. Some religious people are relentless and care little about the person they purport to “care” about.

    2. gecko*

      That’s traumatic and awful, and I’m so sorry.

      I think in OP’s situation, lashing out that manner after seeming to not mind the conversation for so long, would make OP the jerk.

  9. Maya Elena*

    HR should not be weaseling their way into monitoring peoples’ social media. People should not let them – the risk is greater than HR’s displeasure.

    I don’t know what it’s like in the municipal environment, but it seems like a sure ticket to trouble if you’re is unlucky enough to meet with an HR director who is nosy, judgmental, humorless, or zealous enough to enforce Policy against what would have been your private statements intended for a friend audience against you, without much recourse on the your part.

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Or someone who goes back thru all your posts until they find one from your distant past which wasn’t filtered or was posted on a whim… Argh.

      1. Anon Admin*

        Or you account got hacked and the hacker posted inappropriate things and you got written up without even being spoken to, asked about it or given an opportunity to explain. Happened to a coworker last year. We got a new HR director is all about social media. She followed, subscribed and tried to friend as many coworkers as possible. She stays on various platforms all day and weekend long. I actually don’t know how she gets any work done because all she talks about is what someone posted on Facebook or Instagram or said on Twitter.

        As soon as the coworker realized what had happened, they took all the steps they needed to to shut down the account but the damage had been done. Multiple people posted they “did some digging” and figured out where they worked due to a photo and one post and tagged the company (or whatever you do with Twitter. I don’t have Twitter so I don’t know how tagging or mentioning works on there) and they gotten written up a week after it happened. They weren’t called in to HR and asked what happened. They were called into their managers office, manager said I need you to read this and sign it. The HR lady didn’t even meet with the coworker. She wrote up the paper and made the manager do the actual meeting. The manager was upset and didn’t think it was fair but she wasn’t going to rock the boat.

        HR director attempted to friend me and I denied the request. She actually asked me why see hadn’t seen any posts from me and I straight up told her that I didn’t connect with coworkers or managers on Facebook because I prefer to keep my work and personal life separate (said in a tone that clearly conveyed that it was not up for questioning or negotiation). She hasn’t bothered me again.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          God yes. An old friend had her FB account taken over by an abusive ex-husband. I’d hate to think what would happen if someone googled her for a job interview. He has it all public of course. He kept just enough real photos of her that I didn’t notice the addition of stripper photos at first… but then he changed her profile pic. :( Some people are truly vile.

          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            Can she report it to facebook? In theory, that sort of thing will be taken down by the company if reported… I’m not sure how effective this is in practice though.

        2. JustaTech*

          I have a strict policy (that I developed on the spur of the moment to avoid a coworker who I could tell had boundary issues) that I do not friend any current coworker.
          I had just started at a new job when I made this policy, and it’s never been an issue, but does help to say “oh, I have a policy”. Something about the word “policy” just makes it both very official and very impersonal. Like, it’s not that I won’t friend *you* (potentially creepy guy), it’s that I don’t friend anyone.

          (Also, if I friended all my coworkers, what would we have to talk about at lunch? And who would I whine to about them?)

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I do this too, with the added policy of just not unloading about work on Facebook. If I need to vent, I do it offline or privately only with very trusted people who aren’t involved in my work in any way.

    2. Sam.*

      Yeah, I get the feeling that HR is friending people specifically to monitor and criticize them, which is very disturbing. If OP uses Alison’s script, I would not be surprised if the HR director claims monitoring employees’ social media is part of their job and therefore they’re doing nothing wrong.

    3. WellRed*

      I”m a little bothered that employees there are intimidated by HR. It could be that it’s in the employee’s mind, of course, nothing that HR has done, but I doubt it.

    4. Zombeyonce*

      Back when I had Facebook, I never accepted requests from people I worked with (especially not HR or bosses). I also never rejected them. It made it really easy to say “oh, I hardly ever go on there and haven’t seen your request” when they asked about it, so they couldn’t really get mad. And they couldn’t send a new request since I hadn’t rejected it.

  10. Liz*

    For OP #5, I’m not sure I agree. On one hand, holy crap pulling 65 people into a 2 hour meeting is super expensive and there’s no way there is a return on that time investment.

    On the other hand, were those 65 people in at least 2 hours of meetings each day anyway? It sounds like the CEO is trying to force people to have the conversations they need to have in one meeting rather than individuals or small groups having meetings that add up to even more time for everyone overall. I would love to suffer through a 2 hour meeting just to have 5 hours of meeting-free work time, honestly. It seems unlikely that this plan will actually work, big I can see why CEO might want to try it.

    1. WellRed*

      But it sounds like they go around the room and each person speaks. And there’s no way the employees need to work with everyone or update everyone, so it’s likely it is a waste of time for the majority of those at the meeting.

      1. ISuckAtUserNames*

        Agree with WellRed. If it were 15 minutes of quick updates for those that have them, followed by 1:45 of “office hours” time for people to seek out and chat with individuals or teams they need to talk to, that would be a different animal. 2 hours of 65 people having meetings with the entire company is…not useful.

    2. Antilles*

      For your second paragraph, even *if* they were previously in separate meetings, I don’t think this is a good solution. 65 people in the same meeting is just too large to be practical; there’s no way for that many people to reasonably contribute.
      The only way I could see that feasibly working is if it’s closer to announcements, where these 5 department heads talk and the other 60 people just quietly listen…but at that point, it then becomes questionable why those 60 people don’t just get an emailed summary or a “this is what’s actually relevant to us” follow-up meeting from their department head.

      1. Lance*

        And if they were previously in separate meetings… well, one would assume said separate meetings would be more focused, less potentially noisy (I can’t imagine meetings with that many people wouldn’t have interruptions, or people stepping on toes), and just generally more productive.

    3. CM*

      I agree, I like the idea of declaring that 10-12 every day is meeting time, when everybody is available to check in with each other and it’s strongly discouraged to schedule meetings for other times. But it sounds like this is one giant status meeting.

    4. Clay on my apron*

      It works out to 2 minutes of giving feedback and 118 minutes of listening to 64 other people’s feedback. It’s unlikely that any individual needs to know what every other individual in the company is doing and highly unlikely that you’d be able to concentrate through 60+ updates anyway. This is the type of thing that would make me look for another job.

    5. ArtK*

      The problem is that with 65 people in a 2 hour meeting, only a fraction of the time is relevant to each person. I’m not sitting in a 2 hour meeting while John and Marsha discuss an issue that’s relevant to them, but not to anyone else. If everyone would otherwise be in 5 hours of meetings per day, then there’s a totally different issue going on and this is not the way to address it.

  11. Marzipan*

    I’m struggling to see how Mary is a kind person when she is repeatedly and blithely doing such an incredibly unkind thing. But hey, I’m a bit bitter about this stuff.

    If it’s just the two of you sharing the office you’re in a slightly tricky position in that it’s harder to shut these conversations down generically without it being evident that you’re actually talking about your own situation, which you’ve said you don’t want to do. But how about something like “Mary, I’ve heard from someone I know* that she finds it really painful to be asked questions about having a baby, because she has fertility problems. That made me realise how often these kinds of conversations come up in society and I’ve decided that in support of her and other people with fertility problems, I want to do my bit to push back whenever the topic comes up, because I don’t think it’s fair that she should have to find herself in that position. I know you’ll understand, you’re so kind.” And then swiftly shut down any attempt to keep the conversation going on the topic of your infertile friend (“this is exactly what I mean, Mary, she would find this conversation very upsetting. It’s really important to me that I don’t participate in taking about things like this at work” or whatever.)

    (*Me. You know me. Hello, nice to meet you.)

    1. RUKidding*

      “But that’s different. You obviously can have children, blah, blah, blah, besides “god” blah, blah, blah…”

      1. Marzipan*

        That’s partly why I think making it about the principle of ‘the topic of whether or not people have children is not appropriate for the workplace and I intend to hold firm on that line’ could have mileage, though.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Definitely worth a try. I won’t hold my breath though… I have met so many people over the years that seem to think “but that doesn’t apply to meeeeee,” that I’ve gotten quite cynical. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Hahaha, me too, and my second favorite thing about him is his hard stare (first is his undying love of marmalade).

  12. Wing Leader*


    Wow, this would tick me off real fast. I’ll take your word for it when you say Mary is otherwise kind, but she is being anything but kind in this situation. I don’t even like it when people innocently ask when someone is going to have more kids (so not their business), but the fact that she pushes every single day and wants to petition God (okay?) for it is wildly out of line.

    I think Alison’s script is good. You don’t have to tell her your plans or medical issues, but you do need to shut down this talk as soon as possible. Mary really needs to know that this is not okay.

    1. Observer*

      It’s wildly out of line. And it’s hurtful. That doesn’t make her unkind. Most people simply have no idea how painful this is.

      Which is why a good script that you can plan is so useful. It’s hard to find the right words in the moment under GOOD circumstances, much less when you’re gritting your teeth.

      1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

        Ehhhh…. I doubt she’s being deliberately cruel, but it’s not like she’s unaware that fertility problems exist. She’s an adult who lives in the world, she knows these things. She’s being thoughtless and, IMHO, kind people are not thoughtless. We all have lapses, but it should really, really have occurred to her (especially if OP was not responding warmly/enthusiastically to her) that this kind of talk might be unwelcome.

        1. Observer*

          Its surprising how ignorant people are about this. Most people are unaware that according to some estimates, infertility affect 1 in 6 or 1 in 7 couples. They think it happens to OTHER people, people why don;t know, people who have something “wrong” with them.

          Then there are the people who just don’t get how intrusive and painful their “blessings” are. The thinking often is some variant of “Pregnancy not happening? I’ll pray fr you! Surely that will help! and SURELY you’ll be happy t know how much all of your good friends are about you and are praying for you!”

