what cultural things do you need to know to succeed when you’re new to white collar work?

Way back in 2012, someone wrote this to me:

Thank you for writing this amazing blog. Its a great resource for learning all the things that are and aren’t acceptable at work that I don’t think I could have learned anywhere else. Thank you especially for the post about how having or not having professional parents influences your own career. It was interesting to see all the different backgrounds people come from and how it still influences them.

So my question is, commenters on that post mentioned that there are “common sense” things that people who grew up in professional households know and things that people who didn’t make do at work that could make them appear “rough around the edges.” Would it be possible to give specific examples of these things?

For instance, Tax Nerd wrote that people who are from blue collar backgrounds often feel they have to work 8 hours at a salaried job even when it’s not busy because they’re more used to having their time managed, and that’s something I definitely do. In my mind, I know that that it’s the amount of work I accomplish and meeting deadlines that’s important and that working 15 minutes less once in a while when it’s not busy is okay, but it still makes feel very uncomfortable. So, would it be possible to talk about what other things are not acceptable at a blue collar job, but would be okay at a white collar job?

We tackled this back then, but I saw this come up on Twitter recently and thought it could be useful to explore again. So, readers, what are your thoughts? If you have personal experience with moving from blue collar environments to “professional” office environments (that terminology is terrible; why don’t we have better?), I’d especially welcome hearing from you.

{ 882 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules*

    Cussing for sure. Not that there is none in my corporate office environment, but SIGNIFICANTLY less than food service, warehouse/distribution, housekeeping, and the hotel jobs I’ve had. Beyond your usual cuss words, the culture of just how to speak was a lot more professional, with less slang used in daily conversation with coworkers.

    1. Rose's angel*

      I work in a professional/cirpirate type office but in my industry swearing in the office is not unusual. One executive swears very colorfully in almost every conversation (unless its with a client)

      1. Watry*

        I recently made the jump myself, and I refrained from swearing until I figured out what was ok and what wasn’t. And of course I wouldn’t swear with my grandboss or higher even if they did.

        But like JokeyJules said, it’s still significantly less than what was happening when I worked retail or phone jobs. I have a potty mouth but I tend not to swear much at work, and there that was seen as weird and kind of goody-two-shoes, to the point where people genuinely believed I didn’t know the words.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yeah, it was the same for me working in a restaurant — ALL my coworkers swore a blue streak even if they were talking about the weather, but I didn’t even say “oh my God.” It was noticed. Fortunately my coworkers saw it as an adorable quirk, so I got gently ribbed about it rather than mocked.

          1. Watry*

            I got really irritated with something at the store one day (a customer? corporate BS?) and dropped some f-bombs. I looked around and there were literally dropped jaws. And there were multiple times where a newer employee would hear me swear* and say “I didn’t know you said that!”.

            *I started swearing more around the time I decided to really push my job hunt, because I was in physical pain and miserable all the time.

        2. Jadelyn*

          I think that first part is what’s key – in a lot of blue collar environments, swearing is so normal as to be not even noticed by folks who are used to it. *Some* white collar environments are similar, but in an office setting it’s best to watch your mouth for the first month or two until you’ve calibrated against what others are saying – maybe an “ah, shit” when something goes wrong with the printer is fine, but “you fucking piece of shit” at the same printer wouldn’t be.

          And, when you’re calibrating, pay attention to *who* swears – if it’s senior management, but not folks at your level, don’t assume you can swear like the big kids – match yourself to your peers. There may well be double standards at work.

          1. Ammonite*

            Definitely observe the culture for a long time before swearing at work! At my old job, we all swore up a storm. At my new job (same industry, same geographic area), the worst I’ve ever heard someone say is “damn.” I’m pretty good at not letting anything slip out in conversation, but my cubicle neighbor did gently tell me the other day that he could hear the steady stream of obscenities I was whispering at our financial system. Oops.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              Or a black woman. Everything we do gets hyper-scrutinized, even when we do things everyone else is doing.

            2. Kat in VA*

              Oh, yes. I mentioned elsewhere on AAM a while back that my boss chided me for dropping an F-bomb, and I told him that it was a double standard to say “ladies shouldn’t cuss” but he could swear a blue streak when his dander was up.

              He agreed (he might act chumpy sometimes but he’s…teachable?) and now I can cuss when I feel like it and don’t get static, although I try to be judicious about it. An interesting side effect – he cusses WAY more and WAY steeper words around me than he used to (generally behind closed doors, we’re not hollering it across the Sales floor or anything).

              And no, the C-bomb is not and will never be used by either of us.

          2. LawP*

            I feel like it’s in hierarchy too. Like, you can swear to people your own level and maaaybe your boss but you’d better not to upper management.

          3. Kelsi*

            Also, pay attention to where the swearing is happening!

            In my workplace, a little swearing is normal in closed-door meetings at all levels (we’re often dealing with restrictions from the state and other outside agencies that we have no control over, which can be frustrating and unreasonable). However, swearing out in the cubicle space would stand out, because a) some departments are on the phone with clients, and b) we often have donors, community partners etc. moving through the space. So I could drop the f-bomb in a meeting and no one would register it, but if I did it at my desk I’d probably get a talking to!

        3. sam*

          SO SO much of any of these rules/norms/etc. from language to dress codes to how many hours you should stay in the office for a salaried job are context dependent on the specific office, and even then, could be specific to the area of the office that you’re working in or your boss.

          For instance, my office is “business casual” dress code wise, but I work in an area that is very close to the senior executive suite where everyone just has a tendency to dress up a bit more – there’s no ‘rule’ that says this, and no one’s going to get in trouble if they don’t wear a suit every day, but it’s just something you’re supposed to figure out by, like, osmosis.

          Or…my old boss was very much a stickler for people being in the office during certain hours – and some of this rolled down from his boss, who worked long hours and just sort of expected everyone to be available. But now I work for someone who just doesn’t care that much about ‘face time’ as long as you’re getting the job done – sometimes I’ll even mention to him that I’m gonna be in late because I have a doctor’s appointment or something, and he looks at me like I’m weird for even mentioning it.

          And cursing can VERY MUCH be office specific, even in very white collar jobs – there’s also a big difference between cursing as some sort of genuine WTF? or “oh shit” reaction to something, and cursing *at* someone. Almost no one minds the former, while the latter can border on abusive.

      2. trefoil*

        I went from customer service jobs to libraries to criminal law. The amount and creativity of cursing is astonishing.

      3. morethanasecretary*

        See, it’s the “unless it’s with a client” that would be useful to someone.

        It’s also useful to know that not every office environment is going to tolerate swearing. That might be fine in your office, but in mine it’s a HE-YUUGE red flag for every day use. It gives the impression that you just can’t express yourself professionally, or intelligently – or even worse, are too lazy to express yourself properly.

      4. Manders*

        Yeah, swearing can happen, but in my experience it has a distinct pattern in a healthy white-collar environment. For instance: I’d swear at my computer, and my boss might swear while talking about a difficult client, but no one would swear at a person to their face. And there’s sort of a… lack of aggression behind the swearing, if that makes sense? Swearing while being visibly worked up or with a raised voice would be highly inappropriate.

        1. LLovesWork*

          Yep, this is an important distinction about bad words. Use them ABOUT something/someone, but not directed AT someone. And you can’t use them in anger, just to express annoyance or irritation in a kind of humorous way. Sort of like a “… well, you know how it is [shrug]” kind of way. Like we’re all in the same, sometimes-crappy, boat. I use them at work for this camaraderie and notice the other members of the management team have upped their cursing game. I love it!

          1. DCBA*

            This is similar to my parenting rule, too. Something can be stupid, but a person never can be. When my teen was older, he could curse at things or about things, but never at or about people.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      That was the first thing that came to my mind.

      The swearing, plus use correct grammar, less slang, less emotion.

      Keep things about the topic at hand, factual even when the conversation gets tense. Don’t get confrontational / adversarial when you otherwise might. Everything is more subtle in white collar environments versus blue collar, in my experience. I subscribed to the dictionary.com word of the day for years. If you use a new vocabulary word, be 100% sure you know exactly what it means, not what you think it means. An example: know the difference between ‘i.e.,’ and ‘e.g.,’

      1. Dan*

        Wow I am a real stickler for grammar and I am profoundly ashamed to say that I did not know the difference between the two until right now!! I was taught that they meant the same thing in school by a teacher who was wrong – I still remember her telling me that i.e. was Latin but you could remember what it meant by pretending that it meant “in example” which is incorrect apparently!! And then I guess in practice they’re close enough that I never fully picked up on the difference in context…

        I am so happy that I know the truth now and I will never make that mistake again!!

        1. Hills to Die on*

          It took me until I was 37 to find out! I’m sure most of us make small mistakes all the time. I probably still do.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            If using that particular memory device is wrong, I don’t want to be right. :)

            (I work in legal, and we include i.e./e.g. in basic proofreading training because they’re used a lot more than in the wild. Most people don’t know the difference before training.)

            1. Marina Magdalena*

              Sometimes I think every paralegal should have a Legal Latin course: “id est” becomes so obvious if you know what it means (literally “that is”), and you never get it confused with “example given” again.

        2. Not Rebee*

          The trick I always heard was that you could remember “i.e.” by using “in essence”. So maybe she just mixed up her E words over time and that 100% changed the meaning of the phrase. (In my head it’s a difference between In Essence and EG-zample)

      2. Iron Chef Boyardee*

        “the difference between ‘i.e.,’ and ‘e.g.’”

        Google may be my friend but we’re not on speaking terms at the moment. What is the difference?

        1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

          i.e. basically means “that is.” So I might say, “The person I most love spending time with (i.e., my husband) is my primary consideration when planning vacations.” There’s just one thing I’m referring to.

          e.g. means “for example. So I would say, “All the logistics of planning a vacation (e.g., buying airline tickets, deciding on a hotel, making a packing list) stress me out so much I sometimes forget I’m going to have fun.” There’s a long list of logistics that I’m referring to, and I’m just giving a few of them to give you the idea of what I mean.

          1. Parenthetically*

            I think of “i.e.” as functionally substituting for “in other words” and “e.g.” as functionally substituting for “for example.” I for “in,” E for “example.” Helped me remember when I was figuring it out as a college student writing pretentious essays for my comp professors.

          2. Midlife Tattoos*

            For i.e., I say ‘in effect’ in my own head to remember. For e.g., egg-zample as Lily Rowan said :)

        2. Scion*

          e.g. means “example given” and can be replaced by “for example”
          i.e. is a restatement of something, I remember it by substituting “in essence”

          1. Bismuth*

            e.g. =exempli gratia = for example, lit. “for the sake of example”.
            ie = id est = that is.

          2. Pippa*

            i.e. is the abbreviation of id est (that is…)
            e.g. is the abbreviation of exempli gratia (for example)

            I don’t have a lot of Latin, but I’m deeply committed to pedantry. :-)

          3. irene*

            I hadn’t come up with “example given” before, but that’s great! the actual Latin is beyond so many people and using “exempli gratia” or “id est” just asks for more confusion. I typically just go straight to “ie = is = that is” and “eg = egzample” but being able to offer an actual phrase that maps to the abbreviations will be helpful!

            I really like “in essence”, too, but “in effect” is also good. I’m going to have to try them out and see which ends up feeling more natural when I’m helping learners learn.

      3. Emily K*

        “No loud emotions” was the first thing on my mind, too. Although some people get away with boorishness and tyranny for various reasons, as a general rule in a white collar job you’re expected to speak in a fairly low-volume with an even tone that ranges in emotion from “cheerful and encouraging” to “mildly frustrated or disappointed.” You’ll also get looks in most offices if you talk too loudly in hallways or break rooms when you’re socializing. Anything “extra” has to be reeled in to approximate something that looks uncannily like WASP culture.

        1. Batman*

          YES. Thanks for mentioning this. All these middle/upper class and white collar norms are largely based on WASP culture because that’s who set the standards for American society.

      4. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

        The mention of subtlety reminds me that there is an enormous amount of office politics is some white collar environments, where optics and perception are the ruling forces and every move and word must be well-considered for office-political reasons. That kind of subtlety can drive one bananas.

        On the topic of poor grammar, spelling and typos… I had a young temp worker once (new to office-world) with such poor writing skills that I had to ask him not to send emails to external people (because it reflected so poorly on the company and was frankly embarrassing).

          1. Anja*

            I was assuming the Monkees which would make my day. It kind of did anyway since I went and listened to Zilch by the Monkees.

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

          I have a disability that causes spectrum-like social dysfunction, particularly in the area of interpreting non verbal communication (facial expression, body language) and understanding a lot of common social rituals (to me many of them seem bizarre, arcane, and 100% unnecessary if people would just be direct & honest with each other and say what they mean/feel/think). I take people at face value, and present myself the same way.

          Office politics wouldn’t drive me bananas, it would be incomprehensible (until the point I got PISSED at being backstabbed/screwed over by a bunch of manipulators with fake nice personalities.)

          Screw “optics and perceptions” (and BOY do I hate that word “optics”), I want truth, facts, honesty, directness- and nothing BUT.

        2. My Library Books are Overdue*

          I had a temp who had management experience and was older than me, and I had to stop him sending external emails for similar reasons. In his case, he was with us until he could find a more senior job elsewhere and didn’t really care that much about getting things right, more about being seen to get them done by the Big Boss. In our line of work it was more important to have it done right, than to have it done right now, so eventually I had to stop him doing external enquiries. That’s a real culture thing too, and very office-specific!

    3. Snickerdoodle*

      I used to work as a stagehand, and cleaning up my language was the biggest thing I had to change when I switched to office work. Not just cussing, but also the kinds of stories that I told, tailoring my sense of humor to less dirty/dark stories, etc. I took cues from respected colleagues, some TV shows (within reason, obviously–the antics on most TV shows are fictional for a reason), and of course sites like this one. :-)

      1. milksnake*

        I also went from theater/movie work to white-collar office and boyhowdy do you have to change everything about your sense of humor, storytelling, etc. I feel like I’m faking my presentation working in a white-collar setting, but I’ve learned to just keep my mouth shut and say “oh gosh!”

        1. peachie*

          Yes! So much! Working in the theater is a trip, especially if you do both at once. I have two entirely different personalities.

          1. No Green No Haze*

            I’d call it not so much different personalities as code-switching. You communicate differently when you’re interacting with a different culture; it might not feel natural but it’s appropriate. We don’t talk to church gig clients the way we talk to, say, Motley Crue’s head rigger, but the respect is equal, if differently expressed.

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

              I always just considered “work-appropriate me” to be as much a role or character I was playing as anything I did while acting. I put on my work costume and went out on the work stage to play the role that the employers wanted. My Real Life was lived outside of work.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        Yeah. The story about the time my grease-covered cat chased me around the house naked is not one I’d share in the office… but it went over great when I was a garbage worker!

      3. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

        Oh man, when I was a stagehand one of my coworkers had gotten a breast implant because she had one A cup and one D cup and was sick of surgical bras, and we were kind of in a lull an hour before a show and she was like do you wanna feel how good this falsie is? And I said why the eff not?!

        She had forgotten to turn her headset off and it was over the full system, so the entire cast in the dressing rooms, and much of the crew heard me grab her fake boob (I am also a lady if anyone cares). Switching to office work was a CHANGE.

        1. Electron Wisperer*

          Oh, intercom left accidentally live… Gods the stories one could tell.

          Your truly in a theatre bar after day one of a build, I am told (but while plausible for what was going on, I have no recollection of it), that a member of the public heard me come out with “First thing tomorrow, I will hang the blacks while you go and hire some readheads and blonds to keep the video crew happy.”

          For those who don’t talk the UK dialect of ‘stage crew’, the blacks are the black curtains used for masking entrances and such, and readheads and blonds are film and TV lighting units, it is very standard UK theatre terminology.

          The fact that I got sarky about someone getting bent out of shape over a private conversation between colleagues that they overheard but did not understand did not help my relationship with that house manager.

    4. MsClaw*

      Yes! You may end up at an office that’s more blue, but err on the side of less colorful language until you see how your colleagues talk.

    5. BeenThere*

      Definitely. I moved from a blue collar union job to a professional career. The strongest F word I use now is “Phooey”. Makes my co-workers laugh. But at least I no longer worry about crossing any swear word lines.

      1. No Green No Haze*

        I’m trying to train myself out of so much cursing. “Neat!” is my current all-purpose comment.

      2. Flare*

        Several years ago my politically-savvy and fairly classy boss, whom I had never heard even mildly swear even though there was a reason why I think in her household swearing was probably creative and frequent, started to refer to a very frustrating and complicated problem our department was having with another department which was making both her and me cranky every damn day, and said “It’s a total clusterfuh……doodle.”

        Fadoodle entered my swearword lexicon immediately and remains among my absolute most favorite F words even though I do use the primary one (F prime?) regularly; it’s right up there with monkeyfighting (snakes on this monday-to-friday plane). Various online dictionaries define fadoodle as “nonsense” or “cuddling” or other things, but I do not care. I mean the other thing.

    6. Michaela Westen*

      When I was working in a restaurant kitchen my colleagues swore as punctuation. I once heard one of them say, “you have to go outside and see that f*cking sunset! It’s f*cking gorgeous!” :)
      IME it’s best not to swear around people until you know whether they’ll take it in stride or as you intended. There are, unfortunately, still people who clutch their pools and swoon.
      Also swearing can come off as threatening if the person is angry or upset, so it’s good to be aware of that too.
      Now I come to think of it, I only swear to myself or at my computer. I can’t remember the last time I swore talking to another person.

    7. karlyk*

      I work for the Federal Government in a very collaborative position and I have literally never heard anyone use a curse word in the past 7 years.

      1. Helena*

        Varies even within the federal government, though – the Marine Corps is probably even more swear-laced than Wall Street.

        1. De Minimis*

          I still have a tough time not viewing my boss as some kind of adversary, after a first job in a pretty negative blue collar environment.

    8. BookishMiss*

      Yes. This is something to pay attention to. I’ve worked in offices that are Very Sweary All Day, and others where swearing is just Not Done, and ones in between (swearing to yourself but out of the earshot of customers, or in casual conversation with co-workers while on break, was ok in these cases). At this point, I pay attention and calibrate on my first couple of weeks, unless my hiring manager directly tells me one way or the other.

    9. CMart*

      Agreed – and I’ve noticed that even in the places where swearing is a bit more accepted the hierarchy of who cusses in front of whom is reversed from service industry vs corporate office.

      In my restaurant jobs the hourlies (FOH and BOH) all would speak very casually/coarsely in front of not only each other but also management. Managers often would tone it down in front of the staff.

      But here at Corp HQ it’s the higher-ups who feel free to let expletives loose while a peon like myself would never dare. I don’t have the clout to be “unprofessional” like that yet.

    10. Emily K*

      And instead of slang, you will use corporate jargon. You’ll hear yourself say things like “reach out” “circle back” and “ping me” and feel as though you’re having an out-of-body experience.

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        My soul dies a tiny bit more every time I hear someone say “reach out” when they really mean “contact.” It can’t fall out of the professional lexicon fast enough for me.

        1. Light37*

          Lo these many years ago when I was a reference librarian at a college, I once visibly shuddered when a student used “interface with” instead of “speak to.” He asked why and I admitted that to me it sounded more like a sewing term.

        2. Deejay*

          It’s been said there is a question you should ask yourself before using the phrase “reach out”. That question is “Am I a member of the Four Tops?”

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

          The one I absolutely hate HATE HATE is “optics”- it just sounds SO pretentious and bullshitty. It’s beyond rubbing styrofoam or nails on a chalkboard annoying, it’s hissing spitting shoulders around ears annoying! And it makes whoever uses it sound like a douchebag (or a corporate tool.)

          At least some buzzwords have come into being in a way that makes some sense – ping me! refers to recent technology, reach out and touch someone used to be a phone company slogan- but optics is a 100% execrable totally unnecessary made up in a boardroom corporate garbage buzzword. I HATE IT!

          JUST SAY NO!

          Maybe if everyone stops using it it will just fucking go away!

      2. Flare*

        “Deliverables,” meaning outcomes for a committee or project. I get it: at the end of the project we are supposed to deliver a result. And yet, the first time someone says “okay so we need to think about what our deliverables will be,” I experience a strong urge to perhaps set the room on fire and call that the act-of-god end of the project.

    11. Princess PIP*

      Funny enough, I was floored by the amount of cursing at my first white collar job — and I’m a prolific curser myself! (Not a boast.)

      I was so used to being customer-facing at all times that working all day where I was ‘safe’ to say whatever I wanted (so to speak) was seriously jarring.

      Ha ha, now I’m remembering the first time I attempted an F-bomb in that office. It came out like a tiny mouse with a sore throat.

      (I work in tech with a ton of loosey-goosey millennials.)

      1. Gloucesterina*

        Yeah, I wonder if the blue collar-to-white collar framing of this thread necessarily misses the nuances of the pink-collar-to-white-collar-transition that some commenters are highlighting, as well as the great variations among white collar culture and characters (e.g. a tech startup vs. higher ed vs. conservative corporate settings; or the “tech bro” type vs. the self-effacing WASP type).

        1. Gloucesterina*

          I’d add also: government jobs are coming as a culturally distinct set of spaces as well.

    12. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Maybe it’s my location, industry and area of work (NY, more liberal-leaning industry) but there is a lot of swearing at my very white collar, high education attainment office. Not as bad as it was when I first started out as a youth and the department I was in was more firmly ~the Art Department~ and we had our own little suite where my boss could let her true feelings fly, but it would not be unusual to hear an eff bomb on the regular around me. It is very jarring my for little sister who lives in the midwest and used to work mostly around children, I try not to use work language around her ;).

  2. MuseumChick*

    There are so many communication things. How to be direct without upsetting someone. When you can and cannot curse. How to communicate a work issues that could ruffle the feathers of Brenda the long time executive assistant that someone how more power then anyone else in the office. How to incorporate things like inclusive language into your vocabulary.

    Then you have the razor thin edge of “appropriate work attire”.

    1. The Original K.*

      I mentioned the other day that my best friend’s former law firm does an HR workshop with each summer associate class. She said they spend a LOT of time on the dress code: what is business formal (IIRC they were business formal and business casual on Fridays; the only time people came in in jeans was on the weekend, which, OK, happened a lot), what do you do about commuter shoes and rain boots, open-toed shoes vs. closed-toed shoes, etc. She said there were tons of questions about “appropriate office attire” (mostly from women, because for men it was basically “wear a suit in a normal suit color”), and HR was very thorough and careful in answering them, which they all appreciated.

      1. Bobbin Ufgood*

        Hoo boy is professional dress hard! I’m a medical professional and I had an undergrad ask to shadow me a while back and I had to give her suggestions on what to wear — those were some of the hardest two paragraphs I have ever written in an email — this is such a subtle thing, particularly for women. She showed up dressed appropriately, fortunately.

