using a heating pad for cramps at work, secretly recording a bad boss, and more

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

1. Can I use a heating pad for cramps at work?

I am the only woman working full-time at a small company (we have one other woman on staff who, after a successful internship, was hired part-time). For what it’s worth, my boss is very conservative and not always very respectful of women. My coworkers are much more understanding, although since I’m the first full-time female employee, I think there’s been some “getting used to.”

When it comes to my “time of the month,” I typically take Advil for cramps. It helps, but today I’m working from home and have found that a heating pad has made me so, so much more comfortable on a day I’d otherwise feel bloated, cramped, bogged down — and therefore less productive.

Is it appropriate to bring a heating pad to work? Space can be cramped so I worry about people tripping on a cord, and I’m also not sure if it’s “professional.”

Bring the heating pad. Use it freely. If anyone comments or asks about it, reply matter-of-factly, “I’m having some pain it’s helpful with.” The more matter-of-fact you, the better. Ideally people will take their cues from you. (Jerks won’t, but you shouldn’t deny yourself reasonable pain relief because of the potential for a jerk.)

I don’t want to discount your very understandable concerns about being The First in this office. When you’re the only woman, doing things that emphasize gender can feel weird and even ill-advised. But they employ women now, and the best way for them to start getting used to the occasional heating pad or bottle of Midol is for you to present it as an utterly normal, unremarkable fact of life.

2. Secretly tape-recording a bad boss

What do you think of the idea of recording a boss’s inappropriate behavior, if you’re in a one-party consent state for recording? This is in reference to a horrible boss who talks down to you, uses a ridiculing tone, mocks you, etc. I have heard of companies agreeing with the inappropriateness of a boss and then firing you for recording them.

In most cases it’s not a good idea. In a vacuum, outside of the workplace norms that we’re actually dealing with, sure — it might seem like a straightforward way to demonstrate a problem to people who otherwise might doubt how bad things really are. But within the workplace norms we actually have, secretly recording at work is nearly always going to be considered a huge deal. It opens up all sorts of concerns about confidentiality and legal liability — are you going to leak info to the press? Are you recording trade secrets or other proprietary information? Etc. It’s absolutely something that could get you fired.

The other thing is, much of the time the reason your employer isn’t dealing with your bad boss isn’t because they don’t know there’s a problem. Often they do know, and they’re not dealing with it for other reasons — they suck at addressing problems, they don’t want to deal with firing and re-hiring, they value something the bad manager is bringing more than they value the people working for said boss, or so forth. In those cases, a recording won’t help and can turn your own actions into the focus.

3. Shouldn’t a recruiter be … recruiting me?

I have a job I quite like right now but I’m technically a temp through a third party instead of working outright for the company. Recently I got an email from a recruiter at a big tech company in a city it is my long-term goal to move to. They asked if I was interested in a role that I seem well qualified for, so I said yes. They followed up with, “Okay, here’s the link to apply.” I thought that was a little bit of an odd request but maybe just a formality, but why talk to a recruiter directly if you also have to fill out 15 minutes worth of online application? Today I got another email that that role has been internally filled, but a manager for another similar role wants to have a phone call with me. I say, sure, happy to talk to them, and I get back a whole new list of questions they want answered before I talk to the hiring manager. It includes questions like, “Why are you interested in working at Company X?” and I have no idea how to answer that appropriately because the answer is, “I dunno, man, you’re the one who expressed an interest and I’m skeptical but willing to hear you out so, you tell me.”

My general rule is to always do interviews when people reach out to me but I’ve never had someone directly solicit me for a job and then turn around and ask me these sorts of questions. How do I best navigate this situation?

Yeah, this is a recruiter who doesn’t know what they’re doing. If they reach out to you, they should have at least a phone conversation with you before asking you to jump through any hoops, so that you can figure out if you’re even interested in investing your time in pursuing the job. And even then, a good recruiter will minimize the hoops, knowing that they’re going after you rather than the other way around. This sounds like a recruiter who (a) isn’t very good at their job and (b) may not be wooing you so much as just drumming up applicants.

It’s perfectly reasonable for you to say to them, “This looks like a questionnaire for someone who sought out the job on their own. In my case, you approached me and I don’t know enough to know if I’m interested yet, although I’m happy to talk with you or the hiring manager to learn more.” If the recruiter seems surprised, you can spell it out: ““I’m not actively looking to leave my current job. I’m happy here. I’m open to talking since you approached me, but I’d want more information before spending time filling out applications.”

4. Attending conflict resolution training with a horrible coworker

My company’s HR wants us to attend an all employee conflict management training so we “learn how to navigate difficult situations.” We’re broken up into groups, but I’m in a session with the one person who causes the majority of my department’s problems (and who we frequently butt heads with). He is AWFUL and our team’s conflicts with him are well known (but his management won’t do anything about it – a whole other letter).

We are required to fill out a form stating what our biggest issue at work is, what the impact on my work is, and what I want to happen or change. The format and examples were less like the letters answered here on AAM and more like the “personally victimized by Regina George” scene in Mean Girls.

For context, our HR department is a very new department, at a company with 500+ employees. HR also once thought it was a good idea to have us write feedback to management on a poster in the lobby during an all employee meeting.

How can I successfully navigate this session and make the most out of it without it becoming the dumpster fire it likely will be?

I’d ask exactly how your feedback is going to be used before you fill out that form. Will it be shared with your group? Will it be anonymous? What exactly is the process here? If you don’t get answers you’re comfortable with, I’d write that you’re not comfortable with the process and are declining to participate, and perhaps that you’ve shared concerns with management in the past that haven’t been acted upon.

If you think you’ll be penalized for that approach, then you could instead answer the question honestly but vaguely. For example, your biggest issue at work might be “lack of management action on personnel issues.”

But you’re not required to play these games just because they want you to. And your goal doesn’t need to prevent it from becoming a dumpster fire; if that happens, that’s HR’s to deal with, and sometimes natural consequences are the best message.

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Meetings that keep running over our scheduled time

A few months ago, I started working closely with a team within my company (I’m in a different department), and I’ve discovered that most of the team members of this group have the habit of completely blowing past the scheduled end times for meetings. This isn’t a case of “meetings tend to run over by 10 minutes.” Very recent examples are a couple of 30-minute meetings that each ran over an additional 45 minutes, and staff meetings that regularly run over by an hour or more. If I have another meeting to go to, then it’s fairly easy to get up/hang up and leave. But if I don’t have a hard stop, then staying until the bitter end really cuts into my time to get to other priorities.

I’m not under any illusion that I can change the culture of this team single-handedly, but in the absence of that how can I set effective boundaries and possibly influence their behavior? I could say I have another obligation (even if that obligation is just getting back to work), but I might miss something important or my input might still be needed. I’m upper-middle management and do have some general authority but none of these people work for me. I try to lead by example and end on time if it’s my meeting. When I do that I’ve gotten positive feedback thanking me and telling me that I’m one of the few that ends meetings on time, but it doesn’t change anyone else’s behavior.

The overall culture in the rest of the company is to end as close to on time as possible, so it really is just them. Please help!

Two things: First, at the start of each meeting, announce how much time you have. For example: “I have a hard stop at 2:45, so can we make sure we get through anything I’m needed for by then?” (And it’s absolutely fine to base that on needing to get back to your desk to do other work; you’re not required to have another meeting in order to do this.)

Second, consider whether it would make sense to talk about the pattern with someone on that team (either the manager or the biggest offenders) and say something like, “I’m noticing your meetings tend to run over, often by 45 minutes or an hour, and it sometimes blows up other things I need to get to that day. For meetings where I’m needed, is there a way to stick to the scheduled time so I’m not having to duck out mid-meeting?”

But really, just announcing your hard stop at the start of the meeting might enough to nudge people to move through the agenda at a less leisurely pace.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 596 comments… read them below }

  1. Detached Elemental*

    OP1 I work in a male dominated office and occasionally use a heat pack for cramps. If anyone asks I say it’s for back pain. It’s a white lie but it’s effective.

    1. Sleve McDichael*

      There’s no need to lie about it. I used to work in a smelter and if any of the men asked what it was for I would simply say ‘I’ve just got a bit of pain and this helps.’ Most of these men will have a wife, mother, daughter or sister in their lives so they’ll read the subtext and simply say something like ‘Feel better soon!’. None of the hardened maintenance techs batted an eyelid at my flower-patterned wheat pack.