          I’m not defending any of this. But I do think that it really is possible for someone who is genuinely kind to miss the boat on this.

        2. TootsNYC*

          “thoughtless” is a nice word–it’s one I might use with Mary

          “it’s thoughtless of you to be praying to God that I get pregnant when I have never indicated to you that I want to BE pregnant. My husband and I have firmly decided that we do not want to have another child.”

          Or, “it’s thoughtless of you to keep bringing up my fertility, and my family planning, at work; it makes me really uncomfortable, and it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing a kind person like you would do”

    2. RUKidding*

      The whole “petition gof” thing, which majes a massive assumption, would piss me off too. Go on believe how/what you will. It doesnt matter to me…unless you invoke your god on my behalf. I mean sure I dont believe prayers are effective anyway becsuse I dont believe in any godd, but still it’s annoying.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I believe prayers are effective, which is why this would piss me off tremendously. I didn’t ASK YOU to petition God for that on my behalf!
        Would you pray for me to get hit by a bus?
        And unwanted pregnancy (even without the OP’s specific dangers) is similarly devastating.

    3. snowglobe*

      Rather than saying that Mary is unkind, I’d say that she (and people like her) simply lack imagination. For some reason, it just never occurs to them that someone else might not want the same things that they do, or that the things they are saying could potentially be hurtful to someone struggling with things.

      1. Observer*

        This is SOO true! Asking them some version of “How would you feel if X?” often doesn’t work because they don’t have the imagination to think about what it would really be like. You have to spell it out in bite sized pieces, and even then it doesn’t always compute.

  13. Observer*

    #2 – I have no doubt that your coworker thinks she’s blessing you. But, I’d go with just refusing to discuss this with her.

    “Thanks for being so concerned for my happiness and praying for me. But, this is an extremely personal subject and I need to not be discussing it at work. Thanks for understanding.”

    Do you have a pastor / rabbi / imam / other spiritual advisor? If you do, it could be very useful to say to her “My p/r/i/s advised me that this is something that I really shouldn’t be discussing at work.” You shouldn’t need to borrow authority, but if it shuts the conversation down without causing hard feelings, it’s fine. And it just might plant the seed that maybe this is not so appropriate in general.

    1. E*

      I like this script too. I was thinking of something like “I know you have good intentions, but this is none of your business and not up for discussion.”

    2. HQB*

      This is an excellent approach. Another option is “My husband and I agree that this is something I should not be discussing at work.” It’s not quite borrowing authority, in this case, but turns the subject back into a private issue between spouses (as it always should have been!) and indicates that discussing it further will be interfering with something both spouses have agreed on.

  14. Lena Clare*

    As a childless person most definitely not by choice, and with a sister in law who almost died after having 1 child and who also can’t have any more: Oh #2 made me so sad. Why are people so insensitive? I like Alison’s scripts but I hate that it’s necessary to say them. Ideally, people would recognise others’ social cues and respond accordingly.

    Also…I have a real thing about others praying for me, I don’t like that at all. I’m atheist anyway, but I did used to be a member of a church. It’s such a real invasion of privacy – how can they possibly know better for me what I want?

    OP I really feel for you, this has touched such a nerve for me. Every part of it is offensive.

    1. London Calling*

      TBH, it’s insensitive even when you like me are childfree from choice. I’ve been harangued, asked why I don’t have children, asked if I even like them and told I’ll die alone – to all of which my reply was, none of that is any of your business. Why I don’t have children is my business and mine alone.

      1. londonedit*

        I am childfree by choice and if someone told me they were praying for me to have a baby, I would get SO. FREAKING. ANGRY.

        I really wish people would stop prying into other people’s personal lives and medical situations. Other people’s bodies and what they choose to do with them are none of anyone’s business.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          Rude person: “I’ll pray for you to get pregnant.”
          Me: “Dang it, I’d better start using more forms of birth control, then.”

        1. Asenath*

          I’ve never been harangued about whether or not I would have children, so that’s not a universal experience for women without children. Mary is being thoughtless about this, but since the writer says Mary’s a kind person, Mary should certainly be willing to stop commenting on the topic once she’s told directly that her office-mate is not planning to have more children, and would prefer not to discuss such a personal topic. Kind people are more likely than unkind people to change their actions once its been pointed out to them that they are upsetting others. Kind people do not necessarily know what the kind thing to do is unless it’s pointed out to them. They aren’t omniscient.

          I’ve never been bothered in the least if someone prays for me, even if I disagree with their theology and also with what are probably the specifics of their prayers. Mostly, it’s just a way of expressing good wishes – and at worse – well, its much the same as though they had views that differ from mine, and are discussing them with human friends instead of with their god.

          1. London Calling*

            I’m a bit puzzled as to where you get ‘Mary’s kind’ from. The OP nearly died from a pregnancy and she has to listen to a colleague virtually demanding that she has another baby. The distress it causes must be very great. That’s not kind in any sense of the word.

            1. Asenath*

              “I share an office with a woman who I like very much. She is about twice my age and very kind. ”

              And Mary doesn’t know that OP has this traumatic history, because OP, quite reasonably, hasn’t told her such private information.

              “I don’t want to bring any of this up to Mary, as it’s not her or anyone else’s business. ”

              So OP needs a way to let Mary know that conversation about future babies upsets OP, without discussing private and upsetting medical information with her. Since it appears that OP, who knows Mary, thinks she’s a basically kind person, all that OP should need is to say that she doesn’t want to discuss such a personal topic at work. If it were me, I’d add that I wasn’t planning to have another child, but that addition might not be necessary or, from OP’s point of view, desirable.

              1. TootsNYC*

                conversation about future babies upsets OP
                I suppose our OP could skip the “upsetting” part and focus on the “boring and frustrating and judgmental” part.

                “Mary, you keep talking about this, and it’s getting really annoying and tiresome. I’ve told you–we have all the children we want. When you keep going on and on about it, it comes across as though you are being judgmental, that you think we are wrong for our decision. And I am coming to really resent it. That’s not a feeling I want to have about you, because I like you a lot. I think of you as a kind person–but it’s not kind for you to keep harping on this issue. Would you please stop, so I can keep my good opinion of you?”

            2. Agent J*

              As others mentioned, the OP has said Mary is kind. Since OP knows Mary and their working relationship better than we do, we should take OP at their word. It is possible that Mary thinks OP wants another child and thinks she’s being supportive. I think it’s better to start off with a kind but firm response and adjust acoordingly based on how Mary does or does not respect OP’s boundaries.

            3. Aggretsuko*

              I agree. I get that Mary’s not being intentionally hurtful, but she’s Not Getting It and she is being hurtful, and needs to be notified of such.

              “Who could be hurt by this? Everyone wants a baaaaaaaaaaaaaby!”

              1. Asenath*

                She needs to be told that the OP doesn’t want to talk about babies. She doesn’t need to be told that she’s being hurtful or that she’s not getting something that – according to OP – hasn’t been explained to her yet.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            I would say you have been pretty fortunate that no one has harassed you about your reproductive plans/choices. That’s really more of an anomaly than the experiences of most women. Most women are treated as if their bodies are public property —not just with reproduction but with many other areas: “SMILE!” “You’re so pretty, you would be beautiful if you just lost some weight” “You need to eat, you look like a skeleton” and on and on and on in a way they hardly ever do with males.

            Mary may come off as a kind person, I’ll of course take LW’s word on that, but IMO a truly kind person would know that there are certain areas you do not keep pushing into. “Are you planning more children” is fine “ohhhh you need more babies I will pray for you to get knocked up” is not.

            1. Asenath*

              I think that perhaps when I’m in public, I expect to interact with other members of the public, and to deal with the fact that sometimes they might say things I don’t like or agree with. In a sense, that’s a recognition of the fact that I meet – and usually enjoy meeting – people who are very different from me. And if someone says something too personal, or that I don’t want to pursue, I’ve learned to deal with it. I don’t get upset if someone who obviously has had great experiences with marriage or babies wants to encourage me to marry or have babies – or perhaps I should say, I didn’t back when it looked like I could have babies without major medical interventions and maybe a miracle!

              Sure, some women find personal comments on their smiles (or lack thereof), weight, size etc both commonplace and upsetting. I’m describing my own experiences and my ways of dealing with them, not generalizing those to everyone. I don’t think I’d say that Mary should be criticized for expressing her view that more babies are better. I would say that OP needs to tell Mary that she doesn’t want to discuss babies or her reproductive plan. Mary’s kindness is demonstrated more from her response to learning that this topic is making OP unhappy than by whether or not Mary assumes other people feel as she does about babies. It’s like kittens. I love animals. But when I learned a co-worker was phobic about small furry animals, I stopped discussing kittens with her. I was not unkind to mention cats before I knew her problem. I would have been unkind if I continued to do so after I learned about her feelings. Same with Mary.

              1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                But generally, cats are not a subject that is very personal and potentially hurtful or upsetting, so not realizing that you might have distressed someone who has an unusual fear or phobia is understandable.
                Under NO circumstances is it appropriate to talk about or make judgements on or suppositions about a coworker’s personal reproductive choices or health when that person has not brought it up themselves or in some other way given explicit consent or permission to do so. Just because this kind of overstepping of boundaries is currently considered an appropriate conversational gambit in our culture does not mean it is actually an OK, appropriate, kind, well meaning, or non-invasive action to take.
                And if people praying for you without your consent or against your wishes doesn’t bother you in any way, then great! FOR YOU. Other people get to make their own decisions on how they feel about it, and it feels very dismissive to have you imply that those that don’t agree are making too much of a fuss.