        A common error I see is the difference between dressing up (for example — wedding, fancy baby shower, going “out”) vs. dressing professionally. At a previous job we had a lot of young women trainees for a medical professional midlevel type job who came in in black cocktail dresses. They looked great, but that wasn’t the correct style of dress for the situation

        1. Jadelyn*

          I’ve seen this before, unfortunately – people who think that because their outfit is “fancy” it should be acceptable for work, but just because you’re dressed up doesn’t mean you’re dressed appropriately for an office. That’s a very nice club dress, but not what you need to wear to work.

          1. schnauzerfan*

            Yes. When I was a year or so into my career a friend got married and I bought a new dress to wear to her wedding and Mom (a retail manager) and I were bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t wear it to my job at the library and Dad (a mechanic) was convinced we were crazy. It’s a nice dress, how could it not be appropriate for work in a library???

            As for blue collar vs. white collar, Mom and I learned together she quit school before she was 14 and Dad only made it partway thru grade school, worked his whole life as a “grease monkey” (his words) as Mom got promoted she and I learned what professional meant in her world. She had a couple of great mentors that took her and me under their wings.

            1. Light37*

              Women’s clothing has so many subtleties, and weddings make it even more complicated. I have a dress that I made for a wedding which I’ve worn to work with no problem, but it was a daytime wedding. A dress for an evening wedding would not be work appropriate if it’s a cocktail or black/white tie event. Then there’s the wedding which calls for “Sunday best,” a term that suggests Steel Magnolias to me.

          2. Ammonite*

            Yes! In the south, the difference between church clothes and office clothes is often lost on people as well. A sundress isn’t office clothing, even if it’s knee length and you wear a cardigan.
            I will never forget the person I interviewed who wore a white lace sundress with a pink cardigan, pink purse, pink shoes, and pink mani-pedi. She looked really cute (if a little like Elle Woods) and they were nice clothes, but really not appropriate for the occasion.

            1. MP*

              Oh interesting comment! Totally agree. I’m a church-goer in the south (though in a southern city). I basically wear dresses everyday to work and to church, because they’re cool (temperature wise) and just so darn comfy and easy.

              For me (and my clothing budget), I took it as a personal challenge to find dresses that I could wear at both work and at normal church Sundays. And I mostly accomplished it – there were some dresses that were only church (the light pastel and white ones and of course Easter dresses!), but most could do double duty. Pretty hard to do, though.

            2. Three Dogs in a Trenchcoat*

              This is tricky, because in most places I’ve worked a sundress, cardigan and flats is perfectly appropriate on the librarian level. That’s actually my go-to outfit in spring and summer! But even then there are subtle degrees of “appropriateness”: is this a work sundress, a church sundress, or a both sundress?

              I think a lot of the skillset is being able to distinguish between “types” of clothing (business, dressy-casual, and formal wear for example) and then “read” which of those types is necessary for a situation or a particular workplace. That’s what’s so hard when, like me, you didn’t grow up learning the signals and have to learn to spot them.

              Also…what is the “male” equivalent of this quandary?

              1. freedlabrat*

                I totally think the male equivalent is polo shirts, but I agree a lot of the issues surrounding clothes are highly highly gendered

              2. Iris Eyes*

                More subltle but probably types of dress shirt material or maybe even “polo” style.

                1. Marty Marts*

                  This is definitely what it is. I’m in a law firm that wear business casual normally and jeans on Fridays (unless court, and then it’s suits). The men all wear khakis or suit type pants, but the real tricky spot is the shirts. For the most part Polos are too dressed down, but then you don’t need a tight tucked button down. A lot of them wear like Oxford shirts or those checkered shirts that are big right now. The other subtle thing is shoes, there’s a weird gradient there as well. My male co-worker and I talk about this all the time. It’s definitely easier for men, but there is definitely still a lot of getting dressed stress.

                2. Genny*

                  Fabric choice plays such a huge part for both men’s and women’s clothing. Typically, the lighter the fabric, the more casual the outfit (e.g. chiffon is going to read as less professional than wool). Natural fibers like cotton can go either way, but more often than not read more casual. Shiny fabrics can read as cheap (not to be confused with fabrics that have a sheen). The next two biggest things to look at is the cut and fit of the garment (I think this is where men tend to have issues). Next, I’d say to look at the garment’s patterns and colors. The louder the print/color the less likely a garment will read as professional (though this gets pretty subjective).

              3. Anax*

                1) Chinos and khakis may be fine – but if they have pockets on the legs or are too baggy, they’re cargo pants and no longer work appropriate, even if they’re made of the same material.
                2) Buttondowns may be fine – but if they fit too tightly or have loud prints or colors, they may be a club shirt and not a work shirt. Ditto, things like mandarin collars and rolltab sleeves may be problematic.

                E.g., check these out:

                All close-ish to business attire – but not appropriate.


                Something like this might be okay in some businesses, but not others.

                3) What shoes are okay? Converses or boots might look great but be inappropriate for work. If tennis shoes are okay, how loud can the colors be, and can they have any designs on them? If you need to wear loafers or oxfords, how formal do they have to be, and do you actually have to shine them, and can anyone tell the difference between cheap and expensive loafers?

                There’s just as many gradations in the mens’ wardrobe, honestly, coming from experience with both sides. (I’m trans.)

                It’s just more socially acceptable for men to ONLY dress up at work, so it’s likely that they only have casual and work clothes – rather than having additional special-occasion clothes. (Also doesn’t help that almost all “dressed up” menswear is very warm, so “summery” for men almost always implies “casual.”)

              4. Preppy6917*

                For men, I would say the levels within a category. For example, there’s a difference between a golf/tennis polo and a dressy polo shirt (and lots of men fail to see the difference). Also, not all button-up shirts are created equal: there are your shiny/flashy ones, the more muted ones, and various levels in-between. This doesn’t even factor those vented fishing shirts (which are VERY popular in my southern hometown; even at work). A company might specify a “collared shirt” in the dress code, but guys really have to observe what everyone else is wearing to get an idea of what’s truly appropriate for the office.

                The same for “slacks”–does that mean khakis, or actual dress trousers?

              5. Kelly L.*

                Midwestern and southern church clothing can be kind of…uber-femme and Little House on the Prairie? Calf-length dress with lots of flowers, that sort of thing. It’s not revealing, but the tone of it can be kind of off. More froofy, less businessy. And there’s probably sexism and classism behind that, but I know what Ammonite means.

                1. Light37*

                  Yes, church clothing does seem to tend towards the little lace collar look. More the late Princess of Wales in the 80s than a modern professional business image. It’s very demure and pretty, but it doesn’t say, “Take me seriously.”

              6. Kuddel Daddeldu*

                I once went on a business trip with a tuxedo, business casual and a boiler suit (coveralls, safety boots and hard hat).
                The work was on a six-star cruise ship, where the “casual” outfit for dinner was a dark suit without a tie, “regular” was a suit with a tie, and “formal” meant tuxedo.
                During the workday, I wore business casual (with a tie) on the bridge and the boiler suit in the engine room.
                Still have a picture somewhere of the three outfits hanging side-by-side in the walk-in closet.

            3. Jadelyn*

              Funny thing is, I actually disagree with you on that re sundresses. If it’s a particularly flimsy material or even the slightest bit less than opaque, sure, but if it’s an opaque fabric and covers you sufficiently (knee-length-ish and not super low-cut), I don’t see what’s wrong with adding a cardigan or blazer and nice shoes and turning it into officewear.

              1. RaeaSunshine*

                Agreed, this is common in my workplace (CPG industry) across all departments. We are business casual, with jeans allowed, so maybe it’s more dependent on where on the spectrum between ‘business’ and ‘casual’ the company norm lies.

            4. Urdnot Bakara*

              I actually think stuff like this is perfectly fine in a business-casual setting, which in my experience usually just means, like…. no jeans, t-shirts, or flip-flops. Business professional/interview attire, though? No.

          3. The Original K.*

            Yep. I remember this was a thing on Shameless – Fiona had never worked in an office before and wanted to wear her “best dress” for a temp gig, but it was a club dress. She didn’t own any office-appropriate clothes.

            1. RaeaSunshine*

              Yessss! This was actually a crucial episode for me. I had just gotten my first white collar job, having previously been in white collar function but in a very blue collar industry with a complete lack of dress code beyond safety requirements. For my first day I had selected my fanciest cocktail dress with a cardigan – nixed that after seeing the ep. I cringe looking back on it because it would have been so awkwardly formal and inappropriate. Thank you Fiona!

            1. Iris Eyes*

              Essentially it comes down to fabric. If it has a sheen/shine its probably not professional its fancy. Velvet, probably fancy. If it is knit it is probably business casual (unless it hugs your body in which case probably not at all in the office unless layered under something else.)

              Full skirts tend toward fancy or casual. Especially if they have a sheer layer.

              Think words like tailored, structured/structural, matte.

            2. LawLady*

              I posted this down below, but it’s worth thinking of women’s clothing as existing on two axes, while men’s clothing exists on one. Men’s clothing is just casual to formal. Women’s is casual to formal but also business to social. Fabric plays into a it a lot, but so does cut and conservativism.

              1. EmilyG*

                This is really well put! I think length of sleeves, hemline, and neckline can be part of the social/business axis for women, and that’s another minefield because as we’ve seen in some questions on this site, the same clothes get unfairly perceived differently when worn on different bodies.

              2. Iris Eyes*

                Hmmm interesting point. Another way to look at it might be that in recent history especially middle/upper middle class women were primarily operating in the social sphere when they moved into middle/upper middle class professions they borrowed from menswear. On the other side men’s social lives were perhaps often an extension of the professional lives.

                So you might do well to think “could I see a man’s shirt/blazer/outfit being made in this material or with this vibe and fitting in at work?”

              3. Anax*

                Men’s clothing does also involve a social axis – it’s just out of fashion right now. Shiny clothing, tight-fitting clothing, and loud colors and prints aren’t considered work-appropriate for men either.

                It’s reasonably common for goth dudes, for instance, to dress up in buttondowns, black pants, and closed-toed shoes – but they may well not be work appropriate.


              4. JSPA*

                I cringe a little writing this, because these should not be in opposition…but when I was younger, the distinction was drawn between clothing that shows you have a good body / shows you have a good heart / shows you have good taste.

        2. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Yes, professional dress is very difficult and can be so classist. I was witness to an online discussion about women’s professional dress and how black separates “have to match.” Having a jacket that is slightly off from your pants or skirt evidently is a signifier of …something. Not being able to afford a full suit or not knowing that one is necessary, I guess.

          It was an interesting discussion, but really illuminated professional-class privilege.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            I think black separates should match if you work in an office where business attire is expected. I wear black separates all the time that don’t match, but I’ve only ever worked in business casual offices, even when I worked at a law firm (some of my coworkers there were too casual).

          2. Queen of the File*

            I worked an extremely low-paying (well below the poverty line) reception job at a financial firm that, I think, was used to having people from a wealthier or whiter-collar background than mine in the position. I was struggling to make rent and commuting from hours away for the job, and could not afford the kind of “professional” look they were asking for (makeup, heels, jackets, high-quality brands, etc.). I didn’t have any of that stuff in my wardrobe and I had no financial support to lean on outside of the job. I eventually got fired for not keeping up the appearance and honestly I am not sure how it would have been possible.

            1. Cristina in England*

              This makes me so angry that they fired you for this while paying you well below the poverty line!

              1. Queen of the File*

                After reading through some of the other comments I think my rural/blue-collar upbringing of not negotiating and being grateful for whatever you’re offered had a lot to do with my salary in that position. However I do think they’d had a run of wealthier “it” girls in the job before me, who weren’t relying on the salary to live.

            2. Kat in VA*

              That infuriates me. And for those who say WULL JUST THRIFT THINGS AT THE THRIFT STORE…when you’re getting paid jack squat (and I was getting paid precisely that, way back when, starting out as a receptionist), the thought of parting with even $10-$15 for a Goodwill Anne Klein blazer when you were unsure how you’d afford GAS to get to said job? Yeah.

              I was there too – the lowest paid person in the office (and getting a shit salary at that) being hassled because my clothes weren’t upscale and “professional” (read: expensive) enough to suit The Powers That Be.

              Fortunately I had another job in hand when I lost my temper at the final round of sniping over my attire and said something to the effect of, “Maybe if you wanted to give me a clothing allowance, I could have afforded to dress the way y’all do” or whatever. That comment was…ill-received.

              1. AcademiaNut*

                Also, thrift store shopping for work takes time! You can’t wander into a thrift shop with the goal of buying a work outfit. You go weekly over a period of months or years to keep an eye on the stock in order to find items that are appropriate, flattering and fit well. It also works better if you’re a more average size. If you’re small or large, or have unusual proportions there just aren’t going to be that many donated items for you to buy.

                1. Kat in VA*

                  While I can say ebay can help out tremendously, even there you have shipping costs, time to ship, potential of item not fitting – unless you already own something of a particular brand/designer but even then…I have six or seven Calvin Klein and Anne Klein blazers bought off ebay. All of them fit differently! All of them!

                  (I still assiduously shop on ebay/consignment – unless it’s underclothes, socks, or bras, I just don’t want to pay full retail)

              2. Marina Magdalena*

                ahahaha thrifting a suit when you’re 4’11” and roughly 26″ around the waist, that’s a good one. Y’all just know if it fits in the shoulders it still might not button, and excuse me, my hips are up here, not down where the original 5’8″ model had them…

              3. Queen of the File*

                Yes, and nevermind that the thrift stores in my town are terribly picked-over because of the insanely high cost of living. Good work stuff is (or was at that time, anyway) really hard to come by.

                Now that I’m doing a little better I try to donate as much as I can.

                1. Marina Magdalena*

                  I’m actually trying to arrange a charity sale out here in the sticks where there are no thrift stores — I’m hoping that people will donate decent items for things like back-to-school and at least business *casual*. If I have to [cough] redistribute some good stuff from Goodwill to my charity sale, so be it: poorish folks in the sticks deserve businesswear too.

          3. doreen*

            It’s not just a business/professional thing and black isn’t the only color affected – the issue is that if one piece is just slightly off from the other , it looks like either you did a poor job of matching or like the pieces faded unevenly. Better to wear to wear two completely different colors or textures- it’s less of an issue if you are talking about black woven pants and a black knit jacket and it’s not an issue at all if you’re wearing a red jacket and a black skirt.

        3. Jennifer Juniper*

          Oh dear. I hope nobody thought nasty things about them. Cocktail dresses often show far more skin than is appropriate in the office.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            One of my neighbors is a tall slender young woman who was going to her first post-college internship in dresses that were pretty short – not quite to mid-thigh. It is difficult for tall women to get enough length in pants and dresses.
            I was concerned she’d be seen as unprofessional but didn’t get a chance to talk to her about it. A few months later she told me she’d been hired, so apparently it worked out all right.

        4. Not Rebee*

          I have this issue all the time. Most young female professionals truly don’t know the difference between business and social. If you work in a truly casual environment, casual is casual, but once you head into business casual territory there’s truly a difference between that and social attire of a similar “dressiness”. I think this is because a lot of stuff is marketed as being office appropriate by the clothing stores when it’s actually not.

          1. LizM*

            Even in a casual office, people struggle with this. I manage an office with college-educated professionals spend time doing field work, so our office is very casual (yesterday I spent the afternoon in flip flops and muddy jeans because I’d had to wade through mud puddles all morning). I’ve still had to counsel employees that causal still means that they can’t wear super short shorts, no bra straps. Even if jeans and a t-shirt are acceptable, this still isn’t a summer BBQ.

        5. pagooey*

          My senior year of college, the career services people set up a cattle-call type interview day with some prominent NYC publishers. I wore a burgundy velour swing dress and a long strand of faux pearls, the nicest, 1990-est thing I owned at the time. Did not get a job! Still cringe a tiny bit, decades later!

      2. Jessen*

        I have noticed this even in “casual” offices. My current office is casual, but white collar office casual is a WORLD of difference than my previous work (retail/call center). A lot more people, myself included, made more countercultural dress moves at my previous job. At my current job, from what I’ve seen, jeans and t-shirts or hoodies are common. BUT everyone’s hair is a natural color, there are no non-standard piercings, jewelry and makeup are generally toned down, no visible tattoos, and so forth. Whereas at my previous job, I had no concerns about showing up with bright purple hair or a skull themed necklace or an ear cuff, half the staff had arm or leg tattoos showing, people decorated their desk with pokemon…you get the idea.

        1. That Would be a Good Band Name*

          This is so true. I worked in a call center environment (doing payroll) for 8 years and everyone had tats, piercings, brightly colored hair, and pop culture decorated cubes/offices. We have one person here who has a couple of unique decorations and talked about going out to play pokemon go at lunch and it got some side eye from a few people.

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

            I don’t even like the Pokémon franchise- at ALL- and I would be heavily side-eyeing the people who were side-eying the Pokémon go player (and I am a woman over 50.)
            Seriously, just what exactly IS worth side-eying about wanting to play a videogame, have fun, or enjoy things that are not directed strictly at Adults Only?
            I mean, let’s compare it to SPORTS- a bunch of adults getting paid to play children’s games, so other adults can watch them do it. How is that any more reasonable or mature than playing a video game (which, at least you are doing YOURSELF and not watching someone else do it)? Or doing something active that gets you a little exercise?

            Don’t even get me started on the whole dress code thing- a tattoo or piercing or colored hair or non-conservative clothing or whatever says absolutely NOTHING about a person’s professionalism, skill, talent, or ability to do their job AND IT NEVER WILL. I will be SO goddam glad when the world moves beyond that nonsense! (And it will- I’ve seen enough change in that area in the last 40 years to know that we are headed in that direction!)

        2. Natatat*

          This is very true. I work in a pretty casual setting (Higher Ed) and some individuality seems to be fine (ex. non-natural hair colours). But people don’t put as personal a stamp on their overall look compared to my past jobs in retail where co-workers really put a personal, sometimes “out there” spin on their outfit (unconventional haircuts, piercings, hair colours). Professional offices, even casual ones, seem to have an unspoken understanding of not standing out too much as you represent the company/institution you work for. Although I imagine age has something to do with it too as my retail co-workers were all teens and early 20’s.

          1. academic*

            Academia is interesting. It’s often casual, yes, but not completely. Business professors are usually identifiable as compared to English professors. It is also a case in which the degree of weirdness of the clothing / personal style has to do with the academic speciality of the individual, not to mention factors like region, age, and seniority. One reason I wanted an academic job was so that I wasn’t pressured to straighten my hair and wear “professional” makeup.

      3. Hills to Die on*

        Yes. I worked at a conservative consulting firm and one of the men noticed that the other woman and I each wore Ralph Lauren shirts (I wasn’t wearing mine that day). He asked what the difference was and the other woman answered that ‘Lauren’ by Ralph Lauren was for older women, and the Polo line was more univeral. I have seen varying answers to that, where some people will call Lauren more affordable. or more upscale.

        Regardless, the overarching point is that style is important. You should look put together, age-appropriate, situationally appropriate, accessorize, and your clothing and shoes should be in good condition.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Lauren by Ralph Lauren has a lot of “young” looking pieces that I would not expect older women to wear, so I don’t know that I agree with your colleague’s assessment of the two. The polo brand is very preppy, though, much more than the Lauren label, so that’s how I describe the difference to people. Also, the Lauren line is sold at Macy’s and TJMaxx/Marshall’s, so I’d agree it’s a very affordable line as opposed to his black and purple labels.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          Also not too much jewelry, or too sparkly. A lot of eye-catching jewelry can be distracting and pull the focus of the person you’re talking to from what you’re saying to how pretty your jewelry is.
          This also goes for sparkly nails.

          1. JSPA*

            Safer to avoid jewelry with social group identification meanings, too, just as you would not wear a shirt with a slogan at work. I’m not saying “don’t.” It may be worth it to you, to make your associations manifest! I’m saying, be aware that it can read as “un-serious.”

      4. lawyer*

        My law school required every student to attend a workshop on professional dress in order to participate in on-campus interviews, and it was invaluable. Mostly for women, because it’s more complicated for us, but they also helped steer men away from dress shirts in that weird shiny fabric that was popular clubwear in the early 2000s, and answered questions about how to deal with religious headcoverings like yarmulkes and kufis (by the way, the answer there was that it’s okay to wear them, and if you have any problems with your summer law firm internship about that, call career services and we’ll help you handle it). It was super detailed, down to how to buy workwear on a student budget, how to get through the two weeks until your first payday, etc.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          That sounds like a great class. My school had a similar class you had to take before you could go on your co-op, and it definitely helped me to figure this stuff out. My mom has always worked in white collar office jobs, but I just never paid attention to anything she did or wore, and she never really talked to me about office norms, so I had no idea about anything before taking that class.

      5. LawLady*

        Yes! Men’s clothing is on one axis, whereas women’s clothing is on two axes! Men’s clothing ranges from casual to formal. That’s it. Women’s clothing ranges from casual to formal but ALSO from professional to social.

        1. LilyP*

          I think there might even be a third element that I’d call “attractiveness” or “sexiness”. Within the social/formal quadrant there’s still a distinction between “your best clubbing do-up” and “what you’d wear to a wedding” that feels distinct from just where something falls on the casual/formal spectrum.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Right! It’s not as clear cut as in a lot of blue collar jobs where there is a very clear power structure. Generalizing blue collar work here but I think most often you have The Manager/Owner > The Supervisor > Direct Reports. Where as in white collar work there is that structure but you also have, for example, Brenda the EA. Even though Brenda isn’t in your management chain if you do something that steps on her toes she isn’t going to come to you directly. She is going to talk to The Manager/Owner.

      2. Manders*

        Oh yeah, learning to figure out who has power in the office when they’re not necessarily a manager/above you on the org chart is so important. My parents weren’t blue collar but they were in a field that’s known for its highly unusual office politics, and it took me some trial and error to figure out how to navigate a normal office.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          Also, not gossipy or inappropriate to ask questions about the informal power structure, typical decision-making processes, or who outside your team you need buy-in from or should loop in. You’re not asking about people’s personal quirks or vices or who they’re BFFs with – instead it’s about making sure you really understand how your organization’s stakeholders are linked together.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            But even here, it’s important to be careful about phrasing. “I know Cersei is the manager for that department, but who REALLY runs the show?” is probably not as tactful as “I know Cersei is the manager for that department, but is there anyone else whose approval I should make sure to get on this project, or anyone else I need to keep informed?”

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      The office politics and figuring out communication norms are two of the biggest hurdles. I think the other major challenge is figuring out how to schmooze prospective and current high-income clients.

      For office politics, you cannot get by to adhering to a strict hierarchy where the only person you listen to are people up the line. If your coworker has a concern, you have to evaluate if it’s legit and respond accordingly. You have to be collegial with everyone. You can’t call someone out, be too direct when you’re upset, or curse at/call them out the neck. You can’t go over someone’s head or ignore someone more senior in a different line. You have to know and understand the gatekeeping role of the Brendas.

