my coworkers overshare really personal details

A reader writes:

I have worked in the same office for over a year and a half and I am baffled at how much my coworkers share. I have worked at several offices before and had very open discussions but nothing on this level.

To give you a snapshot, my office is open concept. The majority of us are in cubicles in one room with a few of us sharing offices. My office is 99% women and the majority are in their early 30s so they’re going through similar things when it comes to marriage and children. This past year, one of my coworkers got married, two just had babies, and one had a baby about a year ago. This has caused discussion to always be about the female body and babies. I’m fine with sharing about these moments and hearing all about these milestones however, I am not sure I need to hear about every kind of breast-pump, the specifics of my coworkers’ bodies after birth, and associated issues related to pregnancy.

I understand that they may have questions for each other as they go through certain things for the first time. However, I now know that one of my coworkers had to go to a vaginal physical therapist because of the condition of her reproductive organs post-baby and now has to use kegel weights, another’s husband was not into the Brazilian bikini wax she got, and the another kind of hates her husband.

One of my friends in the office has brought it up to her supervisor but since her supervisor is also one of these people who overshares, nothing really happened. The few of us who aren’t in their stage of life feel super uncomfortable. If we walked in talking about how much we drank over the weekend or what we did at a nightclub we would be seen in a negative light. But, if we talked about our child is afraid to use a toilet or that our breasts are chaffed from breast feeding it would be completely fine.

As tempted as we are to go to HR, it doesn’t feel like a major enough issue to bring up and our HR department is a joke. Also, since it’s the majority of the office having these discussions, it would be pretty obvious to figure out who complained. Are there any ways we can reduce the oversharing in house before having to take it up to someone higher?

I answer this question — and four others — on the Ask a Manager podcast today Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I’m inheriting an employee who slacks off
  • Employers who contact references not on your official reference list
  • How to announce a schedule change that people will be unhappy with (read an update here)
  • How can I explain I’m looking for more work-life balance without sounding like I’m lazy? (read an update here)

This episode also has an update from last week’s caller with the exhaustingly negative coworker!

The show is 30 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, the iHeartRadio app, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed. Or you can listen above.

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. Oogie*

    Based on my experience people who normally are appropriate in conversation do this when it come to childbirth, kids, etc. One night I was at a company dinner and hadn’t had these issues with the people I was with, but while at the restaurant! they started going into really graphic details about childbirth. They got the hint when I started turning green and excused myself for a few minutes. I guess my point is, even ordinarily normal people forget their manners when it comes to these topics.

    1. Roscoe*

      I agree. There is something about childbirth that people see as so “natural” that they think they have every right to discuss any and everything about it. Its ridiculous. Hell, I’m a guy and I’ve heard some stuff from my female friends that shocks me. Like why are you telling me this. Pooping is natural too, but I’m not going on at length about it at work

      1. Ingray*

        Uh, I don’t know, I’ve heard people with kids discuss their kids’ poop in great detail in really inappropriate contexts (for example, at work and during dinner). I think sometimes when people are deep in a situation they lose the sense of what’s normal and acceptable.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This made me chuckle. I’ve got friends who discuss their own…hmmm…irregularities. So if they had kids, Lord help us all with those conversions.

          But really, I don’t think it’s not about “normal” vs “abnormal”. We’re all different and have different levels of comfort/privacy. It varies drastically by person and personality.

          For example, I’m a person who can listen to medical grossness anywhere anytime. But I start squirming and border on angry with discussion of what is often viewed by some as “sex positivity”.

          I’m simply not grossed out by poop, urine or blood. But can respect others are and can throw a “ew please don’t!” flag at any time.

          1. Anonymeece*

            My mother will happily discuss her most private medical history with strangers at the drop of a hat. One of my friends bore the brunt of one of her monologues and later asked if it was because she knew he was a therapist, and I had to explain no, she didn’t even know that… she just has no sense of privacy.

            Meanwhile you’d have to pry it out of me if I had allergies.

            I agree that people just have different senses of privacy and what provokes squeamishness!

        2. Glitsy Gus*

          When my nephews were born I had to finally put my foot down and demand a “no poop talk at the dinner table” rule for family gatherings as it had become the primary topic between my sister and my mom. I cackled like a loon when, at around age 5, oldest nephew told a poop joke and my sister said, “We don’t talk about poop at the dinner table. It’s gross.”

      2. quagmire*

        My cousin is due soon. My mom was spending time with said cousin’s mom recently (it’s my dad’s side of the family, so my mom’s ex-inlaw) and when I was talking to my mom afterwards, my mom literally said, “oh, cousin’s due date is next week. She’s 1 cm dilated.”

        That cousin is pretty private in general, she and I have talked at length these last few months about how intrusive people are with her pregnancy. I immediately said, “I’m sure she’s thrilled that people are discussing her cervix.” My mom, who is usually great (!) justified it by saying, “well she wasn’t there!” That doesn’t make it ok, I’m sure she would be pissed if she knew her mom was just announcing this to people! You’re literally telling me about someone else’s PRIVATE PARTS.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          If I managed to get pregnant, I would refuse to discuss the details with a certain relative who is the family information clearinghouse. I KNOW they talk about me with other people because they talk about them with me. Same thing if I became famous. There are Thomas Markles in my family, so nuh uh.

        2. Squab*

          So, I went overdue when I was pregnant. When I was one week post-term my folks came into town for a holiday, and … basically everybody was sitting around and waiting to see if I would pop. My mother-in-law had spent my entire pregnancy asking me very inappropriately personal questions about my body, and it all came to a head when the whole extended family went out for a lunch.

          MIL: are you going to induce?
          Me: If we have to; we’re talking with the doctor every day.
          MIL: But how will they induce? Will you take medicine? Will they sweep your membranes?
          Me, firmly: We will figure that out with the doctor if we need to.
          MIL: But are there any signs that you’re close?
          Me: We’ve got it covered.
          [shocked silence in the restaurant]
          My dad: So, [FIL], did I notice one of your tires was low?

    2. Annette*

      People forget or don’t know that bring pregnant giving birth and raising a child totally shifts ones experience of bodily autonomy and privacy. Perhaps this leads previously normal people to OVERSHARE!

      1. logicbutton*

        I think those coworkers especially would appreciate a nudge when they’re starting to overshare. I wouldn’t want to look at my life one day and realize I’d become someone who was making people think about their coworkers’ genitals against their will.

          1. On Fire*

            Even that doesn’t always help. I did that several years ago when I was the only non-mother in a conversation that had, for no valid reason, wandered into body parts. They said basically the above – after you give birth, you really don’t care about privacy any more. Okay, that’s fine among your friend group, but it’s still inappropriate at work! (Unfortunately, my then-director was the one who said privacy didn’t matter anymore. Sigh.)

            1. mcr-red*

              Except I’ve given birth to two children, and I still care about my privacy with people outside of my immediate family!

      2. Overeducated*

        Yeah, it sort of creates a new normal. Worth remembering that work normal is still different from social normal, though. A lot of working parents try to avoid talking much about their families at all, even apart from bodily functions.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        People forget or don’t know that bring pregnant giving birth and raising a child totally shifts ones experience of bodily autonomy and privacy.