      1. EinJungerLudendorff*

        I think you may be severely underestimating the cluelessness and negative biases of a lot of men around women’s healthcare.
        A suprising number of men just don’t know how periods work, and are disproportionally grossed out by it or underestimating the oain it can cause.

        1. Mel*

          So alarmingly true. I’ve heard comments that range from “utterly ignorant” to “close, but not quite.”

        2. Environmental Compliance*

          Yup. I once worked with a very, very smart man who was apparently an only child, and didn’t date much, because he was incredibly naive about women’s “things”. (There’s a better term. I can’t get it to get off the tip of my tongue.)

          IE, we did field research, and while generally I was 100% down to go pee in the woods because we were out in the absolute boonies, there were Times EC Needed a Real Bathroom. This was a mostly male team (quite often, just the two of us, but about 30% of the time we had a third team member, and it was 75/25 male/female). It just legitimately didn’t click at all, or why sometimes I’d have a bottle of painkillers, or sometimes I’d grab an extra seat cushion. There was Concern That EC Was OK, but the guy did not get the subtle-ish “oh, just happens, just some pain, I’ll be all good in a few days”. *shrug*

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I agree on the men being clueless. I think OP can use the cluelessness to their advantage and just say just having some pain, this will make me feel better. If a coworker tells me they are in pain, I’d say “That sounds rough and I hope you feel better.” But honestly I don’t think my mind would ever go to it must be because of their period. I can’t quite explain why, but at work I’m pretty clueless when it comes to coworker’s periods. Willful ignorance maybe? I just don’t spend that much time thinking about a coworkers (males and females) pain. Now that I think about it, I’m sure some of the times coworkers have complained about pain were related to periods. I say this as a man that has no problem discussing period issues with my partner at length, or buying tampons and pads for her.

            1. A. Lovelace*

              It’s not just men, and it’s not necessarily cluelessness.

              I’m female-bodied and when a female colleague mentions pain I don’t automatically think “Oh, it’s your period!” All bodies feel pain at various times – younger folks sometimes overdo it with sports for example – and it really doesn’t matter the reason for needing painkillers or heating pads.

              I had a hypochondriac asshole colleague a few years ago so I had to find ways of describing things so that it wasn’t going to set him off (the time that I took a sick day because of cramps I just said that I ‘wasn’t feeling well’ so he freaked and pushed me not to come back the second day ‘in case I was contagious’ – self-centered idiot). Thankfully he was old and had pushed his body so hard that it was causing him all sorts of pain, so ‘body pain’ was easily accepted…

              1. AnnaBananna*

                Yep. I have a rice bag that I bring with me (female bodied, in a 90% female team) and microwave the rice bag at work probably two-to-three times a week for various ailments, menstrual or otherwise. And sometimes I use it just as a little mini lab heater in the winter months. I think OP may be overthinking it a bit. If all else fails, bring what I call a ‘cubicle blanket’ and drape it over the heating pad/legs and nobody will be able to know the difference.

                But really, it’s your body and you can alleviate your pain however you want without commentary.

              2. TardyTardis*

                I have crap for hips and before I discovered turmeric, used a wheat thingy to lay on my lap, and I’ll bet you $20 what people *thought* it was for (granted, it did double duty on those days as well).

          2. Jennifer Juniper*

            Yeesh! What did they expect people to do when they have to poop? Hold it? You can’t drop trou outside in the US without being arrested for a sex offense charge and added to a lifelong registry.

            1. A. Lovelace*

              You’ve never pooped in the woods? It’s not something that gets you arrested if you’re in the middle of nowhere…

              (the key is to have a little trowel, to dig a small hole)

                1. Richard Hershberger*

                  Or bring a roll on the trip, which is what I did in my backpacking days. It’s biodegradable, after all, and works a whole lot better than even the most accommodating leaves.

                2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                  I always carry a little pack of tissues when I’m out in the woods. It can be used for multiple purposes.

                  However I will admit that I hate taking a crap outdoors and avoid it when possible. I guess I’m just not that coordinated and I’m always paranoid about getting poop on my socks or something. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

              1. Jennifer Juniper*

                Some hiker could see you, take a pic of your pooping, and upload it to the internet. Next thing, the cops are knocking on your door with an arrest warrant.

                1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                  Highly unlikely. Most other hikers will ask if they can have some of your TP.

                2. A. Lovelace*

                  The world is a big place, so maybe the arrest is a possibility where you (Jennifer Juniper) live, but if this were to happen in my very large country then I think the person in trouble would be the photographer. Then again, the premise is that when someone needs to wander off into the woods to go to the washroom then others know to stay away. One doesn’t go on the hiking trail where one can be seen!

                  I have to admit that I’ve pooped in the woods quite a bit over the years, and I’m amused that someone seems to find it so problematic.

                  In thinking about it – some of our government parks (similar to state parks) have wooden boxes that are the height of a toilet seat, with a toilet-sized hole in them, and they have a lid to keep the seat dry (so one lifts up the lid similar to a toilet seat cover). It’s like a washroom with no walls, so all the local wildlife can see you! So clearly the government is accepting of our woodsy toiletting habits if they don’t have ‘indoor’ options…

            2. Environmental Compliance*

              Excellent question. Apparently, everyone else just…didn’t poop. Was a #1 potty break type only. Alternatively, we just didn’t talk about it. *shrug* We were also literally out in the middle of nowhere, so the likelihood of anyone seeing was slim to none.

              To be fair to Naive Past Coworker, and fair warning, this will be TMI – I had obnoxiously heavy periods, in that I needed to change a tampon every 4 hours at least. So I was needing to head back across the lake to the restroom a couple times a day, which was out of the norm for the team and for me. In his mind, he assumed I was sick, and was concerned that we were out on a boat in a lake and if that was going to be okay and do I need to eat or rest or (panic mode sets in). He did have a good embarrassed laugh at himself after he got a blunt “it’s that time of the month, dude!!” when he asked for the third time that day if I was sure I was okay.

              1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                Ugh, it annoys me when they just don’t understand that people with functioning uteruses (uteri?) need to deal with extra stuff.

                My field is pretty gender equal, sometimes even female dominated depending on the site, but as we’re construction sub-contractors we still have problems getting adequate facilities on site. Even though it’s technically a legal requirement I don’t think I’ve ever been on a site that had sanitary bins, for instance. And of course there was the time that all the men on site threw a fit because we got a separate women’s portaloo…

                1. Jennifer Juniper*

                  After seeing one too many late-night ads for prostate remedies and Viagra, I’m glad I’m a woman. I don’t have to worry about my parts giving out mid-intimacy or glands swelling up so much I’m leaking all night long.

            3. JSPA*

              Sure you can. I mean, you can’t do it in the suburbs, and you don’t flash your tackle into view; but in the backcountry, so long as you’re not too close to a stream, or in an area that’s so overused and protected that you have to pack your poop out, you dig or scuff a hole, crap and cover. What do the girlscouts and boyscouts and campfire kids do these days? Nothing but cookie sales and computers???

              1. Jennifer Juniper*

                I just assumed they camped in areas with outhouses. Kids having to go outside in the open could raise all kinds of liability issues these days regarding child sex abuse hysteria. My country is extremely weird about stuff like that.

          3. Rumbakalao*

            To be fair, I’m a woman and none of those things struck me as “she is definitely on her period right now.” I think you may be making some unwarranted assumptions about other people’s ability to pick up on your coded language.

            1. selena81*

              him being clueless at least sounds much better then when guys assume women’s lives are completely dominated by their periods: the only reason they get sick, making them waaay less productive in the workplace, etc.

              it wouldn’t really occur to me that vague complaints about ‘needing to use the bathroom a lot’ are about *that* (in part because my own periods don’t cause me any pain and i wouldn’t mind switching a tampon in the same outdoor place where i poop)

          4. whingedrinking*

            When I was in junior high school, I was partnered in cooking class with a Japanese exchange student on a day that I had horrifying cramps and no painkillers to hand. He was a very nice guy but between both of us being about fourteen years old and thus generally embarrassed to have bodies at all, plus the language and culture barrier, it was one of the most awkward two hours of my life. He could tell that I was not in a good place but I couldn’t/wouldn’t explain what was wrong; he seemed legitimately afraid that I was dying despite my insisting I was fine. When the teacher finally came over to see what was going on, she took one look at me, looked back at him, and said, “GIRL PROBLEMS!” Thank you, Ms. MacKenzie, I had been so hoping that the day would get more mortifying.