      For client retention and origination (if your clients are from high-SES backgrounds), you have to be willing to “waste time” schmoozing. You might have to listen to a bunch of small talk (and pretend you care) about your client’s kids / kitchen renovation / golf game / luxury vacation before you can dive into work items. You may have to call them to check in even when you don’t have live projects, the way you might keep in touch with an acquaintance. You have to figure out their communication style and how to approach them so they hear you (sometimes the direct frankness and no-bullshit approach in many blue-collar industries is the most effective!). You have to be firm but polite, and keep your cool when they’re being overly emotional, illogical, unreasonable, or are trying to steamroll you. You have to figure out when to deploy the cold and scathing condemnation of dignified manners.

      It’s all learnable, but sometimes it does feel like an anthropologist studying a community that’s foreign to them. And it will feel, sometimes, like people are operating by unwritten rules no one shared with you. And sometimes it will feel like everyone around you is speaking Danish, you have no idea how to even tell them your name, and these folks clearly spent all their childhood summers in Copenhagen.

      1. Washi*

        It’s so tricky! Because you simultaneously have to be very polite and tactful to everyone, no matter what you think of them/their ideas, but at the same time, it’s expected that at you will speak up for yourself and push back (but still politely) on things that aren’t feasible. I think that’s been the biggest thing for me, is that I was taught by my parents, who grew up working class and moved in to the middle class, to be EXTREMELY deferential to all types of authority figures. I was so shocked in college with how easily my classmates went up to teachers to argue their grades or even just request an extension, when I would have reserved those things for absolute dire needs. And then at work, it was so hard for me to learn that it was actually expected that I would say something if I couldn’t handle my workload, or if I thought we were going in the wrong direction!

        1. sofar*

          YES! My husband is making the transition to white collar office job (after years of working for and helping to run his family-owned factory-type workplace).

          In the factory, if your boss says do something, you have to be like, “Yes, sir!” and get on it (while bitching to your coworkers as soon as the boss is out of ear-shot). Learning how to push back professionally and politely is a white color skill that he’s finding confusing.

          Also, my husband has a TON of experience managing and disciplining employees who come to work drunk and high, do drugs at work, cuss each other out and throw items in anger. Navigating the more subdued drama and passive aggression in the white collar world is … different.

          1. LizM*

            Your second paragraph is a really good point and one that I’ve noticed in my employees who have transitioned from blue collar environments.

            It surprised me the first few times it happened. I spent the early part of my career where I was encouraged to push back and taught to do so professionally and respectfully. I expect the same of my employees and helping a couple of them feeling comfortable doing so has been a challenge.

        2. Nobody Nowhere*

          Ha! My blue-collar dad was exactly the opposite. His bosses were always “idiots” and he lost a lot of jobs arguing with them about how to run the business. Anybody with a college degree was useless (until I got one). :-D

      2. KPT*

        Yes to all of this. I come from a blue collar background and specifically work in fundraising, and let me tell you, the schmoozing learning curve is STEEP.

    3. AMT*

      “Appropriate work attire” — absolutely! My dad owns maybe one dress shirt. I moved to New York after college and had to learn not just what work attire was generally appropriate, but how to buy things in a current, flattering cut, color, and fit. Getting menswear right is tricky. You can look dated and sloppy in what seems like a perfectly good shirt, tie, and slacks combo (think Dwight Schrute or pretty much anyone on The People’s Court). As classist and gross as these assumptions can be, I’ve had to accept that it’s harder to be taken seriously when your clothes cause you to be read as unobservant or out-of-it.

      1. Iris Eyes*

        That also makes me think about comments in just about every crime drama I’ve ever watched where they know a guy is FBI by his suit.

        Do you think that for men since its harder to screw up entirely the little details have more impact?

        1. AMT*

          I think you’re right. Women’s businesswear has always seemed a bit more forgiving to me. Not only are there fewer little details like lapels and buttons, but there’s often some amount of stretch, which is not true for menswear. Less structure, too, overall. Blazers that are more like cardigans.

          Funny, I’m actually halfway through the FBI’s hiring process right now and this was one of the things I noticed during my first contact with other candidates. Male candidates: nearly everyone’s suit was too big, sleeves were too long, shoulders were too wide. The mistakes the women made were more along the lines of wearing clothing that was too casual, which seems to be more difficult with women’s workwear — like, if you’re a man, your only option is a suit, but if you’re a woman, how do you know that X pants are more casual and Y pants are more formal, or that certain color combinations don’t belong in certain settings, if you’re not from a family of professionals?

          1. OhNo*

            Women’s business-wear has always struck me as more of an “I know it when I see it” sort of thing. You can just tell super quickly when someone’s dressed wrong, even if it would take a while to actually figure out why. (Is it the fabric? The drape? The cut? Are the accessories just slightly too off-shade?)

            Men’s business-wear pretty much only has one setting, so it’s easier to think that you’ve gotten it right, and the things that throw it off are harder to see at a glance unless you’ve spent a lot of time in that environment. You have to know what to look for more when judging men’s clothes, especially suits.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            For women: when in doubt, wear neutral colors. Black, gray, navy, tan, beige and white.
            Generally anything bright will make it look like you want attention. I wish I’d known this in the 80’s – 90’s.

  3. ThatGirl*

    Many retail, warehouse and service jobs (among others) strongly discourage the use of sick time or don’t even offer any, and often encourage people to come in and fight through illness. I’ve seen a couple of younger employees here think that despite throwing up or having a migraine that they should still be here, when we do in fact have sick time and don’t want people to be miserable at work.
    Obviously, this can vary even in white-collar environments, but I feel like most office jobs do not want you to come in if you are throwing up.

    1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      And other kinds of PTO too – be really sure to check your company’s PTO policy if you’re not sure, but in general: 1) give lots of notice for planned PTO, 2) make sure you tell all relevant people about unplanned PTO, 3) actually take your PTO and don’t work while on PTO. Sounds obvious, but I had a trainee that decided to come in on a day she had booked as PTO… especially for an hourly worker, this creates a lot of problems, please don’t do this unless specifically instructed to do so by your manager (which they should NOT ask of you unless in very dire circumstances).

      Oh, and I suppose 4) assume that any day you’re not working that you normally would work will be PTO; most employers aren’t going to want to give you unpaid leave, except in very special circumstances. The time they allot you in PTO is the total time off they want you to take, in most cases.

      1. ThatGirl*

        For sure, there can be a lot of unspoken rules about PTO and how to take it too. And in flexibility in scheduling, which can be really varied from place to place – is it no big deal if you leave 30 minutes early for a dentist appointment or something? Do you need to make it up later? What if you’re running more than a few minutes late?

      2. tired anon*

        I’d add

        5) If you’ll be out for more than a day or two, reach out to people ahead of time to check in about coverage for any ongoing projects, make sure you have someone who’s ok with you listing them as a go-to person while you’re out, and put up an email auto-responder that lets people know you’re out, when you’ll be back, and who to address any high-priority problems to in the mean time.

      3. Zennish*

        It can also vary from manager to manager in the same org. I know I’m less concerned about how much notice I get for PTO than some of my colleagues, simply because I run a department where I can afford to be. I’m also not super-worried about when people show up or leave (within reason) as long as it works out to 8-ish hour days, and a full 40 hours by the end of the week.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      This. My former job technically gave us 5 days of PTO a year but made it almost impossible for us to use them, even if we were sick. Current job, even though I’m still hourly (but it’s 8-5 minus lunch) . . . I just asked for tomorrow off and told them it was OK if they turned it down because I’d been asked to do something without any advance notice, and my supervisor waved it off and told me he was glad I was using vacation time.

    3. JokeyJules*

      Thats the biggest difference I’ve had so far! I’ve had jobs that had PTO and sick time that never got approved and you were heavily guilt-tripped for using. In my current position, I could tell my boss i had a cold coming on and he would tell me to work remotely or just take sick time. He regularly says he’d rather one person stay home than all 8 of us sick at the same time.

    4. CMart*

      Just this week a newer, entry level coworker who shares a cubicle wall with me came in clearly very ill. Shivering, pale, sweaty. Told her manager about how it came on suddenly on Easter and how much DayQuil she had downed in order to be semi-functional.

      I then got to hear her manager say “oh my gosh [name], go home. We have unlimited sick time! It’s okay to stay home when you’re sick, we can handle a day or so with your absence!”

      Newer coworker then hemmed and hawed, “oh no, are you sure? I can fight through it’s not that bad, I don’t mind…” Which I very much still relate to, 2 years into this job, having come from 15 years of retail and food service. The guilt heaped upon you for not coming in unless you were unconscious in the hospital runs really deep.

      1. Violet*

        Honestly the American Public School system does it too. You can’t miss time at school. A single day missed is double the work tomorrow. You can’t even miss class to use the bathroom without missing part of the learning the teacher expects you to have been there for. Your classmates get rewards and outbox praise for perfect attendance all year like not getting sick is an achievement and not luck. I was in high school on crutches with a broken foot and offered to be allowed to leave class early to get to my next one on time and I hated having to miss even 5 minutes and i chose not to when it was just to get to lunch. I’d rather be late to lunch. It’s all so ingrained and hard to unlearn.

        1. Georgie*

          I’ve never heard of an American public school where people couldn’t go to the bathroom during class. I’d think most students would be happy to miss 5 minutes of class…

          1. CMart*

            In my schools it was highly discouraged. IDK if it was a “every minute of class is desperately important” thing or a “we don’t trust you not to get up to shenanigans” thing but it was understood that you only asked to leave to use the restroom if it was essentially an emergency.

            Students would have been plenty happy to miss 5 minutes of class, and I think that was the thing teachers/administration were trying to avoid.

            1. Rebecca in Dallas*

              In my experience, it depended on the teacher. Some teachers were really adamant that we not go leave for the bathroom during class. Some of them would respond to a request with, “Of course, you don’t have to ask.”

              I had one teacher in middle school get mad at me for getting up to get a tissue. I wasn’t even leaving the classroom, just walking over to the tissues on the other side of the room.

              1. LJay*

                Our teachers had limited discretion they could use in this area.

                If you were in the hallway during class time, you needed a hall pass. Each teacher’s classroom had one hall pass, so if one student was out, you couldn’t go.

                Some did just have it hanging up next to the door so you didn’t have to ask if you could leave, just note the presence of the hall pass and get up and grab it and go.

                They were also supposed to write the time on it, and you were supposed to be able to be disciplined if you were in the hallway longer than 10 minutes after the time on the pass. But I don’t think I ever heard of anyone actually getting in trouble for that bit.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            We were supposed to try to go during passing periods in the upper grades, or before/after lunch in elementary school. We could if we really needed to, but there was a lot of hinting that they didn’t want us out of the classroom unsupervised.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              I had a teacher in (I think) middle school who was very opposed to kids using “his time” to go to the bathroom when we “could have gone in between classes” (PSA: 3 minutes is not enough time to walk from one end of the building to the other—I had to have all my books in my backpack for half the day at a time because I only had enough time to go to my locker during lunch).

              ANYWAY, this teacher would do a pop quiz whenever someone used the bathroom during class and when they came back he’d tell them they couldn’t do the quiz because they hadn’t been in the classroom when he read the questions and he wasn’t going to make an exception to go over “the whole test” again just for them.

              I like to imagine he’s an assistant manager at a Chuck E Cheese’s these days. It would be a fitting retribution.

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

                At my high school, if a teacher grumbled that kids should use the bathroom between classes, people would LAUGH. We had 5 minutes between them and it still wasn’t enough to use the restroom AND get to class (and sometimes not enough to get from class to class if you were unlucky enough to have to travel between buildings at the farthest ends of the campus.)

                Of course, I was the one who was always like, ‘NEWP! Not running myself ragged* because there isn’t enough time to get from class to class!’ I am tall with long legs and walk at a steady pace- if that wasn’t enough to get me from class to class on time, well, sorry, I did my reasonable best. Having to run or rush between classes because of poor timing wasn’t reasonable, as far as I was concerned.

                (It’s really a good thing I don’t have kids, because there are SO many stupid/unreasonable school rules and regulations, especially nowadays, that I’d be SNARLING at/fighting with school officials over, and not giving kids enough time between classes to GET to classes would definitely be on that list.)

                *especially as I didn’t care to trigger an asthma attack (which was not well controlled at the time.)

          3. LJay*

            We were always given trouble about it. We apparently should have gone between classes. Except that between classes we had to race from one end of the school to the other, maybe stop at our locker that wasn’t near anything else, etc.

            And of course, biological needs can crop up in the 90 minutes between beginning class and ending it.

          4. MatKnifeNinja*

            My niece is in high school. You better be bleeding, pooping, peeing, puking on the floor to use the restroom.

            Most of her classes give 3 restroom passes per semester. Use then up before the semester ends? I guess you piddle yourself.

            Her and her friends just “hold it” and wait to come home.

            You go before lunch, and that’s about it.

          5. Jen*

            Yeah, that was my experience too. And best of all would be if you got to leave class early to help the person on crutches get to their next class!

        2. Same.*

          I don’t doubt that certain schools like that, but I really don’t think it’s the norm (unless things have changed dramatically since I finished school). There are tons of students who miss school every week for sports and extracurricular activities.

      2. rmw1982*

        “The guilt heaped upon you for not coming in unless you were unconscious in the hospital runs really deep.”

        *Even* if you were unconscious in the hospital.

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

          How would that even work- do EMT’s just roll you into your work on a gurney and you lay at your desk/station unconscious all shift? Or were you just supposed to somehow just…magically become unconscious in time for your shift because you are just THAT loyal of an employee?
          I really would be curious as to just what exactly they had expected of me there.

  4. Ptarmigan*

    In general, the decorum expectations in an office job are different. People don’t joke, tease, use their personalities to entertain others, argue, swear, and so on, nearly as much as in (some) blue collar jobs. If you’re in an office for a while, you’ll probably see it’s looser than it first appears, but you can’t go wrong by being quiet, calm, not easily provoked, smooth, polite, friendly-but-not-too-friendly and so on until you get the lay of the land. People in offices also don’t value the kind of honesty where you tell someone they pissed you off, or show your dislike for one another, at all. You’re pretty much expected to be polite and friendly with everyone at all times even if you don’t respect or like them. That’s not to say you can’t disagree or express a contrary opinion; you just can’t make anything personal even if it is.

    1. BridgeNerdess*

      Good point. There are expected behaviors that may not be intuitive to someone who didn’t have professional parents or close relatives.

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

          Or other neurodevelopmental disabilities that cause issues with social dysfunction.

          (I’m dyspraxic and had a terrible time learning to people as a kid- having HIGH empathy, terrible non-verbal interpretation skills, and horrible at non direct communication is an AWFUL combination when trying to interpret how other people work- their emotions, their expressions/body language, their words- NOTHING MATCHES UP. WHAT DO YOU REALLY MEAN. JUST FUCKING TELL ME.

          Office politics would be BEYOND impossible for me. I completely lack the ability to play those kinds of games (nor would I even want to, I hate drama, soap operas, and bullshit.) Networking, same- I just can’t do schmoozing (or most “small talk” really, as I have SO LITTLE in common with most people there’s almost no overlap- don’t have TV, I HATE sports, have NO interest in popular music/most movies/popular writers/the beach or outdoors/babies or kids of any age/cooking/alcohol or drinking related activities/most restaurant or food stuff…the list goes on & on.)

          “People don’t joke, tease, use their personalities to entertain others, argue, swear, and so on, nearly as much as in (some) blue collar jobs”

          Ok, so no having personalities.

          “People in offices also don’t value the kind of honesty where you tell someone they pissed you off”

          Ok, so no honesty either!
          Sorry, as a person with severe social issues, I want to be around people who have NO PROBLEM being direct and telling me exactly what they feel, think, want. I don’t want to be blithely assuming that all is well when in all reality Fergus is quietly seething (and more so because I am oblivious to it) or Fergusina really can’t stand me (but acts sweet as pie.) Polite and businesslike is one thing, but people being polite and “friendly” to people one dislikes just SCREAMS falseness to me (I can always see throughout it) and it makes me mistrustful of people- what else are they lying or being false about?
          I’d honestly rather people be direct to the point of bluntness or even rudeness than play beat around the bush social games that I find incomprehensible. Just be REAL!

          It would be EXHAUSTING for me to have to try and function in an environment like that, trying to navigate what for me, and people like me, are social and behavioral minefields – and quite frankly, I just don’t have the energy for any of it (and never have.) Trying to survive in that environment would have destroyed my health. NO THANKS!

          I never felt like I was cut out for office jobs, but this post and the comments have all made it abundantly clear that I would have found it all a pretty horrific nightmare experience.

    2. ATX Language Learner*

      Agree with this one. There are many people I work with that I’m not a fan of but they will never know. There are many times I’m annoyed/irritated on the inside but it never shows in my face/actions/voice. My emails are always professional and polite, even when I want to type in all caps calling them a fucktard. lol :P

      1. Jadelyn*

        I literally had a moment yesterday where something had pissed me off thoroughly via email, but I was in a conversation with a couple people in my office at the same time and so I didn’t react to it. Then my boss ducked in to say goodbye since he was leaving for an appointment, asked if I’d seen the email in question, and I said (still calmly) “Yep, I saw it, I am absolutely livid, and we’ll talk more about it tomorrow, have a good night.”

        The two coworkers I had been chatting with both swiveled to look at me and said, nearly in chorus, “You’re livid right now?” I guess I hid it well.

        Which is to say, that can be a very useful skill in an office. Keep your emotions close to the chest, control your face so it shows what you want people to see and not just how you’re feeling. Not to say you can’t *have* emotions or even let them show – but you want to do so carefully, judiciously, deliberately, when and where and how it will actually help you.

        1. Batman*

          Yep, this is important in offices. If you behave too emotionally, even with anger*, you’re going to miss out on a lot of stuff because people won’t want to work with or promote you.

          *Although white men in positions of power can usually get away with expressing anger when others can’t. I’m not saying it’s right, but it is often the case.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            That goes double if you’re a woman. You can get people making nasty assumptions about your character, hormonal status, or sanity if you are emotional.

            1. Batman*

              Yep, that’s why I clarified that white men can often get away with it, but pretty much no one else can.

      2. Ptarmigan*

        Yes! I typed an email the other day starting, “I’m getting really frustrated. I thought we had already agreed three times that–” and then I deleted the whole thing and started over, “I may be misremembering, but I thought we had agreed that…”

        Later that week, someone from the Most Frustrating Department told me she admires how cool and calm I always am and how nothing upsets me. Win!

        1. Jadelyn*

          The carefully euphemistic phrasing of emails is an art form in and of itself. There ought to be actual classes on that, lol.

          1. KRM*

            I often text my “I wish I could say THIS” feelings to a close friend who does not work with me. Then I feel more able to write a professional yet devastating email to the offending party.

            1. L.S. Cooper*

              I generally do this, too. I send a ranting message to my group chat, and then send a very polite and very subtly unkind email.

          2. milksnake*

            It really needs to be a class… I have lots of friends come to me for help saying “How do I say X, but professionally?”

            1. Jadelyn*

              I wrote a post on social media awhile back “translating” some common phrases. Things like “It was my understanding that…” to mean “we already figured this out, I can’t help it that you don’t remember what you agreed to” and “can you clarify for me…” for “what the fuck did you do/why the fuck did you do that?” And the one Maria mentions below, “I’ve cc’d X here – X, can you weigh in?” meaning “hey X, I don’t have the authority to tell this person to get in line, but you do, so can you please step in and do it for me?”

          3. Llamas On My Mind*

            I had one of those this week.

            I have dealings with an external contact – let’s just say I vastly prefer dealing with her colleague, but I don’t get to choose. She sent me separate emails asking if we would want the llamas’ nails clipping or teeth polishing when they were in for coat brushing. Could have been one email, was two, mildly irritating but hey maybe she was having a busy week.

            Anyway I replied to the nail clipping email saying “We want neither this service nor teeth polishing when the llamas are being brushed, thanks.”

            She replied, copying in her bosses and mine (that’s a whooooole separate comment) saying “you replied to my nail clipping email to tell me about teeth polishing but I still need to know about nail clipping”.

            I composed my reply about nine times. At last I decided to keep the peace and omit any “as stated in my previous email” or “per earlier correspondence” and not to highlight the relevant part of the previous, and just restate the original but substituting out “this service” with its official name.

            Resisting snark even when you’re absolutely convinced you’re right is so important and so difficult, and even more difficult is to convey urgency or disappointment calmly and formally.

            If a usually friendly contact starts omitting chat and dropping in “I should be grateful for your assurances that the TPS reports will indeed be delivered on time going forward” then you need to be able to translate that into “if this is late again we’ll be taking our business elsewhere” and then “mess this up again and you’re fired”.

            1. Jadelyn*

              God, it can be SO HARD to let go of that “per my previous email”! I’ll usually say it anyway, *if* someone sufficiently high up on the chain is cc’d, or if it’s a big enough deal that I want to be very, very clear that I’m not the one who messed up here. But most of the time, I try not to, because it tends to antagonize people and even if it’s justified, it’s still better to stay amicable most of the time.

          4. Maria*

            Yes! “My understanding is that”, and re-invigorating the email chain that shows I’m right with a forward or reply are my favorite ways to say “you are wrong”. Also, copying someone and saying “I’ll let so-and-so weigh in” to communicate “and if you don’t like it, take it up with this higher up person.”

          5. Story Nurse*

            Most of it is about drafting in full dudgeon, breathing, and editing all the dudgeon out.

            1. Snarktini*

              Pro tip: Delete the “to” addresses when drafting high dudgeon emails. When it’s fully edited and it’s ready to go, put the names back in and send. (Or draft in a text editor.) I am terrified of accidentally sending a draft before I’ve edited properly, and this solves that!

          6. Process Geek*

            Oh yes – I’ve actually been specifically praised for this. My boss recently told me she enjoyed my “icily perfectly professional email” to a problem colleague. Made my week! I’ve spent almost 20 years honing that skill.

        2. Nym*

          I wouldn’t hesitate a second about sending that first email, I’m a straight shooter, and being honest and direct got me promoted into senior management at record pace. Then again, I’m Dutch, my culture values directness to a point almost every American would find impossibly rude.

          1. Kaffeekocherin*

            As a German person, it’s similar for me. I worked in Canada for a year, and I really struggled to navigate email communication there, because (for me), it’s quite indirect and passive-aggressive. I’m used to being very direct and honest, and got into quite a bit of trouble with my manager.

        3. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Y’all have no idea how much I have wanted to use this guy in response to someone who could have looked back at our last correspondence to get the answer to their question.

          per ⊂_ヽ
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              /   へ\
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        4. Sarahhopefully*

          I had one of these moments today. I went to a college to help me formulate how to respond to another department without going by my first instinct which was “DO NOT DO WHAT YOU JUST DID. WE CANNOT DO THAT! EVER!!!”