        For SOME people. But I’ve been pregnant, given birth, and raised a child, and none of this makes me want to discuss her poop, or my privates, at work.

    3. First Time Caller*

      Yes! As a pregnant person right now, people feel entitled to ask for and discuss a lot of medical things that wouldn’t be appropriate otherwise. Like, even “are you going to have an epidural?” — I wouldn’t discuss whether I am having anesthesia for a colonoscopy with a coworker, so why is this on the table?? It’s well-meaning but I hate it.

      1. MiddleCottage*

        This just makes me remember that I have worked with people who happily have talked about their colonoscopies…

    4. Rainy days*

      Bahaha. I got shown a video of my friend’s child using his training toilet while we were out at a very nice, adults-only dinner, as proof that he was “brilliant”…I had to wonder if I was suddenly living in a sitcom.

      People really do forget about norms and manners when it comes to these things.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        That person’s child is going to grow up and get really, really mad at them for embarrassing them like that. Ick.

  2. BadWolf*

    In addition to Alison’s suggested of “Hey too much!” , I might try “Oh boy, maybe save this for happy hour/lunch/coffee break” — then you’re not telling them not to talk about it at all, but to shift it to other times (times when OP may not be with them).

    In my hobby group, we have someone who gets queasy on too much medical/sickness/gross stuff. The rest of us are probably hardier than average to talk about gross stuff (even while eating), but she had said a couple times things along the line, “Okay, let’s change the subject.” Or “I’m still eating guys” or just noise and sort of shudder and we’ve been trained to curtail ourselves when she’s there and tell gross thing when she isn’t there, etc.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think it’s always best to try that route first. “Oh man, I’m eating!” or a somewhat exaggerated shrudder works wonders in most situations when you’re dealing with people who overshare on accident frequently, they’re usually just a little thoughtless at most more than actively trying to be over the top.

      I don’t have many things I view as unappetizing or unappealing due to graphic details, so sometimes my friends or family just have to say “Dude.” and I’m all “Oh…that’s TMI isn’t it? My bad…so here’s some cute pics of my cat.”

  3. Annette*

    Drinking too much at a night club does not = raising a child. That lack of perspective could be a recipe for failure.

    1. vw*

      I don’t think LW is implying that at all! They’re simply saying that it’s too much information about a person’s personal life. They also reference the Brazilian wax and marital troubles as part of the oversharing and not ONLY objecting to the childbirth/kid talk.

      I would be just as uncomfortable knowing about my colleagues’ wax routines as I would about their drunken debauchery.

      1. ArtK*

        I agree. I don’t want to hear about drinking too much at a nightclub, personal grooming, medical procedures, etc. That’s gender-neutral as well. Please, spare me the description of your colonoscopy.

    2. Faith*

      Describing in graphic detail your body parts that are used in conception/birth/breastfeeding does not = raising a child.

        1. vw*

          But toilet training does also = poop.
          I don’t want to hear about poop at work (Unless I’m working in a situation where feces are directly relevant, such as healthcare).

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          Toilet training is not an appropriate workplace topic- people should save it for groups of other parents of tots in a non work context.

      1. Murphy*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t have a problem with the child raising discussion but the kegel weights and waxing, NO THANK YOU.

      2. Paperdill*

        Annette, I disagree. Whether it’s appropriate office conversation or not is one question, but being able to talk about such things really is part of parenting.
        I’m a nurse and work with post-natal families (so I do recognize my settings are somewhat lower than others) but, people NEED to be able to tak about these things with peers. Being able to share, debrief experiences and ask questions is a major part of parenting. Unfortunately for many people, the most waking hours of their day is spent with their colleagues so it is a natural thing to turn to colleagues for advice and support. For many of my clients their colleagues are the only people they have to ask about parenting stuff.
        Again, not saying shouting across the cubical about you cracked nipples is the way to go (although, in my workplace this is commonplace), but this IS part of parenting and people need permission to be able to discuss this stuff with someone sometime.
        (I think, also being Australian, as well as a nurse, our level of TMI is a bit lower than many of you guys in the US).

        1. Not Australian*

          “being able to talk about such things really is part of parenting.”

          No, no, it really isn’t. And if it were, *work wouldn’t be the place to do it*, which is the point you seem to have missed. Nobody’s suggesting that the parents should be shamed or silenced, just asked to reserve their more detailed conversations for an appropriate time and place.

        2. Grapey*

          “to be able to discuss this stuff with someone sometime.”

          OP’s problem is that she would like the someone to not be her, and the sometime to not be in her earshot while she’s at work.

          I have zero TMI limits when it comes to sharing with close friends/family, but I still get secondhand embarrassed if someone assumes a level of comfort with me/the public where they announce their business to the world. (Looking at you, baby showers. Glad I haven’t accepted an invitation to one of those in a decade.)

        3. atalanta0jess*

          Thanks for saying this. Conversations I’ve had with friends (and yes, friends who are colleagues) about these topics have been so so important. I hope I haven’t had them at times or in places that have made other folks uncomfortable, but the sort of “ew, gross, no one should ever talk about this stuff!” reaction is contrary to my experience.

          1. Val Zephyr*

            No one is says “ew, gross, no one should ever talk about this stuff!” They’re saying that there is a time and a place for this and its not at work in front of other people.

          2. mcr-red*

            I have had conversations in the past with friends who are colleagues that could be of a graphic or overly personal nature. However, they were within the privacy of an office, in the car, a few times even in the bathroom, but not loudly talked about across the office where everyone, including customers, could overhear.

        4. Val Zephyr*

          That’s bullshit. People don’t NEED to have conversations with co-workers in front of other co-workers about gross stuff in order to be able to parent their children. And what the hell makes you think that Americans are a bunch of uptight prudes just because we don’t what to hear about your chapped nipples while we are trying to get work done?

          1. LT*

            Someone, sometime might be coworkers who’ve shared the experience! After all, you’re with those people for such a significant part of the week.But at the same time, it shouldn’t be an all-the-time convo.

            I also didn’t think it was wrong to point out that different cultures and different professions might have different levels of comfort or different norms around expressing personal details, as a comment above seemed to take exception to. I can be pretty private about a lot of things—I probably could be considered an puritanical New Englander!

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I agree the conversation should not be held with or around coworkers who do not care to be involved in that baby/nursing/birth conversation.

            But someone else pointed out we spend a lot of time with coworkers, for some people coworkers are more than just coworkers and become friends. Some people depending on their situation might not have time to go to a parent group or get together with friends and family as often as they get together and have lunch with coworkers.

            So I can see where if you are friends with 2 or 3 other coworkers who are going through a similar experiences you would want to talk about it, share tips, and lean on each other for support.

            Again this should not be done yelling across the room so everyone can hear, but if a group of 4 women who have recently given birth are wanting to talk about it over lunch when they get together that is understandable

    3. MoopySwarpet*

      Frequently talking at work about drinking too much at a nightclub = overshare
      Frequently talking at work about childBIRTH and/or raising a child = overshare
      Overshare = Overshare
      Therefore (in this context): drinking too much at a night club = raising a child
      They are both discussions that should (probably) be kept to a minimum in an office/professional setting.