        3. Karen from Finance*

          Agreed. I think that the reason they don’t have much of a reaction may be that some of them may not really have got the hint about the nature of the pain.

          Then again the other day a male coworker walked in on our girl talk about menstrual cups and not only was he not phased, he made a comment like “oh yeah, those are apparently really good right?”. It’s becoming more common to normalize these things thank goodness.

        4. CupcakeCounter*

          This is my dad. Has a wife and 2 daughters and absolutely “nopes” out the second that particular bodily function comes up. Which is weird since my mom works in health care and we regularly had the worlds most inappropriate dinner conversations about necrosis of the liver, testicular and prostate cancer, and random tumors.
          Nothing negative about his feelings though…just cluelessness and the “oh hell no” face
          He also had 2 sisters so its extra weird but their mom (my grandma) was REALLY into gender roles so…

          1. Angus MacDonald, Boy Detective*

            I had a similar experience! I was once taken aside by my mum and told I had accidentally left a pad wrapper out in the bathroom (just the wrapper the clean pad came in) and to be more careful because my dad had seen it and was embarrassed???

            1. Jadelyn*

              The way so many men respond to clean, wrapped menstrual supplies (or just the wrappers from them) simultaneously cracks me up and makes my eyes roll out of my head. It’s a pad! What do you think it’s going to do, bite you?

              Though it does present an intriguing potential for using menstrual supplies to ward off creeps. Just get a tampon out and throw it at him, he should flee the dreaded Womanly Things and hopefully leave you alone.

              1. Ra94*

                I had a housemate when I was a student who was very disgusted that he’d had to empty the bathroom bin and throw out ‘women’s things’ and that it should be a girls-only task. Meanwhile, he brought bedbugs and regularly left rotting food around the kitchen and fridge, but it was our pad wrappers that crossed the line…

              2. Venus*

                Years ago I read about how someone’s cat would bring tampon ‘mice’ as gifts to new male visitors. My initial thought was “Why not put those in a less accessible place?” but I can imagine that it would be a great way of warding off men with no sense of humor!

                1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                  I had a friend years ago whose dog would regularly get into the trash and spread used pads all over the house. I will admit that it grossed me out and I wondered why they didn’t get a bathroom trash can with a lid, or keep the door shut. I’m less squeamish about such things now but it would still gross me out because blood stains things.

                2. Skye*

                  I had a Labrador retriever that would do this when she wanted attention. She would come out with her head hung low knowing what she was doing was wrong. We screwed a mousetrap to the edge of the waste can. The trap activated once, never had the problem again. And, no, she was not hurt by the mousetrap. She was a trained hunting dog that had been snake trained (trained to stay away from the smell or sight of a snake). She understood the message of the mousetrap – stay away.

            2. Valprehension*

              OMG yeah, this reminds me of a friend of mine, whose mother forbade them from keeping a box of tampons under the bathroom sink, because their father might see them there, and I guess he was just too fragile to handle such a sight?

              1. Jennifer Juniper*

                So where was your friend supposed to keep their tampons? Or were they banished to a menstrual hut in the woods every month?

                1. whingedrinking*

                  If menstrual huts were reasonably comfortable and had wifi I’d absolutely be down for that.

            3. TardyTardis*

              This reminds me of when I was home after giving birth, and my husband nearly carried me in his arms to Aisle 8A so I could pick out the pads I needed, though if he had just grabbed a sack of anything that said Super Heavy on it, they would have worked just fine…

          2. KTB*

            Oh, my dad was not nearly that lucky. The dog I grew up with LOVED to pull things out of the garbage and leave the destroyed remains in the living room. As you would imagine with two teenage girls in the house, the dog left monthly “presents” that needed to be cleaned up by the first person who found them. My dad was forced to get over any squeamishness pretty quickly.

          3. Inch*

            Ditto my wonderful, supportive dad, who knew nothing about women’s physical issues and wanted to know less. When we needed a bit of money, my sister and I would exploit this by asking for money to go to the drug store to buy “some things” and when he asked “what things???” we would widen our eyes and go, “Dad! THINGS!!!” And he would hand us some money, no further questions asked. This never ever worked on my mother.

        5. Not Me*

          But as Allison pointed out, the more we (women) present these things as normal and nothing to be grossed out by the more they will be accepted. Pretending it’s a different kind of pain is silly. Simply stating “I have some pain this helps with” is better than telling a lie.

        6. Scarlet*

          I was reading recently on Reddit about a man who used to tell his wife – “periods are caused by negative energy – you just need to eat clean, do yoga, and meditate, then it’ll go away”. Like really dude?!

          Go check out the subreddit r/badwomensanatomy. This type of thinking is so ridiculously common.

          1. Anonya*

            Ohhhh, that makes me ragey. What would that guy say about me, who does all those things, and yet has debilitating cramps 1-2 days each month?

          2. Jadelyn*

            That’s almost as bad as the one I heard about a female staffer working for a male Senator, who had her period abruptly start while she was at work in a briefing with him. She asked to be excused, he said no, can’t it wait, she said no it really can’t, he asked why, so she got frustrated and told him. And apparently he went on a tirade about how women just use periods as an excuse to get out of work, and in the course of the ensuing conversation it came out that he thought women could just “hold it”, like when you need to pee but there’s no restroom around, and were *choosing* to have their periods at work. This poor woman had to give her boss (and Senator!) a lesson in basic menstruation knowledge.

            1. female peter gibbons*

              there was a viral tweet from a young man in Australia or something who said that how dare women question why menstrual pads aren’t paid by the government, because women have no self control, and should just “hold it”.

              1. female peter gibbons*

                another reason why somebody would want to tell a white lie about their period at work, is that some men hold all sorts of judgement about a woman based on that, i.e. “She must be PMSing”. so picture a woman bringing up a valid concern and a certain type of man smirking, “This must be PMS”. Some guys I know keep track of their female significant others’ periods so they know when PMS is oncoming. Sounds like a joke but isn’t….

                1. Not Me*

                  That’s another reason to normalize it and not hide it. They’ll also see the plenty of times she isn’t carrying a tampon to the bathroom but still has valid concerns. Pretending it doesn’t exist so men can keep behaving badly is the worst possible option.

            2. Jennifer Juniper*

              I would have put my hand to my mouth, doubled over, and made retching noises. That would have made them chase me out of the room for fear of being barfed on!

          3. boo bot*

            I mean, if you eat clean, do yoga, and meditate for like 30-45 years, your period WILL go away!

            1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

              Eating junk food and lazing on the couch watching TV for 30-45 years will also make my period go away.

          4. Jennifer Juniper*

            I hope the guy’s wife got rid of a source of negative energy by divorcing this piece of newage (rhymes with sewage). GRRR!

        7. Sleve McDichael*

          EinJungerLudendorff, I’m not from the US so I forget that you have some weird cultural issues around menstruation. Where I’m from if you don’t want to bring it up directly you can emphasise the word ‘pain’ and it’s like you can see the lightbulb go off. If they are squeamish – often with foreigners – then they are usually grateful you didn’t bring it up more directly and give you a ‘Hope it gets better!’ and then bamf out of there before you say any more.

          ***Results will vary by culture, spot test before broad application.***

      2. Chinookwind*

        Ditto hear among the welders. You can even ask our safety guy for midol or other type of muscle pain relief medicine and he will only ask if it is due to a workplace injury (because it happens) and now accepts any answer that clearly means that it is not. The first time the request was made he pushed harder for clarification (because he was used to the guys hiding mild injuries) and our female welder clearly stated the reason. Now it is no longer an issue.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I used to work for an office that was freezing all year round and found that a heating pad on my lap kept me warm nicely, much better than my space heater. If you have any kind of air conditioning you could just say that you’re cold and it helps.

      1. MechanicalPencil*

        Ever since I switched to a heating pad instead of a blanket, I’ve been a much happier soul. And no one ever knows when it’s for cramps or just the office chill because I use the darn contraption every day.