          My actual response, which I BCC’d my boss on, was more like, “This is the proper way of doing things. Here are the reasons why it is the right way and the thing you did is wrong. Neither of our departments should be doing things the wrong way. We should set up a time in the next few weeks to discuss how we can better coordinate in the future.” I got a compliment from my boss on the email so that was good. It definitely takes practice though.

    3. Former Retail Manager*

      This is sooooo very true and I still have a hard time not telling people they pissed me off using my preferred vocabulary (not cursing, but also not sugar coating is my preference). I have found a way to let them know politely, but I am definitely the exception, and am considered to be one of the most blunt folks in the office. In my experience this makes for a tricky landscape because if you’re new to the office environment and don’t know you’ve pissed someone off, you don’t know (1) not to do it again, (2) how to make amends, if needed (3) should you avoid this person because they’re easily upset (if that’s the case) and (4) whether or not they’re adding your screw ups to some mental list to be potentially brought up down the road or used against you in some way. All in all, I think the office environment is one in which you have to walk on eggshells, for lack of a better term, until you know the lay of the land because you might end up pissing someone off who wields, directly or indirectly, some power/influence over your work life/happiness.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yes. I am a very direct and sarcastic person, but also shy around new people, and don’t unleash my full personality until I’m very comfortable with someone, and even then I tone it down at work. Another thing is learning how to be direct without being a jerk. It’s not rude to push back against those who cross boundaries, but you need to learn how to do so civilly and appropriately.

    5. Michaela Westen*

      It took me a long, long time to understand about not making things personal.
      I see it as deceptive. Management does something egregious like cutting pay or benefits and then says, “it’s not personal.” Of course it is! It affects employees’ lives! They pretend not to understand that and won’t take responsibility.
      But to get along you have to pretend it’s not personal… until you get a better job and have your exit interview. :)

  5. Lauren*

    It depends on the job. I can tell you I have worked many salaried office jobs where you were there 8 hours every day and you have to get special permission to leave even 5 minutes early. So it depends. I work an office job now but it’s hourly and no one cares what time I get in and leave.

    1. Bananatiel*

      Yeah the “butts in seats” thing is very much YMMV depending on your role and industry. I just switched jobs and the culture here is much more relaxed and no one bats an eye about people coming and going at odd times, but my old job was extremely rigid. And the culture was unspoken which made it terrible to navigate as someone coming from a semi-blue-collar background. Took me a long time to figure out I couldn’t necessarily leave at 5:00 if my boss hadn’t already left.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        And just depending on your boss — like so many of these things, you have to know your office.

    2. Happy Lurker*

      A family member and I were discussing this. They went from corporate environments to smallish manufacturing facility. They ware absolutely astounded when boss reminded them that they had used up all their earned leave time. They had never experienced that before.

      In corporate word if the work was done, boss didn’t care if employee was in the office or working from home in between doctor appointments. In manufacturing world boss was concerned with both butts in seats as well as work output.

      1. That Would be a Good Band Name*

        I’m in a manufacturing plant now (in the accounting office) and I find that to be true as well. We don’t punch a clock, but butts in seats are a big deal here and if you aren’t here the exact “regular” hours it’s noticed and commented on. There is no working from home (including C-suite).

      2. Juniper*

        I’m in manufacturing as well, and my company is OK with occasional working from home. Much of my work can’t be done from there, but if I have to schedule a day such that I can work from home, I am allowed to. So it’s not specific to the industry, I believe, but probably still determined by the culture of individual companies.

      3. As Close As Breakfast*

        I also work at a smallish manufacturing company, in the engineering department, and have found the same thing. I’ve long suspected that part of it is that the owners came from pretty strictly blue-collar backgrounds. It’s very annoying to me, mostly because it is completely unnecessary for my department, and is the one thing I hate most about my job. In fact, one day when I finally leave here, the whole butts-in-seats culture will be a major factor.

  6. Mel*

    I worked a few retail/service jobs before I got into my professional field (graphic design) and I think a big adjustment for me was that I could direct how I spent my time somewhat.

    I remember early on trying to sneak around to get research done that would benefit the company – because I thought they would only want me spending time on tasks I had been directly assigned. Finally I clicked on a website that blared loud, 90s style, website music and someone asked me what I was doing. My boss was delighted that I’d taken initiative to make our project better, but baffled that I’d tried to hide what I was doing.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      On the other hand, I had a coworker who did some work at home when it occurred to him to do it and at work was often on his phone, doing personal things. He treated work like university bc that is what he knew. This was a problem bc it was a govt job and he would have to be paid for his work at home.

      He also does only what he is told to do. This is close to saying he has no “gumption” or “initiative” and we know the problems with too much of those. But it is also a problem to wait for a task in our environment.

    2. twig*


      I’m 20 years in the (white collar) workforce and still have to remind myself that taking the time to organize, research, or even clean off my desk counts as “working.”

      1. Moving on Over to that Office Life*

        I just left what turned out to be a call center job (hello third party recruiting) and I would get constantly chastised for trying to organize my work space or update the internal databases. So I feel this point to my core.

  7. AnonEMoose*

    When and how to clarify expectations, and when and how to instead come up with something that you know will probably be significantly revised or trashed entirely. Part of that is learning peoples’ styles…some people are good at communicating what they’re looking for, and others need something to look at before they can articulate what that is. And others will go through 6 iterations and then go back to the original option.

    1. KimberlyInOhio*

      Yes! Make sure you are understanding correctly, and clarify instead of guessing. If you have a bunch of stuff and not sure what to do first, or if you have a full load and get another assignment, ask how to prioritize.

  8. CR*

    I went from being a childcare worker to a “white collar” job. The biggest thing for me (that I’m still learning) is not expressing my personality and learning how to communicate.

    1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

      Can you elaborate on “not expressing my personality”? I work in a white collar office where people definitely have personalities…are there behaviors in particular that you’ve had to rein in?

      1. your favorite person*

        Not OP, but I worked at camps, afterschool programs, etc. before moving into an office job. Childcare and the like tend to have ‘big personalities’ that are almost a requirement. It’s all over the top, like being able to sing, or talk in certain tones, bubbly or just being animated in general. It can be hard to turn those off, at first. That might be what CR is talking about. What’s appropriate for kids comes off patronizing to adults.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          Yes, this. I worked at an organization that had a huge youth services component, and they very much favored extroverts who behaved like camp counselors in their day to day interactions. It got exhausting for me, because I’m a serious person, and people were constantly policing my lack! of! enthusiasm! even though I was in charge of the highest liability and most dangerous service area. I *needed* serious people who took their job seriously, lest we end up with a dead child on the bottom of the pool because someone was busy leading a sing-a-long about favorite ice cream flavors instead of watching the water.

        2. RainbowsAndKitties*

          I tend to hold back and wait until I’m comfortable and have “figured things out” out first, but once I get a sense of the culture and other peoples’ personalities I go full on Leslie Knope. It hasn’t hurt me yet, but I also can’t think of a specific position where I have needed to be SUPER serious. Managers can be bubbly and fun while also having difficult conversations and holding people accountable.

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        My interpretation of not expressing your personality really depends on your personality, in my opinion. If you are loud, boisterous, outgoing, use colorful language, etc., I could see how that would not be welcome in most offices and would need to be toned down to a great degree, especially in more conservative environments. Or if you have interests/personality that are contrary to most of your co-workers……like someone who loves anime, cosplay, and writing fan fiction in an office of attorneys….not likely to fit in really well and could make you stand out in a way that won’t be helpful to your career. It could also easily be neutral if you’re good at your job and doing what you need to do. It really depends how judgmental the culture of your workplace is and whether they encourage diversity or not. And I am not referring to diversity of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., although I think embracing that kind of diversity certainly helps get the employer to a place that is much more likely to have different personalities.

        1. Lucy*

          Less “curb your enthusiasm” than “curve your enthusiasm” – if you fall near enough the average, no change required. Only outliers need to rein themselves in or liven themselves up.

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

            The outliers should be allowed to be themselves. Seriously, why should they have to conform just to make everyone ELSE happy that they now ‘fit in’?
            As someone who has always been (and will be) an outlier due to being highly neurodivergant (not known til I was almost 50), I can tell you from experience that the only reason most people want to force outliers to “fit in” is BECAUSE they are outliers (not because they are harmful or disturbing anyone) and a huge number of people just can’t STAND IT when someone does not conform to the “average” (and even WORSE, if they are HAPPY being different from the rest.)

            Maybe more people should just MYOFB and let the outliers on both ends of the enthusiasm spectrum just BE THEMSELVES without having to try to “fake it” either way.

        2. Nobody Nowhere*

          Hey, I worked with an attorney who quoted Star Trek in a court of appeals brief & had framed comic book covers on his walls. Lawyers can be pretty out there!

          1. Former Retail Manager*

            That’s pretty cool. 98% of the attorneys I’ve met just like to golf, talk about golf, schedule their next golf outing…you get the idea. Or they like to one-up each other over material things.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            There was one at my old firm that had his extensive collection of Pez dispensers on display in a case in his office. It was looked at askance.

            My favorite was the guy who had a nicely framed Non Sequitur cartoon of a lawyer being sacrificed to a volcano and rejected. I think he said his wife gave it to him. :)

    2. Armchair Analyst*

      Can you think of it as expressing your personality… differently?
      I too used to be in child care and I was impressed with teacher’s skillsets. Definitely being in an office and planning for things long-term is a very different skillset. The communication you used with parents and administrators will be helpful!!

    3. Dust Bunny*

      We still all have personalities here.

      I hear this a lot about, well, differences between social classes. My mom’s family is solidly blue-collar and my dad’s is very white-collar. Mom’s family is blunt, which could be “direct” or could be “gratuitously cutting”. Dad’s family is very not-blunt, which could be confusing or could be discreet. Very much a matter of mindset and expectation.

      I find that people tend to view communication as either of two extremes, and it really is not. The fact that I didn’t phrase something the way someone else might have doesn’t mean I’m lying; it often means I expected the same concept to be understood, but in different words. (And, granted, I may have been mistaken in my expectation.)

    4. Jadelyn*

      I wouldn’t say it’s “not expressing” one’s personality so much as…controlling one’s personality? I’m still *me* at work, still have a mildly dry/sarcastic sense of humor, dress in 90% grey and black, I’m basically a grown-up 16 year old goth who has a skull-shaped glass candy dish on their desk and a little sign that says “Come in, my pretties” with a witch’s hat on it – but there are certain types of jokes I don’t make at work, and one guy I became outside-of-work friends with told me at one point “I had no idea you had that kind of irreverent sense of humor!” You can still have a personality, you just choose which pieces of it to share.

      1. Corporate Goth*

        Yes – this! I grew up around cops and nurses, both of whom often have a morbid sense of humor. The only time that’s come in handy was during active shooter training to keep the mood from getting overly grim. Even then, it was done with a very light touch and a disclaimer.

        Also, I must seek out a skull-shaped candy dish. I do have a box of tissues with skulls and a dragon stapler, though.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I got my skull-shaped dish at Michael’s during Halloween season. You can get some pretty fun stuff there. Ditto for the “come in, my pretties” sign, and I also got one that says “The Witch is [in/out]” (the in/out was a hanging piece below so you could flip it over to show whichever word you wanted). Also try the dollar store – I have a small black glitter skull with LED lights in the eye sockets that I got at the dollar store.

      2. Can't Think of a Name*

        +1 One of the biggest adjustments to working in a white collar environment for me was figuring out the balance of expressing my personality, but remaining professional. I can be very sarcastic/deadpan, opinionated, and occasionally pretty wild outside of work. When I was interning, I acted a too casually and treated coworkers more like friends, which led to me often saying things I shouldn’t have and overall coming off as less-than-professional. I’ve since learned that it’s best to default to pure professionalism when I’m first starting at a place (or meeting someone new) until I have a better sense of the people around me and what is/isn’t ok.

    5. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I pretend to be a different person at work, or at least I try valiantly. I try to be the person that my conservative corporate employer wants and the model of the good corporate employee, which is to say, “normal”, calm, professional, service-oriented, helpful, friendly, analytical and logical yet business-friendly, not overly opinionated, team player, yadda yadda. I really do try to put on a different personality at work, because in reality I am a weirdo, an outlier, a creative anarchist type, a lone-wolf cynical curmudgeon who would prefer to go live in cave away from all people.

      Wearing this fake personality at work and interacting with people all day is absolutely exhausting to me, on an emotional and spiritual level. And I’ve been faking it for 25 years–pretending to be a different person, pretending to like my job. As I have grown older, it has become much harder to fake it. Especially in the last few years, as the responsibilities and stress level have increased, I often let my opinions fly, even though I should shut my trap. This aspect of my true personality–very strongly opinionated, blunt and direct–has emerged, and it is NOT appreciated in my office environment. As I became more stressed and overworked, I lost control of that aspect. Oh well. Too late now.

      1. Maria*

        I come from a blue collar background and started out my career trying to be as normal, white bread, stepford, middle class respectable as I could possibly muster, and it was super exhausting. Now that I’m over a decade into my career I made it my goal to show myself at my next job, and I have been, and its been wonderful. It helps that I have years of learning the norms and rules under my belt so I’m now confident that I’m not doing anything egregious, and it also helps that I have some seniority.

      2. milksnake*

        I think I’m a younger version of you.
        I’ve only been at it for eight years and I’m exhausted….

      3. Michaela Westen*

        That’s what makes our culture so toxic, that pressure to conform at the expense of being who you are.
        It’s not just at work. I’ve known people who suppress their personalities to conform to church rules, and society’s expectation of marrying young and having the white picket fence and children.

        Bob, maybe there’s a different job where you would be more comfortable? There are lots of jobs where you only deal with a computer and don’t have to interact with people. Or maybe something outdoors, if you like that, like gardening or forest ranger?

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


        I’m another creative weirdo outlier type, though I’m just a little too far over the edge (thanks to being highly neurodivergent) to have ever faked my way into the corporate world (and I can honestly say, I’m glad, because it sounds like an awful place to be. Office politics? Networking? Draconian dress codes? Beating around the bush instead of direct communication? Count me ALL THE WAY out!)

        However, I’ve known plenty of people who’ve had to go the corporate faking it route, and honestly, most of them have ended up just as unhappy as you are describing. A person can’t pretend to be someone they are not for 1/3 (or more) of their day for years on end and not have it take a toll on them.

        I hope you can find your way out to a happier future- whether at a different, freer workplace in your line of work, or in another industry entirely. No amount of money or security is worth losing YOU for- NONE. It NEVER is.

  9. insert pun here*

    Folks who are trying to figure this out might find the book Limbo by Albert Lubrano very useful (it helped me to see and articulate lots of this stuff.) Link in reply.

      1. Georgina*

        I LOVED this book! It really put into words some of my experiences and helped explain the culture shock.

    1. MySherona*

      “The Hidden Rules of Class at Work” reads like a dissertation (I think it *is* a dissertation) but is really enlightening.

    2. Aveline*

      The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students.

      It’s not about work specifically, but talks about how we end up where we are.

    3. Gloucesterina*

      Arlie Hoschild’s The Managed Heart on the specific types of emotional labor demanded by pink collar occupations, and how it can lead workers to be alienated from their own emotions/selves. For me, it helps me reflect on my discomfort with networking and putting my own work forward, since I was strongly acclimated in my youth to focusing on the experience of the customer.

    4. Catire*

      Also interesting in this context, the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell where he “examines how a person’s environment, in conjunction with personal drive and motivation, affects his or her possibility and opportunity for success” (quote from Wikipedia).

  10. ExcelJedi*

    I have a report who’s struggling with professional judgement & humor. Things that were acceptable (and made her ‘one of the boys’) in other jobs are now things we need to have conversations about. Some examples include:
    – Fake complaining that she walks into a group of all guys, saying things like ‘there’s too much testosterone in here’
    – Trying to trick people into thinking a coworker wasn’t actually in her office, then have them come in and get surprised by their presence
    – Making ‘you’re so thin’ “jokes” about male coworkers in a self-deprecating manner

    There’s a mindset where she would be respectful to customers if she worked in a customer-facing roles, but her coworkers get jokes instead of help and respect. I’m actually having trouble coaching her to be just as pleasant and helpful with her coworkers – or at least not comment on their gender or weight.

    1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      Eesh. That might be one of the situations where ‘imagine if the genders were reversed’ is actually helpful.

          1. Midlife Tattoos*

            Oooooh, I like this! It’s a very good way to look at it when you work in software engineering.

      1. MM*

        Well the sort of interesting thing here is it sounds like that’s exactly the point of these comments and jokes–the employee has been in male-dominated jobs where turning this kind of thing around on the guys helped her get along in those environments. (I can somewhat sympathize from my time in grocery delivery. When there is absolutely no hope of attaining a gender- and body-neutral environment, you have to figure out other ways to hold your own and maintain your sanity, because just repeatedly explaining that X makes you uncomfortable or is inappropriate for the workplace will get you worse than nowhere.) So I don’t know if saying that would really help her see it differently. I wish we had more information, I’m honestly super interested in this case.

    2. Liberry Pie*

      I used to work in a small and somewhat toxic office, and after moving to a much bigger and more functional environment I’ve had to learn some of that, too. In the small office, it’s clear who you like and don’t like, and everybody’s seen you at your worst. (well, not your WORST worst, but people had yelled at me, refused to talk to me for days, I’d snapped at people) So there wasn’t any sense that I had to put on a formal professional face when talking to my own co-workers. It took me a really long time to get used to that at my new job! It feels disconcerting when people won’t admit who they don’t like, though I’m glad they are being professional about it. And a presentation to a group of co-workers, even if they are mostly in your own department, is still treated like a formal presentation. After four years I still sometimes wonder, “When do we get to be honest?” but I’m so glad I’m getting the chance to learn these norms.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I’ve had plenty of coworkers whom I don’t like, but . . . it doesn’t matter. I’m being asked to work with them, not marry them. Whether I like them or not is, for the most part, irrelevant to our jobs, and working together is easier if we don’t know who doesn’t like whom (I mean, I sort of know that some people are not fans of others, but it’s not emphasized). Being honest about it doesn’t actually serve any purpose except maybe the momentary personal satisfaction of having said it? Which doesn’t seem like much of a benefit if it causes bigger problems in the long-term.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          It can be a problem if people are trying to get other people fired or other petty nonsense like that, but otherwise? Not so much. I’ve worked at jobs where I had no idea whether or not I liked my coworkers, they were just people I worked with and none of them ever said or did anything terrible around me.

        2. Zweisatz*

          Exactly this. It doesn’t get as much as an emphasis because ideally there should be no consequences to disliking someone. Whether you love or hate someone at the office, you’re supposed to bring the same professionalism to any interaction.

          It’s not like in high-school where cliques might form (or it shouldn’t be and points to a dysfunctional office otherwise).

          In reality I will probably rather go out of my way to help if I like a person. But the core functions of my job and basic professionalism when I talk to (or about) someone should not be dependent on my opinion of them.

    3. Retail*

      Only the first comment would fly at any of the blue collar jobs I’ve had. I don’t like the implication in a number of comments that blue collar workers are just boors who don’t understand how to do anything appropriate.

      It takes skill to thrive in these jobs.

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        I agree; I’ve seen it and it’s a different kind of teamwork than in white collar jobs. Non-office people are definitely skilled and show different kinds of leadership and communication, too. I don’t think anyone is saying that blue-collar workers are just boors. Hopefully what is being conveyed is that Office Culture is different.

        I’m an Office Worker and when I went out to observe roadwork and utility crews, I stuck out like a…. not even a sore thumb. Like a foam finger at a stadium or something. In that case, I was the boor.

        1. oneMerlin*

          “it’s a different kind of teamwork than in white collar jobs.”

          This is exactly what I was thinking. Teamwork in blue collar jobs tends to be more in-the-moment and in the details – multiple people lifting something, you hold this while I get the bolt in, you cover that table while I deal with this party, and so on. Teamwork in white collar jobs (at least in Engineering, where I am) tends to be more high-level and goal-focused – you write section 1 while I write section 2, please review this for me, can you help me figure out why this doesn’t work/add up, and so on.

          Both are teamwork, but in blue collar teamwork you’re likely to be working physically together, while in white collar you’re likely to be working on the same goal but each staring at your own screen. Different techniques are needed.

      2. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

        Absolutely it takes skill! Honestly, the notion of ‘unskilled labour’ is complete nonsense.

        But it really does depend on the job, what would fly in that culture. When I worked in a restaurant, the above kind of comments (and worse!) were par for the course. And as I was a teen at the time, I think they toned it down a bit around me. This was a very ‘truck stop’ style restaurant, where the customers tended to be either truckers or locals who’d just gotten off work, and the atmosphere was extremely casual. But at other blue-collar jobs – or even at a fancier restaurant – it might not.

      3. MM*

        Of course it’s gonna vary from workplace to workplace, by industry, etc., but I’ve worked blue-collar jobs where gender was never an issue or discussed at all, and a blue-collar job where I was absolutely harassed nonstop, even by the guys I was friendly with (for example, they might not go so far as to stick a 20 in my back pocket and say “there’s your lunch, sweetie”–real example–but the “good ones” might compete over who was going to give me a ride home, because I guess the implication was that spending off-hours time with me of any kind was some sort of opportunity; or brag to drivers from other locations about the pretty dispatcher they had here [me]). The only other woman whose position was comparable to mine got by by being pretty aggressively take-no-shit about everything and totally eschewing ~traditional femininity~. She of course was spoken of as “probably a d*ke” and seen as a PITA. There was no way to achieve neutrality. These environments do truly exist and they will absolutely warp your habits and expectations.

      4. MM*

        This is absolutely true, but I have worked in a blue-collar environment where gendered harassment was the constant norm and there was no way to exempt yourself. It’s not that all blue-collar workers are like this, but these environments do truly exist and they absolutely will warp your behavior and sense of norms, speaking from personal experience.

  11. BridgeNerdess*

    I grew up on a farm and I’m the first person in my family to go to college. I’m now an engineer and there are absolutely disadvantages to coming from a blue collar background.

    One is communication. I was raised to solve problems, not talk about solving problems. So I get frustrated when I feel we aren’t making progress and instead we talk about things so everyone can voice their opinion (informed or not). I work better in fast-paced environments than design-by-committee. I don’t prioritize coming to a consensus, I prioritize finding the best solution. I was also raised with direct communication. I didn’t understand that I shouldn’t correct my boss in public because he’s wrong. My perspective was he was communicating false information and the team needed to know. I didn’t know that a better approach would have been to address it in private and let him make the correction. (I’ve learned that lesson) There are plenty of other examples I’ve learned from.

    Another is politics in general, similar to the last example. I’ve had to learn by observation how office politics works. Luckily, I’m introverted and prefer to watch first, engage later. I’ve also read plenty of books on body language, negotiation, and leadership skills that has been helpful. Blue collar kids may not know how to find a mentor. They don’t understand why putting your head down and doing good work isn’t always enough. Self-promotion seems narcissistic.