                I’m another woman who is childfree by choice (just turned 52 and can not WAIT for menopause!) and I’ve been subjected to an INSANE amount of negative comments, judgement, and pressure from people all around me about it – including complete strangers – from the time I was a teenager til I was in my early 40s. To me it seems completely irrational and unreasonable to repeatedly tell a young single woman, who has multiple chronic illnesses and NO insurance, and who by anyone’s objective standards can -barely- take care of *just themselves* (long undiagnosed but severe to the point of disabling executive function disorders), and who openly states they don’t like or want kids that they are OH SO WRONG and of COURSE they want kids and it’s DIFFERENT when it’s yours and WHEN YOU MEET THE RIGHT GUY!!1! and you’ll make a GREAT parent and blah blah blardy blah but I heard that crap regularly for DECADES while being treated like *I* was the irrational and unreasonable one. If you never got any of that kind of interrogation, consider yourself really lucky, because I don’t know any childfree women who haven’t.

          3. TootsNYC*

            well, there’s the generic “praying for you,” and there’s “praying for the solution you have told me you want,” and then there’s the “praying that God makes you pregnant, which you have never told me you want” thing!

        2. poolgirl*

          Yes, this. Why is it that lately anytime a woman passes away in the news, it’s always she was a mother of X number of children, and X number of grandchildren, as the first and sometimes only description they’ll give of her. I don’t recall ever hearing the same thing about a man, usually it’s what he did for a living. Like it would be less tragic if they weren’t a mother?

    2. TootsNYC*

      I would find it offensive even if I *were* wanting and trying to have a second child. It’s just not anyone else’s business!

    1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      Yeah this would never fly in my industry. How many billable hours are sitting around for two hours a day not working on projects? My managers would rather eat glass. :D

    2. Powercycle*

      I know right? I can barely come up with a meaningful update on my tasks and projects for a weekly meeting. But every day? With all staff? “Nothing to report” would be uttered pretty frequently.

    3. Bostonian*

      “(And I love that part of this is to discuss how available they are for new work, since they’re all now 25% less available than they were before these meetings started using up 10 hours a week.)” Hahahaha.

      Maybe this boss and the boss who mandated 2 hours of therapy sessions are friends.

  15. GingerHR*

    OP1- There are so many differences between US and UK employment, but it does seem as though one common ground is that process makes it so much easier for challenging employees to keep their roles in government organisations. I’ll be honest, if a manager came to me about Fergus, I would absolutely work with them to find a way (no matter how long or painful) to ensure that he had the opportunity to either adjust his attitude or find somewhere that suited it better.

    1. ThePinkLady*

      I work in a UK government-sponsored agency and completely agree with this. We have, as well as objectives in our forward job plans, a suite of agreed behaviours, and our performance is assessed against these as well as how well we meet our objectives, and failure to adhere to them is very much a performance issue which can lead (and has) to disciplinary action. I wonder if it’s possible to introduce a behavioural element into your team’s job plans to make it clear that behaving with appropriate respect and working well with others are not optional. I very much like having this as it’s enabled me as a manager to ensure that my teams know I am interested in how, as well as how well, they achieve their objectives, and I have a tool to use to make sure that soft skills (very necessary in our work) are developed and valued.

    2. Emma*

      It does hold true in my second-hand experience, in the UK, that in the civil service you may be more likely to be shunted sideways than fired – but that’s often because government departments are such sprawling organisations, with different offices doing such widely different work in very different settings, that it often is true that someone who sucks in their current role may well do a lot better in another one.

      There’s certainly no especial job security in local government, though, especially in the last ten years.

      1. RUKidding*

        “I have a problem with authority.”
        “Really? I have a problem with my subordinates thinking they are in charge. Do we understand each other?

        “I dont like being told what to do.”

      2. Lynca*

        It’s been my experience in US public service that people are more likely to be shuffled around than fired. Especially if the job is not public facing and that person actually does good work. Not to say I haven’t seen people fired in my job. There’s a thin line between ‘nightmare personality but effective in their role’ and ‘this person is evil bees masquerading as a human and can’t be redeemed’ but it does exist.

        However, saying and following through with “I have a problem with authority” would be a direct line to a PIP and eventual termination where I work. I know it’s not in other agencies but in mine, this is a huge deal. Most of the people I’ve seen fired or “retired suddenly with no notice” basically boiled down to them having issues with authority that they wouldn’t resolve.

        1. WellRed*

          This is how it should be. I am not a government worker, but I am appalled that you can’t have things like office tissues and coffee but hey, leave the dead wood in place and drag down productivity and morale.

    3. OP#1*

      I have really gotten my boss to see that Fergus isn’t all that and a bag of chips now, but because of their history together, she still doesn’t agree that he should be let go.

      At her request, and the request of HR, I’ve started to really micromanage him. We are meeting more frequently. I follow-up all interactions with an email to confirm expectations. I address issues I see right away. AAM has been very helpful in that regard. Micromanaging someone is exhausting and I don’t like how I feel at the end of the day having fact checked everything Fergus does. My boss recently commented that I have done all the right things and lamented it hasn’t really gotten me anywhere. She basically said Fergus will continue to manipulate situations just enough to be considered bad behavior but not enough to address formally.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        People can get fired, even in civil service. All too often, the higher ups aren’t willing to do the work to make it happen, and it comes to “somebody has to have Fergus on their team.”

      2. Michaela Westen*

        Is there a way you could ignore Fergus? Give him some work where he can’t do any harm and let him sit in his corner, daydreaming about control… It would be much less tiring for you, and free you up to do more important things.

      3. Barb*

        It may be possible to push his buttons just right, while still looking professional, so that he chooses to leave because he can’t stand you exerting your authority. This sort of game is also exhausting, but can have a good payoff if it works. It’s possible your current micromanaging is having that effect?

  16. Sue Wilson*

    #5: It sounds like this is a company where all 65 employee are all somewhat collaborative with each other (they can give each other work), AND, that this is the only formal meeting after 12, period. And, considering time, no one can speak longer than 2 mins roughly on average. If that’s case, then this might actually work for this type of company, and it might not seem as long as it otherwise would because the speaker changes pretty quickly. Does your friend mind it?

    It seems like this was the boss’s solution to more numerous informal meetings with smaller groups which he felt were taking up far more time than 10 hours a week and people who were having trouble managing the ebbs of workflow without messing up someone else’s workflow. I don’t think it’s terrible.

    1. WS*

      It seems like this was the boss’s solution to more numerous informal meetings with smaller groups which he felt were taking up far more time than 10 hours a week

      My bet is that meetings of this nature were taking up more than 10 hours of the boss’s time a week, so this is a great improvement…for the boss. But there’s no reason why 65 people have to be there for 2 hours every day.

      1. WellRed*

        The boss shouldn’t be in all those meetings, either. Doesn’t he have people that can report back to him?

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, that sounds right to me. I know there was a period when my boss had too many direct reports (before I got here) and she did two hours of team meetings instead of 5-6 individual one-on-ones with team members. She knew it wasn’t ideal! But at the time it seemed like the best compromise, because she really didn’t have the additional 5-6 hours in her week.

    2. Just Elle*

      I can see where he’s coming from… but there is just literally no way that all 65 people are stakeholders in even half of the discussions. So its just completely wasting peoples time to sit and listen to things they don’t care about. Thats WHY we have many meetings with smaller groups – because in smaller groups everyone is engaged and you can actually take time to work through problems, not just report status on them.

  17. Electric Sheep*

    OP4, I’ve seen people suggest the first 100 days thing as basically meaning ‘make a good impression and have a plan of what you want to achieve rather than being reactive’. But if that framing is not helpful for you, you can approach getting established in other ways. Are you and your manager talking regularly? Do you know how they feel about your performance and are you acting in accordance with any feedback they’ve given you? If you’re on the same page and they’re happy with you, you’re probably fine.

    1. Electric Sheep*

      Oh, and in terms of people who are new to the job – people who hit the ground running are great, but it’s also encouraging to see people who are learning and improving, because it’s a good sign for their future performance if they need to pick up new skills (the only constant is change itself, etc etc). So if you have had some areas you could improve, don’t get disheartened – responding well to feedback and showing improvement will also stand you in good stead.

      1. OP4*

        This is really reassuring advice, thank you. I am meeting with my manager regularly, and she generally seems happy with how I’m doing. She is also supporting the softly softly approach with them.
        I have a history of being a bit too quick to compromise instead of standing up for what I need, which I think my dad wss concerned about, so its good to refocus on what my boss says.

  18. GiantPanda*

    #2: You could also answer something like “I’m not discussing my sex life. Please stop talking about it.”

    1. MJ*

      Sadly I’ve met many clueless people who regard “having babies” as separate from having sex (not that they are unaware of how babies are made). So I think Mary would say that she’s not talking about sex, she’s talking about having a baby – two entirely different things!


      1. RUKidding*

        True, but…
        “Mary you do understand how babies are made…right? Stop talking about my sex life.”

        1. stump*

          “Stop fantasizing about me having unprotected sex.”

          Hopefully that hits the nail on the head hard enough for the “Gee, do babies come from sex?” crowd to maybe kinda sorta get an inkling that they’re being gross.

        2. Observer*

          This is just gross. No one who is talking about having (or not having) kids is thinking about your sex life! Jumping to that is just aggressive and sounds seriously ignorant and puritanical.

          This keeps on coming up, and I’m really tied of it. It does NOT help people who are childless. I’m sure that anyone who has deployed this line has succeeded in shutting ht the discussion down, so I suppose that that;s a good thing. But it doesn’t teach anyone anything nor even create a boundary around discussion of PERSONAL stuff.

      2. Emi.*

        They are different things, though. Just because they’re connected doesn’t mean they’re the same. By this logic, saying “Here’s some food” is the same as saying “I hope you poop later!”