        But frankly, I’d just be upfront. My body hurts. I’m using a heating pad. So those TPS reports…

      2. Dana B.S.*

        I’ve never done this, but I’ve heard about it! No that I’m into the full-on A/C chill season, I might need to try it.

        Overall, I wouldn’t say that this could be your “excuse” when asked – I’d say that because of common uses like this, they may not even ask. Or honestly even notice if the cord isn’t in the way.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      I personally agree with the white lie. I say go ahead and use the heat pad if it makes you feel better, but there’s really no reason to talk about your reproductive system at work. I was trying to think of a male parallel, and the best I could come up with was if a man used a donut cushion for prostate issues. I think in the heating pad or cushion scenario, you’re just kind of clueless if you ask the person what it’s for, but if someone does ask, there’s no reason to give full details to your coworkers.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I guess I feel like there’s no need to lie at all. Nobody’s recommending that the OP start shouting “I NEED THE HEATING PAD FOR MY UTERUS!” But there’s really no need to come up with a lie about a bad back or being cold when non-specific honesty will work just fine. “I’m having some pain today and the heating pad helps” is a non-specific thing that doesn’t require OP to talk about her menstrual cycle with her coworkers, and it also doesn’t require her to come up with an excuse that’s not true.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          This. If they ask for more details then you could matter-of-factly say “oh, the cramps are really bad today” and leave it at that. But pain is both generic and true.

    4. cheese please*

      Being the person who has to constantly explain gendered thing to other coworkers can be exhausting, especially in work places where people can be jerks. Keeping it vague or saying a small white lie until you develop more trust etc with coworkers is fine. OP, don’t feel pressured to do more than what is comfortable. But certainly bring what you need to work to be comfortable and productive :)

    5. lnelson in Tysons*

      I have a heat pad that looks like a mini electric blanket. I use it more for back pain than that time of the month.
      I also joked that as some buildings don’t allow space heaters, rarely do they say anything about heating pads. I get cold quickly, I have used it to warm me up. This particular pad automatically shuts off after two hours, I like that feature.
      The jerk will be a jerk. They always seem to find something to be a jerk about.

    6. Database Developer Dude*

      Why lie? Why is it anyone else’s business why you’re using a heating pad? They shouldn’t even ask.

    7. Chocoholic*

      If you are worried about cords in your office, a nice option is a rice pillow. You can buy these, or they are super simple to make if you sew at all. Just get a rectangle of fabric as big as you want, sew up 3 sides but leave a little space to fill it, and fill with rice, then sew it closed. You can then microwave it for 3-4 minutes and it holds the heat nicely. If you use jasmine rice, it smells nice too.

      1. Arielle*

        I used to sit next to a woman with severe endometriosis and she used one of these almost every day! She said it worked great.

      2. Ama*

        Until I had surgery for my endometriosis a couple years ago my cramps were exceedingly painful, and I also suffered through a bad run where I seemed to hit the worst cramps on a day when I needed to be walking or standing a lot at work events — my secret weapon is the stick-on heating pads that are sold for upper back pain. They fit easily under clothes and really do stay put (I’ve even worn them all day under loose fitting dresses without having them shift or fall off).

        I don’t think OP should be ashamed at all of bringing in a full scale heating pad, but if she either doesn’t want to or wants an option that is a little more transportable, those stick on pads work really well.

        1. CanadaNarwhal*

          I used the stick on heating pads so much when I was in university! So much moving around, and if I just stayed home I’d likely miss something important in class.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          They make stick on heating pads specifically for menstrual cramps. You stick it to the inside of your underwear and it stays warm all day. I use them a lot, and I love them.

          1. not a dr*

            Also jumping on this train! So so so helpful. And you can’t even tell with most clothing.

          2. Allison*

            Seconding as well. I’ve used them both for cramps and for shoulder pain – they come in different sizes and are totally unobtrusive.

      3. Valprehension*

        You can also easily make a small no-sew rice pillow, if you don’t sew at all! Just fill a sock with rice and tie off the end! I usually double-sock mine just to be safe :)

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I say lie if you want to but if you don’t, they can deal with it.

      Don’t ask “why” someone is doing something that’s seemingly for pain relief or comfort if you can’t handle the answer.

      I’ve worked with men my whole life and have trucker/laborer uncles. They have dealt with me being a woman for all this time. If they’re icked out or squirming, good. That’s on them. They wouldn’t pretend not to be in agony if they’re popped in the nuts one day while you’re with them.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        If you want a good laugh, go to YouTube and look for the videos of guys trying period pain. It usually involves one of those gadgets that stimulates muscle contractions.

        I remember one in particular where the guy’s girlfriend tried it first so she could adjust it to the level of her usual cramps. Then he tried it and was pretty much incapacitated. She put the thing back on, and he was like “And you’re standing here talking to me?!” She replied something like “I have to!”

        But honestly, I think this kind of exercise has value – I think it would help if more men really understood (to the extent they can) what it’s like.

    9. Betty Scott*

      There are microwavable heating pads (often used in pet cages) on Amazon that eliminate the need for cords and might make your life easier. We had someone in my workplace use them frequently, they were both convenient and discreet.

    10. jennie*

      Maybe I’m missing something, but maybe just say cramps and change the subject or something. If they are really so horrified, you never SAID they were menstrual cramps and they can pretend you mean muscle cramps. It doesn’t really matter what is causing the cramps.

      1. JSPA*

        These days, I find the back cramps the day(s) before are considerably worse than any regular cramps during. And not so different from a bad muscle strain in general.

        Some workplaces do have an absolute ban on electrical heating appliances, though. So the rice / microwave gel / hot hands chem packs / unscented capsicum ointment options may be safer.

  2. C*

    #1 – Thermacare menstrual wraps – they stick to your underwear & stay hot for 8 hours. No cords. They work great if you are not going to be sitting in one place all day or are at an interview or plane (after security!) or something that you don’t want to bring a hearing pad. They regularly have high value coupons too.

    Also, not everywhere that sells Thermacare wraps sells the menstrual ones. I know Wegmans, Weis, & CVS do. Amazon does but don’t buy them there because their price is exhorbinant compared to the other stores.

    1. Observer*

      I was coming to mention the thermacare pads. I found that the ones for back pain worked quite well too. Yes the shape is not so tailored, but it doesn’t really matter. I mention it, because I found them much easier to find.

      1. Nerdy Library Clerk*

        Oddly enough, I find the back pain ones *more* effective for menstrual pain. Somehow my lower back is the most effective place for the heat to be. (Even though I’m pretty sure my uterus is in the same place most people keep theirs.)

        1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          That’s where most of my pain concentrates, too! It’s because the uterus is contracting to shed the endometrium (like wringing out a sponge), which can radiate to the lower back because it can cut off blood from that area.

          1. Beanie*

            Oh! Anatomy time! A reason for cramping that stems from the back is due to spasming of the psoas major muscle. The psoas is innervated by the same nerves as the uterus, so during our time, crossed nerve signals can cause spasms. If your psoas is really tight (which is common in sitting jobs), the spasms can cause a lot of grief.

            The psoas attaches to the front of the lumbar vertebrae, so this might explain why heat to the back is more effective than the front, as it has better access to the tissues affected. You can actually stretch the psoas by doing a forward lunge, where emphasis on pushing on the hip of the back leg is stretching the psoas.

            For the record, I’m a massage therapist, and I’ve seen this play out a lot. But this is just from experience, every situation is different, so do what works best for you.

            1. Nerdy Library Clerk*

              That would also explain why exercise (as in getting enough) has a huge effect on how bad my cramps are! Curse you, sitting job! (Well, partially sitting, but clearly enough to matter.)
              That’s all very useful to know. Thank you!

              1. TardyTardis*

                I know that exercise really helped mine–when I was doing gymnastics in high school, the daily hour and a half workout toned me like nothing else (being a nontraditional body type it was very good for me), and I barely had cramps (and hardly any colds that winter–who knew that walking home in 12 degree weather with my coat half open after the workout would scare the germs away?). Also, when I was a nurse’s aide dealing with heavy patients, I didn’t hurt that much.

              1. Midge*

                Maybe! Though I think the baby’s positioning can also affect this. I’m under the impression back labor is more common when baby is “sunny side up”. Mine tried to escape kind of ear first, and I had horrible back labor as he started to descend.