    As a result, I can be too direct in communicating. I can get frustrated by processes, where my co-workers just roll with it. I’ve had to learn to adapt and adjust my expectations. There are advantages, too, but I’ll save that for another post. :)

    1. Confession time*

      I feel this so hard, BridgeNerdess. I also grew up on a farm. I still hate talking, talking, talking with no resolution. Just … let’s do something now!

    2. Hooray College Football*

      I think this is spot on, especially the problem solving/communication stuff. Coming from a blue collar family also meant the conversations at home were all about how terrible and stupid the bosses were. That doesn’t really prepare you for working well with your boss and/or becoming the boss someday.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I grew up in a white collar house and all the dinner convos were about how stupid the bosses were!

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Random medical topics at my parents’ house (nurse & EMT). Which meant that Young EC was befuddled by classmate’s aversion to stitches/needles/blood/etc related topics, because we talked about an interesting bacterial infection over dinner at home, there’s not even food here!!

            Medical shows didn’t often get watched as a family in that household, as there’d be a few too many arguments on “augh, that was the wrong way to put them on that bed! / treatment method! / bedside manner sucked!” etc.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              HAH! Yeah, we were kind of like this. We also like to show slideshows of injuries.

              “Now here’s what it looked like BEFORE the stitches! They wouldn’t let us take pictures during because of liability though :-( “

            2. Ktelzbeth*

              Two doctors as parents. I can relate, especially to the learning appropriate conversations outside the house part.

    3. MT*

      Similar but expanding/adding on this point – decision making.

      In many office, especially non-profit or charities, there is a general assumption that you will speak with everyone before a decision is made. Or that everyone’s views have to be heard before a decision is made. When I start at a new job, I often ask: “how are decisions made here?” or ” who are the decision makers?”. It is usually in the first 3 questions that I asked. Also many orgs re VERY hierarchical but think they are not (due to above point). If you do skip over someone, people get mad. It is not always clear and you need to ask who to involve from teams. Example asking a staff member to do a part of a project but not checking with their manager or giving feedback to a manager and not the person.

      When I worked retail jobs the hierarchical structure was more clear and related to your task. In the office environment it can be unclear if hierarchy is ranking, decision making, expertise, or task related…

      Also was first to go to University and my field. I felt that my experience in retail and odd jobs helped me with people skills, reading situations, and also value of work.

      1. Zweisatz*

        I love your point about orgs that don’t think they are hierarchical. I absolutely know this situation where you skip someone in decision making (who you didn’t even know was relevant!) and then the complaining starts…

    4. Rezia*

      Re: your second paragraph, I think it varies from company to company and even within companies. My partner works as an engineer on a team that values blunt feedback and fixing things. I’m not sure he could call out his boss in public, but he’s certainly expected to call out his peers in public. His previous team, in the same company, was more gentle in culture.

      I totally agree with you on the mentorship/self promotion aspect though. That is so hard to navigate.

      1. Startup fan*

        “I don’t prioritize coming to a consensus, I prioritize finding the best solution. I was also raised with direct communication.”

        This is not a white collar-blue collar divide at its core. It’s highly specific to each company. Here in Silicon Valley, we tend to like lean startups that “move quickly and break things.” Yes, that upsets some people at more hierarchical companies.

        1. tired anon*

          I don’t think those things have to be in opposition (though they depressingly often are). I’m in a very consensus-driven company and one of my main strengths (that I worked to develop) was being able to make everyone feel heard … and make a decision (or a list of action items) so that it isn’t just talking. Making sure everyone feels heard goes a LONG way to getting buy-in on the stuff I feel needs to be done, so in the long run it makes my job easier and makes things go faster. But yeah, when you don’t have someone in the room who has the standing and the know-how to turn endless “well, I think….” conversations into next steps, it can be very very frustrating.

        2. Federal Middle Manager*

          I’m prepared to be resoundingly disagreed with here, but I don’t personally consider Silicon Valley startups to be traditional white collar jobs. I think the vast majority of banking, legal, finance, governmental, administrative, etc. fields would be horrified at the thought of “move quickly and break things” as being good policy rather than something that would land you with a performance improvement plan. Startups have a reputation (possibly deserved / possibly not) for youthful “bro” culture, for people moving quickly through hierarchies rather than paying their dues, etc. to the point that I don’t think a lot of the white collar advice applies.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yeah – besides that the scandals and social upheavals of the last few years have pretty conclusively proven that the “move fast and break things” Silicon Valley startup mentality is socially and morally irresponsible when dealing with something that will profoundly affect society as a whole.

    5. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      Also from a rural background, and yes to the communication thing. Still haven’t figured out the mentor thing, actually.

      That said – it does depend on the office, and culture; I’ve definitely had jobs (and am in one now) where the boss prefers the information be corrected, even if that means correcting him. I suppose the caveat to that is that it requires careful phrasing; I’ll usually soften the language – phrase it as a question, rather than a correction (like, “Oh, the document you sent out say XYZ – we’d previously discussed ABC, was this unintentional or are we changing the plan?”). Although if it’s possible to do so in private (or in a smaller group of more decision-maker types) that’s certainly better. I think partly that goes with a more relaxed culture that’s less rigid in other ways (this particular office also doesn’t care so much about ‘business wear’ – it would be odd to wear a suit here).

    6. Lepidoptera*

      They don’t understand why putting your head down and doing good work isn’t always enough. Self-promotion seems narcissistic.

      I feel this so hard. My parents kept their heads down, their mouths shut, and broke their backs doing their jobs for 30 years, only to be thrown away by their heartless companies when they were old and tired. I likewise expected that quietly working my butt off was what I needed to do, but it’s just not true. The people who schmooze and go out for artisan whiskey with the directors are the ones skyrocketing up the ladder.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Well, and bosses won’t notice what you do if you don’t talk about what you do. They put that onus on you.

          1. Can't Think of a Name*

            Yes! My dad always told me that success at work is like 25% your actual work, and 75% exposure/optics/interpersonal relationships. If you do great work but the right people don’t know, then your chances of promotion are slim.

          2. wittyrepartee*

            My boyfriend’s family is from Japan, he has a decent amount of trouble being his own PR person as well.

      2. Julie*

        +1 This really resonated with me too. My parents have a hard time understanding why I would do something if it won’t directly lead to work/payment. Why are you meeting someone for an informational interview if they don’t have a job open? Why are you building a writing portfolio if you don’t have a publication who will place it yet? Unpaid internship??? The privilege to do that kind of unpaid, career-building “work” isn’t just about cash flow either — it’s the financial, emotional, and mental freedom to take risks, to work toward something nebulous knowing it might not pay off, and to have the social and familial understanding and support to do so.

        1. Punk Ass Book Jockey*

          Same! I do a lot of volunteer work with our state trade association. A few years ago I was elected to chair the annual conference, which is notorious for being the most labor-intensive position in the organization. When I told my mom, the first thing she asked was if I was getting paid for it, and was kind of incredulous when I said no. Through that position, I expanded my professional network, gained experience in managing a 20-person team, and pulled off a SUPER successful conference that I got a lot of credit for. But none of that intangible stuff makes sense to her.

      3. Some of this stuff is crap*

        I was told “you aren’t going to get ahead by putting you head down and working” by a former boss during a review and I remember hearing about it and going WTF?

        Apparently, to get ahead as a manager, it would be a good idea to send out a company wide email praising a direct report if he/she did something extremely wonderful because that also makes you look successful because you guided him/her. *eyeroll* I didn’t know all this BS because nobody taught me this stuff either.

      4. gmg22*

        This very much resonates with me. I come from a rural blue-collar family, and my parents (a teacher and a nurse) had jobs that I think of as existing in that cultural gray area between blue- and white-collar. Also, this was rural New England, where overt self-promotion in work or anything else will mostly get you a hefty dose of side-eye. So yeah, I was ABSOLUTELY taught that your work should speak for itself. And in a good workplace with a good manager, I still believe that it does. But unfortunately, we’re not all so fortunate at every point along the way, are we?

        1. MatKnifeNinja*

          I grew up in Metro Detroit, and believe me, these are all flash backs.

          You work hard, and kept your mouth shut. If you do anything outside your job description you better get paid. Negotiating for anything wasn’t done. (He was union)

          You never ever self promote. EVER.

          My dad was a factory rat (his description). Catholic? Did that factor into it? Being a Finn?

          Didn’t learn all the schmoozing, self promotion stuff until I was out of university.

      5. Crafts*

        Yes… I have a hard time with self promotion and am just lost about mentoring or networking. Neither of my parents had a ‘real job’… mom taught piano and dad owns a small blue collar company. I was raised with the good ol’ Protestant work ethic and taught that people will notice you for the quality of your work. Now, I have seen some of the biggest screw ups with good jobs and nice houses, and I still feel like a list kid.

    7. Lobsterman*

      +1 on mentor ship and self promotion. I came from a family where my parents were/are professionals, but they were/are kids of blue collar, and they self-sabotaged and sabotaged their kids. The idea that you have to figure everything out yourself and that no one but you (maybe) will possibly want you to succeed was deeply felt.

      1. twig*

        Yep! and Mentor — how does one get a mentor, how does one interact with them, how does that work? what even is it? like a tutor/teacher?

        I feel like I could use a Mentor, but i have no idea how to go about finding one or what to do once I find one.

        1. Iris Eyes*


          Currently mentor/mentee by hivemind and AAM commentariate is kinda how I’m managing. Also I’m a guesser vs an asker so that just adds a whole ‘nother level of friction.

        2. Midlife Tattoos*

          The easiest way I’ve found is to find someone I admire at work and ask them if I can set aside some time with them to ask questions or for guidance. Most admirable people are more then happy to mentor someone or point you to someone who can. I am always flattered and excited to help someone out!

    8. MissDisplaced*

      I struggle with these same things BridgeNerdess!
      I’m also from a no-nonsense blue collar background and started my career in blue collar environments. I foolishly thought all those years in college and getting an advanced degree might help, but it was ingrained in me to be much more of a “DOer” than a “Talker” type person. I often feel roadblocked and frustrated when I cannot move work forward easily or aren’t allowed to do something work-related for myself when I’m perfectly capable of doing so.

      And don’t get me started about office politics!
      Really, I just want to do my work and not have drama and power plays. Sigh.

    9. Lucy Honeychurch*

      “One is communication. I was raised to solve problems, not talk about solving problems.”

      I still feel this pain after all these years! I’ve gotten good at playing the game and hiding my irritation, however, LOL. But yes, sitting in board meetings where we talk about things ad nauseam instead of ya know, actually DOING them, still drives me batty.

      Along those lines, have you ever been in the meetings with a company or organization where they are developing their Mission and Vision Statements? Paaaaainful. The time spent to use fancy words that nobody gives a sh*t about…hours and hours of nonsense. I can’t stand it. But again, I have learned that these are games that must be played so I suck it up!

      1. Sarah in Boston*

        I do have to push back on this one a little. It may seem painful at the time but I’ve found that the time spent on it pays off later (context: starting an employee affinity/resource group). It made us realize what was most important to us to accomplish, how we would come off to other employees, and hopefully (at least a little) be inspiring. It also gives us a built-in elevator pitch for people not familiar with the group. But I’ll be the first to admit that it was painful getting to the final form.

        1. Lucy Honeychurch*

          Sarah in Boston, I do agree with that and didn’t describe my “pain” well. It’s when it can go on and on and just get ridiculously nitpicky that I feel like i’m crawling out of my skin. Or maybe it is important but do ALL of us need to be there? I can’t help but be thinking of the “real” work I have to do and my deadlines when this is happening. How about breaking out the small group that is invested in this rather than all 20 of us for hours on end….

        2. The New Wanderer*

          My gut reaction to Mission/Vision statements is the same as Lucy’s – it is so not my type of thing. (Military brat here, not exactly blue or white collar background) However, my colleague was on a team that created one recently and he showed me the final version. After my initial cringe, I realized I did actually agree with most of what they had settled on and it’s not like I could have improved it myself.

          But I hope I never have to be part of one of those committees. I also find no value in what executives say in all-hands meetings because it all comes across as rah-rah we’re so great you’re so great let’s win everything!

    10. JK*

      Another farm kid, first to go to college! I relate to everything, but especially this part: “Blue collar kids may not know how to find a mentor. They don’t understand why putting your head down and doing good work isn’t always enough. Self-promotion seems narcissistic.”

      I have always had glowing reviews, been well-respected in every office I’ve worked in, and quickly become the “go to” person for virtually everything. I’m calm and just put my head down and do things. But I’ve never had a mentor, and I don’t self-promote, so I feel like my salary and career are really stagnant, and I have no idea how to fix it.

      1. Midlife Tattoos*

        I mentioned upthread:

        “The easiest way I’ve found is to find someone I admire at work and ask them if I can set aside some time with them to ask questions or for guidance. Most admirable people are more then happy to mentor someone or point you to someone who can. I am always flattered and excited to help someone out!”

      2. Zweisatz*

        From my experience the difference is in the kind of things you do. If you’re the know-er and the problem fixer, people associate “reliable” with you, but if you do a great job, either you’re invisible or people might be afraid to let you leave that role because who will solve all the things all of the time then??

        What I’ve found helpful: work on things that are *new* while being reliable.
        Volunteer/suggest new processes, systems etc and be the one driving the change. This automatically puts you in contact with decision makers and you’ll likely be responsible for communicating the change to the company which makes you visible.
        It shows you as someone who’s not only “reliable”, but who helps move the company forward and drives innovative changes.

        Yes this reads completely phony to me, but I believe this is the process how I got promoted, even though I didn’t intend to and I’m not too good at self-promotion. But I wasn’t afraid to try new things as long as they were in my wheelhouse.

        Just be sure that you get the buy-in of decision makers before you start work. Turns out they don’t like you using their budget if they don’t know what for ;)

    11. Dusty Bunny*

      Another farm kid here, and sooooo much feel the “solve problems, not just talk about solving problems.” Fortunately, my first white collar job was in marketing, and I had to quickly learn to deal with a LOT of chatty, seemingly pointless meetings. I learned early on to keep a notepad and make notes when anything relevant was discussed, or seemed like a complete mystery (industry-specific jargon; computer terms that were new to me) so I could investigate later on. I moved into sales a few years later and had two senior sales reps mentor me; one of whom would answer my weird/clueless questions without mocking me. He also expected me to remember the answers, so there was accountability. This type of ally is extremely valuable in learning business norms.

      20+ years later, I still chafe when invited to meetings that have no agenda and seem to be a forum for watching someone think out loud with an audience. And I still bring a notepad.

    12. Aveline*

      I think coming from a farm that is rural and isolated adds a whole ‘nother set of concerns.

      I think the list of things that were normal for my colleagues that weren’t for me included:

      (1) Arranging travel (other than a car)
      (2) Taxis and buses
      (3) Ordering in sit-down restaurants (did not exist where I grew up back in the stone ages)
      (4) Not knowing everyone around you/treating them as warmly as if you do.
      (5) Using a company credit card. My first credit card was corporate. I had no idea when and how to use it or how to ensure it was paid off.
      (6) When going to events sponsored by someone who did business with the company was ok v. When it was unacceptable corporate graft
      (7) What to wear when with colleagues but not in a suit for work (as a woman in the 80s and early 90s).
      (8) What personal information to disclose v. What to keep. Oddly, some things that were ok for public consumption where I grew up were verboten but some things we’d consider “keep to your selves” was ok.

      Pointing out these because it’s soft skills” such as communication, dress and presentation, and “normal” tasks that one doesn’t know how to do.

      I really, really recommend reading the book The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students. The author is a black man who went through prep/private schools, but came from an underprivileged background. I heard him on NPR. So much of what he was saying really resonated.

      Can we all maybe start a thread down lower on books we recommend for people from these backgrounds or persons not from these backgrounds hoping to understand?

      1. OtterB*

        My organization, among other things, runs workshops for graduate students to which we pay their travel expenses. We were just talking about some of this at a staff meeting a few days ago. Besides the content of the workshops, we are mentoring by being the first exposure many of the students have to business travel, expense reports, etc., and so we often have to be really explicit about how things should be done.

      2. Gloucesterina*

        Ooh, yes I would love to participate in and learn from a book thread. I have definitely heard amazing things about Anthony Jack’s The Privileged Poor.

        I tend to be kind of a broken record going on and on about Arlie Hoschild’s The Managed Heart re: the specific types of emotional labor called for in pink collar work. I’m less compelled by her more recent work, though, which is in a very different vein.

    13. Museum Nerd*

      This! I’m a first generation college student and adjusting to white-collar problem-solving and modes of communication is still a struggle! Endless meetings, talking in circles, etc. No plan of action, or decisive moves. It is endless frustration for me.

      Also, with growing up working-class there comes a certain performative deference to authority. I didn’t go to office hours in college because I thought I was “bothering” my professors, but I understand now that not doing so probably labeled as me being unengaged. I still struggle with communicating with my managers and other higher-ups because of this. Our organization considers itself to be “flat,” where everyone should talk to everyone. I had to learn that I don’t need an invitation (because i’m not gonna get one) to talk to someone above me. I also had to learn how to “manage-up” and advocate for what I need to do my job, or to take on new responsibilities to grow in my role.

      Luckily, my org is undertaking a huge diversity and inclusion project, and there have been lots of opportunities to talk about how class, upbring, etc. influence our behavior at work. We’re all learning how different experiences shape how we respond to the same situation, and it’s been enlightening. I’m glad the conversation is happening.

    14. dumblewald*

      This also varies within white collar jobs. In my opinion, companies should shy away from being like this. But this is something I learned too, and I’m technically from a professional background. My parents are academics but I still had to learn the ways of American business culture. Like some blue collar jobs, advancement in academia is also merit-based and linear (you do the thing well and you move up). Unfortunately, merit is only a small percentage of what counts in the business world. In some cases, being too capable or correcting someone higher up than you can threaten higher ups and motivate them to punish you. Being liked is more important than being capable.

      1. LJay*

        I don’t think this framing is accurate for a lot of situations. Yes, in toxic environments, the higher-ups might feel threatened or might punish you.

        However, in plenty of not-toxic environments, being liked is still an important part of advancement and can be considered more important than being good at the technical parts of the job.

        Part of that is that there is not as strict a hierarchy as in more linear professions. You don’t necessarily need more advanced technical skills to move up to a new position, you need different skills entirely. And as you go up the ladder, a lot of those required skills are interpersonal skills.

        To be a manager or higher you might not even need to know how to do the job of someone below you. (I know how to do my direct reports’ job. But my boss doesn’t know how to do mine or theirs.)

        You do need to be able to advocate for your team to your higher ups, build relationships between departments, facilitate good communication between your employees, manage your employees so they do their jobs correctly and also have a high level of job satisfaction, work with other departments to get what you need, etc.

        I would say that, even though I do know how to do everything my employees do, about 90% of my time is spent doing things other than that. And so, if I were looking for someone to replace me, and my choices were someone who is more capable in doing the day-to-day work but is unpleasant to be around, and someone who is pleasant to be around but less capable, I would choose the person who is more pleasant but less capable at the technical aspects because the interpersonal work is what they would be doing a whole heck of a lot more of. (And if they are good at interpersonal skills they will know what they are not capable of, and will know who in their team is the right person to seek out for help with technical issues beyond their capabilities for the small percent of the time it is required).

        And it’s not about punishing the more technically capable person or keeping them down because I feel threatened, it’s that their skills are much better suited for the individual contributor role they are in than the management role they would be applying to. (Though really I feel like that is a false dichotomy because often there is a person who is pleasant and just as capable.)

    15. gmg22*

      The “solving problems vs talking about solving problems” contrast is really hitting me. It occurs to me that a lot of white-collar environments are really missing their chance to put a more can-do paradigm into place by drawing on the experiences and abilities of their employees who come from blue-collar backgrounds. But I suspect it doesn’t happen in part because of the culture of deference other people have also mentioned. There is a stigma, I suspect: “I made it here and that was hard enough, now I’m going to just try to fit into the system and not screw things up for myself.”

    16. Gloucesterina*

      I wasn’t raised with direct communication as I was in a pink-collar family and had a fair bit of pink collar work myself, but your comment that “Self-promotion seems narcissistic” really resonates with my experience!

  12. The Original K.*

    On the “not monitoring time” closely thing, stuff you do at work that’s not 100% your job is still OK to do at work. E.g. it’s fine if you spend some time in HR going over your benefits package; you don’t have to make that time up anywhere. I had a recent grad ask me this once.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yep. Fine to take an hour to look over your benefits at a new job or during enrollment season, for instance. Or go to meetings for committees that are more “fun”.

    2. Batman*

      Yep, and it’s often encouraged. My org explicitly rewards people who go above and beyond their job descriptions.

    3. Liza*

      Yes, I am adjusting to this in my work at the moment. I’m my case it’ps booking holidays. In my old job, we just filled out a piece of paper and handed it to the manager. Now there’s a whole system of filling out the dates on a website AND marking it on a wall calendar AND on Outlook. I have some cognitive difficulties as a result of mental illness, and so all of this, along with making sure the dates correspond with my activities, takes a great deal of time. The website itself is notoriously buggy, and confirmed holiday can only be edited by managers, so if you make a mistake or the site bugs out, you’re stuffed. It takes ages, and last week I specifically had to book a meeting with Grandboss JUST to fix my holidays. Sometimes I feel like I’m spending a significant portion of my part time job simply managing the business of HAVING a job!

    4. Jessen*

      Also, this one seems weird to even have to say, but you’re expected to monitor your own need for breaks, basic biological needs, and so forth.

      At a lot of blue-collar jobs you only go to the bathroom on your scheduled breaks, and if you need to go at another time you have to let someone else know. But in general you’re expected to be at your station doing your job unless you are on an assigned break. The adjustment to being expected to manage my own meals, get up and go to the bathroom without saying anything, etc., was actually a bit hard!

    5. The JMP*

      One thing I’ve found myself having to explain as a manager is that travel time (like flying to conferences and such) is “on the clock.” One of my direct reports who isn’t from a “white collar” background had asked if she had to use PTO to cover the time she spent in the airport, etc. Nope!

      Also that you won’t accrue additional PTO if you work overtime. I had a salaried, exempt employee who worked an extra 30 minutes per day for the first few weeks she was at my organization and was surprised to learn she wasn’t going to increase her PTO by working more hours. (We did have some comp time provisions for exempt employees, but it was handled completely differently and separately – she wanted to bank extra PTO so she could take more time off over the holidays in several months.)

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Sounds kind of like your PTO accrual policy isn’t explained well? I’ve had hourly jobs where PTO accrued by hours worked and I’ve also had hourly jobs where PTO accrued by pay period (the call center that was always begging people to work overtime suddenly got a heads up from corporate about how much extra PTO was suddenly on the books, and they didn’t want to have to pay it out, so they changed the accrual method).