        Mary’s line of questioning would still be rude and invasive if she were talking about adopting.

    2. Ginger ale for all*

      Or you could turn it around and say to Mary that you feel bad that she is always talking about your sex life and perhaps she would like to talk about hers for a while? And on a daily basis? Don’t forget to let her know that you will pray for her daily. Just kidding, don’t do this.

      1. TootsNYC*

        ooh, every single time she brings up the baby topic, use it as a trigger to immediately ask her about “sex when you’re older”–in detail. “Does your husband have trouble sustaining an erection? What age did you find yourself becoming dryer? Do you two make sure you come first, and him last, or how does that work? Can you have sex later in the day if he gets aroused in the morning, as long as there’s no ejaculation?”

        Offer to pray for her and her husband’s sex life, since God intended the marriage bed to be happy.

        Just every time. See if it works.

        If she objects to things being so personal, etc., say, “Yes, I guess you’re right–we probably shouldn’t talk about such personal things as sex and family planning at work.”

    3. Need a Beach*

      “My husband is having trouble with ED, and the psychiatrist thinks it’s because he’s worried about letting you down, Mary.”

  19. AnonAnon*

    OP5 – Your boss’s intention is good. The execution is inept.

    Getting people to collaborate, share ideas, and be aware of opportunities to collaborate is a superb idea. It’s how the highest-performing organizations work. Building these kinds of connections (eg one employee has a need that another employee knows how to solve) is extremely important. It’s a big part of why so many of these Silicon Valley types install coffee shops and cafeterias.

    Sticking people in a two hour meeting is probably the worst possible way to achieve the desired outcome. If a person is doesn’t hear anything relevant to them in the first thirty minutes or so, their brains begin shutting down. I’d frankly resent being forced to sit through such a thing. And, as others have mentioned, we are squandering ten hours a week in which we could be doing actual work. It sounds as if the real problem is that the Boss is under-employed and thinks holding long meetings will be a substitute for competent leadership.

    1. AnonAnon*

      And seriously, does the boss know NOTHING about physiology? Most humans are wired so that they are at their peak performance in the 9-12 area. In the afternoon people get fatigued and their performance measurably declines. The boss is essentially asking people to squander their best hours and then do all their work during their worst hours.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        What a waste that we have to be at work for 8 hours if we’re only good for about three of them.

        1. JustaTech*

          Eh, I don’t need to be 100% *on* to do a lot of my work. In fact, I often specifically schedule “low brain” activities for right after lunch, especially if those activities involve walking around or doing something more physical than sitting at my computer, so I can make use of the post-lunch slowdown.
          Writing, planning, complicated statistical analysis? That’s got to be right after coffee.
          Cleaning the lab, labeling tubes, pushing data through analysis software? Those don’t need the kind of peak thinking, and in some cases are better done in a more relaxed state.

  20. CC*

    OP #3: Last I checked you can set up privacy controls on Facebook for different friend groups. So you can have some posts only visible to close friends, then post the grandma/work friendly stuff to everyone.

    Ideally HR isn’t friending anyone, but it would be a good fix in the meantime for your employee.

    1. WS*

      You can set up privacy controls, but Facebook frequently changes settings and makes it difficult to be completely secure about your privacy levels. The letter mentions that the employee had already filtered HR, but things do get through, especially if your friends repost things.

    2. TooOldForThisNonsense*

      Perhaps a better privacy control for this HR manager would be the “block” function!

      1. a1*

        You can put them in the “restricted” group. Anyone in that group only sees posts you set to public, rather than the default of friends.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      The employee has already done this (as per the letter). The HR person mentioned a post she did see; mentioning it at all is egag made the LW’s employee uncomfortable.

    4. ArtK*

      Facebook’s entire business model is based around making it difficult for you to do that. The more connections and active sharing, the more money they make. That’s why they “fix” the security settings all the time. One should never assume that anything on FB is private, no matter what the settings are. If you’re not willing to put it on a billboard next to a rush-hour freeway, don’t post it on social media. Period.

      Another way to think about it: Social media is like a social disease. You not only have to trust your immediate partners (“friends”), you have to trust who they trust. Even if your posts are locked to “friends only,” someone could cut-and-paste what you posted.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        Yep. Because of creeps in my life (who predate social media) that refuse to go away no matter how long they’ve been ignored, and who have complicated interconnections with people I *do* wish to connect with (the tangled skein of acquaintances & friends of friends over several decades is woven tighter than a rat king’s tail) I not only post nothing private or revealing that could be even accidentally passed on, if I feel someone would have to be filtered from anything I post, I simply don’t ‘friend’ them or ever respond to any requests they’ve sent (unless I felt like I needed to block them.)
        I don’t have any of my in-laws added and I’m not sure if most them even realize I have a profile (it’s under not my real name for above mentioned Creep Reasons.)

  21. Stella70*

    A few years ago, I worked for a small company wherein the owner/CEO/Lord and Master held two meetings a day: one from 8:00-9:00 to discuss what was upcoming for the day and one from 2:30–3:30 to discuss what had occurred since the morning meeting. The first few weeks mystified me because so little of merit was ever discussed there, especially in light of the time sacrifice. Then I realized the meetings were the highlight of the CEOs day, a captive audience to rage at. I made the suggestion privately to have one meeting involve production and one sales/marketing and perhaps only combine the staff one meeting a week (due to the business type, there was surprisingly little overlap between the two “sets” of employees in terms of responsibilities and goals) and his anger quite honestly frightened me. He had insanely high turnover (been in business 20+ years and his longest-term employee was there 18 months) but he proudly said staff left because they couldn’t live up to his intellect and experience.

    1. Gray Coder*

      Yeah, I thought #5 had the smell of a boss who is unable to delegate/needs to be involved in everything. Not practical in an organization of 65 people, unless the meeting actually makes everyone so unproductive the rest of the day that they really can cover it all in 2 minutes the next morning.

  22. ThePinkLady*

    #5 – it might depend on the cycle length of the work you do, but I’d be tempted to continually report that literally nothing has changed since the last meeting as I’ve only had 5 working hours available since then. My cases each take somewhere between 3 weeks and 6months to complete, so that would be completely true for me. I’d also be tempted to say that I had no capacity to take extra stuff on as I’m trying to cram full time work into part time hours… But I wouldn’t be able to contain the snark, so it’s probably not the best idea.

    If this is a meeting designed to sift and allocate work, surely it should be done in smaller and much shorter team meetings, rather than this behemoth of a gathering. Especially given that there are so many other ways of sharing information and discussing work which aren’t so time-hungry and are much more efficient.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      My status update for these meetings would almost always be “same thing as yesterday”, whether it was true or not.

  23. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    Ugh. We have a daily 15-minute meeting and that’s absolutely, totally, definitely enough, thank you! I cannot imagine what a daily 2-hour session would be like!

    1. irene adler*

      I can see that, initially, one might think it would take that long to get through everything. And then greatly shorten the times until there’s only need for 10-15 min a day (or a week).

      I’d offer to write up the agendas for these meetings and then, when we complete the last item, quickly dismiss everyone-because there’s nothing left to discuss (and before someone decides to use the captive audience to pontificate on something). And surprise! Meeting took all of 15 minutes!

    2. ArtK*

      How many people? 3-9? That would be the right number for a 15 minute check-in. 65 people for 2 hours is a total waste of time.

  24. Kit Kat*

    #5 One industry where this might make sense is design, where they have kind of show and tell sessions (not sure what they call it – I used to work with design agencies but am not a designer!) where they put all their work up on a wall and critique it. But not for two hours every day!

    1. bookartist*

      I just got out of my weekly 2-hour creative team meeting where we all present and discuss each others work. *Weekly* being the point.

      What #5’s boss needs is a work management system where folks are trained up to keep their project statuses updated daily/near-daily. All the info in one place where he can pure and ruminate to his heart’s content.

  25. Bonky*

    OP2: this approach may be something that’s outside your comfort zone, but it’s worked for me. I have a little daughter. Before I had her I had an ectopic pregnancy; and in the last 12 months alone I’ve had three miscarriages, one requiring subsequent surgery. Each loss has been devastating (and I am terribly sorry for yours.)

    I close down the sort of stuff your co-worker is subjecting you to by explaining EXACTLY why we don’t have a sibling for my daughter. It shuts down the conversation, and my fervent hope is that it stops people who unthinkingly bring up other people’s fertility from doing it again.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I agree with you. I don’t think Mary is going to stop if you say anything polite and vague. I think you need to explain very brutally why you can’t have another baby no matter how much she prays.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      It’s worth trying the non-disclosure route first. The more info, the more chances for Mary to pray.

  26. MassMatt*

    #5 is the whole staff of 65 people all in one single meeting for 2 hours? Everyone in the company is sitting there for 2 hours as people they don’t directly work with talk about their work? Bizarre!

    1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

      I know! 65 people for two hours for five days a week is 650 man-hours (or 16.25 man days) of time per week. Insane.

      1. AnonAnon*

        Unreal. Let’s assume they make $15/hr. OP could be like, “You realize this is costing you $10,000 a week, right?”

        1. Zombeyonce*

          And it’s not like it stops other meetings from needing to happen, either. Small groups still need to talk through things and that can’t happen at a 65-person meeting, so it doesn’t actually reduce overall meeting time.

        2. nym*

          This is actually a really good point. I was in a meeting recently where the person in charge told me he didn’t like to call all-staff meetings very often because an hour meeting costs about $40K — at least $15K of that in salaries (this was a large meeting), lost output (because much of what the unit does runs on 4 to 6 hour equipment cycles and a lost hour midmorning might effectively mean a lost day), and ancillary costs (people who would otherwise be working remotely needed to be present in person).