                1. TardyTardis*

                  My second rolled over from back to front or whichever during a contraction. That was *memorable*. She really didn’t like those little electrodes…

            2. Tiny Soprano*

              This makes so much sense! Thanks for the lesson, sensei, I knew there had to be a reason for the back pain. *runs off to try that lunge stretch*

        2. Environmental Compliance*

          I should not have giggled so much at the keeping of the uterus statement, but here we are with me snort-laughing to myself in my office.

          1. Zephy*

            I mean, at one point in history, people did believe that the uterus wandered around the woman’s (apparently hollow??) body in search of delicious babies to gestate.

            1. cmcinnyc*

              Yes! The belief was that if you weren’t pregnant, your uterus would get bored, go traveling, and drive you crazy.

              1. Jadelyn*

                I made the mistake of sipping my coffee while reading this comment. Scuse me, I need to go grab some paper towels.

            2. FatCat*

              the word “hysteria” comes from the ancient Greek word for uterus……. and that ol wondering womb would make all the she-folk crazy as Zephy says, hence we get the eternally gendered term hysteria. (Classics scholar here, sorry!)

          2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            It sounds silly, but if you have a tipped uterus, you’d have pain more in your back than your stomach.

            1. SweetTooth*

              Yes! Which is something you might not find out until you’re pregnant or have some sort of health issue where it’s relevant. It’s pretty common, about 1 in 5 women have a tipped uterus.

              1. AKchic*

                I think I would prefer it if my uterus tipped ME for all the trouble it’s caused me. It sure is an overly-friendly creature and I’m tired of dealing with the consequences.

            2. blackcat*

              Yes, I was going to add this comment. Not all uteruses are in the same place. Some are tipped forwards (most common), some backwards (still quite common), and, (rarely) some are tipped sideways. It’s surprisingly common to only have half a uterus, too.
              So what works for someone may not work for someone else.

        3. Observer*

          Depending on the day, I would use them either on the back as officially intended – but I’ve also used them directly on my stomach. In addition to finding them easier to find, it was more convenient to have jus tone kind for both purposes.

        4. Lepidoptera*

          The hormones/signals which tell the uterus to cramp are kind of a crapshoot at hitting their target. Hence why a lot of women get diarrhea on their periods, hormones hit the wrong smooth muscles. This might explain your back pain. You can thank your prostaglandin for being unable to stick stimulating your uterine muscle tissue alone.

          1. VonSchmidt*

            This! Also, you know what blocks prostaglandin? Ibuprofen. My Gyno suggested taking 4 the first day and then 2 every 4-6 hours to keep the pain in check. That first big dose REALLY helped knock down the pain. LIFE CHANGING. Not great if you have reflux though…

        5. Hills to Die on*

          40% of women have cramps or contractions in their back. It’s a common misconception. I was so confused when I went into labor the first time because my back was where all the action was.

          Anyway, I use the patches too and nobody knows a thing.

          1. LaDeeDa*

            This is why doctors tell people with back pain to take Midol- it targets that specific area of the back! Also– use Midol instead of just plain advil. When I made the switched I was kicking myself for suffering through with just advil for 25 years.

            1. Observer*

              Except that Midol changed the formula a number of years ago. So, definitely a “know your own body”, but also, don’t go by the past.

      2. HalloweenCat*

        I used the back pain belts when I had my IUD replaced in the morning but had to go straight to the office. It was a godsend honestly. I was able to hide it under my leggings and it kept the pain dull enough to be manageable. I’m sure with my regular cramps it would have knocked them out completely.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Holy gods, you went to work after having your IUD replaced? I did it on a week I was taking off, and it’s a good thing I did, because I was out of commission for a couple days until the cramping finally stopped. Since I was already off work, I could lay around and play video games and whine about it, I can’t imagine having to go to work and pretend to be a functioning human being.

          1. HalloweenCat*

            It was a Friday so I just had to make it through the day sitting at my desk and then I was miserable and pathetic on the couch all weekend. But I definitely don’t recommend doing that and I definitely couldn’t have done it without the hot wrap

            1. Annabelle*

              For future IUD-receivers: when I first got mine put in, the OBG numbed everything down there (and I do mean everything!). The only pain I felt was the cramp when it was actually inserted into the cervix and some dull pain for the rest of the day. If you’re getting one put in I would highly recommend asking if they’ll do that for you!

    2. Emarellelle*

      I didn’t know these existed!!! My daughter was trying to figure out if she could run the heating pad off of batteries at school. (She was only sort of kidding) I must find these!!

      1. Marika*

        The ones for shoulders/upper back are curved, and they basically fit perfectly under the bellybutton and dipping down to the top of the pubis… They were my lifesaver for over a year when I couldn’t have serious medication because I was breast feeding (hard to hold a hot water bottle and a squirming 9 month old!)

    3. Marzipan*

      I was also coming to mention these. (For people in the UK, look for ‘Cura-Heat’.)

      For environmental reasons, I’m trying to use these less and instead use a hot water bottle/oat bag (I literally have a hot water bottle in a fluffy cover in the office) but they definitely do the job and they’re particularly useful in contexts where you can’t or don’t want to lug a separate pad or whatever around with you. They’re invisible under your clothes and last all day.

      1. Sam Sepiol*

        I’ve seen people in my office wrapped up in blankets with hot water bottles because it was cold. Thought it was slightly odd but never even thought that it might have been cramps, and I’m a woman fwiw.

        1. Kate H*

          I have a heated blanket from the days when my team was located in a constantly-freezing hallway and I’m not the only one. I’m mad at myself for never thinking about bringing in a heating pad for cramps.

        2. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

          I honestly think at least 75% of my office has a warm water bottle at or in their desk (I’m looking at mine right now), for both cramps and cold winter days when the building just won’t get warm.

        3. Environmental Compliance*

          I have 100% used my electric throw blanket as both EC is extremely prone to getting cold and EC has horrible cramps. The guys sometimes gently tease me for being a cold-prone person, and a couple of the women have figured out what I’m really sometimes using it for and have followed suit. In fairness, our office is very cold, and during the winter after a facility walkthrough (it’s all outdoors) I need a quick way to unfreeze, so it’s really not obvious whether I’m just cold or need some cramp relief.

      2. Mongrel*

        Try looking inthe pet store for SnuggleSafe, they’re microwaveable and stay warm for up to 10 hours.
        The only downside is that they have a hard shell so can be a little awkward

        1. MP*

          I used to use my cats in high school as heating pads :-) Effective and stay hot continuously.

    4. MommyMD*

      Good advice. I don’t like people knowing my personal business and this sounds ideal.

    5. Jasnah*

      I use handwarmers. In my area they sell sticky ones that you can stick to your clothes. I use them all winter but they’re also good for this. They also have more eco-friendly reusable ones (don’t think those are sticky but I’ve seen wraps and similar).

      That said, I think this is a good opportunity for OP to normalize Normal Things Women Might Do At Work, so I think she should stick to whatever she is comfortable with.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I agree with normalizing Things Women Do, but given that she has space constraints and is worried about people tripping over the cord, I think using a self-heating wrap is an excellent idea.

    6. MJ*

      And drink rosehip and hibiscus tea. This combo has been used or millennia for cramps and labour. Plus it’s nice and warming.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        I used to find raspberry leaf tea was surprisingly effective too when I couldn’t take anti-inflammatories. Though it was more of a case of drinking it regularly through the month and noticing the cramps weren’t as bad than an instant fix. Does the rosehip and hibiscus have more of an instant effect? (It certainly sounds like it tastes better…)

    7. EPLawyer*

      For reasons that have nothing to do with why you need the heat, this sounds ideal. You mentioned concerns about tripping over the cord which is a legitimate safety concern. This avoids addresses that concern.

      As for the “womanly thing” well they just have to get use to it.

      1. SigneL*

        I’ve used a sock filled with plain uncooked rice – warm in the microwave for about a minute. You will need to re-warm, but in a pinch, it would help. It also works for sore shoulders.

        1. Elemeno P.*

          These are great! My grandma made me a little pillow with rice for shoulder pain relief. It’s just a rectangle, about 2″ x 12″ and halfway filled with rice. You can shove it in the freezer (my preferred route since it’s mostly for my shoulders) or heat it in the microwave (only for about 15 seconds to prevent rice-related issues). It feels great and is flexible.