      1. Barbara Lander*

        I agree. I think it is not that these things should never be discussed, but some things are just not appropriate to be discussed in the workplace, at least not in front of EVERYBODY. Also, some co-workers overshare stuff that isn’t gross or super-private but, OMG! How can you discuss what you had for lunch for 2-1/2 hours? Or imagine that anyone cares?? I don’t think people pick up on cues from their listeners anymore. Perhaps the art of small talk needs to be cultivated–maybe it’s becoming a lost art. What’s wrong with asking people if they went to a movie, or cooked something interesting, or read a new book that they are enjoying? If the weather was beautiful, ask if they took a walk, or went to a park, or something like that. Do I sound terribly old-fashioned?

    4. MizShrew*

      I didn’t take it that the OP thought they were equivalent in terms of life experiences/importance, just that sharing personal life details is not appropriate in either case, and that if she DID share hers she would be judged. As it seems you are judging her for a lack of perspective.

      I think the letter writer has a point. I’m older than she is, but don’t have kids, and I’ve been in situations where people are oversharing their pregnancy/baby experiences. It’s just awkward, and for whatever reason, some people think that everyone should be utterly fascinated by every detail of their pregnancy and child rearing experiences. There’s an implicit assumption that motherhood makes their lives more valuable and/or interesting than those of their childless peers, an idea I find offensive.

      1. Just nope*

        +100 Some mothers seem to assume there are bonus points for choosing to reproduce and act bent if praise and/or approving smiles aren’t liberally bestowed for relating minutiae of birth & baby care.

      2. Jaz*

        For what it’s worth, when I unintentionally overshare my pregnancy experience, it isn’t because I think my status as a parent makes me better or more interesting than others. It’s because my mind is still blown that a human being grew inside of and then popped out of my guts, and I’m struggling to reconcile my mind with all that. Childbirth is a deeply bizarre experience for some of us, and takes a lot of time to process.

        1. Jennifer*

          I think it’s good for women to talk about their experiences, hopefully outside of work, because a lot of women are clueless about what REALLY is going to happen to their body during pregnancy, birth, and recovery and how difficult motherhood really is. I really want women to be able to speak honestly about it without getting shut down. Again – outside of work.

      3. RUKidding*

        Well to be fair, and I completely agree with your perspective, keep in mind that women are socialized, hard, that motherhood is *the* goal for entire existence.

        Therefore for many women it does feel like *the most important thing/now I am complete/a real woman. It’s sexist and gross, but is still s thing.

      4. SavannahMiranda*

        + 10,000 and I’m a mom myself. I almost said “as a mother.”

        “As a mother” is a lampooned statement. Which *is* offensive. But it’s lampooned because of the assumption it makes of inherent interest or value, like you said.

        As a mother, no one has the authority to force me to listen to the sordid tale of their badly healed episiotomy (sliced up childbirth vagina, just for full effect) and it’s lingering effects on their sex life or their husband’s genitals. Which yes some moms will just blather on about as if it has interest or value! I’m a mom myself and no I don’t want to hear it!

        I can appreciate the value this kind of bonding has among sisters, moms, close friends. But for crying out loud, not at the copy machine, at the conference room table, at the staff lunch meeting, or over the cubicle wall.

        As a mother, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize what the LW is being subjected to. These coworkers are not chatting gracefully about how far apart contractions were, unless it’s in the context of the effect of those contractions on their bladder function now. No. Just. NO.

        “Stop telling me about your vagina or anything that comes out of it” is not a sentence that should need to be said in the workplace.

        As a mother, this is not that hard people.

        Women have rightfully complained about and sought to rectify Old Boy’s Clubs in workplaces. Cultures that empower the members (men) to the exclusion of designated outsiders (women).

        Please realize this behavior where women, moms or otherwise, take over an environment and enforce some kind of offensive medical disclosure norms while silencing even women who take exception to it, is negative too. No, it’s not historically negative in an institutional way. I know that. But it’s exclusionary, it’s rude, it’s offensive, and it’s piss poor behavior. It’s what used to be called a Hen Party.

        No workplace should be either an Old Boy’s Club or a Hen Party. And no one should make excuses for it. We can do better than this.

        1. RUKidding*

          “”Stop telling me about your vagina or anything that comes out of it” is not a sentence that should need to be said in the workplace.””

          ::Standing ovation::

        2. Kyrielle*

          It can also be really, really gross, in the most literal sense.

          I have two kids. I have lots of gross stories, and I can even just with one or two sentences evoke some of them in people who are familiar with childbirth.

          But a) I don’t need to and b) doing that at work? No, just no.

          At work, things I need to know/share are “Just a heads-up, I’m leaving two hours early to take $Kid to an appointment” or “I’m doing my best to keep up with email today while I’m mostly out, but I’m home with a sick four-year-old, so I may be responding slowly!”

    5. Health Insurance Nerd*

      The LW is not equating drinking too much to raising a child, she is using that as a (valid) example of oversharing and topics that are not appropriate for open office conversation.

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

      Drinking too much at a night club could certainly turn into raising a child if one isn’t careful.

    7. Lissa*

      Are you trying to say that you think childbirth, toilet training etc. discussions *are* appropriate for work? Just wondering what you mean – obviously the two aren’t the same thing, but they are both examples of overshares, right?

      1. JSPA*

        They’re not intrinsically less appropriate than a lot of other distracting, irrelevant topics that also turn off, exclude or gross out people who aren’t into them. Football and boxing talk makes me think of concussions, dementia, and other brain trauma, as well as all kinds of negative sociological stuff. But I’m not going to be a wet blanket about it or complain about sports brackets. Same for pregnancy stuff, as far as I’m concerned. Not my bag, but if a bunch of you are bonding and getting useful support in real time, I can deal. If someone has a strong enough aversion to speak up, they should be accommodated. But two-ish generations ago, before effective and widely available birth control, the vast majority of women had multiple kids, or expected to. Talk that was of interest to men was defined as office talk because offices were approx all male. Talk of interest to women was defined as home talk, or as “stuff not to talk about.” But the home often contains…kids. They’re not actually better equipped to hear this sort of information than coworkers are. People with new babies don’t HAVE free time for chatty brunches or coffee with non-work friends. I’m a big fan of the Japanese concept that you don’t see or hear what’s on the other side of a screen. And you can set that mental screen up anywhere.

        1. Shira*

          This is really interesting, thanks. (I’d comment further but I was up all night with the baby – no joke.)

        2. Sunshine*

          “you can set that mental screen up anywhere”

          Maybe you can JSPA. I can’t.

          And sorry, but of course discussions of gentials and defecation are ‘intrinsically less appropriate’. They’re taboo in most settings and evoke disgust in most people.

    8. Someone Else*

      She wasn’t equating the two. She was giving an example of one TMI thing that her workplace clearly finds over the line as a juxtaposition to the other TMI things that make her uncomfortable, but the majority of the group won’t stop talking about.

  4. vermiciousknid11*

    As someone who works in close proximity to a woman who just gave birth, LW1, I feel you. In addition to knowing her birth story by heart, I also know how many stitches she had in her vagina. Life is a rich tapestry.