          Granted mine was a much larger meeting than OP was talking about, but think about it in dollars per week of lost work time or required overtime for the same output, and maybe boss would listen.

  27. Mara*

    As someone with fertility issues myself, I know I personally would be fine saying to a coworker “My family is perfect as it is, and there are medical issues in my family that make this the best option anyway. Thanks for your concern but there will be no more babies.” But I totally get you not wanting to share even that much. I think you can tell Mary that you don’t want more children / are happy with your family size without disclosing any of the other things regarding health / infertility / personal stuff.

    “Mary, I appreciate your love and support for my family, and I know you don’t mean to make me uncomfortable. But my husband and I are finished building our family, it is perfect as it is, and I’d appreciate it if we could stop talking about more babies.”

    1. Mrs. Fenris*

      I used to work with a dotty older lady. I think of her every time somebody posts about a pushy, clueless coworker, like the office cheerleader from awhile back. She had a number of blind spots and an absolute inability to see the world from anybody else’s point of view. One of her many hangups was people’s family lives. If you were single, you needed to start dating someone. (Remind me sometime to tell the story of how she set up lunch with herself, her single son, and all of the young single girls in the office, hoping to fix him up with one of them.) If you were dating, when were you getting married? If you were married, when were you going to have a baby? If you already had a baby, when were you going to have another one? However, she did back down if someone said something like this…kind, clearly worded, and firm.

      1. AKchic*

        I used to work with a woman like that. Her two sons were *never* with appropriate women (including one who was married and had two children). She was forever trying to set them up with every woman of “marriageable” age in the office, including me, who had four children and was married. Her job duties when she was hired was a two page list. When she “retired” after 3 years, it was literally “answer phones”, “open mail”, and “buzz people in”. She read romance novels the rest of her 8 hour shift. The rest of her job duties were reabsorbed by the program assistants. She wasn’t let go because our CEO enjoyed having an older woman on staff to reminisce with and thought that she gave off a nice, motherly touch at the front desk.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        This is the kind of pressure I was talking about upthread. It’s even worse when it’s your family doing it!

    2. Reba*

      I think this is a great script!

      It seems likely that Mary would then push for more details, at which point some of the other language suggested here (“I need to not talk about this at work”) could be useful.

    3. Rainbow Roses*

      I think mention “medical issue” will make Mary pray harder.
      I would simply tell her “Mary, I’m asking you to stop asking me about having more babies. That’s is nobody’s business except for me and my husband.”
      If she keeps pushing, I have no problem telling her she’s being rude and creepy.

      1. Reba*

        Right, the point is not to convince her of your reasons. It is to get her to stop talking about it! That’s what the request should be.

      2. Joielle*

        Yeah, I think the prayer angle makes this different from the standard office busybody since whatever reason you give, she may just start praying about that. Reasons are for reasonable people. Mary just needs to be shut down – politely, yes, but firmly.

  28. stump*

    re: #1:

    Fergus has a “problem with authority”, and yet he works in government, the ultimate in labyrinthine, burocratic authority. Hecking brilliant, Fergus.

    But then again, I guess if he didn’t find a way to game the system and work around the whole “authority” thing to his own advantage, he would’ve been out of there of his own volition long ago. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. Christy*

      Yupppppppp. I had an employee like this when I was a temporary manager in an adjacent government office to my own and she knew she could outlast me. And she did! She was exhausting because she was so sneaky. (She wasn’t very good at being sneaky, though? Like I’m glad the job was temporary because it was so hard, but I really think I could have either gotten behavior improvements or gotten her terminated.)

      Side note, I just met her new permanent boss, six months after I left that position, and it was SO GRATIFYING.

      1. OP#1*

        I wonder how satisfying it was for Fergus’ former boss (who was still there in a promoted roll when I started) to hear from my that Fergus told me he has a problem with authority on my first day. Looking at it that way, at least one person derived satisfaction from the conversation. :)

  29. Paperdill*

    OP3: I wonder how many other employees are getting friend requests from the HR director? Is it possible this is HR’s “new brilliant idea” to monitor employee’s social media activity to make sure no one is making the company look bad?

  30. NYWeasel*

    OP 4: I’ve been at companies (including my current job) that have asked managerial candidates to describe their thoughts on a “first 90 days” or 100 days plan, so it’s definitely a thing at some companies. That said, at current job, my first 100 days were spent working for a jealous, bitter, nasty person. He was replaced as my manager less than 6 months into the role. During that initial timeframe, my performance was terrible, as Old Boss would set me on unnecessary “priorities”, only to scold me in front of stakeholders for not focusing on their real concerns. Despite looking completely incompetent during that initial first impressions period, my coworkers quickly moved past whatever irritation they felt once they saw that I was working hard to figure out what they needed.

    The main thing that most of the companies look for with a 100 days plan is to see if you are coming in with an organized approach. For internal transfers, Current Job would expect a fairly detailed plan because candidates would/should be fairly aware of the issues facing a particular team. But for external candidates they are mostly looking for a basic structure, such as “First month, meet with all stakeholders, identify needs. Second month, prioritize action items, establish ongoing periodic check ins on initiatives. Third month, complete all ‘Just Do It’ tasks, identify project owners and RAID for top priority action items.” There’s no expectation that an external candidate would walk in and know exactly how to solve critical issues within 3 months. They just want to see that the candidate has a plan for assessing what the critical issues are.

    1. OP4*

      That sounds like a tough start, glad you got through it.
      I think my Dad being so so so much higher on the career ladder than me may have thrown his advice. My first 100 days are totally different- it’s all about integrating and assessing the needs of this particualr placement. I’m actually ahead of my managers targets for me and feel I’m learning the organisation and my new role well.

  31. Anon4this1*


    Sorry that this is happening op. I like Alison’s script, its certainly much better than what would be my knee jerk reply to the praying*.

    ‘We’ve decided to follow God’s example, and just have one.’ <– Me in this situation.
    I'd feel a bit off using God, but she did bring him into it and he does just have the one offspring.

    *Single female, 40, health issues with a 50/50 chance of passing on a crippling disease, that can only be tested for after birth. I love my non existent kids enough to not play Russian roulette with their health.

    1. Pippa*

      LOL at “we’ve decided to follow God’s example and just have one.” That’s offbeat enough that it might derail the average nosy questioner. And it beautifully combines the gently-humorous deflection with an example of Why We Don’t Bring Religion Into Workplace Discussions, Mary.

      *chef’s kiss*

  32. JCB*

    LW #2, I like to think of it as a marketing campaign with those otherwise lovely but over-the-line baby askers (aka my son’s daycare teacher). You need to start getting your message out there! Start dropping in regular, firm but cheerful “Nope, we’re only doing one kiddo!” or “Oh, we’re done having babies, this is our family” or “Oh, no, one is enough!” etc and repeat as necessary. She’s definitely waaaay out of bounds with the way she’s been hounding you but it doesn’t sound like you’ve been giving her a clear answer that there’s no more kids coming either- doing so will likely cut her off at the pass.
    Any questions about your decision can be waved away with a breezy “Oh, I love being his/her parent, but this is all the definitely all the parenting bandwidth I have” or “I thought I might want more before I had him/her but I realize now that I just love being a 1-kid parent” or something similar. I think you’ve been worried that the only explanation that will stop her is the truth, but keep in mind that people choose to have only one kid all the time for personal preference. The more decisive you sound, the quicker people get it and take your answer as the final one. If they sense that you’re unsure about your choice, they will try to “help” by nudging you towards their preference. And again, my sympathies, you definitely should not be in the position of having to explain anything to her!

    1. Plain Jane*

      This should be enough, but unfortunately, with people like Mary they want to tell why your “choice” to have have only one child is wrong because you must not realize that.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Or your choice to have none. You “don’t know what you’re talking about,” “will change your mind,” “will regret it,” “will have no one to ‘take care of you’ when you’re old”…ad infinitum.

        1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          I just turned 52, am thoroughly impatient with how long my meno is taking to pause, and have NO regrets over not bringing any children I did not want, would have saddled with numerous serious debilitating health & neurodevelepmental issues, and had ZERO of the necessary resources (financial, medical, emotional, etc) resources to care for.
          I would be exactly the kind of parent I despise when I see or hear about them because they are not fit to be parents and abuse or neglect their kids. I known far too many people in my life who have been damaged and broken by being raised by people who should never have been parents in the first place and no way was I going to be responsible for bringing that much needless suffering into the world!

      2. Anon this time*

        This. This is what ticks me off. There are people who will imply/say that it is wrong / selfish / “child abuse” to have just one child or not give it a sibling. As an only child myself, I get so angry at this sentiment. Being an only child is fantastic. I highly, highly recommend it.

        I think my mom used to tell people things like, “Hey, this baby slept through the night from day 1. I’m not dumb enough to risk what I might get if I go back to the well.” Or, “Heck, I only had this one because my dad pointed out I was a quarter-century old and I freaked out. Won’t do that twice.” Maybe it was her personality, but people didn’t give her crap about it after that.

        LW2 -I’m really sorry. I think Alison’s advice is great. I agree that you should focus on being really clear that you like your family just as it is, and it’s not going to change. Given Mary’s prayer focus… I might be tempted (if it persisted after basic shutting down) to say, “You know, I almost died giving birth to the first. So I’d really appreciate it if you – and your prayers – would let this go.” I suspect she does care and is kind, and the realization that childbearing nearly killed you would put a very different spin on what she’s actually been praying for all this time. That said, it could mean you have to shut down a different conversation about the past – but I think that’s easier than the never-ending future speculations.

        P.S. I bet your kid is going to be an awesome only child!