          1. Dahlia*

            How mega-strong is your microwave? I do mine for 2-3 minutes and that’s pretty standard.

            1. Elemeno P.*

              Oh, that’s good to know! I actually don’t have a microwave, so that was just the advice from my grandma.

        2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          You can buy one, called a Bed Buddy. They’re about $10.

          The thing that makes them better than a sock filled with rice is they have stitching down the middle, to make sure the rice doesn’t shift too much so your heat is more even. They also have rope handles.

          1. BeenThereOG*

            Second the bed buddy, I have many from their range. There’s a small ball designed for arthritis that I use to warm up my hand to prevent RSI as I’m a programmer.

            1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

              I use one of the Bed Buddy heating pads too, mostly for neck/shoulder pain. In the winter, I’ll also microwave it and tuck it into the foot of my bed about 15 minutes before I go to bed, since my feet are always cold at night when I’m trying to get to sleep and that warms things up nicely. Since it’s not plugged in and the heat will naturally dissipate with time, I don’t worry about falling asleep with it there like a plugged-in heating pad.

      2. Emilia Bedelia*

        In college, I used to make a makeshift heating pad by getting a t-shirt or small towel damp, folding it up inside a Ziplock bag, and microwaving for a few seconds. Be sure to double up the Ziplock bag and wrap with something to protect from leaks and burns (it gets super hot!).
        I did in fact take it with me to class a few times (both for heat and pain relief), and I’ve used this trick in many instances since. I like this because it’s cheap, reusable, and easily assembled and dismantled.

    8. ENFP in Texas*

      Thermacare neck pads also work – I prefer them over the menstrual ones, because they stick to your skin and stay in place better, at least for me. I also think they’re warmer

      1. Shad*

        I like the neck ones because they only have adhesive at the ends and I find the adhesive itchy sometimes.

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          Yes! These changed my life once I discovered them and started using them on my lower back during my worst cramps. I went from excruciating pain to able to work pain-free. So amazing. And I like the neck ones best, too.

      2. A tiny pastry builder called Neville*

        They also tend to be cheaper, in my experience, because hey pink tax is a thing. :-/

    9. Ana Gram*

      These are great! The heat is really targeted to where you need it and you can move around. I used them all the time before I discovered the joy of continuous birth control and no periods :)

      1. Kat in VA*

        Any time I tell people I take the pill continuously, it’s like the sky opens up and sunshine comes through.

        “You…you can take the pill CONTINUOUSLY?”

        Yep, no “period” (actually a chemical/withdrawal bleed), no mucking about with mess or pads or tampons or cramps or even mood swings.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          One question: how would you know if you were pregnant or not if your period failed to come? All birth control fails once in a while. I am being serious.

    10. Eillah*

      Hope this isn’t too off topic — women are awesome at looking out for one another :)

      1. Yvette*

        True, I remember being 7+ months pregnant, stuck in traffic on the highway for 2 hours, finally getting to a rest stop where the line for the ladies room was easily 20-30 deep (seriously, it snaked back on itself inside the waiting area). I walked in, said I’ve been stuck in traffic for 2 hours, my coat fell open, my belly stuck out, and it was like the parting of the Red Sea. I was practically pushed (in a good way) into the next available stall.

    11. OP with cramps*

      Hi, OP here who wrote in about the heating pad! Someone mentioned a wrap that sticks for 8 hrs, no cords, so I might try that – we are in a cramped space so tripping is a bit of a concern I have.

      And regarding comments that “surely your coworkers have female relatives / partners / friends and understand”: yeah, they don’t understand. My male coworkers are incredibly ignorant.

      1. Anonymous75*

        I also discovered that a TENS unit typically used for sore muscles or injuries is helpful for cramps. There is a small cord (like a headphone cord) and a battery pack that clips to your belt or waistband. Then I typically gather the excess cord and tuck it under my shirt (which is untucked) so people don’t see it at all. It helps and doesn’t add heat to your body, which is not the best if you’re in a warm office or outside in the summer. Good luck!

        1. Dana B.S.*

          My TENS unit is the best for my chronic hip/back pain. But I never thought about it for cramps!

          1. Anonymous75*

            I didn’t either until I read about it in a book (Feminasty by Erin Gibson, I think). I use it on my ab area but you could obviously use it on your lower back too.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        I love the Salonpas ones and their various knockoff versions. They were a lifesaver when I slipped a disc in my back.

      3. Corky's wife Bonnie*

        The wraps are better than the heating pad in my opinion. You can keep them on all day, and they really do stay warm that whole time. Best things ever!!!!

      4. Observer*

        I’m sure they are incredibly ignorant. The things I’ve heard from others….

        But, I still would not treat this as a deep dark secret or something you need to “protect” them from or anything like that. I suggested the thermacare pads for purely practical reason – Cords can be a real hazard and if you need any sort of mobility anything that doesn’t stick is a real annoyance.

      5. LaDeeDa*

        Also, try Midol instead of just Advil. I seriously do not know why I never tried Midol before, I guess I always thought it was the same as any other pain killer. The first time I tried it I was kicking myself for not using it sooner. It specifically targets the back and abdomen area, and it changed my life.

        1. nonegiven*

          I tried Midol back in the day. It made me sleepy and it didn’t even touch the pain. I wondered WTH?

      6. Anonymous12*

        This is exactly what I was going to suggest! I have used the ones made by ThermaCare and they have helped tremendously. Not that I think you have to be discreet but I liked that it moved with me if I couldn’t be at my desk all day. The only difficult thing is that it seems to raise my body temperature and you can’t turn it on/off like you would with an actual heating pad. I think they are definitely worth a try though!!

    12. CommanderBanana*

      I regularly use stick on heat pads for back pain and the capsaicin ones work really well. They stay hot for a long time and are thin and sticky enough to be invisible under clothes.

    13. facepalm*

      I keep getting a sponsored ad for a product called Livia which claims to interrupt the nerve endings and block menstrual pain. It’s pricey ($150), but a discreet option to explore with good reviews.

      1. Marzipan*

        Looks like Livia is basically a little TENS machine. I tried something similar for cramps and honestly, it sucked. It just felt like being repeatedly pinged with an elastic band.

        1. facepalm*

          Oh that’s discouraging to hear. I’ve been planning to look into it myself and the reviews seemed good so I was hopeful.

          1. Marzipan*

            I mean, other people upthread seem to think highly of them so it may work for you! I just found it annoying rather than actually really addressing the pain.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        You could try a TENS machine! I have a little one at home that’s not as powerful as the massive one my chiropractor uses. It basically delivers pulsed electrical shocks to help muscles stop spasming.

        I’ve never tried it for cramps but do use it for back pain and muscle knots. Not sure it would do anything for cramps since those are more internal versus muscle knots, but you never know.

    14. peachie*

      I was going to say this! I agree with Alison — you can absolutely use the traditional heating pad when it makes sense — but these are great for situations where that might not be feasible (meetings, outside events, etc.). Agreed that the back pain ones work just fine (but make sure you get the ones that can go directly on your skin — ask me how I know the difference!). Also, FYI, these are FSA eligible without a prescription! You can find them in some of the online FSA stores (ThermaCare seems to be the brand they often have, but there are probably others).

    15. NB*

      I came here to say this, too! ThermaCare can really help. They can be a bit hard to find, though.

  3. RUKiddingMe*

    “…occasional heating pad or bottle of Midol is for you to present it as an utterly normal, unremarkable fact of life.”

    Because, they are.

    1. Washi*

      Is it? I’m a woman who has always worked in female-dominated offices and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a heating pad. I defer to Alison’s experience but I was surprised by the answer – I would have assumed that heating pads with cords were a no go.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        I’ve never seen one either and work in a female-dominated office. That having been said, it may depend on whether or not your office has policies against people bringing in things that plug in specifically to keep people warm. Some offices do because of the factor of causing a fire hazard.

        I wish they’d had those thermawraps when I was younger. It would have saved lots of money on OTC pain killers. I used to have to take multiple pain killers in one day just to be able to show up at work when I was in my 20’s.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        In the offices where I’ve worked, it’s been very common to use a heating pad…but it’s not made to be an obvious thing. It’s Acknowledged but not Discussed. (And at one office most anyone was happy to let someone borrow theirs, which was very entertaining when one of the men was complaining of a backache and no less than four of us women offered a heating pad to help, plus a variety of pain meds.)