    1. ISuckAtUserNames*

      Damn, I don’t even know how many stitches I had in my own vagina post-birth. Let alone would think to share something like that with a colleague. *shudder*

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      As someone who is currently pregnant I would guess this comes from the fact that every person around you that has had kids looses all filters with you so you loose track of what’s normal. I have heard so many people’s birth stories at this point, and most of them feature how many stitches they needed (or something else that went horribly wrong), so you kind of start to think this is a normal part of telling the story, because that is the only way you’ve heard these stories told. The things people feel comfortable commenting on about my body have blown my mind and made me super uncomfortable – but after awhile you think ‘oh, this is just the way things are and the way these things are talked about, I guess I better buck up’.

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        Yeah, for me this is kind of a “turnabout is fair play” thing. People — often especially coworkers — are absolutely tone deaf when it comes to TMI pregnancy stuff before the baby is born. They want to know your due date, the baby’s sex, what you’re going to name it, whether you’re having a midwife or an OB, tons of nosy questions about c-sections and “natural childbirth” and the like. Then the baby is out and suddenly everything out of your mouth is “gross”.

    3. Clisby*

      I hope she had stitches in her perineum, not her vagina. But of course, she could have had something truly terrible happen.

      1. Def Anon for this*

        I realize the irony of this TMI comment in a thread about avoiding it, however, this isn’t work so: I had very many stitches in my vagina after my child was born. Yes, it was terrible. I had never even heard of it before I experienced it. No relevant point here – just wanted to address that it IS a thing. *the more you know (shooting star)*

      2. CNM*

        A lot of perineal lacerations extend into the vagina – any second degree or above. Plus there’s sulcal tears.

        I’m a midwife so I’m 100% biased but I love when people can talk about their experiences. There’s so much people don’t know about reproductive health! More people should go to pelvic floor PT! The fact that someone is going to pelvic floor PT isn’t more private than going to physical therapy for back pain. But of course if they’re getting graphic about their sessions and it makes you uncomfortable, say so.

  5. Zennish*

    I don’t think they meant to equivocate drinking and child rearing, but were simply saying that oversharing is oversharing, regardless of topic, and should be treated as such. I personally have no interest in hearing about the drinking or the babies.

  6. Win*

    This sounds just like my office! A trend of people starting to wear headphones during the day has helped… but every now and then it is pretty shocking.

    1. CastIrony*

      I was going to suggest that, too, Win!

      If anyone is wondering about what headphones to buy, I can suggest . these headphones that are so loud that you’d have to reduce them to the lowest volume possible on my and also lower the webpage’s audio control (e.g. lowering the volume on a YouTube video). I couldn’t even hear my mother coming into my house when I wore these!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Ohh, thanks for this suggestion. *puts on wishlist* I have a really nice pair of Symphonized wood headphones someone gave me. They look very hipster and have great sound, but they don’t block anything.

  7. Jennifer*

    The LW has a point. If she came in and graphically described the night she’d had previously in the bedroom with her partner, that would likely get shut down quickly. But these women are discussing their private parts in graphic detail, which is something I don’t really want to hear.

    It’s great that these women have each other to talk to, I know sometimes having a kid can be an isolating experience, but maybe they can go out to lunch and do it, or exchange numbers and talk outside of work.

  8. AnonAndOn Original*

    Yay for the caller from last week’s call (about the negative bookkeeper)! That was a nice update.

  9. SheLooksFamiliar*

    My last few employers were Fortune 100 companies, and off-list references were a definite NO. A lot of corporations discourage this kind of thing; at my firm, any hiring manager who did a side-door reference check could be terminated.

    Why? Because even a discussion about job qualifications AND NOTHING ELSE can open the door to a claim of bias if the candidate does not get the job: they did not provide the contact info, and the company has to explain why they worked around an accepted interview process. You can bet most employers have a process, and they are expected to be consistent with it.

    However, most hiring managers do not know how to conduct a call of this nature. They make decisions based on feedback that have nothing to do with a person’s actual job qualifications. The candidate can make a claim of bias, and the employer will have to defend itself even if the claim is unfounded. Many employers have a rigid process because hiring managers made really bad decisions based on – I’m not kidding – whether or not the candidate smiled enough in the office. Yeah, that was a fun one…

    If a company gets 10% or more if its revenue from a government contract, things get more stringent. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program – OFCCP – expects very specific behavior from these employers, and the staffing process takes on a whole new meaning of compliance and defensibility. If someone goes rogue, the OFCCP wants to know exactly why. Yes, I’ve lived through that several times, too.

    Maybe this is not a major issue for most employers, but I cringe when I hear someone talk about calling ‘a friend’ or anyone the candidate did not provide on their reference list. I’ve seen too many blow-ups, and potential and actual lawsuits with off-list reference checks.

  10. CastIrony*

    Employers who contact references not on your official reference list

    As my job search continues to reach the one-year mark, I actually wish I had more control and just say, “Just call the people on my reference list!” because I’m trying to get out of food service and into the healthcare administration industry (medical administrative assistant), but all I got hired for was a part-time retail job that will now be my second job.

    If someone did this and called my current supervisor and/or my boss, I am now suspecting that they would not put me in a good light (thus preventing me from getting a full-time job), and I wouldn’t get the chance to explain that, hey, I have learned from my mistakes and grown professionally and personally over the years, and the incidents are not typical behavior from me anymore.

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      I have one previous manager that I know would not put me in a good light. She fired me for various reasons basically boiling down to the fact that we really just didn’t get along, and that I called out major flaws in our Software system to our VP not knowing that she had already told him everything was peachy. It really put her in hot water, and while I didn’t do it intentionally to get her in trouble I also wasn’t going to sit there and pretend the problems didn’t exist.

      I learned a lot in that job about negotiating difficult personalities, but like many lessons it was learned the hard way. If anyone asked her about me I can pretty much guarantee she would torpedo my chances with glee. I just try to counter that possibility by having my other manager from that company as my number one reference and hope the two balance out should it become an issue.

  11. designbot*

    I’d try repeating the topic back at them to shock them with how graphic they’ve been. So instead of just “I don’t want to hear about that,” I’d say, “I don’t want to hear about the state of your vagina,” or “Can we not discuss your nipples ever again?” They don’t hear it when it’s coming out of their own mouths, but when summarized by someone else they might.

  12. Allison*

    About the slacking employee, I would want to know if my manager felt my work habits were sub par. I do think that if I’d changed hands in my organization and my new manager immediately cracked down, that might be a bit jarring, so I do think the advice to delegate more work to see how he handles a full plate is a good idea, and then address any issues from there.

  13. mcr-red*

    For a moment I thought my dad had called in, re: the oversharing office! He works in a business that for whatever reason, has two depts. that are completely one gender, and then a third department that is mixed gender, let’s say the women are the business office, and the men are sales office and the third department are the widget makers. Everyone has to go to the business office daily, to turn in contracts, have them approve widgets, what have you. The business office is an open-plan office, and my dad has routinely heard loudly shouted across the room conversations about: what color bra/style bra everyone is wearing, who is wearing a thong today, details about sex lives, who is hungover today from last night’s partying, etc. I’m pretty sure waxing was talked about too. And yes, the office manager/supervisor is one of the oversharers. I don’t know why anyone wants to talk about that with coworkers, it seems to me they are opening themselves up to a potential lawsuit…

  14. Jennifer*

    I feel terrible for the lawyer. She sounded stressed. I hope she finds what she’s looking for her.