    2. TootsNYC*

      I think I’d be much more direct. When she brings it up again, I’d say, “Mary, I need to tell you something. I do not want to have another baby. My husband does not want to have another child. If you are praying to God for me to get pregnant, you are praying against my OWN wishes here–and that’s not very nice or very loving. I need you to stop bringing this up all the time. I’m going to start reminding you when you do, but I need you to train yourself to stop that habit.”

  33. parsley*

    I had a boss who insisted on getting a daily email listing every single thing I’d done that day. It chopped about 20 minutes out of my day at least, and my boss was adamant that this wasn’t micromanaging, even though I had never ever had a manager ask me for something like that in any of my previous jobs. This was also someone who would insist on basically dictating all my emails for me, even though he’d ostensibly hired me to take that off his plate.

    Needless to say, I don’t work there anymore.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I used to have to do that, but it was covering the whole week. It takes a lot of tedious time keeping track of the hundreds of papers I went through in a week.

    2. JustaTech*

      For about 6 months everyone in my org had to record how much time they spent on all our projects (and support works, and basically what we did every day). It wasn’t the worst thing ever, but everyone joked we should have a category called “filling out this thing”.
      Thankfully it generated enough data to prove that we really were working (duh) and then we were able to stop.

  34. WellRed*

    I’ve always disliked the concept of combined years of group experience. LW 1, I hope you are more settled and less intimidated in your job than when you started. You were hired as their manager for a reason.

    1. Mickey Q*

      Someone mentioned in another column that just because you have many years of experience doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any good at what you do.

      I quit bragging about my many years of experience because I realized it just made me look like a dinosaur. We didn’t even have PCs on every desk when I started my career, so is what I did in the early 80s really relevant today? Not really.

  35. Emi.*

    Since the question in #1 is “what would have been a good response?” I think a good response could have been to fire the guy in his probationary period.

    1. Myrin*

      It sounds like OP was the new addition to the group, though, not Fergus, so it’s likely that she was the one still in her probationary period, not he.
      If you mean he should have been fired generally and much earlier, not by OP and in this specific situation, then I agree, although not without finding out more first (then again, the types who bring this kind of stuff up in literally your first meeting rarely constrain themselves to only this one aspect of fire-worthy-ness).

      1. OP#1*

        Yes, his behavior should have been addressed ages ago, a fact my boss admitted to me a few months ago when I came to tell her that I was at the end of what I could take and would be looking at other jobs. It was nice she acknowledged it but doesn’t change much now of course.

        1. n*

          Your boss is willing to let you leave so that she doesn’t have to fire Fergus? (Based on other comments you’ve made on other threads.)

          Oy vey. You are very smart to be exploring your options right now.

  36. Queen Anne*

    OP #2
    I am so sorry. As someone who has dealt with infertility and then was able to adopt I hated all the questions and could not believe the gall of people. But because of my history I am DYING TO KNOW what other people might be going through but I would never, ever ask. I do wish people felt that they could be more open because it can feel very isolating and lonely. I don’t know how to send out smoke signals that I am available if anyone wants to share or talk and it can be so painful. I just hate thinking that some may suffer in silence and feel alone. Still, I would never ask even the most seemingly benign questions.

    1. Just Elle*

      Its so kind that you want to be there to help people! I think that just sharing your own experiences can open the door to others sharing in return, since you’re communicating that you’re open to discussing. Just gotta be careful not to share ‘at’ people (like, oh, you mentioned babies, well let me tell you about my difficult experience…). And it can be kind of a weird thing to casually bring up such a heavy topic in conversation.

  37. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Yep. Tier meetings are supposed to take place in small working groups who then report up though management in, well, tiers.
    They last minutes not hours.

  38. LKW*

    OP#4 – AAM advice is spot on. Listen and learn. Get a sense of what’s working well. Identify areas of improvement but keep an eye out for why certain things are the way they are. Each company has it’s quirks, but each industry has it’s rules and regulations to follow. The worst thing I’ve seen new managers do is come in guns a blazin’ tearing down all of the established processes without understanding why those processes exist and why they exist in that format.

    1. OP4*

      I totally remember those bosses who come in and change a bunch of stuff without realising why things were the way they are. Definitely avoiding that.
      It’s a bit tricky, as I’m employed by organisation A to set up and run a service in organisation B. So I’m working hard to integrate and learn about B to be able to provide what they need, while learning the specific ways A do things that are different then my previous job.
      I think adfing my dad’s point of view into the mix was just bit too much.

  39. EPLawyer*

    For #3 would bringing it up to HR actually be a good idea? The employee said there have been adverse consequences to people who turn down the friend request or block the director. If LW goes to HR, the Director is going to know what employee she is talking about since presumably HR has only talked about one of LW’s reports. Even if LW keeps names out of it, the Director sounds like the type who won’t stop until they find the person who dared to complain.

    Might this be better to bring this concern up the chain? After all, the HR director should already know this is boundary crossing. If they don’t care, they aren’t going to listen to a politely worded request that it is probably not a good idea. If someone over HR tells HR to knock it off it might actually work. Especially if that person has the authority to implement policies for the office as a whole.

    1. WellRed*

      It could be like putting HR on notice, so to speak, that this has been raised as a concern and that it needs to change or it will go up the chain.

    1. irene adler*

      He’s a fool.

      I tend to have a problem with authority-which is the last thing I would ever tell any authority. Because I don’t want to do or say anything that might get the boss’ guard up.

    2. OP#1*

      I can confirm this to be true. Subtle comments about how I shouldn’t wear certain articles of clothing because of how they make me look, comments on my hair being ‘crazy’, it has been a wild ride with this guy.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Oooo. Time to document, tell him to knock it off, and take steps to deal with harassment should he not knock it off.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        How have you responded to those kinds of remarks? I’m hoping you put him in his place, told him it wasn’t up for discussion, etc…

        1. OP#1*

          I’m ashamed to say I didn’t initially.

          When I finally did address them, he said that he would want his friends to tell him if he had something in his teeth. Equating food in your teeth with thinking someone’s hairstyle is crazy… He has stopped those in the last year.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Well at least you did finally say something. Would want his friends to tell him if he had something in his teeth huh? You’re right that’s a whole different thing from commenting on your hair, but TBH I would probably have said, “maybe, but we’re not ‘friends’.”

      3. Observer*

        Please document this in excruciating detail. And make sure that both your boss and HR get copies of this. Because even though you are leaving, this will help the next person after you.

        Unlike the other stuff this is something that your employer is legally required to take seriously.

  40. Environmental Compliance*

    OP 2 – you are a much more tolerant and patient person that I was. I also have fertility problems, but Hubs and I also just don’t want kids. At least for the next few years. We’re simply not ready for that, and it’s leaning towards a never.

    Regardless, after getting hounded and hounded about it by Hub’s aunts, who other than the hounding I do love to bits…. the responses I gave after the inevitable “EC when will you give us some babies???!!” 1) Well, if it’s that important to you, you have an extra bedroom upstairs right? *horrified looks* 2) Never. *walks away* 3) You know, we just can’t figure out the best position to make it happen. You’ve got 3 kids, any suggestions? *horrified looks* 4) Why do you keep asking when your nephew and I will be having unprotected sex? It’s odd that this keeps getting brought up. 5) (and my favorite one) I dunno, ask Hubs. *walks away*

    Because for some ungodly reason, none of them wanted to talk to *him* about it….just me. But I’m a snarky person when pushed.

    I have had coworkers that wouldn’t drop it (including my boss at a health department, who previously worked in sensitive medical counseling!), and my response is always a very, very flat “It’s just not a thing for us. Anyway, (work topic)?” Lather, rinse, repeat. Usually it gets dropped. For ExBoss, who refused to drop it (but also regaled us with horribly graphic descriptions of her traumatic births), I would give a very flat stare for a couple seconds, just drawn out enough to make a point, and walk away or return to working.

    1. stitchinthyme*

      “Because for some ungodly reason, none of them wanted to talk to *him* about it….just me.”

      And I suspect that men never get this in the workplace, either…just women. Because there are way too many people in the world who seem to think a woman’s primary function is brood mare.

      The only person whose business it is to know/talk about your plans (if any) for having babies is your partner. Period. For anyone else, “That’s a personal question” along with a cold stare and a refusal to say more should be sufficient.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Hubs has never gotten harassed about having kids. Not even his mom will badger him about it. (She’s learned to not harass me about it either…)

        But when I got my MS, got a new job in my field, or otherwise had a career achievement? “But EC, what about the children????” Uh, what ones? I have a hoofed furry toddler, who will be excited that I can finally go for trail rides and get him more treats. Oh, you meant human children? Yeah. No.

        And you know what, even if we did have kids – they’d learn that it’s totally okay for the woman to be working too, or not, whatever makes sense for ya’ll in your own damn life. It’s not back in ye olden days where I would have been lucky to learn to read, I do have other capabilities and things to do in life other than giving birth.

    2. LadeeDa*

      “Because for some ungodly reason, none of them wanted to talk to *him* about it….just me.”

      That used to make me insane with my ex-husband’s family. They never asked him, they never shoved babies in his face saying “don’t you want one?” “You’re next!”

      I did finally snap after a few years, one of his cousins was going on and on and on, very loudly, and all this aunts and grandmothers were staring at me… and finally, I snapped and said “I CAN’T have kids! Alright, I can’t have them. And each time you all do this to me it is a knife to my uterus and I deal with that reality all over again! Just stop doing this to women.”

      Nothing was ever said to my face again. Hopefully, it made them think twice about doing it to every other woman they encounter.

      1. London Calling*

        They never asked him, they never shoved babies in his face saying “don’t you want one?” “You’re next!”

        My response when babies were shoved at me is no thanks, I might drop it.