        1. Chinookwind*

          I feel better now about recommending one of the guys ask our Safety Guy for Midol when he tweaked his back. I got a strange look but, when I clarified that it works on muscle pain in the back, he understood and asked for it.

      3. No Tribble At All*

        I’ve seen a dude using a heating pad on his shoulder & upper back. As long as the cord isn’t in the way, it’s not a problem.

      4. Errol*

        my former office was 90% women in the office and they provided “magic bags” in the first aid closet – mainly because we had hard labor teams too but we all used them for soreness, coldness, and I’m sure menstrual pain.

        But yeah, they had a strict no cord thing. I’ve worked a few places where that was thing too.

      5. RUKiddingMe*

        I’m pretty sure, and she can correct me if I’m wrong, that what she meant was that heating pads, midol, as well as other things that women *might* use for cramp relief are unremarkable because women and their periods are part of life.

        Sure not everyone, maybe not most people are going to have a heating pad, at work or elsewhere (I have no stats), but yes periods and the need for cramp relief is something that is part of life. And…unremarkable.

      6. Jadelyn*

        I use a heating pad – not for menstrual issues, I don’t get those, but for my back (arthritis and muscle spasms). Nobody has ever commented. I just plug it in to the power strip under my desk and that’s it.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*


      I’m a male, and when I worked retail for a female manager, she would sometimes text me when I was coming in to work and ask me to pick up Midol for her, which I was more than happy to. (I’ve also purchased maxi pads and tampons for the women in my family.) These men who have issues with “women’s things” need to get over themselves.

      1. Jadelyn*

        In my relationships with men, the rule has been: if you’re not comfortable getting supplies for maintaining that system, you don’t get to spend time with that system. If you’re mature enough to have sex, you damn well better be mature enough to buy a box of pads for a woman you supposedly love. I have zero interest in coddling delicate male sensibilities around this issue. Half the world menstruates. You really, really need to get used to it.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          Exactly this!

          One of my coworkers is a single father of multiple girls, and he always made sure he had tampons in the glove box of his car. Because that’s what you do when you love someone and want to care for them.

          My former manager always asked me to pick up Midol for her, because her boyfriend (also a manager at the same store) wouldn’t do it.

          1. tangerineRose*

            “he always made sure he had tampons in the glove box of his car. Because that’s what you do when you love someone and want to care for them.” I love this!

  4. CmdrShepard4ever*

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I really think there are two types of “recruiters.”

    1) headhunters: the ones who are actually trying to recruit a select few specific people into the company because they think they are the best fit.

    2) recruiters: ones who are trying to fill the position with one of their candidates, they don’t what who the candidate is as long as it is someone “owned” by that recruiter. Typically these people are trying a shotgun approach, if we send Company A 20 candidates instead of 5 we have a better chance of one getting the position.

    OP I think you are dealing with type number 2.

    1. Blossom*

      I don’t know about two types, but there’s definitely a spectrum (which will vary according to the situation as well as the recruiter).

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        You are right, I forgot to mention that there is a difference between external recruiters working for ABC staffing/recruiting, or internal recruiters that work only for XYZ Design Firm.

      2. AnnaBananna*

        Yep. I was checking out some freelance jobs on Upwork last week and went down a bit of a rabbit hole that was rather enlightening about ‘recruiters’. Apparently there’s also sourcing recruiters, which is just a freelance person, who isn’t even a technical expert in the field they’re ‘sourcing’ for, who just scrape LinkedIn data until they find people to forward to an open job with the company they’re freelancing for. I mean, I would think this would suck for all parties invovled!

    2. Tuna*

      I’m not sure of OP’s seniority but when I was actively looking for more junior roles I dealt with the number 2 kind a lot. They liked me as someone to apply and I always made phone screen but it was more curating their pool than anything else.

      Regardless — I’m surprised AAM didn’t mention but always good to say something other than “dunno you reached out to me tktk” when asked a pretty standard question of interest.

      1. Audiophile*

        Yes, this happened to me a few times.

        This was before LinkedIn was as popular as it is now.

        The number of positive interactions I’ve had with quality recruiters is a pretty small number.

      2. MtnLaurel*

        Tuna, I actually had a candidate answer that when I asked her what about the position interested her.

        She didn’t get an offer.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Which is pretty lame, in my not so humble opinion. If you reach out and cold-call a potential candidate, “What interests you about my company” is pretty much treating the candidate like they came to you, when you came to them. It smacks of arrogance, especially when you’re not forthcoming with a lot of information about the position. It makes it seem like as a candidate, I should be researching every company possible just in case a recruiter reaches out to me. It’s lazy.

          1. Tuna*

            Yes but in this case OP has all info as they are speaking directly to the hiring manager on a call. OP could have spoken better towards general interest in company/area of role/locale.

            If an internal/external recruiter cold calls you, yes a little lame, but I think you can have a boilerplate statement about interest.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I think the question really makes sense when the candidate is being provided by an external recruiter from a staffing agency. The hiring manager probably does not know that the candidate was not actively looking for a job and they were cold called by the external recruiter.

              But even if a candidate who is not actively looking for a job is contacted by an internal recruiter the question still makes sense. As a company even if you are recruiting someone you still want that person to show an interest in your company. If I am contacted by a recruiter internal or external and they tell me the company name, I am going to research the company 1) to see if I am actually interested in working for the company and 2) to be able to better sell/interview. As a candidate being recruited you should still be able to say I appreciate your company’s commitment to ABC, or the really innovative work in XYZ field.

              As Alison says a lot hiring is a two way street, no matter if you apply to the company or are recruited, both sides need to impress the other and decide if it would be a mutually beneficial fit.

          2. Autumnheart*

            Yeah, I had to laugh a little at the idea of a recruiter reaching out to a candidate who isn’t actively seeking a position, and then saying “She didn’t get an offer” like that’s some moral lesson for future candidates.

          3. Karen from Finance*

            A recruiter once asked me what I thought about the company. She had not provided me with the company name or any detail.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          Yes, if a company reached out to me I would expect them to say why they chose me. If I had the time and inclination I might research the company but if they don’t give me time, they can’t expect an answer to that question.

      3. Karen from Finance*

        I once had an interviewer ask me “What interests you about the company? — Which, I’m aware is a bit of a weird question, as I reached out to you. But… what interests you from what you’ve seen so far?”

        From the way he phrased that I understood that he had to ask the question anyway, but I appreciated that he showed awareness about the situation, so I gave an honest answer about the few things I knew about the role and company that had caught my interest enough to go to the interview in the first place. It definitely gave me a really good impression about the interviewer and the company that they showed this consideration in posing this question. I do not appreciate being approached and then immediately being treated like I’ve just entered a contest.

  5. Heating pads!*

    Heating pad advice for LW1: I get truly awful cramps. This year I discovered that ThermaCare has a line of single-use menstrual heating pads that last for over 12 hours and stick on the inside of the front of your underwear like a pad. They come in packs of 3 and work out to about $2 per heat pack. Obviously you shouldn’t have to be discrete like this if you don’t want to (menstrual pain is real and discomfort around it is sexist bullsh*t!) That said, I always feel too awkward bringing in an obvious hearing pad to work for cramps, so the single-use ones (that are super thin, go under your clothes, and stay hot for the full workday) have been a real lifesaver.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      I think adult males need to just get comfortable with the fact that women have periods. If they aren’t then they can suck it.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I should add that all my fks caring about makes finding periods “icky” disappeared a long, long, long time ago. I know not everyone us as militantly “omg dude grow up!” as I am.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          I’m a man, and males finding periods “icky” makes me equally as militantly “OMG dude grow tf up!”.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Thank you for your support. Feminism needs more males willing to speak up to other males. You *do* speak up right?

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              rotflmao!!! I am no shrinking violet. I’m a Chief Warrant Officer 3 in the Army Reserve, and just last Battle Assembly told the Battalion Commander “sir, what are you, five?” when he expressed dismay at a female Soldier needing a break from class for getting her tampon changed (she was no shrinking violet either, and came right out and said it). He backed down.

        2. cmcinnyc*

          My little brothers were mortified by my supplies in our bathroom, and complained to our dad. He brought them to the bathroom off our parent’s bedroom and showed them my mom’s supplies. He told them that if they were straight, this was their life going forward. My youngest brother told me the story and said at the time he had no idea what that meant but he’s now grateful for the reality check!