  13. The Cosmic Avenger*

    I remember being yelled at for standing still refilling a station when I waited tables; the manager thought it looked like I was being lazy, even though he KNEW this had to be done. So people started leaving the station empty as much as possible, and he yelled about THAT.

    My point is that I’ve seen bad retail/blue collar managers get upset when there is a lack of movement on their employees’ part, as they see it as lazy or not working. In an office environment, you may see the complete opposite, where getting up to do things leaves your desk empty, and when you’re not at your desk bad office managers perceive it as not working, thanks to the butts-in-seats “philosophy” of work metrics. So that’s a total 180 from blue collar to white collar expectations.

    1. Bostonian*

      “My point is that I’ve seen bad retail/blue collar managers get upset when there is a lack of movement on their employees’ part, as they see it as lazy or not working.”


      1. Katherine*


        A former GM at a restaurant used to tell us “We’re not models, we’re not getting paid to stand around and look cute!”

    2. Lilysparrow*

      You know, it’s funny – sometimes this depends on the boss. I was exec assistant once to a boss who liked to have a lot of different things going on, and was dissatisfied with his former assistant because, in part, she didn’t have a sense of urgency in her work. So she transferred down the hall and he got me.

      Being hyperactive and forgetful, I would almost always leap to my feet and charge into his office whenever he returned from a meeting, to get my list of questions/attention items dealt with. He thought I was brilliant.

      The other assistant had far more institutional knowledge, was better at detail work, and was at least as competent in all other aspects as me – if not more.

      But that “sense of urgency” just made the boss happy on some lizard-brain level. Silly, but that’s people for you.

      1. Lucy Honeychurch*

        Lilysparrow that is hilarious! And goes against the typical norm of the boss wanting an assistant who is calm, cool, and collected.

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

      So, what exactly did that manager expect? Were you supposed to dance a jig, jog in place, do jumping jacks, what?
      In all seriousness, I would have asked that manager, in the flattest, most neutral voice possible if he could describe – or even better, SHOW me- the exact motions I should be making while filling the station so as to not “look lazy”, since I wasn’t sure how to achieve both at once on my own.

      If it pissed him off, oh well! One crap job is as good as another and I’d be happy to walk away from a petty asshole like that.

  14. Mimi Me*

    Lunch and breaks. Blue collar jobs tend to be very rigid about them – when you can take them, how long, how many, and there’s seldom any straying from that. Office jobs tend to be less rigid about them. I recently took a part time job that is outside of the office and I hate that my breaks are scheduled. I like knowing that my lunch time is a bit more flexible at my full time job…if I’m not hungry at noon, I can wait until one – or if business gets busy/slow I can adjust for the breaks. I just worked a busy holiday season and there’s nothing quite as awful as staring down a line of angry customers while a manager is forcing you to take a break you don’t really want at a scheduled time.

    1. Cathie from Canada*

      At my very first summer job – working at the counter of a dry-cleaners down the street from where we lived – everybody got mad at me the first morning when I didn’t take my 15-minute break at exactly 9:45 to 10. What I didn’t understand was that the three people working the counter had to each take their break on schedule, so that the counter was adequately (wo)manned at all times. So by delaying until 9:55, I had unintentionally messed up both of my co-workers’ breaks. It was a lesson in the importance of following workplace norms even if I didn’t understand them at first.

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

        As a former retail manager, we had to schedule breaks & lunches very carefully to ensure coverage, and we had to make sure that everyone DID take all of their legally mandated breaks, so someone not taking their break/lunch at the appointed time and throwing all the rest of the schedule off can create lots of headaches for coworkers and management alike.

    2. Trisha*

      Not only are they less structured but frequently, no one really cares if you get them / take them. I’ve had days where I jumped from meeting to meeting and then returned to my office to resolve some urgent issues (all with my Senior Managers knowledge) and not once did she say, “Did you take your lunch today?”

    3. ATX Language Learner*

      Agree with this but it also depends on the office. Currently where I work I take my lunch whenever, tell no one, sometimes its 30 min, sometimes its 2 hours.

  15. Memily*

    I had this experience at my first job out of college. I asked permission to go to lunch every day for a couple of weeks. My supervisor sat me down at one point and had to explain to me that I didn’t need to ask permission, I just had to send an email to the (small) office letting them know I was going and just…leave. Blew my mind for a minute, since I was used to asking permission to leave from my food service job.

      1. InfoSec SemiPro*

        No, that’s an office culture thing.

        My department, which has a bunch of remote staff and several teams in different offices, does have a chat stream to update where you are. People note that they’re going to lunch sometimes. Most often its about starting and stopping being available for work. We have very flexible hours and multiple timezones, so a quick check of who is around and where is frequently useful.

      2. Oaktree*

        Not in my office. We use Lync (instant messaging client) and people sometimes put away messages, but not always. If I go to lunch, I just mark that I’m away from my desk (selecting from a dropdown menu) and leave it at that. I also go whenever I like (usually at 1, but if things are busy, I’ve had to wait til 1:30 or even 2; but by the same token, I can go at 12). Unless we’re short-staffed and we have to stagger our breaks on my small sub-team. Honestly, it would seem pretty weird if someone announced to the whole team that they’re going for lunch- it would be like, “good for you? Why is that relevant to me?”

        This stuff really varies.

    1. Kristi E.*

      This is the one that I can’t get my direct reports to understand. You don’t have to ask me if you want to take a break or take a lunch. Just tell somebody that you are going. You don’t even have to tell me. Nothing we do is going to fall apart if you go out of the office for an hour.

      1. Pink Shoelaces*

        I can see how you might if it’s a small office and the remaining people will be keeping an ear out for the phones or walk-ins while you’re gone.

    2. RJ the Newbie*

      Definitely something that varies from office to office and it’s best to touch base with your supervisor to see how your company/department handles this.

    3. Batman*

      This varies, of course, but in my experience if you’re in a larger office, you don’t even have to tell people you’re going to lunch unless your job needs coverage. Like, now I work in more customer facing role, so my boss and I try to stagger our lunches (she tends to eat earlier and I tend to eat later), but we don’t usually mention anything to each other unless we’re going to be taking lunch outside of our normal time. Once our third person starts, this will be even easier!

    4. BethDH*

      In general, the asking permission vs. informing/updating for when you’re going to be out is very different. I often let my colleagues know when I’ll be out for longer periods (not lunch, but offsite workshops or anything that’s more like a half day) but I don’t ask my boss for permission for things like attending training sessions. What exactly falls into this category depends on the role and the office culture, but in general the way that you mention what you’re doing but don’t ask permission was a weird thing for me to suss out initially. The only thing I can compare it to is how I let my partner know if I’ll be out late and ask if that will create any conflicts, while when I was still a minor and living with my parents I would ask permission to be out late. It’s not as simple as “I don’t ask permission to go to lunch,” it’s more about the tone and wording.

    5. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      We have to notify if we leave the building … but because of safety/evacuation reasons. So the first responders don’t go in looking for someone who isn’t there.

      And I tend to have to stick to my scheduled lunch slot mostly because sometimes the other depts need to steal me for scheduled appointments so if I’m not available when expected, they get fussy. But my breaks are subtle and often at my desk. Like right now, as I write this on company time.

    6. wafflesfriendswork*

      Reminds me of high school vs college–freshman year I raised my hand and asked permission to go to the restroom and my prof gave me the oddest look. I am now so embarrassed but I really didn’t know I could just leave to go to the bathroom!

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        In the freshmen classes I TA-ed I made it a point to mention the first session that it’s totally okay to just…quietly go. It’s 100% fine. Also, if you want to unobtrusively eat in class, go for it. Just mind that it’s truly unobtrusive. In lab, no eating, and just make sure your group knows you’ve left for the restroom so that someone’s still monitoring lab progress, and NO GLOVES ON THE DOOR HANDLES, but yeah, go whenever, bathroom, get a drink, no, no water bottles in the lab, they go on the shelf outside.

        I remember being that very quiet kid who was both scared to ask to go and scared to just up and go. Silly to look back on, but it really is hard to break free of ingrained expectations.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        Ha! First semester of college, I was taking my final exam in calculus. Halfway through, I really had to pee. No way could I concentrate on calculus with that distraction. But I was used to high school rules, which strictly forbade using the restroom during exams because you could cheat. I finally went to the professor and begged for an exception. She thought it was extremely strange.

        1. Koala dreams*

          I think your professor was strange! How would you know if nobody had told you? When I went to university, there were toilets near the exam room and outside there was a list for every student to write their name on when they went to the toilet during the exams, to deter cheaters. Every exam we were reminded about the rules before the exam started.

    7. Fenchurch*

      I had a similar experience with asking to use the bathroom. I had been working as a teller at a bank and it was a common practice there. I moved to a call center and thought my previous experience would carry over, as I considered my previous job white collar. My manager was a bit taken aback at first. After the second time he pulled me aside to tell me to stop asking and just go.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Wait. Call center is a white collar job? And bank teller isn’t a white collar job? That is the exact opposite of the experience I’ve had where I live.

        I get how bank teller could be more of a professional-adjacent kind of job, but every call center I’ve worked at was run like every other shitty customer service job I’ve had—way back in the day, I worked for one that ran the department’s phones in staggered 2-hour blocks and if you were on the phone during a block, you couldn’t even leave to go pee because there was no way to stop the calls until the 2 hours was over.

    8. Elsajeni*

      I’ve found this is true even for vacation, to a lesser extent. When I was in retail, asking for a day off was an ordeal, and you really had to ask, and maybe explain why you wanted it, and there was still like a 50% chance you’d be told no. This varies in office jobs — there definitely are some white-collar bosses who still want to be asked, and in a coverage-heavy job you may still have a decent chance of being told no — but my experience has been that it’s usually okay to inform (“I’ll be out of the office on these dates”) rather than ask, or “ask” by just tacking on a “if that’s all right with you,” and that your employer generally expects you to take vacation time and won’t be a pain about it.

  16. Armchair Analyst*

    I would say: You’re expected to speak up politely and professionally, to bring problems to people’s attention.
    Obviously not too much, in an annoying way. But many people of lower socio-economic strata feel…. scared or weird or awkward bringing problems to people’s attention, whether doctors or teacher or administrators or yes, bosses. Maybe as children they were taught “to be seen and not heard” (ok that’s an oldie) or their opinions were not valued, and that continued as adults and by the surrounding institutions and people who run them. Definitely, in white collar middle-class +++ culture, a politely expressed complaint or opinion can be valued and may even show initiative.

    1. Anonymous Engineer*

      I recently got the following advice that really summed it up well for me: “Never be the senior person holding a bad secret.”

      The sooner you can bring a problem up to the attention of someone higher than you, the sooner the organization can put more/the right resources behind solving it.

      1. OtterB*

        I like that. My rule of thumb is “Do not let your boss be surprised by something bad” but yours is even more to the point.

      2. Blue_eyes*

        That’s a good one and one it’s taken me a while to learn despite having “white collar” parents. It feels so scary sometimes to bring up a big problem to my boss, but I don’t want to be the one left holding the “hot potato” if things go south. Once I’ve given the boss the info, she has to decide how to proceed.

    2. WellRed*

      Also, if there’s something that needs to be addressed but involves a coworker, there is no such thing as “snitching” “tattling” or “ratting out.” I mean, I don’t think adults outside of mobster movies should say those words any way, but it should have no concept in an office.

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        This is a HUGE thing at my job that involves blue-collar and white-collar workers, ugh!

      2. Oh So Anon*

        Similarly, having a strong enough professional relationship with your manager where you can discuss behavioural issues with a peer isn’t “kissing a**”, the way my blue-collar parent understands it. The idea that interpersonal issues are okay to discuss and hold people accountable for is beyond them.

    3. wittyrepartee*

      Oh, this is actually a problem I’ve had. Don’t hold on to complaints until they’re metastasizing. You should be dealing with things before you get to the freaking out stage, unless they popped up and surprised everyone. That includes interpersonal problems.

  17. Confession time*

    I’ve been in the white-collar world for 17 years (what?!) now, after growing up in a blue-collar world, and I remember that “fish out of water” feeling so well. I still feel it sometimes!

    The biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome:
    – Figuring out how, as a woman, to find clothing that’s professional and appropriate. When I look back at my first year as a professional, I think I dressed more “going to church” than “going to an office.” Men have kind of a template; we really don’t.
    – Communicating. Specifically, how being honest and upfront can come across as being “too direct.” Or pointing out potential problems can be construed as “too negative.” There is a very specific communication style to white-collar work that NOBODY told me about.
    – Negotiating. It’s uncomfortable for everybody, but I think especially when you come from an environment where it’s Just Not Done and the job pays what it pays.
    – Time off. I still struggle with this! Taking vacation time feels like slacking, even though that’s totally not the case. In fact, it’s pretty necessary if you’re dealing with heady stuff all day.
    – Office politics. Ugh. There is a game to be played, and I tend to be more of a “can’t we all just be honest and upfront with each other and not dicker around?” sort.
    – Social things, like happy hours and lunches. Who pays? Who invites whom? Are they mandatory or not?

    Typing all this out, I sound like a disaster, but hopefully, I haven’t been too out of line. And I think some of this is inherent to being a young person in the workforce, but it was hard not having anyone to ask about the unspoken, unwritten rules that exist. Especially other women who had been there. I spent so much time in my early career just watching and observing, trying to fit in.

    1. BridgeNerdess*

      I empathize with all of this. I could have used someone like you to help me figure this stuff out!

    2. Sara*

      oh the Happy Hour/Lunch thing drove me nuts when I first started working. I never knew when it was a business thing or a pay your own way thing. I worked in a more frugal industry, so more often than not it tended to be more self funded than company funded. But its hard to say no when EVERYONE is going out to socialize in your department and you don’t want to miss it.

      I do not miss those days. My company now is big on networking, but the company happily pays for it!

    3. Jules the 3rd*


      If it helps, a solution I use for the ‘pointing out a problem = negative’ is focusing on solutions, by:
      1) Saving the blame for an after-action analysis (and if it’s a clear ‘X person messed up’, doing that 1 on 1 not in front of a team)
      2) Trying to have 1 – 3 possible solutions, or the rough outlines of an action plan – I keep the problem statement short and make sure solutions / plan are the focal points, though of course making them proposals open for feedback not directives, because I’m usually managing upwards or outwards (to customers) on problems.

      I have been called ‘solution oriented’ multiple times and take a lot of pride in that.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        This, exactly. The point is to help people work towards a more workable solution, rather than just dropping contrarian bombs for someone else to clean up.

    4. But you don’t have an accent...*

      Yes to the dress thing! I grew up with parents that were white collar, but I recently went to an interview where people were dressed nicely but not *professionally*. Even with white collar parents, it’s so hard to figure out with the women’s fashions. Heck, there was even a debate here about whether or not cold shoulder tops are professional! My typical rules for the first month or so until I get a feel for the office: closed toed shoes, shoulders always covered (I hate cap sleeves because they make my arms look bigger, but those are fine for others), nothing too tight, nothing too bright, and nothing too short (i.e. knee length or longer).

      1. Batman*

        Same! I’m from a white-collar background too, but tbh, I still don’t fully understand what’s appropriate for a woman to wear in a business casual office. There are just too many options and if you follow what you see on TV, you’re usually dressed inappropriately. Ditto if you shop in the juniors section-that stuff is often too tight, too low cut, or too short to really be professional. Or for me to be actually comfortable in it.

        1. Lepidoptera*

          My kingdom for a dress shirt that isn’t v-cut down to the belly button, a frumptastic tent, or three hundred dollars.

          1. Midlife Tattoos*

            I found one. Once. I did feel like I’d hit the busty-girl-in-a-button-up-shirt jackpot.

            Sadly, it no longer fits.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      Figuring out how, as a woman, to find clothing that’s professional and appropriate. When I look back at my first year as a professional, I think I dressed more “going to church” than “going to an office.” Men have kind of a template; we really don’t.

      Or the other extreme, clubwear. I’m not in this blue-collar-to-white-collar world, but I’ve worked with those who were, and a lot of people think there are two dress codes: Jeans and Not Jeans. And if you’re told not to wear jeans, anything that’s Not Jeans (clubwear, church clothes) is appropriate.

      1. Anne Elliot*

        This. I work in a government office and it seems like some younger women for whom this is a first or second job (regardless of whether they are moving blue collar to white collar or just new to work), sometimes have difficulty with nuances of dress. (Insert necessary “Not all women . . . .” disclaimers, and please note I am also a woman.) So it may be clothes that are too short or too tight or too spangly or too skimpy — “clubware” is a good descriptor, not trashy or grossly inappropriate, just not very professional. I think the mindset “It’s not jeans so it must be okay” is probably accurate as an explanation. And it bugs me that this is such a gendered problem and such an unspoken metric. Dress is a minefield for women in a way that it almost never is a minefield for men.

        1. Midlife Tattoos*

          My rule has been, “If you would wear that out for a night out, you shouldn’t wear it to work”. I don’t generally say it that when when I’m adDRESSing it, but I’ve had to have this conversation with a couple of my employees.

          And note that I also come from a blue-collar background and I’m the first to have gone to college.

      2. Batman*

        This is a really good point. Clubwear isn’t appropriate for an office job. Too short, too tight, too revealing.
        Although I’m glad you mentioned that doing that could be a class difference. I’m not more sympathetic to a coworker who used to dress like that. (Although she never got in trouble for it as far as know, so maybe it was okay?)

    6. Middle Manager*

      I’ve seen some of the opposite on time off though as well. Like entry level staff who used to work in retail or waitressing and it didn’t matter which specific waitress or cashier was there which day, as long as there were enough total. I’ve had to talk to some of my staff and say, I’m sorry, no you can’t have off the day of the big meeting related to a project you lead. At least in my office, people aren’t super interchangeable, so you have to be realistic about which days are appropriate for you to take off.

    7. Former Retail Manager*

      I sooooo feel you on the time off. I transitioned from retail to white collar 9 years ago and I still don’t like taking time off for extended periods (i.e more than 3 days). I’d rather use my time to take an afternoon off or leave a couple hours early than take off for a week or two. It’s totally common at my org, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

      Oh, and the office politics. Although I hate it, I’m relatively good at it….certainly a double edged sword. I definitely spent my first couple of years being quiet and just watching and taking mental notes about who liked who, who didn’t like who, did any of that matter, who not to make mad, who could and couldn’t be trusted with sensitive information, who knew the inner workings of the office (on reliable intel) and who was just guessing about upcoming changes, who to align oneself with if interested in advancing and who to avoid because although they might be smart and helpful, upper mgmt. hates them and you are then tainted by association. There was some of this in retail, but really not to the level that exists in offices, in my opinion.

      My advice to anyone new is to just sit back, be polite, keep your mouth shut, and take a lot of mental notes over at least 6 months until you get the lay of the land. And always follow the old adage of not saying anything you wouldn’t want printed on the front page of the newspaper, even if you’re talking to someone you trust implicitly. That has come back to bite me once. Lesson learned.

    8. Jessen*

      Very much yes on the negotiating. I’m definitely used to “role X pays $Y an hour” and that’s how it goes. If you’re really lucky there might be seniority pay raises, but negotiating simply isn’t done (and is likely to mark you as being entitled or out of touch).

      I didn’t negotiate my current job either, which I don’t feel bad about because it was already a huge pay jump, but I’m not even sure where I’d start!

    9. Jake*

      The social thing! How often can I say no? How long do I need to stay? What’s the plan for intoxicated people to get home?

    10. MaraEmerald*

      I recently had my tech company get bought by a larger company, and I’ve had to re-learn everything all over again. At the old company, lots of people just wore shorts/t-shirts/whatever. Here, it looks like button down/polo and dark wash jeans is basically a uniform. My advice for people new to white collar work force is to wear a suit (better too dressed up than too dressed down) the first day and just look around.

      1. Kudzuuu*

        That didn’t happen to be in NC, did it?
        I’m not sure I’d recommend a suit for all first days in a white-collar environment. When interviewing (especially if not a Friday) pay attention to what others wear. And don’t be afraid to ask directly before your first day – the person who makes the offer may be a good one. Look for specifics. It’s definitely better to make sure you’re not dressing down relative to the workplace on your first day, but there are plenty of places where showing up in a suit on day one would not be to anybody’s benefit.

    11. L.S. Cooper*

      Lunches. AAAAAH. I always feel weirdly guilty when my boss buys lunch for the department– even moreso the couple of times my seniors have bought me lunch after I did a favor for them. (Truthfully, AAM has been a huge help for me with this. I’m the most junior person in the department, it’s okay for me to not reciprocate.)

  18. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Every office is going to be different, so it’s a good idea to lie low and observe for a while. Don’t be That Guy who comes in and makes inappropriately timed jokes or immediately suggests changing everything until you have a feel for how those kind of things are received.

  19. Plain Jane*

    I worked as a cashier and then in a clothing store before I started working in offices. The big difference for me was that in my service-related jobs, 1) my attitude/behavior was given more leeway because they needed coverage. 2) My service jobs were more black and white when it came to rules, but nobody told me about things in office environments that aren’t against any rules but might make people look down on you, for example spending a lot of time on personal calls or over sharing about your life out of work.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Wait, spending a lot of time on personal calls isn’t against the rules? Understand about the over sharing, tho.

      1. Batman*

        I think it’s just assumed that you know not to spend a lot of time on personal calls. I don’t think I’ve seen it as an explicit rule ever.

      2. Lucy*

        It’s more nuanced than that, I think. People would be fine with personal calls that are difficult to fit into personal time (I’m thinking of calls with a childcare provider when Junior had a bad night, or calls with a realtor when you’re meant to be moving house in Friday).

        I think that is partly to do with not having regularly scheduled breaks, because anyone in e.g. retail would only even try to make those calls off the floor and off the clock.

        I haven’t worked in any office where it was common for people to have lengthy personal calls without getting into trouble. Thirty seconds to find out when your partner will be home and tell him to get milk, ok. Discussing holiday plans with your mother, not ok.

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          In my office, personal calls are okay, especially when traveling (and the company foots the roaming charges – I had a $250 cell phone bill last year for a week in Australia, although that were mostly incoming calls from clients).
          We are exempt, working fairly long hours most days, so making doctors appointments would be quite impossible outside working hours.
          The company sees this as a perk to compensate that we work the job, not the clock.

    2. Elsajeni*

      I think that’s part of being less black and white about rules, really. Retail generally has explicit and extensive rules, like “you must wear a red or white shirt with a collar, black or khaki pants that are not jeans, and close-toed black shoes, and your hair may not be dyed an unnatural color,” compared to office jobs/white-collar jobs, where the written rule might just be “business casual dress is expected.” The long list of detailed and specific rules can be annoying, but it also means that, generally, you feel safe looking at the list and thinking “okay, this doesn’t say anything about jewelry, so I can wear these big dramatic earrings if I want.” The office rule leaves a lot more room for interpretation and secret unwritten rules — can you wear a T-shirt to that office? What if it’s a nice fitted one you got at Ann Taylor? Can you dye your hair pink? Will any of those things affect your reputation, even if you don’t actually get scolded for officially violating the dress code? Like you said — things that aren’t against any rules, but still kind of are.