    1. lawyer lady*

      That was me! Thank you so much for the kind words. I was incredibly stressed at the time; I’m quite a bit happier now (haven’t left my job yet but letting go of my emotional investment in it has been liberating. Plus it’s my slow time of year).

      Funny story: I didn’t recognize myself right away. I was listening and was like, that situation sounds like mine! And then was like, DUH THAT IS YOU! I am so much more upbeat these days. My stress sure did come through in that call.

      1. Cocobeen*

        Hi Lawyer Lady, I have a friend who specializes in coaching/helping women leave their big law careers and find more balanced and rewarding jobs in other fields — so you are not alone in this! Apparently many other women in big law struggle with this too, but I’ve learned from my friend that there is life after big law. Good luck with finding your next career!

  15. Jaybeetee*

    Regarding Negative Nancy from last week (I’m one of those transcript people, and I’m sorry, I’m sure this got covered at the time…), but it… kinda sounds like the woman is super-lonely? I don’t mean to say it’s the LW’s problem that she is, but that was what jumped into my mind about her behaviour. Does she work aside from the couple-times-a-month at OP’s office? It sounds like she might be blasting LW with all this stuff because she has no one to talk to about it normally (apart from her husband), and kinda now views LW like a “girlfriend” she can vent to about things?

    Alison more or less said this, but I also remembered Captain Awkward’s “return Awkward to sender” line. Negative Nancy isn’t listening to regular polite cues that LW isn’t interested- either she knows and doesn’t care, or she’s not picking up those cues. In that case, I figure it’s okay to go more direct (short of “Shut up SHUT UP!”), say point-blank that you don’t want to talk about personal things at work, or if she can please stop talking to herself as it’s disruptive for you, or some other polite variation of “I need you to take it down about 20 notches in terms of talking while you’re here.” Like, apart from the fact that she’s constantly complaining and negative, it sounds like she generally holds you conversationally hostage during those times, and even if she was more positive, that would still probably grate on you.

  16. Pam*

    I work in higher education and we switch to a 4/10 schedule in summer. I wish it was voluntary- to me, the tiredness from getting up to early means that the extra day off is spent sleeping.

  17. Working Mom Having It All*

    This is tough, because a lot of topics around childbearing are taboo to talk about, which means there isn’t a lot of information available about them, which in turn means that women have negative health outcomes due to lack of information. Especially the thing about the physical therapy. By the way, that’s not “vaginal” physical therapy, it’s pelvic floor therapy, and sexualizing it isn’t doing anyone any favors. (It’s also something I needed after my baby was born, did not have the information to get access, and thus had pelvic floor problems for months that I had to deal with on my own. Also, if I had been able to access pelvic floor therapy, how would I have taken time off from work to go to appointments, if I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone? All to spare someone squeamish from knowing that sometimes women have medical problems, I guess.)

    Breast pumps are another general fact of life that need to be talked about more so that women can have better access to them, and so that entrepreneurs and engineers are aware that this is even a market that exists. Because the breast pump options out there succcckkkkkkkkkkkk, and part of why they suck is that it’s not a particularly sexy area of product design. Because they’re a secret that only certain women are supposed to talk about, in hushed tones, off of worksite premises, probably over Activia yogurt and step aerobics class.

    We’re mammals. As a species, we reproduce. Some topics related to that are going to come up in a world where women are considered human beings and allowed to go out in public and talk about things in tones above a whisper. The converse is that women will have worse health outcomes, all to preserve the illusion that we don’t really exist/are basically men except for a few topics we don’t talk about.

    On the other hand, some of these things really aren’t appropriate to talk about at work, like bikini waxes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’re right that it’s important to talk more about those things! But not at work. There are many topics that aren’t appropriate for work but are still important and worthy topics.

      With the pelvic floor therapy, you’d just say you had a recurring medical appointment, same as with any other recurring medical appointment!

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        Most people use breast pumps at work, though. It’s a topic that, if you are a new mom, comes up a lot at work due to things like needing to have access to a space to pump, cleaning pump parts in the break room sink, etc.

        So, much like having to feel embarrassed that you have “a recurring appointment” that One Mustn’t Talk About, by creating shame and stigma around breast pumps at work, this tells women that it’s not OK to have children and also have a career. Because gawd forbid you recommend your colleague go with the spectra over the medela and someone get upset about the fact that humans are mammals.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Wow, no.

          It’s not about feeling shame. It’s about recognizing that some conversation isn’t appropriate to have within earshot of others at work. Recommending a brand of breast pump isn’t in that category. Chaffed nipples are.

          And saying “recurring appointment” isn’t about shame or stigma. It’s about privacy, because your employer generally doesn’t need to know the details of your health care, just like you don’t need to specify that it’s marriage counseling, dermatology, or anything else.

        2. Someone Else*

          The point isn’t that you should be embarrassed about a recurring appointment. It’s that your coworkers do not need to know what your recurring appointment is. It doesn’t matter if it’s pelvic floor therapy, or physical therapy for carpel tunnel, or seeing a specialist for IBS, or going in for dialysis, or a cortisone shot for a bum knee. Your coworkers do not need to know this. All they need to know is when you will or will not be in the office.

        3. The New Wanderer*

          It sounds like the argument being made is “either women are allowed to talk for hours about personal medical issues in the workplace or the patriarchy is forcing them to be quiet and suffer in ignorance because where else can these conversations happen?” It’s a false equivalence to say that preventing women from having extended conversations with all the gory details of childbirth/recovery also rules out any short conversation about some non-invasive topic relevant to new moms like pump model and prevents moms from being seen as Whole People or something.

          And that’s not an argument that makes sense. It’s not a feminism thing. It’s not an anti-new-mom or anti-working-mom thing. Working moms already have challenges resuming work after maternity leave, we don’t need to seek out offense when there is none. Feel free to state your specific reasons for your medical appointments if you really feel it’s important that people know about your conditions, but don’t assume that everyone else is shamefully hiding their medical issues because they’re not openly discussing them with coworkers. No one is telling you to keep the details to a minimum in order to silence you and minimize your experience. The reason to keep the details to a minimum is it’s a workplace, not a new moms’ discussion group. (By the way, these are a thing and everyone trades information, tips, suggestions, and all the gory details you can stand. THAT is the place to go for these conversations!)

        4. Snark*

          You’re missing the point. No coworker, or boss, needs any information about what kind of medical appointment anybody has, for any reason or any bodily system. This isn’t about shame and stigma directed at women, it’s applicable to everyone who has a medical appointment,. whether it’s pelvic floor therapy or getting a boil lanced or getting a massage. The only information anybody should volunteer about an appointment is when they’ll be out and for how long, and that’s all a non-bonkers boss or coworkers even wants to hear anyway.

        5. Batman*

          This is silly. There are a lot of places to get information these days, from discussions with friends (that happen outside of work) to the internet to books to podcasts to blogs to etc. To say that if a woman can’t have a conversation about her bodily function at work she’s being oppressed and has no other options for gathering this information is just false.