        1. stitchinthyme*

          I’ve made it fairly clear to everyone I know that kids are not my thing, so no one ever tries to shove a baby at me. It also helps that I work with mostly guys, so it’s very, very rare to see kids in the office.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            I never held a baby until I was 29 years old, and it was my newborn niece (who I love to pieces.) I may have held one or maybe two other babies since then, despite having tons of friends with kids (of all ages.) I don’t have an interest, AND I really am extremely clumsy, so it makes me really NERVOUS too.

    3. Jennifer Juniper*

      Because it’s the woman’s duty to produce babies, with or without having sex. Don’t you know it’s your duty to keep a turkey baster on your person at all times? #sarcasm

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      “Because for some ungodly reason, none of them wanted to talk to *him* about it….”
      Because you are female.

    1. OP4*

      Totally up for that.
      (Actually have someone who, while hasn’t directly said she has a problem with authority, seems to be really struggling that I am younger than her and is reacting by ‘mothering’ me and being ‘concerned’ about how stressful setting up a new project is.)

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Don’t let her kill you with kindness. Realize that she is gaslighting you so that she can work the way she wants.
        Oh, no, OP, you shouldn’t be concerned with that. I’ll take care of it.
        Oh, they can just see me about X.
        Now I know your busy and I don’t want to add to that, so I’m just going to do that this way, because it will be faster and you’ll be glad when I’m done.

        1. OP4*

          Weirdly, her behavior actually makes me feel more confident. She is less experienced in this particular environment and is struggling a bit to adjust. So when she says she was just trying to ‘support’ me to feel able to do a particular action, I can use it as a training opportunity and help her understand why that action would have backfired here. Which makes me realise why the breadth of experience I have is so vital for this role.

  41. Iris Eyes*

    “I have an authority problem.”
    “Thanks for letting me know I’ll make sure you don’t have any.” (out loud or silently)

    Invariably I’ve found people who “have authority issues” cause as much havoc to those below them as those above them.

  42. Elise*

    It seems like the company in #5 is trying to cut down on a bunch of smaller meetings… by creating one large useless meeting that takes up 1/4 of the workday! Wow. There is no way that many people are as constructive as smaller groups meeting for a specific purpose. I’m imagining it’s a “who’s busiest” contest because who is going to say they don’t have enough work to do? We have a weekly meeting that maxes out at 1.5 at its longest to do project roundtables with our unit, just so we all know what everyone has going on. This is more than sufficient, and we still have staff who monopolize the meeting to talk about their projects in excruciating detail.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Doesn’t it? Like a department job fair where accountant goes to llama department and says there are new X forms that I would like to show you how to fill out.
      Great, but head llama wrangler has to talk to llama food dispersers so, as soon as she meets with them. But they are looking for llama herders.
      Or is it not a free for all and you start with Accounting.
      Accounting Rep, which groups do you need to meet with?
      Next group..
      And then what? 20 minutes of coordinating 5 minute meetings?
      This is asinine.

  43. Bunny Girl*

    Whhhhhy do personal boundaries fly out the window the second pregnancy is involved. It’s maddening. You don’t need to ask about people’s reproductive plans unless you are in a relationship with them yourself and it personally and directly impacts you.

    Personal confession. I had a partial hysterectomy at age 20. I’m sterile as a rock. I advocated, fought, and pursued that option until it happened. My favorite thing ever is when nosy people ask and whine about when I’m going to have a baby and then I just straight faced drop the bomb that I’m sterile. It makes people SO uncomfortable. It’s so great! They don’t need to know that I throw myself a party every year on the anniversary of my surgery. They just get to squirm around and hopefully think next time they ask someone about their reproductive plans.

    1. stitchinthyme*

      Heh, love this. My answer was always a simple, “Don’t have ’em. Don’t want ’em.” I got the occasional “you’ll change your mind” when I was in my 20s, but I never argued; I would just answer, “I guess we’ll see.” Spoiler alert: I haven’t. I had a tubal ligation at 30, and 18 years later I haven’t regretted it for a second.

  44. Nervous Accountant*

    LORDT I want to verbally punch Fergus in his smug face, and yes I am certainly projecting my feelings of Kevin (my report who’s as useful as * insert your favorite “useful as” jab here* ) on this.

    IT IS HARD esp when you’re new to this all and unsure of where your authority is and how to navigate this.
    Harder when the person in question is an older male and you’re a younger female. I’m not

    I am bookmarking this response now that I am more secure in myself, and my position.

    I can never ever ever imagine saying this kind of bull crap to my boss/supervisor, even if I felt they were

  45. A suggestion*

    OP #5 – Suggest a standing meeting (where everyone stands up rather than being seated) and I can almost guarantee you those meetings will become much shorter.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      That suggestion could be considered ableist if the company has older, overweight, disabled, or pregnant employees. If anyone is using a mobility device, definitely do NOT suggest standing meetings!

      1. All Stitched Up*

        Even if there aren’t employees who are known to be disabled (either by the person suggesting standing meetings or at their workplace at all)… I would go so far as to call standing meetings inherently exclusionary. There are plenty of people who are closeted about their disabilities to some degree with their employer for any number of reasons, not least because being known to have a disability can tank your chances of advancement (or affect your career in subtler but often more unpredictable ways.) Even well-intentioned people have often absorbed terrible assumptions about disability. Especially with non-apparent disabilities and/or conditions that result in really variable ability levels on a day to day basis, a lot of people will pretty quickly jump to the assumption that a disabled person is misrepresenting herself. I get that the whole point of standing meetings is to be brief because people aren’t comfortable, but there’s a not insignificant amount of people who can walk without problems but not stand in one place for that long, or who can stand for 5 or 10 minutes but not 15, or can stand 15 minutes just fine one day but not another, etc. etc. And I get that ideally people would be able to give a vague and noncommittal reason why they can’t stand for the full time and not have anyone judge them for sitting, or in general do whatever they need to in order to have low enough pain that they can focus on the content of the meeting effectively, but as we see from examples on this very blog, that’s not always how it works out.

        Anyway, I could probably write an entire thesis on how much the disability binary leads us to faulty assumptions, but I’m gonna leave it at that for now.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Also, standing meetings can adversely affect women more than men because women often wear high heels due to office culture requirements/personal preference.

  46. Amethystmoon*

    #5 I was once in a work team where the boss made us all have daily meetings, and none of us had very much to say. They wound up being mostly us listening to him talk about his politics and e-Bay antiques sales.

  47. LadeeDa*

    a 2-hour long update meeting? UGGG that sounds like a nightmare. Is the point of that to cut down on a bunch of meetings? I can’t imagine that gets much done- other than updates. In my meetings we don’t really do updates, we are usually there to discuss and make decisions.

    I am currently leading a daily Stand-up meeting for a project that went off the rails and got dumped on my team to fix, but we only have 2 weeks to do what would normally be done in 6 months. Those meetings last 15-20 minutes- 1. Newly identify problems/issues/decisions, 2. Each person gives the status of their assigned piece, and 3. Each person tells the group if they have encountered a roadblock- we offer advice, help, or if I need to get involved I do.

    1. ArtK*

      You’re actually holding a daily standup the way they’re supposed to be done, as far as the Scrum framework is concerned. No deep discussions, just a simple report and raise issues. Issues should be discussed/worked only by the relevant people, not everyone in the meeting.

  48. TootsNYC*

    #3, HR sending friend requests to employees

    I would absolutely say to HR, “It’s my policy that the people who work for me are not to be Facebook friends with anyone at work who outranks them. So I’ve asked them to clean up their Facebook friends list. I’m telling you this, because I’ve heard that you comment when people do that, and I wanted you to know that it’s not personal, it has nothing to do with you. It’s just my policy. I don’t want office things to be tainted by things that come from people’s personal Facebook pages.”

    And then I’d tell my people.

    I’ll take all that blame, especially since I don’t actually report TO HR.

    1. ArtK*

      That’s the right approach. It gets the employee out from under HR’s thumb and it redirects any issues from HR to the manager and not to the innocent employee.

    2. Joielle*

      Yes! This is what I was going to suggest too. Make it OP’s policy and then OP can take the blame. HR may grumble, but what are they going to do, make a policy that everyone has to be FB friends with each other?

  49. The Doctor*

    According to the Harvard Business Review, the most productive meetings have no more than EIGHT attendees.

  50. Vitamin C inside and out*

    #1 I started out in government work (statistics), and as badly as this sounds there is nothing you can do about this due to the setup of government work. Where once your a permanent worker there is little even if you didn’t do you job to fire you, and even if someone wanted to fire you the mountain of paperwork that comes with firing a permanent government employee is on the level of buying a new home. After 5 years in big government I really feel like the track there is the retirement track, although while having 2 kids there really is great on the mommy track too. ( while there I never missed an eat lunch with my kid, class party, etc and never felt bad about leaving where in the public sector I feel bad for leaving late most days)

    1. OP#1*

      Yes, I’ve had several children while in this position and it has been wonderful for that. And while my boss’ blinders about Fergus have been frustrating, in all other ways she is a wonderful boss. That’s why I have stayed for so long. For my family, the current job is really good.

  51. t.i.a.s.p.*

    #1 – this is NOT the voice of experience speaking here, but if I understand you, you are saying that Fergus is the only one who knows his position, which is partly why he gets away with being insubordinate. Would it be possible to do something about changing that? Either instructing him to start documenting his position (probably he won’t but then that’s more insubordination to back up firing him) or doing whatever you would do if he quit without notice. And I wonder if you or someone else was learning his position, would he assume that it is because you are preparing to push him out and maybe cause him to dial back the insubordination a bit?

    1. OP#1*

      This has been the rub for our entire time together, because I have learned a lot about his duties and I’ve asked questions that show I have caught on and won’t be misdirected. That has been very threatening to him.