  20. Oxford Comma*

    Just coming here to say that the first recommended post under “you may also like” for this topic was “I’m in a dominant/submissive relationship — can I wear a collar to work?”

    1. Earthwalker*

      Some algorithm thought that the subject of both articles is collars. That’s almost as much fun as great spelling corrections.

  21. The Cardinal*

    When I have some down time for “self-directing,” I often explore any available information in old files or old network folders, or chat with more experienced colleagues in an effort to just learn more about the organization and to better inform myself simply for the sake of knowing more. This seems like a more acceptable way of passing time than chatting on a cell phone or playing around on social media.

    1. Roz*

      ^^This. It’s a really great way to round out your knowledge base and connect with other colleagues in conversation. People like when you know what other areas of the organization do and why it matters.

  22. Casey*

    Several years ago I read a great book that sorted a lot of this out for me. It’s Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams by Alfred Lubrano. I still use what I learned from it, and I recommend it!

  23. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    A couple of things people may not think about when making the transition to a professional environment:
    -Hygiene, Smell & Appearance all matter SO much more. When you’re working in an office in close quarters you do not want to be known as the co-worker who doesn’t wash their hands, or who always reeks of smoke/heavy perfume. There is far, far less tolerance for coming in sick, especially if you have the option to work from home. In office environments people are ALWAYS watching and they’re pretty much always judging too.
    -Topics of conversation are different, heck even the TV shows that people discuss around the water cooler are different. But the biggest one you’ll find is money. Nothing overt, but in office environments people like to talk/brag about where they’ve traveled or what they did that weekend. Often they’ve grown up with the ability to do so (travel) and expect that everyone else did too. Be prepared for gasps of shock if you say that you’ve never left the country.

    1. Wednesday*

      Oooh, the travel thing is a BIG one. Lots of “I was in Europe for a week last month, I can’t wait to go back next season!” in the offices I’ve worked in, and it definitely feels like bragging (though the rational part of my brain knows it probably isn’t mean-spirited). I’ve stopped mentioning I haven’t traveled internationally because it really does shock people.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        That might have more to do with other factors. Fewer than half of the people in my particular white collar office have traveled internationally. (But yes, never having been on a plane at all would be uncommon.)

        1. BatmansRobyn*

          I actually do come from a professional background, but worked retail all through high school/college and much of graduate school. The thing I struggled with the most when I got my first office job was being comfortable with the fact that sometimes there’s just not much to do, and that it’s….fine?

          Working retail in particular there’s generally always some task to be done, and I don’t remember having a lot (or any) down time during my shifts. My office job is cyclical, and there’s usually a 4-6 week period every quarter where, at least at my level, there’s just not much to do. I’d ask for work, and my bosses would give it to me when they could and it was appropriate, but I spent a decent chunk of time noodling around waiting for someone to tell me that I was being let go because there wasn’t enough work.

          We got busy again, and now it’s obvious that I’m getting paid to noodle during slow season because when it’s not slow, I’m slammed from 7am until I leave the office, but BOY was that first experience anxiety-inducing.

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        I’ve also never traveled internationally and don’t even have a passport, cause why would I? I’d say my white collar office is about 60%/40% with 40% having traveled internationally at some point in their life, but by no means do they do so regularly. I have no travel-related shame and I willingly tell people that there is still so much of the U.S. to see, I’d like to do that first, and then I’ll worry about traveling internationally. Note: I also no longer fly so I’m kinda limited in what I can see in the U.S., and I tell people that too. I say own it. Let em think what they want.

      3. wittyrepartee*

        I’ll point out that there’s also a lot of people from blue collar Hispanic backgrounds that have traveled internationally more than everyone in the office, it’s just usually to South America or the Caribbean, not to Paris.

        1. Wednesday*

          I did use Europe as my example intentionally :P I suppose I should have agreed more generally with HugsAreNotTolerated’s point about money and spending as a topic of conversation, instead of focusing on international travel.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Yeah, but there’s also people for whom going to the DR is a huge but necessary part of their budget. I’ve met a lot of people whose families were much poorer than mine who traveled abroad a lot more than I ever have, because that’s where their people are.

            1. Wednesday*

              Should I have said “different hemisphere travel,” then? Either way, visiting-family travel isn’t in the same category as vacation travel, in my mind, and the traveling you’re giving as an example here isn’t the kind of traveling I meant, which, again, is why I used Europe as my example. “I visit my family in the Caribbean for a week every few months” doesn’t have the same vibe as “I rent a villa in Tuscany for a week straight every summer,” or even “my family rents a villa in Tuscany for a week straight every summer.”

                1. Wednesday*

                  That’s a better way I could’ve put it, yes. I mean, I’m equally unaccustomed to extended, non-family-related domestic travel as well, so “travel that doesn’t involve visiting family” is more broad, but also accurate. (For me, at least; travel and not having been able to travel when I was younger is also something I’m maybe more sensitive than most about, so there’s that!)

                1. Marina Magdalena*

                  With respect, that’s only true of North and South. The Prime Meridian cuts through England, and most of Europe is east of it.

                2. Dan*

                  True! But I think most people would think of northern and southern hemispheres when they hear the unqualified term hemisphere. I’ve never actually heard anyone refer to the eastern and western hemispheres since school :). Perhaps that’s because they’re arbitrarily chosen and don’t have any correspondence to physical reality?

                3. Marina Magdalena*

                  Well, they are roughly based on the International Date Line, which is only arbitrary insofar as we had to pick somewhere to put it. Also, hi, I’m a nerd and a pedant.

                4. Dan T*

                  Hi to you! I also am a nerd. Some might describe me as a pedant as well, although I do try (not always successful) to limit my pedantry, except when I’m around people who I think might appreciate it (like you!).

                  But I think you’ve inadvertently proven the point that the prime meridian (or the anti-meridian in the case of the international date line) is arbitrarily located by saying that “[it] is only arbitrary insofar as we had to pick somewhere to put it.” That is sort of the definition of arbitrary right? :). As in, it could be any north to south line, and they just happened to pick one that went through Greenwich. I’m guessing because that’s where the people who came up with the concept lived.

                  In contrast, there is only one choice for the equator. So the northern and southern hemispheres are more objective. We did arbitrarily choose one of them to be north, or on top, and we absolutely could have made the northern hemisphere be southern and vice versa. But the line that separates them is objective based on how the Earth rotates.

                  Btw I’ve changed my username to “Dan T” because I noticed that there is another “Dan” on AAM.

                5. Marina Magdalena*

                  Ooh, yes, it seems I have proved your point! ;) Now I want to know more about how those lines were chosen. Time to fall down a research hole…

                  [handshake] Nice to meet you, Dan T.

            2. doreen*

              Vacations that involved sleeping away from home were incomprehensible to me as a blue collar child but even as a white -collar adult (in a blue-collar world) I couldn’t manage vacations that included a plane when I was traveling with my children. Said children would frequently tell me where their friends were going on vacation- Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, etc. My kids didn’t realize that their friends weren’t going on vacation – they were spending the summer with grandma and a plane ticket was less expensive than a summer’s worth of childcare.

        2. Oh So Anon*

          This is also a thing with blue collar people from my culture of origin as well – they travel back home to visit family, but never to immerse themselves in some other culture. The whole “travelling as a character builder” thing is pretty foreign to them.

        3. Marina Magdalena*

          People look at you differently if your international experience is down to immigration. “I summered in Bavaria” is not the same as “Oh, yes, we went home to see everyone every few years”.

    2. caryatis*

      Wearing lots of perfume/cologne to the office is definitely a lower-class signifier to be avoided.

      Going to Disney World/Disney Land/cruises is a normal topic of conversation.

      1. BookishMiss*

        Even beyond a class indicator, many offices have policies surrounding scents because of possible health effects for other people.

        1. EverybodyPantsNow*

          I think nails in general are a common white collar/blue collar divide. The popularity of nail shapes and colors changes over time.

      2. HugsAreNotTolerated*

        Oh my goodness! So I’m in the process of training a new hire and the combined scent of her 3 daily cigarettes & the heavy floral perfume has made me sick the past couple of days. I mentioned it to my manager and she changed the training schedule so that I’m not spending 3-4 hours at a time with new hire. However two other team members have brought this to Manager’s attention now and she’s in a tricky spot. It’s a highly uncomfortable position to have to have that conversation, I can understand why she’s reluctant to have it!

    3. Dan*

      That’s interesting that you would see discussing international travel as bragging. I work at a tech startup and nearly everyone (if not everyone) in the office can afford to travel internationally so I wouldn’t see discussing that as bragging at all. Now if I were working somewhere where I were an executive and most of my employees couldn’t afford to travel internationally I certainly wouldn’t mention those types of trips. But I don’t think it’s intrinsically something that you’d only bring up to brag. I enjoy traveling and telling people about the cool experiences I’ve had, just like I enjoy hearing about cool experiences other people have had (whether travel related or not).

      Finally, I just thought I’d mention that traveling internationally doesn’t have to be significantly more expensive (or more expensive at all) than domestic plane travel. You can often get flights to very far away locations for just a few hundred dollars and then there are many places where hotels, restaurants, etc are much cheaper than in the US. Obviously I do know that not everyone can afford plane travel at all but I’m just saying this to make the point that if you wouldn’t think that bringing up domestic vacations are bragging, you may be thinking that international trips are more expensive than they are.

      1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

        Dan, thanks for your comment. I’d like to clarify that I don’t view all mentions of international travel as ‘bragging’, which is why I phrased it as ‘talk/brag’. A majority of the time, it really is just co-workers who are super excited about this trip and everything they saw and did. They want to share that excitement and it’s awesome to share in that joy with them! On occasion though, you do get ‘those’ people who just kinda cross the line.

        I do agree with you that travel doesn’t have to be hugely costly, there definitely are ways to make it work, and it’s worth the time it takes to save for these trips!

        1. milksnake*

          There’s a big difference between “Oh we’re going to take a trip to Europe in the spring!” and the lawyer client I had come in who went on and on about their “Bahama vacation with a private boat and a staff, they cooked all our meals! You NEED to do it! It’s the best vacation ever! I don’t know why anyone would ever bother taking a cruise. You have to charter a private boat! It’s the only way to do it!”

          1. Dan*

            Ya, I guess there aren’t any people like that where I work, possibly because we have a very strong no assholes policy. But that sounds extremely rude and obnoxious. Anyone who says something like “I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t do SOMETHING THAT COSTS A TON OF MONEY instead of SOMETHING CHEAP” is being a jerk or is very ignorant.

      2. CMart*

        But so, so many people may not have been able to do that until they joined Tech Startup with $$$$ salary. “Oh yeah, when we’d go to France…” vs. “I didn’t leave the state until last year” is a very big life experience divide. Talking so casually about international travel when you might not have even met anyone who has left the country before can be a big shock, and knowing that Annual French Vacation Coworker isn’t some billionaire heiress but just a regular person talking about regular-person stuff* might be a bit hard to fathom at first.

        *because for some people that is a regular part of life, whereas for others it’s totally inconceivable.

        1. Wednesday*

          Yes, this! It’s more about the way it’s discussed than it being discussed at all—even week-long domestic vacations as a matter of habit are utterly incomprehensible to me and my blue-collar family. People frequently mentioning extended vacations as something they’re used to doing isn’t something I’m accustomed to at all.

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

            I grew up in a white collar middle class family that had origins in Depression era poverty, so they didn’t do things like everyone else. In our whole lives we took two family trips (by station wagon)- one to see the sites of the southwest (Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, etc), and another where we traveled up to the Pacific Northwest seeing the sights but also visiting family along the way. The rest of the time we did what the rest of the world is now calling “staycations” and touting as the latest big thing. I grew up local to Disneyland (a yearly tradition) and many other entertainments, my parents found this quite sufficient and did not feel the need to waste money on gas or airplanes, lol.

      3. Aveline*

        There’s a difference between chatting about it and presuming it’s normal for everyone.

        Far, far to many people presume their life experience is normal/desired/universal.

        It doesn’t sound like what you and your colleagues are doing, but it’s good to point it out b/c far too many people blithely talk about these things in ways that alienate those that can’t afford them or haven’t experienced them.

        Even coming from a poor, rural background where I didn’t do these things, I sometimes fail to see when I’m doing it.

      4. Lynn Marie*

        Thanks for explaining. You should know that for many blue-collar people, the idea of having a week-long vacation at all is an alien concept, never mind whether it’s domestic or international, or on a plane versus a road trip versus taking a bus. A lot of people have never had a vacation from work at all, so are unfamiliar with the ritual of talking about the latest one at work with peers.

      5. A different Rae*

        Your comment highlights the homogeny of a lot of tech startups, though. I work for a large tech company and sure, at least on the engineering side we’re all making $$$ and can nominally afford traveling internationally. Not all, but many tech startups have a lot of younger, single or married-but-both-work, college-educated employees with similar backgrounds and similar current lifestyles. That’s not true for all tech companies, even.

        One coworker of mine has a stay at home wife and four kids, one of whom has a serious medical condition. His 6-figure salary doesn’t go nearly as far as mine when it’s just my spouse and I who both work and have no kids.

        Another woman comes from a blue collar background similar to mine, and she pays her parents’ rent because they’d otherwise be homeless. Plus student loans.

        To be blunt, some people have just made terrible past decisions that are costing them money now that severely limits their disposable income.

        And, as other commenters mentioned, coming from a background where the farthest you ever traveled growing up was visiting some family that lives a couple of hours away, the idea of traveling internationally is so foreign to you (no pun intended) that you might not know it could be inexpensive compared to other US destinations. Plus, you may not know how to start planning, get visas, etc.

        So is it bragging to talk about it? No, but as the original commenter that kicked off this thread said, those experiences are not necessarily the norm for former blue-collar workers.

        1. Dan*

          Yes you’re absolutely right and actually I do know for a fact that several of my coworkers wouldn’t have nearly as much discretionary income as their salary would suggest (one due to a sick child, another due to financial catastrophe in their past). I didn’t mean to imply that literally every single colleague can afford to do a lot of traveling, but rather to say that I think it is a lot more appropriate when there is more homogeneity in salary. I do think it crosses over into bragging, or at least rude behavior, if you are talking about something that most / many of your colleagues can’t afford.

          I also 100% agree that making anyone feel bad about the fact that they haven’t travelled extensively would be greatly inappropriate. Fortunately, I’ve never seen this happen at our company, as it is fairly mixed in terms of class: there are many people (including me) who were lucky to be able to do a lot of traveling as a kid, but there are also a lot of people who grew up fairly (or, in at least a couple cases, very) poor and got a tech degree to gain upward mobility. To be fair though there are very few people who have transitioned from a blue collar background.

    4. your favorite person*

      regarding topics of conversation:

      I work in an office that is small, but the difference in the pay of the management team (which is actually reasonable for the amount of experience) and the office workers is stark in some cases. At a lunch out, one of my workers mentioned that she had to wait to go Christmas shopping until black Friday and she was dreading it. My manager asked why she couldn’t just go earlier? Her answer was that we get paid on Friday. She, like any others, lives pay check to paycheck and can’t just go Christmas shopping whenever. He’s been in management so long with a dual family household I think he forgot how many people live like that.

    5. Ammonite*

      Also regarding travel, if your office asks you to bring in your passport as an alternate form of ID for HR purposes and you don’t have one, things get awkward.
      This happened to me when I didn’t have a passport because I had never been able to afford to leave the country. The HR guy had to work pretty hard to dig up the list of other acceptable IDs to act as a back-up to the driver’s license because they had never had someone who wasn’t able to bring in a passport. It was uncomfortable for everyone and really gave me a gut punch of imposter syndrome.
      For the record, a social security card or birth certificate will also work.

      1. CMart*

        I had the reverse scenario happen – for my restaurant jobs they would ask for a social sec card or birth cert to accompany a DL or state ID and (since I had gotten a passport to go on a mission trip with my church as an older teen) I would just bring my passport instead. It covered all the criteria and meant I only had to bring one important document with me instead of several. At every single job they had to do some digging/call corporate to find out if a passport was acceptable.

      2. Batman*

        That’s really interesting. I’ve always brought in my Social Security card as a backup ID when that’s been needed and I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to provide a Passport. I don’t know why they wouldn’t just automatically provide a list of alternate IDs or ask for a social security card from the start. Huh. I’m sorry you had to deal with that, but I also think their reaction was odd.

      3. bonkerballs*

        I just have to say, that was a very poor HR person you had to deal with. First off, the list of acceptable ID is part of the I-9 form (I think it’s page 2). Second, if he didn’t have that page, one simple google search would have pulled the information right up. No reason at all for him to have made you feel uncomfortable or like you were doing something wrong because you didn’t have a passport. I’m side-eyeing him pretty hard on your behalf.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Exactly. And he must have been awfully sheltered himself if he’d never come across someone who didn’t have a passport.

        2. Clisby*

          Me too. I know a lot of people (middle class, even!) who don’t have passports. It doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t *afford* to travel outside the country – they might just have no desire/plans to travel outside the country. This is in the U.S. – it’s a little harder to imagine someone in Europe not having a passport.

          And seconding the I-9 thing. Nowhere does it say you need a passport; it’s just that a passport (because of what you’ve already had to provide, like SSN and birth certificate) is a shortcut.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            A lot of people in the US could theoretically afford international travel, but don’t have enough time off to make it worthwhile.

  24. C3PO*

    I struggled a lot with professional dress, and found the Church of Latterday Saints dress code for women missionaries surprisingly helpful. They are modest, professional, and explained in a lot of detail. They also have a lot of examples. For clarity: I’m not LDS, though I have friends who are. I just found it helpful to have things spelled out.

    1. Chinookwind*

      I just visited the site and it is spot on for a guideline on how to dress professionally when you don’t know where to start and wish I had seen this a decade ago when I moved to white collar (and when I went to work in Japan). It strikes a balance so people can focus on your work and not on your body without it feeling like you are being modest to be counter-cultural or overly religious.

    2. Joielle*

      This is really good! I clicked the link expecting clothes that were more… obviously religious, I guess? Once you get more comfortable with office fashion you can probably branch out a bit, but for conservative, safe business casual outfits, this seems like a great guide.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Yeah, my hackles were already up a bit when I clicked, but that was surprisingly not overtly “churchy”. Actually a decent guide for this!

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Right! I thought, not only is that actually a pretty safe guide, but there was a lot more diversity in their models than I had been expecting. (The hairstyles example page has a Black woman with – twists? I think? Definitely a style far closer to natural than I’d have expected to see encouraged, at least.)

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yes, I was happy to see twists and one that looks like it could be a cute little afro puff. Noticeably missing – “white girl” curls. But this was a surprisingly good guide, if a bit on the casual side for many offices.

        2. Elysian*

          I was also pretty surprised with the diversity of their models! Yet they still recommend white or cream bras – I don’t know if that is part of their religious garb, or if they’ve ignored the fact that white/cream isn’t “skin tone” for everyone.

          1. AnonFormerMissionary*

            The first one! The religious underclothing is white, so a skin tone bra would stand out to some degree no matter what your skin tone happens to be.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              That’s not how colors work though. If you’re wearing white under white, the bra will stand out compared to your skin if the fabric is see-through in anyway or gets wet or if the light hits it wrong or whatever (this is why skintone bras are recommended under white clothes—white bras can sometimes show through).

              If you’re wearing the skintone bra over your underclothing, that seems … inefficient(?) but then the white bra makes sense.

          2. Student*

            Religious garb. The ritual underclothing they wear is all white, with certain exceptions for serving members of the military, so bras that aren’t white or cream look really weird, particularly when they’re worn over the undershirt. (Which, yes, is a thing but it’s complicated…)

    3. ket*

      The one thing that cracks me up is that they explicitly forbid pantsuits. Hah!

      “Dress slacks and skirts should not be transparent, revealing, casual, wrinkled, sloppy, or faddish. Do not wear floor-length skirts, pantsuits, or baggy or skinny-style slacks.”

    4. caryatis*

      The Mormons have a real thing about shoulders, though. Because their magic undergarments cover the shoulders, they consider any bare arms immodest. That isn’t really a rule that applies to office environments, unless you’re in a super-conservative environment.

      1. Punctuality is key*

        I would say it certainly helps to err on the side of NO exposed shoulders when you are new to the white collar world or a new environment. Having fully covered shoulders reduces your chances of having an exposed bra strap.

      2. Ammonite*

        I agree with Punctuality is key- especially when you’re new and haven’t developed an eye for appropriate or not, erring on the side of no shoulders is a good guideline that’s difficult to mess up.

      3. Old and Don’t Care*

        Yeah, I have a personal no armpits at the office rule. And no sleeveless is certainly not uncommon office dress code.

    5. Punctuality is key*

      Yes. Although I hate the look of a low-cut shirt with a tank top or t-shirt under it. I live in Utah and a big pet peeve of mine is people coming to work in strapless dresses over a …white t-shirt…. why??????????????

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I mean… a lot of people just like layering. And others find shirts they like that are too low-cut for work, but are otherwise appropriate. But a STRAPLESS dress over a t-shirt? Yeah, I’ve never seen that, and I don’t think I want to.

        1. Frustrated.*

          Certainly the tank top under the shirt works well for a lot of people. I personally don’t like it which is really irrelevant to the whole conversation haha. It’s not an unprofessional look.

          1. Slartibartfast*

            I often have to do this because I am high waisted with small shoulders, so necklines tend to droop more on me than they normally would. Camis and tanks are easier/cheaper than shoulder alterations.

        2. Iris Eyes*

          Don’t think strapless formal dress more like sundresses. And even if they are spaghetti straps I’ve seen many layered with a fitted solid t-shirt under. Not in Utah but the Plains and not abnormal.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I wasn’t picturing a formal dress, but even a casual strapless dress over a t-shirt seems bizarre to me. A sundress with spaghetti straps over a t-shirt, sure, I see that all the time and it’s A Look. But strapless? Not around here.

            1. Liane*

              I remember a tee underneath being required for sundresses at my high school in late 70s, early 80s. It was also a popular look when my daughter was in high school a couple years ago. I told her, “Tee with a sundress was unfashionable when I was your age, probably because it was A Rule and 70s teens also hated rules.”

      2. wittyrepartee*

        Yeah, they should go with something a little more matching for the strapless dresses.

    6. Student*

      For the record, sister missionaries weren’t allowed to wear pants when working until earlier this year, so I’d classify the dress code as *very* conservative. Which is probably helpful when you’re in that sort of office environment, or if you want to err on the side of caution.

      The one place this really diverges from normal office wear is in long dresses. Ankle-length is not really appropriate in offices–it’s either associated with a really casual maxi-dress look or it just looks odd. The skirts they choose are also a little on the long side. I would subtract about four inches off them–you want to go knee length, not mid-calf.