    2. pancakes*

      “a lot of topics around childbearing are taboo to talk about, which means there isn’t a lot of information available about them” — No, it doesn’t mean that, because talking to acquaintances is merely one of many, many, ways to obtain information. Using the internet, reading books and magazines, seeking out people with expertise (e.g., taking a class or meeting with a doctor, nurse, doula, lactation consultant, etc.) are also ways people gather information.

      1. LT*

        I’d probably say “medical appointment” bc I’m squeamish. Reading the comment above, though, makes me wonder where the line is and if it does women any favors.

        I know one coworker is currently out for a hip replacement, another has a recurring physical therapy appointment. I’ve heard people who have needed PT in the past sharing experiences and recommendations. I’ve asked colleagues to suggest an eye doctor; I’ve been asked by a colleague about finding a therapist nearby who took our insurance and had experience with women our age. I’ve heard parents who have kids with allergies talking about allergists in the city. Why should pelvic floor therapy, or fertility treatment, or whatever, be different? Colleagues are a resource-one of many as a comment above points out—but one that can be helpful.

        1. Asenath*

          The difference is the level of detail. When a co-worker had a hip replacement, I made a polite enquiry as to how things were going, and got a polite response that it was going well. When a personal friend had one, the response to my enquiry was far more medically detailed – but it did not occur at work. When I had an illness, a co-worker did suggest she could introduce me to someone who had had the same illness – but that’s as far as it went. If things had gone badly, I might have taken her up on the offer – but going into the nitty gritty of the treatment I did choose wasn’t for general workplace conversation. Spending time at work going over the exact details of hip or pelvic floor surgery and physio consultations isn’t really appropriate. Spending time with a personal friend going into the same level of detail would be kind and supportive, as long as the friend is OK with it. I had one co-worker (not a personal friend) corner me in a store after I was out of hospital but before I was back to work and ask “Now, what exactly was it you had surgery for?” I muttered something as vague as I could make it. If we’d been at work, not even she would have wanted the details of my surgery.

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        To be clear, what I mean by “which means there isn’t a lot of information about them”, I mean that the general taboo on discussing these topics makes it hard to access information in general. Not that, if one can’t hear about it at work, one could never ever hear about it otherwise.

        I didn’t know how common birth injuries were before I had a baby. It wasn’t in any of the books. My OBGYN didn’t mention it. My friends didn’t talk about it. Meanwhile, a majority of women who give birth have some related injuries they are expected to just soldier through, because ugh, mustn’t talk about it, mustn’t ask questions, mustn’t gross anyone out by oversharing. When I asked my doctor at my postpartum appointment, literally the only words out of her mouth were “oh, that’s normal”. Not “… and thus physical therapy exists for it…” or “here’s a pamphlet”. Just nothing. It’s disgusting. Much more disgusting than a colleague idly mentioning that she has pelvic floor therapy and won’t be in the staff meeting tomorrow. And thus normalizing that this isn’t icky or taboo, it’s just a thing that happens to a lot of people.

        I became a million times more feminist after having a baby and discovering how horribly the world treats women once you’ve had a baby. I thought sayings like “feminism is the radical notion that women are people” were just trite slogans until I became a new mother.

        It should be mentioned that, for most injuries that men can also have, the ethos isn’t “maybe you should keep that to yourself until you can talk to a doctor” (and good luck finding a doctor who will acknowledge that this injury exists, or an insurance plan that will cover treatment), it’s “Oh, huh, I tore my rotator cuff, too. Recovery was a bitch, but my tennis game is on point now. Good luck with your surgery next week!”

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I’m so sorry you suffered so much after becoming a mother.

          However, would you want to hear your male colleagues talk about their latest prostate exam or details of penile cancer treatment at work?

          1. Database Developer Dude*

            Trust me, Jennifer, ain’t no cisgendered males talking about their last prostate exam at work……

            1. scribblingTiresias*

              Okay, would you rather hear your cismale coworkers talking about how hot they think various women in various branches of your office are? From what you’ve said, I’m guessing you wouldn’t.

        2. Theguvnah*

          I agree with you. I think we need more normalizing of conversations about women’s health and nothing happening in this workplace seems unusual to me at all for a place with lot of women around the same age.

        3. Maya Elena*

          For the record, I don’t like excessive prudery in general, and breast-feesing wherever. But I had the opposite experience with having a child. With very few exceptions, in pretty much every social interaction related to pregnancy and childbirth I’ve had positive experiences, approval, help when I needed it (e.g. wrangling a stroller at the airport), polite questions and positive vibes towards my child in public areas. Maybe I’m lucky or live in some kind of weird bubble, but I definitely haven’t felt discriminated against or looked down upon for being a mother or a woman.

        4. Asenath*

          It sounds like you had a difficult experience and problems getting information. It’s not the same for everyone, though – there’s a vast amount of information around on any issue you care to name. I think, due to my family background, I grew up with the assumption that it was necessary to research anything medical on one’s own, whether it was a reproductive problem or not, and to question doctors if their answers seemed incomplete or unclear.

        5. Gloucesterina*

          Based on my reading and experiences, women without children (for any reason, including infertility) and queer women (with and without children) are often targets of subtle or overt discrimination, and most strains of feminist thought treat these situations as equally important and relevant to the situations that women with children may face.

          I hope you get more support moving forward!

        6. Manchmal*

          Working Mom, this silence around the pitfalls of pregnancy/birth/early motherhood was the subject of a recent Fresh Air interview with Hillary Frank who recounts her difficulty getting a story on to NPR (because mention of women’s nether regions was too obscene), all the while stories about erectile dysfunction were happily approved. I take a middle of the road, know your audience sort of tack when it comes to conversations about birth/children in “mixed company”, but the silence and lack of info (and sometimes the double standard) is real! I’m a member of a smallish private moms FB group, and I really value it as a place where basically any question can be asked and any story can be told. I hope you can find (or have found) similar support.

    3. Maya Elena*

      I don’t think social prejudice is the main reason there’s no better breast pump on the market (though I thought the market was fine in my experience). More likely, it’s because it’s hard to make a *substantially* better or cheaper product that insurers and consumers would take a risk on versus the dominant brands that do the job.

      Also, there are many items we don’t talk about in polite conversation for which there is appears a robust enough market, from laxatives to tampons.

    4. Snark*

      “Also, if I had been able to access pelvic floor therapy, how would I have taken time off from work to go to appointments, if I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone”

      The…..same way anybody would take time off from work for aany medical appointment, to wit: “Hey boss, I have a doctor’s appointment on February 21 at 4pm, so I’ll head out a little early.” “I’ll be out at 3:30 on Thursday for an appointment, so please send me the files before then.” “I’ve got a recurring doctor’s appointment every Thursday at 4pm, so I will be arriving a little earlier that day – is that ok?”

  18. atalanta0jess*


    Plus, work is like, one of the main reasons we need those stupid pumps anyway. Pumping was an activity I did primarily at work, because of work.* And yet people are totally freaked out about talking about pumping at work. It’s really unhelpful.