      I was far more detailed in his goals for this cycle and spelled out the documentation he needed to complete. But he had a personal tragedy and was out for several months. It absolutely highlighted the need for this documentation but it also caused the office as a whole to soften on enforcing that he complete it when he returns.

  52. Brett*

    #3 It might not be so obvious at first, but what the HR manager is doing is a serious security risk.
    One of the drawbacks of public sector work (especially municipal) is that you end up with a significant number of people who will do you harm just because of who you work for. I have personally seen this escalate all the way up to murder and attempted murder.
    The risk here is that the HR manager is now making it very easy for a bad actor to build a catalog of social media accounts belonging to other employees. Thanks to friend of friend settings, Facebook is especially vulnerable to this kind of intelligence gathering (someone who knows how to use the Facebook Graph API can dig far deeper than what you see in the app). If the HR manager has any slip up such accepting the wrong friend request, exposing their friends list (especially through a phone app), or getting hacked by a spearfishing ad, they have now put targets on all those co-workers they friended.

    Because of this specific type of risk, people mining social networks for information on employees, my last employer (big metropolitan county) had several strict rules including not using last names, hiding friend lists, not listing an employer, not posting work activities. They would send out regular updates on ideal privacy settings as well; but strongly discouraged friending large numbers of co-workers (and did _not_ encourage employers to like business pages connected to the county).

  53. Not Fergus*

    I guess the big question with Fergus is: Does he DO his job?
    As a fellow person who has some issues with “authority” what I generally mean is that I hate micro-managing and over-managing of the petty things that aren’t really work (like butts in the seat 8-5 or enforced 1 hour lunches at exactly 12pm). I want to do my work my way and I work best with my own process on how to accomplish the goal.
    But this doesn’t mean I mind being told what I need to accomplish, on a daily or weekly basis, or working on whatever projects are designated as priorities. Tell me what you need done and I’ll get it done when you need it.

    Issues tend arise when you get managers who give you false parameters, are too vague or flightly with them, or get heavy-handed with insisting on following rules or processes that may not make sense “just because I’m telling you to” without providing context for the WHY. [Yes, I’m a typical INTJ]. If you can’t explain the “why” behind something, I will lose respect for your management over me pretty quickly. I need rational thought, not authority for authority’s sake.

    So I guess my question is does Fergus actually accomplish his tasks in a timely manner, meet his metrics and complete his projects? Does he take on new projects?
    It sounds like he’s not, and that is a different story (the skating-by). Or he’s become so disengaged and frustrated with the company or management he doesn’t give a shit anymore (and that’s happened to me too-though I still cranked out work).

    But I’d like to say that just because people have “authority” issues, it’s not always bad, and they can still be very productive employees if given the right direction and challenges. It’s almost like we want to be pointed to a path, given a shove, and then allowed to find our own way home! Their oft-perceived-negative energy can be directed in a positive manner by the right manager who’s not afraid of this seeming lack of control and has very clear goals in mind. Many innovations and problem-solving come from people who detest playing by the rules.

    1. OP#1*

      I hear you. I was told by others in the office that Fergus was wonderful, a high performer, great at his job etc. So I think that’s where some of my initial method came from. But as I started to learn more and see patterns, I saw that what I was told about Fergus wasn’t the case. And I think once he knew that I knew, there was a shift in our dynamic.

      Fergus LOVES to enforce the rules to every one else. He seems to just want everyone to do it his way. I totally feel you on the ‘tell me why I need to do this.’ The issue with Fergus is that most times, after getting the why, if he didn’t agree with it, he would not let it go well past the point where it was appropriate to raise concerns professionally. So he would never say he wouldn’t go along but he also wouldn’t be communicative about having completed the project or give any updates. And when asked why, he would say he didn’t think he needed to let anyone know that something was completed.

      tl:dr there are people like yourself who really value their autonomy and their work supports that. Fergus wants autonomy but has not shown me that he should have as much as he wants based on the lies by omission, tantrums, inconsistencies in responses based on who asks etc.

      1. Not Fergus*

        Yes, it sounds like your Fergus needs some reigning back in, especially in the areas of reporting and accountability for reporting in a regular and timely manner.

        On the plus side, these things are somewhat easier to implement than if he were doing really poor work (assuming he isn’t delivering sub-par work, just being passive-aggressive about reporting what he does). Do you believe he is still coachable in this regard? Often people like this will tend to dig in their heels! But requiring hard facts (reporting) and deadlines for both work and the reporting is deemed rational, and the appeal can be made to his logic. “You did X which resulted in a gain of Y,” or “You completed X projects in X time with and each was an average of Y days. Let’s improve that to Z days next quarter.” Sometimes they can be made to cut the bullshit when they see the proof this way and that the ramifications of not complying, loafing, or making excuses won’t fly. As the manager, you need to hold him to it and reprimand if there is non-compliance or refusal to follow the agreed-upon schedule.

        As for not letting “it” go: It’s best to be blunt. “Fergus, You made it known you don’t agree with X and I hear your concerns. However, the company is moving forward with X because of Y and Z. At this point, it is the end of the discussion and I need to know you will be accountable delivering and reporting your your A and B accordingly and without complaint (willingly) even though you may disagree. Is this understood?
        [Fergus wants to be right. Cut it off.]

        If the combination is both poor work and poor communication/attitude, then I think Fergus will need to see real consequences for both, including writing up, PIPs etc., and even possible firing. But I hope your Fergus does care about his work and isn’t so far gone to come to that.

    2. n*

      But the issue isn’t only that Fergus has authority issues. The issue is that he chose to tell this to the OP in a way that’s him basically saying, “I have no intention of respecting you as a manager.”

      I also prefer autonomy in my work and sometimes have what could be dubbed “authority issues,” but would NEVER have this be one of the first things I would say to a new manager because it is undermining and outright insubordinate.

    3. Anoncorporate*

      I’m like this, as well…but I would never ever actually say out loud the words “I don’t like authority” (or some other version of this) to my boss! Fergus sounds like a disrespectful jerk (he said this to OP before even beginning to work with them), and I hate to do this with every post, but I seriously wonder if OP is a female. Because not respecting a female’s authority is something that happens, sometimes.

  54. T*

    The term nasty-nice fits Mary perfectly. She ain’t nice and the OP shouldn’t be either when shutting her down. Yes, they need to preserve a working relationship, but she needs to butt out about personal issues. I can’t think of anything more personal than fertility issues.

  55. Nicki Name*

    #5 – WOW NOPE. For *very* small companies a daily all-hands meeting may make sense, but it would start becoming wasteful at around 10-15 people.

  56. Formerly Arlington*

    As someone who is past the new baby years, with so many friends who have struggled with all kinds of issues related to fertility, it stuns me that someone around my age (“Mary”) could say she would pray for someone to have more kids. What kind of bubble does she live in to not realize how colossally intrusive and insensitive that is? I could see someone who’s never had kids being clumsy and ill-intentioned about this, but you just don’t get to be the age of someone with kids in high school without having some firsthand knowledge of all of the many reasons why kids/more than 1 kid aren’t for everyone.

    1. Grapey*

      Why do you think someone that has never had kids would be MORE clumsy and ill-intentioned? They’re probably the most appreciative of what it’s like to get harangued by Mary types.

      Thinking about it now, all of the people that have bothered me most about kids are people that have already had them.

    2. Oh So Anon*

      What kind of bubble does she live in to not realize how colossally intrusive and insensitive that is?

      You know, I get why everyone talks about instilling “soft” skills in entry-level workers nowadays – it’s because creating a culture where it’s okay to gently clap back against Mary-types and their behaviour early in their careers helps prevent them from doing this kind of nonsense for years and getting away with it because no one felt comfortable correcting them.

      Someone like Mary, despite being nice, has probably always been officious like this. If she was doing this in her twenties and no one pushed back against it, no wonder she’s never needed to develop better boundaries.

  57. Overeducated*

    #2, I have a coworker like this, I’ve taken to just saying with no expression, “I’ll let you know when there’s news to share.” It ends the discussion without me having to explain or justify my choices. There simply hasn’t been news to share.

  58. Tysons in NE*

    I am HR and have had the personal policy of not Facebooking people as friends while working there. Too many cans of worms to be opened.
    Will do so for people that I like after leaving a job.
    Why can being friends on Facebook be an issue? True story, the CFO friended the office manager. The Office Manager was not a good office manager and at some point had a falling out with the CFO (workplace, no out of office activities) and unfriended him. In her later law suite, stated that all of her troubles started when she unfriended the CFO. I know her troubles started before that and with someone else in the C-suite, but looking from the outside in, not so easy to tell.
    Anyway, I don’t feel left out when I don’t friend my co-workers and most have accepted my explanation that in HR, I keep to keep a professional distance to remain unbiased, fair, objective, etc.
    Your HR person should really know better.

  59. Random Obsessions*

    “Mary, I don’t think you’ve noticed how uncomfortable it makes me when you insist upon talking about my reproductive/family planning/choice to have no more children. I am uncomfortable talking about this with other people and would appreciate it if this is the last time it is ever brought up between us again.”

  60. Oaktree*

    Regarding Facebook- this is a great opportunity to say that it’s a good idea to make yourself undiscoverable on Facebook. You can fiddle with privacy settings to determine who is able to send you a friend request. At this point eh only options are “everyone” or “friends of friends”, but I always go with the most restrictive one.

    You can also ensure that no one can look you up using your email address or phone number, and make sure that Google isn’t indexing your page (so no one will find your facebook profile if they google your name).

    I have a pretty strict “no work people” facebook policy, which I make very few exceptions for. And stuff like Letter #3 is why.

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