    7. Liane*

      I bookmarked it simply because it’s high time I did some wardrobe updating/replacing & I liked many of the looks. I wasn’t as surprised as some here about the content as I have had close friends who were Mormon.

      (But I don’t think we should call the undergarments “magic.” Would we call any other garment associated with a religion “magic”?)

      1. Liane*

        I also looked at the section for elders (men). In case any men want to know if this might be a resource for them:

        I was not surprised, but very slightly amused (doesn’t take much to amuse me), that there were How To’s for tying ties and ironing dress shirts here.

        In my opinion, the men’s examples are much, much more conservative than the women’s (e. g. white dress shirts, all hairstyles are very short–what I think of as circa 1950s-60s). So not as useful for men, except maybe in a very conservative field in a very conservative locale.

    8. DCR*

      I was skeptical, but found it surprisingly accurate for the casual end of business casual. But almost all of the looks would’ve been too casual for my office, which is closer to the business end of business casual.

  25. MaureenSmith*

    A lot of it comes down to personal freedom and responsibility. There are differences in dress, although that’s always tricky to navigate, language and cursing. I heard way more cursing when I worked for a plumbing contractor than I do now in an office.

    White collar
    – Personal time management, no one is going to monitor your start/end time or how much time you take for lunch.
    – Deadlines – you are expected to meet them. No matter what. Including (likely exempt) unpaid overtime
    – Sometimes expected to work and answer emails when out of the office, nights, vacation, sick
    – Work from home may be available

    Blue collar
    – Set schedule, you know your shift, lunch, breaks, etc
    – Work is done and left behind when you leave
    – Lots of pressure / incentives to be at your shift every time, no vacation, sick days, etc
    – Often a more repetitive or physical component to the work
    – May be a uniform required or provided, possibly PPE

    As to a better name, I’d call it physical work and intellectual work. Physical including front facing customer service. i.e. does the job require you to be present at a specific location and time or not? Not including meetings.

    Even within the blue collar / white collar there are many different (unwritten) corporate cultures. The corporate culture at your job will NEVER match that of your parents. Which leads to many conflicts and bad advice. Not sure how to fix the parents.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Ooh, I don’t think those names are better. Actually, I think they are worse because they imply that people doing physical work are stupid and that is far from the case.

      Physical vs Mental might be better though I’m not sold on it.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Physical/mental still strikes me as being a euphemism for the physical/intellectual distinction, and I 1000% agree with you that positioning “intellectual” work as something in opposition to blue collar work strongly implies that folks doing blue-collar work are stupid.

        Maybe I’m just sensitive about this, but my partner is a machinist – it’s a skilled trade, pays well, but you get into it via an apprenticeship usually rather than going to college, so people make a lot of assumptions about his intelligence because of that. And I will never forget the friend who, when we first got together, sincerely and in all honesty asked me if I was sure I could be happy with someone who wasn’t as smart as me. Let’s not encourage that mindset.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Oh, yeah, I totally agree. Physical and non-physical would probably be the best option.

          Skilled labor is seriously undervalued in our society.

            1. Dan*

              I realized that I should clarify what I meant here – I’m laughing because in my comment immediately below Detective Amy Santiago’s I used the exact same phrase, “Physical and non-physical” to describe the difference

        2. Dan*

          I think that many many blur collar jobs involve far more talent and skill than many white collar jobs. There are many white collar jobs that are essentially mindless whereas there are many blue collar jobs that are a trade that one hones and ultimately becomes a master over throughout ones life. I am a programmer, which is sort of the epitome of a white collar job, but I actually think of it as being similar in some ways to a trade in the sense that I consider myself to be an expert and someone always striving to further master a specific skillset.

          That being said I do think that the divide for what we consider blue collar vs white collar does tend to be along the lines of whether the job involves physical labor or not. So physical vs mental may be inaccurate because that implies blue collar jobs don’t involve using the mind, which is untrue. But an accurate description is probably something like physical vs non-physical.

        3. twig*

          I had a long argument with a roomate once over whether or not “cabinet maker” was skilled labor (she called it unskilled — let’s see HER build cabinets from scratch with no training)

          The crazy thing about this is that she was talking about HER OWN GRANDFATHER

            1. Kat in VA*

              Many folks think the trades are not skilled labor.

              After watching my son’s best friend’s video executing a perfectly clean, symmetrical, footlong join using a MIG welder, I’d beg to differ.

              A lot of the trades require a TON of knowledge AND experience. Just ask my husband (former electrician). Just because it involves physical labor doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take time, practice, and expertise!

      2. Washi*

        Yeah, physical and occupational therapists do a lot of physical tasks, but I would classify that as a white collar job. Telemarketers do very little physically, but those are usually more blue collar jobs. And is an electrician’s work physical or intellectual? I would say both. I know what MaureenSmith is trying to get at, but I don’t think you can divide it that cleanly and any efforts to do so end up implying that blue collar workers don’t use their brains at work.

      3. Zeez*

        Physical vs. Mental (or Intellectual) sort of seems like it’s overly centered on male-dominated view of this type of work… Non-physical customer service jobs like working in call centers usually have more in common with retail work than other office jobs, but it’s definitely mental not physical.

      4. nonegiven*

        DH used to do way more physical work and only a little desk work. Over the years, at the same job, his duties have flip flopped around to being on a computer all day, most days. Starting out, when he was doing more physical work on most days, he would complain about how tired he was after spending all day on a computer, every time he had to do it.

    2. hayling*

      My department is the opposite about deadlines‚ a lot of them are squishy. It drives me crazy!

    3. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      I’ve heard it called “knowledge work”, but I think “office work” would be more appropriate.

    4. BethRA*

      I’m not a fan of “physical work and intellectual work” either – my father used to fix industrial printing machinery, and his job required a lot more knowledge, intellect and problem-solving ability that a number of the “white collar” gigs I’ve had.

  26. Clawfoot*

    My best advice: if you’re just starting your first office job and your office has “casual Fridays,” keep to your normal work wardrobe until you’ve seen a couple of Casual Fridays and know what’s expected. I (and others I know) who went from blue- to white-collar heard “casual Fridays means you can wear jeans” and at first thought, YAY we can be comfy and wear our weekend attire! Jeans and t-shirts! Sneakers!

    Nope. “Casual Fridays” often means you may wear clean, well-fitting jeans in good repair (no baggy jeans and/or jeans with holes in them and/or jeans with stains on them and/or jeans with frayed hems and/or etc.), paired with STILL BUSINESS CASUAL TOPS, such as blouses and nice shirts.

    In some offices, it will be okay to pair those nice, crisp jeans with clean sneakers, and some places will still expect “office shoes.” Know your office, and skip a few Casual Fridays until you get a handle on what others are wearing. Every office is different.

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      Currently my office is filled with collegiate pride tops and jerseys of whoever is playing The Big Game that weekend, men and women.

      In the early 00s I worked in a BigLaw office where on casual Friday… the men would just not wear their tie. Althought, some men would wear their earring! Hilarious!

      So yes. I agree with you.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Yeah, it really varies, and changes over time. I’m now seeing *cargo shorts* at my office (but only on men… hmmm). There’s no way those would have been ok a decade ago.

      1. An Anonycat*

        My office has been getting steadily more casual over my (admittedly long) time there. It’s not uncommon to see nice jeans any day of the week now, or tunics/dresses with leggings, but I still remember my old supervisor tut-tutting at me for wearing cropped jeans—not capris, just slightly short jeans—on a casual Friday years ago.

        1. TiffanyAching*

          I’ve seen this at my office too! When I first started a few years ago, it was business formal during the week, and you could wear black or dark wash jeans on Fridays with a business-y shirt. But last year I noticed both my boss and her boss both wear medium-wash jeans in the middle of the week! So I’ve enjoyed the added flexibility in my work wardrobe.

    3. Former Borders Refugee*

      My first office job had casual fridays, and I ASKED what that meant. I was told “oh, you know. Anything goes.”

      Yeah, anything did NOT go. That was 22 years ago, and I’m still cranky about it.

    4. Kat in VA*

      Even if you diverge from the way you normally dress, some people will take note…and comment.

      I usually dress “up” for our office, which is technically business casual but people come in wearing everything from jeans/t-shirts/sneakers all the way to suits (engineers vs execs) and a little bit of everything in between. I tend to wear more business professional clothes (suits, slacks with heels and blouses, etc.) because I spent a ton of money on business clothes when I was looking to get back into the workforce and quite honestly, I want to get the use out of the clothes. I also expected to land somewhere relatively conservative because I’m in the DC area and a whole lot of companies here are government or extremely corporate.

      So after a particularly trying week, I opted for jeans, sneakers, a blouse, and a long cardigan on a Friday…which prompted a flood of commentary of “You look like a college kid” (I’m almost 50) to “Wearing our pajamas today?” and other remarks which, while made good-naturedly enough, made me realize that people had me in a certain mindset of “Kat always dresses very professionally” and it was a glaring change for me to dress the way a whole lot of OTHER people in the office dressed all through the week.

      I might wear sneakers tomorrow. It’s been…a trying week. :P

  27. Punk Ass Book Jockey*

    My biggest struggle was figuring out what constituted reasonable pay and benefits, and I still struggle with negotiating those things. At my first job, I had no sick days and earned five days of vacation only after working for a full year. I complained about it to my parents (both blue collar workers who live in a rural, economically disadvantaged area) and they basically shrugged and told me to suck it up because that’s just how it is, and I should be grateful to have a job. My dad was actually a little angry that I felt entitled to more PTO. I was young and it was my first professional position, so I believed them. I think if I told them I negotiated for more vacation days and a higher salary at my current job, they’d be horrified. This could be a generational or regional difference more than a blue vs. white collar thing, but my parents’ mindset is definitely that asking for more than what is offered looks greedy, and in the case of asking for more PTO, looks like I don’t want to work.

    1. Punk Ass Book Jockey*

      I just want to add that all of these comments point to how important mentors are for recent grads. I had a wonderful coworker at my last job who literally sat down with me and taught me how to negotiate for a raise and increased responsibility. He’s still the person I turn to when I need advice.

    2. Lucy Honeychurch*

      My parents are the same way. Not having any tips or basis on any aspect of negotiation has been a huge barrier for me, even now after 20+ years in the workplace.

      Example: With one of my first jobs, I was quite underpaid, objectively, according to industry standards but I liked many things about the job so I dealt with it. After my first year there, the big boss sat me down for my review and asked me about a raise and “what do you think you should get?” Well, I was proud of myself for being prepared so I had a number in mind, based on the research I did. It was on the low side, even. She came back to me and offered me HALF that. I realized later, “Ooooh, this is a GAME. I should have said a much *higher* number and then she would have come down to the number I REALLY wanted and I would have been happy.” Instead, I was hurt and felt resentful and not valued.

      Being taught that you “kiss the butt of the employer and be happy to have a job at all costs” is a detrimental mindset, that is for sure.

  28. Sunflower*

    My mother worked in a small office in insurance and my dad was a truck driver/delivery guy. Neither went to college

    The biggest thing was my parents kind of assumed all white collar work places were the same and had the same cultures. It was assumed an office would be quite formal and you were expected to act that way. To add to the difficulty of that, no one TELLS you how to act when you get there or before you start. Sure you can ask questions and get a feel but no one tells you ‘oh btw, everyone eats lunch at their desk’ until you’re the only person sitting in the break room. Or the fact that 99% of policies are not actually adhered to.

    Networking- My parents understand the concept of connections and knowing someone to get your foot in the door but they told me it was all purely focused on your existing connections. They have no idea that people go to events to meet people in their industry that could lead to something in the future.

    College degrees were thought to be specific and you HAD to do that after college. My mom was really nervous when I said I didn’t want to work in my degree area (hospitality). She didn’t know how many people don’t work in the same area they received their Bach in.

  29. Kelly L.*

    Yes! And the restroom. In lots of office jobs, no one cares if you get up to use the restroom. Or maybe they might just want you to holler “BRB” so they know you’ll be gone for a few minutes. But you don’t have to ask for permission or wait until a scheduled time. (There are coverage situations where this isn’t the case, but in general.)

    1. Kelly L.*

      This was supposed to be a comment to The Original K’s comment about not monitoring your time.

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

      Maybe it’s just me/my personality, but (barring coverage issues) it has never even occurred to me to ask a boss/manager/supervisor for permission to use the restroom, nor have I hesitated to just go when I needed to, no matter what kind of job I had (including retail and telemarketing.) I honestly find the idea of doing so totally baffling. If necessary, I will TELL someone I am going to the restroom, but ASKING? What for?
      I am an ADULT, not a preschooler. I can use my own judgement as to decide whether or not I should go or wait, if it’s a good time to stop what I’m doing or if it’s slow enough that I can dash off. Even if it’s a situation where I need to ask for coverage or double check that I’m not urgently needed right at that moment, I don’t phrase it as “can I go?” but as “I need to go, can someone cover me?” or “if no one needs me right this sec, I’m going to the restroom!”

      In high school, we had to have a hall pass if we were not in class- so I’d ask for THAT “so I can use the restroom”, rather than asking permission to GO. If any teacher had made a stink about it (telling vs asking) I am 100% sure my parents would have backed me up all the way, and with the same reasoning- that I was old enough to decide on my own when I get to pee.

      I’ve only had one boss ever say anything- and that was only after he went to a big management training thing where they learned how to manage different (and possibly conflicting) personalities and one of the things he learned was (paraphrased from 20 yrs ago) that there are ASK people and TELL people, and that I was a TELL person, and after he learned that, he wasn’t annoyed by my being a TELL person anymore. (And honestly, he was a nice enough dude, but I really think it bugged his MAN ego far more than his MANAGER ego that I didn’t defer to him on that. Too bad!)

  30. Exceler*

    There’s some interesting sociological research about differences between people raised in working class vs upper-middle class families and one big difference is how comfortable people feel questioning or pushing back on directives from authority figures. It’s common for kids from working class families to be discouraged from questioning something that their teachers and other adults told them to do, but kids from upper-middle class families are encouraged to express their opinions and contribute ideas. As a person from a working class family, I found this hard to get used to when I started working professional jobs. In my first few jobs, I never questioned my boss, even if what they were telling me to do didn’t make sense. It took time for me to feel comfortable saying things like, “Actually, I think it would be more efficient if we did it this way.”

    1. DaffyDuck*

      This! Also, my parents saw any self-promotion as “bragging” although if others did it that was OK, because OF COURSE, others were excellent at what they did. It was a great surprise that putting your head down, working hard, and never, ever, asking for anything does not lead to the boss thinking she should promote you/give you a raise.

      1. anon for this*

        Yes! My dad told me numerous times that I was “too big for my britches” when I was simply proud of something that was challenging but turned out well.

    2. Jamie*

      This is exactly the point I was trying to make below, I wish I’d read this first and it would have saved me the typing.

      My dad was upper management in a large world-wide company and I now think this is why I was never particularly intimidated by management. They wouldn’t question authority where I would give candid feedback when asked and would question (professionally) when something didn’t make sense to me.

    3. Asenath*

      I think this must vary by group. I’m never quite sure in my case what comes from where, since my own background in recent generations is mixed – partly middle class (think teacher, for example) and partly working class (think mechanic). And I grew up in a very small town where there were some social divisions but everyone went to the same school, bought in the same stores and so on. But when I think of questioning or challenging, I don’t see a class difference. My own family might have been an outlier- we were encouraged to question things – but others questioned things too. Sometimes there were different methods….a generation later, if something wasn’t going well at school, the police officer, nurse or doctor might set up an appointment with the principal. The cleaners, labourers and maybe the skilled workers might organize a boycott of the school, complete with a demonstration and calls to the media. Of course, there are people who do not question teachers or doctors or other people in authority. I know some of them. But they come from the same general backgrounds as people who do – either by polite meetings, consultations with lawyers, or launching a public campaign.

      1. Batgirl*

        I come from a very unionised working class background; that’s still a hindrance when learning how to be collaborative or push back professionally in an office environment. Even when office relationships are just as combative you have to smile and play nice.
        My parents listened to union guidance and downed tools when they pushed back. You can’t do that without tools! Also, chucking your keyboard to the left and just walking out is not really done.

        1. Asenath*

          The only industry in the town I grew up in was unionized, so that may have been a factor in the local tendency to challenge authority, but I also saw it in other small town – not universally, no, but it was common enough that I tended to think reluctance to challenge authority was more of a personal than a group characteristic – think shyness or timidity or something like that. Now that I think about it there was a story about one of the churches – more or less mainstream Protestant – which got a new minister who apparently had previously been in the type of community and church that treated the clergy as one step down from God. The choir did a walkout before he moderated his approach to suit the local congregation! I wish I knew the details of how he managed to provoke what was essentially a strike by an all-volunteer choir.

    4. Batman*

      So, I don’t know if my first professional job was just an outlier or if I was handling things wrong or if the fact that both my immediate boss and our ED were from blue collar backgrounds, but I definitely was penalized for pushing back on stuff or questioning the way things were done. Which is funny because growing up I respected authority and just did what I was told, because that was my personality and to an extent my parents’ personalities (even though I’m from a white collar background). I learned to speak up and challenge things in college because that was rewarded, but then I overdid it when I started working.

      So, even on this, YMMV, tbh. Especially if you’re starting off in a low-level positon like an admin assistant or something.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Actually, your statement is evidence for the thing you’re trying to use it as a counter-example for. You’re from a white collar background, therefore you felt comfortable pushing back at work. The fact that you were penalized doesn’t negate the fact that you did it (and your immediate boss and ED being from blue collar backgrounds may be part of the expectations they had for you—especially if the job was more blue collar than white collar).

    5. anon for this*

      This is consistent with how I was raised. My parents did not go to college and one did not even graduate high school. Over the course of their careers, they had a mix of clerical and technical jobs. I was raised to work hard, keep my head down, don’t draw attention to myself, don’t ask questions, take whatever I was given (and be grateful for it).

      Side note: This is not who I am as a person and it very much does not fit with my education and career aspirations. I am finally in therapy to help with the problems it’s caused me throughout my career.

    6. cncx*

      this has been my experience, i don’t question my bosses (or didn’t until recently). In the same vein, i also wait to be told what to do, which is fine in blue collar (depending on the job) but seen as lacking initiative in white collar in my experience.

  31. Eirene*

    You’re going to get hit with a lot of information during your first week or two, and it’s great (and recommended, of course) to take notes and ask questions – but keep in mind that you will still likely be exhausted when you get home in the evening, even if you’ve been sitting most of the day. Taking in a lot of new rules and policies and procedures while trying to learn an entirely different job than the kind you had before is mentally taxing! So be good to yourself on your off-time.

  32. Lily B*

    This may sound strange, but it was a shock to me to realize that you are not (typically) in constant danger of getting fired at a white-collar job. I had been working in service jobs since I was 14, and bars and restaurants treat their employees as much more expendable. Clocking in five minutes late could actually mean getting fired. I knew someone who had been fired (for something not her fault) just because a customer complained about her to the manager.

    So I took that attitude of fear with me to the corporate world. In some ways, it served me well, but I used to panic over every tiny mistake. If the mistake was larger, I’d straight-up assume I was about to get the axe. It took me a long time to realize that companies invest a lot in hiring you (and want to avoid lawsuits), and unless you do something really egregious, they’re not going to fire you without ample warning. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be diligent, just means you don’t need to be in constant fear of losing your job (unless there is an obvious reason to be).

    1. MsClaw*

      I have a boss now who likes to pull people in and ask ‘are you happy here?’ which is… never NOT going to sound like a threat to me. I know Boss means well, and just wants to make sure I’m not overworked, missing needed support, or planning to jump ship. But that phrasing is so at odds with what I think about the point of work, and just really will always feel like ‘nice gig you’ve got here, it would be a shame if anything happened to it.’

      1. Lily B*

        Totally. And I think this actually speaks to another cultural difference. In the blue-collar world, the point of your job is to make money and provide for your family. White-collar culture talks about work in terms of about personal fulfillment and joy. Which I still think is BS.

        I resigned once from a job where I took on additional responsibilities and after a year or so of that, realized I was making less than market value. Brought it to the attention of my manager, who agreed I deserved a raise and encouraged me to ask Big Boss for it. She said no. Ok cool. A few months later, I got a new job paying me what I’m worth and gave my two weeks notice. Big Boss was shocked and calls me into a meeting asking me why I resigned, saying she had no idea I wasn’t “happy” there…

        She actually had the gall to tell me “Someday, you’ll realize that work is about more than money.” Had to try not to laugh. She made at least six figures and I was barely making my student loan payments every month. Of course work is about money. Anyone who wants to convince you otherwise either is super wealthy or trying to take advantage of you.

        1. your favorite person*

          ugh. What a privileged position to believe that work isn’t fundamentally about money.

          1. merula*

            I don’t see it that way. I see it as a cultural belief of a certain class that can actually cause quite a bit of harm. It’s related to “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”, where “work” is always negative and “passion” is positive.

            My company had a speaker series where one of the panel questions was “what would you do if you didn’t have to work?”, which was then carried forward into the small-group discussion after the fact. Not one of the panelists listed non-paid work in their answer. I was an outlier at my table for saying that if I didn’t need to work for pay, I wouldn’t.

            I see this also with my college friends who spent their 20s pursuing their (extremely competitive, not well paying) “passions”. They told me “I could never work in an office, that’s so boring, I’d be homeless first”. It’s their lives, they can live how they want, but now in their mid-30s they’re entering office work as entry-level employees, and finding that it’s not as boring as they thought and allows them the resources to pursue their passions on the side.

    2. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      Oh yeah, definitely. I think this can be one of the big ones actually. As you say, it can be useful – the dread of getting fired can be strongly motivating – but at the same time, it can also be problematic. I’ve seen it a few times, and experienced it myself – the panicky ‘I screwed up, I’m going to get fired’ feeling leading to a ‘Here’s why it’s not my fault’ response.

      It’s more useful to remember that your employer probably does NOT want to fire you (if you’re still in your probation period and the mistake is large, or it’s a pattern of mistake, then maybe; beyond that, they’ll probably give you plenty of warning). So when something goes wrong, odds are, your bosses care less about who’s to blame and more about a) how to fix it and b) how to prevent it happening again, if there’s a danger of that. And at least in a well-functioning office, there’s more of an assumption that everyone involved is both honest and competent, so when someone asks you a question, they’re probably not accusing you of anything. Reacting to someone pointing out your mistakes (in private) as though it’s a personal attack, or as though you need to defend yourself, is probably just going to annoy them, when they’re probably just trying to help you learn.

      1. Southern Yankee*

        Also – a “here’s why it’s not my fault” response will likely do more damage than the original mistake, especially if you do it a lot. It will often be seen as a failure to take responsibility and learn from the mistake. I can sometimes tell the difference between “fear of being fired” and “no big, not my problem”, but not always.

  33. Seifer*