    *I know lots of folks pump for other reasons. I pumped for medical reasons as well, but it was primarily a work related thing, in the end.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*


      The taboo around pumping at work but also pretty much needing to pump if I was going to go back to work was a nightmare.

  19. LaDeeDa*

    The number of women I know who have bladder control issues after childbirth is TOO MUCH!! I do not need to know that every time I say something funny (and I am frickin hilarious) results in you pee’ing…

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      The number of women who have bladder issues after childbirth would be less if people didn’t write into advice columnists complaining that someone in their office had the nerve to get physical therapy for it.

      (I don’t talk about the whole peeing myself thing, and I find it kind of annoying when people do, but some people having poor boundaries doesn’t mean it’s not a problem that is exacerbated by taboos and silencing women.)

      1. Someone Else*

        No one is complaining that someone in their office “had the nerve to get physical therapy for it”. They’re writing in to complain about the fact that they’ve been told about it by said coworkers. The problem is not coworkers having the medical issue. The problem cited is “I do not have any reason to need or want to know whether my coworkers have this medical issue and yet I do know because they keep telling me.”
        Go! Have the therapy! Be well! Take care of your health! But if you work with me, take care of your health without telling me about it.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Literally no one has written into this advice column complaining that someone in their office had the nerve to get physical therapy for bladder issues. That is a pretty brazen rewriting of what the OP said.

      3. INeedANap*

        This is just a blatantly dishonest rendering of what the letter was about and the discussion relating to the letter. It’s not a misinterpretation, it’s an outright lie.

  20. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP, I am a woman. I was also going “ew, ew, ew” by the second paragraph of your letter. No advice, just my sympathies.

  21. Theguvnah*

    It’s honestly baffling how prudish these comments are.

    We are all human and we have human bodies. We are not cogs in a capitalist machine

    Talking about general healthcare is normal and childbirth is general healthcare. This is really American Puritanism in action here.

    1. Gloucesterina*

      Yes, but an investment in talking about women’s health and childbirth does not remotely explain this bikini wax conversation!

      1. Gloucesterina*

        And I guess I have been close to a lot of folks who have experienced miscarriage and/or infertility and so it would feel extra weird for me to talk about my childbirth or childrearing experiences as a regular work topic, since I don’t know how it would land for people whose history I don’t know well. And this is all on top of the fact that I’d rather talk things that are not kid-related during my precious time with grown adults!

        But I do value this topic outside of work, although more from the public health angle than the personal-story angle. ProPublica has a FANTASTIC multilayered series of pieces on maternal mortality that bridges these angles–sobering, of course, but so powerful, especially because the reporters were very transparent about their rationale for opening the series with a white woman’s story even though women of color are disproportionately harmed by poor maternal healthcare. Does anyone else have good sources on public health/maternal health to share (outside of work, of course!)?

    2. Asenath*

      I don’t think talking about general healthcare is normal, particularly in a work setting. A polite response to a polite enquiry about your health when you return after an illness or delivery is fine, but if your response includes a lot of specific details about your suffering during that gall bladder attack, what it was like to have dye injected for a test, the exact details of that colonoscopy prep or surgery to repair your pelvic floor, or what your leg looked and felt like when you broke it, you are likely to be told that’s TMI. If you do have a work friend who wants all the medical details and you’re willing to provide them, you should be doing so privately, not where co-workers who are less interested must listen to you.

    3. Entry Level Marcus*

      But we don’t use such logical for other topics. We’re sexual beings, and sexuality is a normal and important part of life, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for me to talk about the details of my sex life at work when others are uncomfortable. Similarly, we sometimes get the stomach flu, but that doesn’t mean I should share the grisly details of my last bathroom visits with coworkers at work.

      I’m a childless man, if I loudly talked about the details of my sex life at work I could face serious consequences, possibly even opening up myself to be fired. Same would go for a childless woman talking about her sex life. Yet when people become mothers, suddenly we’re supposed to just give them a complete pass on this stuff? I wish we lived in a world where we as a society are comfortable being blunt about this stuff, but we’re not, and people deserve (within reason) to be comfortable at work.

      I’m not saying mothers shouldn’t be able talk about this stuff at all when it’s relevant to work or kept in very general terms, but loudly talking about the grisly details around unwilling bystanders seems excessive.

    4. Susan Calvin*

      Let me say, from the bottom of my heart, as a queer, feminist, European – AT WORK I want to hear about colleague A’s kegel excercise and her baby’s pooping habits exactly as much as about colleague B’s erectile dysfunction, weird rash, or prostate exam.

      BECAUSE we’re not cogs in a capitalist machine, we have a life outside work where these conversations can go.

      Conflating ‘having boundaries’ with weirdos like the guy who threw a fit over the fact that menstrual pads existed in his general vicinity is really, really disproportionate.

      1. londonedit*

        Absolutely. I am not American (in fact I’m British, which I guess opens me up to even more accusations of prudishness) but I really don’t think anyone’s medical or personal issues are appropriate for the workplace. I’ve never told colleagues in great detail all about how one of my toenails turned black and fell off while I was marathon training. If I have a cold, I don’t describe all my symptoms in great detail. If I’m going to see the doctor about something, I don’t broadcast the information to everyone in the vicinity. And I really don’t want to hear about anyone’s penis, vagina, perineum, pelvic floor, digestive system, mucus, vomit, or any other medical stuff while I’m working. Those are things I might discuss with close friends, family or my partner, not with my colleagues.

      2. Snark*

        My wife is Israeli, my neighbors are Chinese, and one of my best friends is Indian. In none of their native cultures is discussing one’s reproductive health in a high level of detail acceptable or regarded as normal.

    5. BekaAnne*

      No, it’s not.

      There is a time and place for conversations of this nature and it’s not sitting down at your desk at work and deciding to talk loudly about the state of your bits.

      My god, in my time, I’ve worked my way through the A-Z of sexual kinks and I’m not puritanical in the least – I’m also not American, so… – but I have never and would never talk about that at work. I have piercings in all sorts of interesting places, and I don’t talk about them at work – even on cold days when I just want to bitch them out.

      I have medical conditions that I get treatment for – IBS, Fibromyalgia – and I don’t talk about the specifics at work, at my desk because other people don’t get an opt out if they have work to do, or they’re on phone conversations with clients, or just generally they don’t want to hear this stuff.

      I do, on occasion, talk about them with my work colleagues out at lunch. But, it’s an opt-in conversation. I’m not inflicting my poop details on EVERYONE in the office when THEY CAN’T ESCAPE! That’s just common courtesy.

  22. BekaAnne*

    I remember having a conversation with my boss for my first real job after college. I was commuting about 90-120 minutes each way, and he wanted me to dramatically shift my hours. I was working 8am – 4:30pm, which fitted with buses pretty much exactly. When the first phase of my commute was done, I had no more than 15 minutes to wait for my next bus. He wanted me to shift my hours to 11am – 7:30pm to fit in with some meetings held in US time. (I was based in Dublin at the time).

    My commute if I moved my finish time to that degree would be: 30 minutes into the City, wait 60-75 minutes for the next bus and then sit on a bus for another hour and then a 15 minute walk home. In other words, I would be getting home at between 10 and 10:30pm every day. At which point, I’d have no other choice but to pretty much go to bed and then get up the next day. Also, changing my start time meant sleeping in about 90 minutes, getting the bus 30 minutes later, sit on it for 90-120 minutes (rush hour) and then wait around town for a while, and catch the tram out to the office. So leaving the house at about 7:30 to arrive at work by 11:00. It was horrendous.

    I explained that I wasn’t comfortable changing my hours so dramatically due to the increased time it would take me to commute, and as the meeting was only on a Thursday evening, I could potentially stay late on Thursday to attend the meeting. It was just about agreed, but my manager looked at my contracting rep and basically bitched about how young people these days weren’t just grateful for any job they got and the “valuable experience” that I was getting. But it was agreed, and put in writing. I would keep my start time and stay on Thursdays for the meeting. I asked my boss (with my contract rep there) whether because I was going to be doing extra hours on a Thursday and my contract only covered a set number of hours per week with no provision for overtime, I could take those extra hours as comp time on a Friday if all my work for the week was finished. He grudgingly agreed.

    That came back to bite me. He later said that I intimidated him into saying yes and that he wasn’t comfortable with me leaving early on a Friday. I was about 23 years old, dumpy and female. Hardly the most intimidating creature on the planet… But he used it to terminate my contract when his son graduated college and needed a job.

    I still don’t regret asking for that work life balance. I’ve quit jobs where they’ve decided that the company’s needs trumped the needs of the employee and forced me to sign a waiver that they could go over the legislated maximum average number of hours in a 13 week period (average of 48 hours a week when averaged over 13 weeks), and threatened me when I refused to sign it.

    Overwork has damaged my health, my mental wellbeing and put me in a stress level bracket that made me cry pretty much every day. I’m NEVER doing that to myself again.

  23. Delta Delta*

    Hey, nice lawyer lady, I feel your pain! I was in a similar situation a couple years ago. When I heard you speaking it sounded like a different version of me. You’re doing yourself a huge favor by exiting and looking for a new gig. Here are some suggestions:

    First, I don’t think I’d volunteer that I’d work nights and weekends in quite the same way you did. I think you can be clear you’re not averse to working hard and working long hours when it’s called for. I think you can find a good way to phrase this so that you’re communicating that you can work a lot and can work hard but that you’re not willing to do 80 hour weeks anymore. Normal law firms 100% understand this.

    I also think it’s totally ok to say something like, “I worked in BigLaw for 5 years (or however long). I like practicing law and I’m good at it, but I also want to make sure I’ve got time in my life for other things.” Others may disagree with me, but I think you can say you have a family and you want to be able to balance working and being a good parent. You’re identifying things in your life that are important to you. If a firm isn’t willing to hear that, that is not the firm for you.

    Don’t discount government jobs. a) benefits! b) you get to go home at the same time every day! You seriously won’t know what to do with all those extra hours you suddenly have.

    You could decide to go solo. It’s a lot of work, and it can be unpredictable. But it can also be liberating in its flexibility and if it’s yours, you can make it exactly what you want it to be.

    good luck!

  24. A Cita*

    For the off-list references: this gets talked about a lot on this site. And I understand why it’s done. But I think it needs to be emphasized a LOT more that when employers do this, they should mention to the former boss that they are calling off-list, like this example did.

    I’ve commented on this before, but it never gets addressed. I’ve seen (and heard from others about) former bosses get really mad at what they think is someone giving out their name as a reference without letting them know, all because the caller didn’t identify that they were calling off-list. This has really hurt connections and the applicants reputation with prior bosses. Especially in cases where an applicant is in a heavy application cycle and wants to save some references for later because they worry about reference burn out.

    We’ve even seen letters/comments here where former bosses are mad that a former employee used them as a reference without asking first.

  25. RNtyougladIdidntsaybanana*

    I’m an RN in an emergency department and it is not uncommon to hat about all of this stuff at work. How often people are having sex, postpartum body details, gastrointestinal dysfunction are all 100% normal.

    That said I think the nature of our job plays a big part. We are a rural ED and the nearest other emergency care option is an hour or so away. So we treat each other and our families. When I was having a miscarriage on the job I had a transvaginal ultrasound and a pelvic exam done by my coworkers. Another ED employee had a heart attack in the community and we did what we always do – cut off the shirt, get a detailed health history, etc. Someone’s wife was brought in for evaluation of postpartum psychosis. The worst was that about a year ago one of the provider’s newborn baby was brought in after he passed from SIDS, and that provider was on duty. Her scream was absolutely gut wrenching and she often will touch base with the nurses who were on that day as she processes what happened.

    So with all of that said, it’s really really hard to seperate personal lives from work. We are excellent at not violating HIPPA and talking about one another because that is an incredibly serious offense but people will “over share” constantly.

  26. Mrs Mary Smiling*

    At one point in my pregnancy, my boss (Male, a couple years older than I am, friends of the help-move-heavy-stuff or team-running-relays with my spouse variety) said to me privately after a meeting with a lot of people who told stories of their birthing experiences: “Are any of the birth stories upsetting you? Do you want a safe word you can say and I’ll shut down the conversation and you don’t have to?” Which I thought was a great way to handle it: if I find the info useful, great, if not, he could run interference. He also stopped by my office and was like “Ok, I’m going to say this just once and then butt out, but seriously, make an appointment with a physical therapist. [wife] saw this person, they were good, our insurance covered it.” Which was also useful! So I guess the point is that it doesn’t have to be banned, just useful and controlled?

  27. Tracy*

    A lot of y’all are not getting the point. It makes me wonder if y’all are the ones who do this kinda crap. Just because someone works at the same company as you, sits near you, or says hi to you; that doesn’t mean they now become a part of your support group and want to hear about your business. Example: I have a coworker, very sweet but will try to tell anyone who even looks her way, personal details about her medical issues. Clearly, she has noone in her personal life to talk to about it. While I empathize and sympathize, I do not want to be that intimately involved in the personal business of random people in my office. People saying hi and being friendly should not ever be misconstrued as an offer to discuss or carry the burden of your medical issues or personal problems with or for you. That’s something that is given, not taken. Unless it was explicitly given, it’s a huge violation of boundries. Don’t ask surprised or confused when you’re escorted (the easy way or the hard way) back on across. Stop trying to manipulate your coworkers to fill a need not being fullfilled in personal life.

    1. Jen*

      The problem isn’t that the OP’s coworkers are trying to have uncomfortable conversations with her. The problem is that they’re having the conversations where she can’t help but overhear them. It sounds like almost everyone else in her office does want to have these sorts of in-depth conversations about topics that would typically be off-limits in an office.

      1. Tracy*

        Reread my comment, Jen. I was not addressing the op, but the responses that they are getting. The problem is that people assume, incorrectly, that boundries somehow disappear at the door of the workplace and they do not. One should not have to explain that fact to grown adults. That is a conversation that should not have to be had in the first place. That in itself is a problem.

  28. nnn*

    For #4, if there are people with childcare issues, it might be worth waiting until the beginning or end of the school year (which is usually a natural point for changes to childcare schedules). It may well be easier for parents to make changes then.

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