      2. Zombeyonce*

        I know a grown man that giggles every time someone mentions a period like he’s 11. He has 3 teenage daughters (and a wife!) but apparently periods still make him nervous.

        1. Kuododi*

          Good grief Charlie Brown!!! Daddy took great pleasure in mortifying my sister and I when we were silly youngsters in middle school. He would amble in the drug store and purchase the biggest, ultra jumbo box of sanitary napkin he could find. He would proceed to carry the box under his arm with NO bag out to the car. Of course little sister and I were skulking back as far as we could, convinced that Daddy would be the cause of our social destruction. ;). Obviously everyone survived relatively unscathed except for lots of squirming and complaining about how “awful” Daddy was for not getting a bag for the feminine hygiene products. (Oh to be young and foolish again.)

        2. AnotherAlison*

          I grew up with only a sister, my mom, and dad in the house, and we still pretended women things didn’t happen.

        3. Environmental Compliance*

          I feel the need to call my dad and thank him for being so supportive of all three of his daughters. He’s the one that when I first got my period (during a sports practice, of course) picked me up from practice, noticed I was upset, and without saying anything other than “you okay? Did It happen? What do you need?” took me very matter of fact-ly to the store, picked up some pads & ice cream, then taught me how to get blood out of clothes. Later in life, the house ran out of pads/tampons? Dad will pick some up on the way home, just let him know what brand/color of box/type of whatever. It was never a Big Deal, it was just….a part of life and totally not something to freak out about.

          1. JJ Bittenbinder*

            Your dad is awesome. Please give him a high five from this internet stranger.

          2. Classic Rando*

            One of the ways I knew my now-husband was a good egg was when, early in the relationship, I got my period somewhat unexpectedly while staying over for the weekend. I didn’t have any supplies so we had to go to the store for some (together as I lived in the city without a car and he lived in the middle of nowhere) and he was completely unfazed by any of it. Honestly I think I’m more grossed out by my periods than he is.

            Whereas my previous ex would recoil from unused tampons still in the wrapper… younger readers, if you find yourself with one of those guys, I suggest bailing asap.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            Dad will pick some up on the way home, just let him know what brand/color of box/type of whatever.

            Mr. Shackelford made it clear he was willing to pick up whatever I needed. I never requested it. In the brand I used, “light” and “super duper ultra extreme” were both purple for some reason. Too much chance for error.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              See, my husband will pick up stuff for me no problem (I also knew he was a keeper when – in high school, even! – he had no problem with me having tampons in my purse, backpack, whatever). But I don’t get the wrong kind, oh no…..I will either get a crap ton of picture text messages with questions or literally every available kind.

              Example (not tampons, sorry, haven’t had a period in some years now thankfully) – EC gets sick. Asks Husband to go to grocery store, get a thing of chicken bone broth, and a liter of clear soda, any kind of each. Oyster crackers also, if available. Husband cannot decide which brand of broth is best for sickly EC, and does not want to bother with lots of questions. Husband brings back six (6) different brands of broth, as well as two (2) different kinds of chicken broth based instant noodles, as well as five (5) different kinds of clear soda. And also three (3) different kinds of crackers. Because what if Brand X wasn’t as good as Brand Y and makes sickly-feelings worse?!?

            2. Name Under Development*

              My husband worked for a grocery store when we were newlyweds At that store, the stock boys referred to tampons and pads as “ladies ready-to-wear”. That really struck our funny bone, so the term stuck in our family lexicon. We raised 3 daughters, so “ready to wear “ was a regularly recurring item on the running grocery list at our house. My husband would purchase anything on that list ( including the RTW) with no question other than “ what brand/ type?” He was completely matter of fact about it.

          4. Ahoytheship*

            I remember distinctly the morning I got my first period before school, my mom was getting ready to help me out and my Dad wanders by my room, figures out what has happened, and smiles big and shouts “Hooray! Congratulations lady!” It was honestly so sweet and normalizing.

      3. Scarlet2*

        Exactly. Also, this made me sad: “For what it’s worth, my boss is very conservative and not always very respectful of women. My coworkers are much more understanding, although since I’m the first full-time female employee, I think there’s been some “getting used to.””

        Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is actually 2019 and not 1919.

        1. MatKnifeNinja*

          When my niece had the human sexuality section in health class this year, they actually separated the “boys from the girls” when talking about menstruation. This is 9th grade.

          Reason being the boys would unwind and the girls could not talk about issues that really concerned them. I guess the class would turn into an absolute circus.

          STDs and pregnancy talk, everyone stayed in the class. Menstruation, separate them out like 1819. The boys received the same talk, just down the hall.

          I never worked a job I could bring a heating pad, or even talk about feeling miserable. The answer would be 1) if you are that sick, stay home. 2) get to a doctor and “FIX IT”.

          Anyway, OP, those little heat pads work great. More comfort, more mobility and less explaining.

          1. WS*

            At least the boys got the menstruation talk! When I was in fifth grade (back in the late 80s) we had this, but the girls got the menstruation talk and the boys got a wet dreams talk. No reason for boys to know about menstruation, right???

            1. MatKnifeNinja*

              The district spares no one on human sexuality section. You have to opt your kid out, and it’s a hassle.

              I find it interesting, pictures of STDs or a video of a human being born is not a big deal.

              Mentioning cramps and tampons will set off a group of 15 year old boys like Howler monkeys.

              1. Not Me*

                If their parents (particularly the dads) acted like periods and sex were normal healthy functions of being an adult they wouldn’t think it was so hilarious and taboo.

              2. Michaela Westen*

                This reminds me of the joke, you’ve probably heard it:
                There was a group of boys who wanted to go to something that cost money, and between them they only had $5.00. They were figuring out where they could go with that, and one of the boys said, “let’s buy a box of tampons! then we can ride horses, climb mountains, go swimming on the beach…”
                From the tampon commercial, of course. :D

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Ha! I’ve heard a version of that joke where the boy asks his parents for a box of tampons for his birthday, for the same reasons. (And be sure to wear your skintight white jeans while you’re riding that horse, kids!)

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Reason being the boys would unwind and the girls could not talk about issues that really concerned them. I guess the class would turn into an absolute circus.

            Yeah, I actually think this is a good idea. I know I wouldn’t have felt comfortable asking questions about menstruation in front of boys at that age.

            1. Mel*

              I agree. I would have been mortified. Purchasing the products I needed from strangers I would never see again mortified me.

              I’m not even sure where that came from, because my mom didn’t have any patience with that attitude, but I guess it was just because it was new and stressful.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                15 year old me would have an existential crisis when I needed pads and the only cashier working at the drug store that day was a teenage boy.

                1. tangerineRose*

                  For a while, whenever I bought pads, I worried that the cashier (male or female) would say something about it. Of course they never did. Now I’m in the don’t care stage.

            2. Important Moi*

              Yeah, I DIDN’T WANT TO discuss menstruation in the presence
              of the boys in my class. I greatly appreciated the separation.

            3. Michaela Westen*

              If they’re like the boys I went to school with, they would have taken over and the girls wouldn’t have been able to get a word in.

              1. Jennifer Juniper*

                If they were anything like the boys in my classes, they would’ve turned into foul-mouthed demonspawn from the blackest pits of Hell.

          3. Observer*

            That’s actually a sensible idea. Let’s be real, the boys probably WOULD let loose like a “bunch of howler monkeys” – ESPECIALLY with the girls in the room. Pretending otherwise doesn’t help anyone. And, no, it is NOT because their fathers treated menstruation like it’s icky or weird or whatever.

            They should probably do this for some other segments of these classes as well.

            1. Myrin*

              Yeah, I also think that’s quite sensible, especially since the boys also got the menstruation talk, just separately.
              (We were separated by gender for only one single lesson, and that was when a gynecologist and a urologist came in, the former being with the girls in one room and the latter being with the boys in another room. As far as I could tell, people all around felt more comfortable asking more personal questions.)

      4. coffee cup*

        Right? It’s easier as you get older, I think, to care less about whether having a period will upset a man. I’m much more open at work about getting a tampon from my bag when I need one, because it’s such an ordinary part of life, and hopefully if I do it, others might feel they can (if they want to, of course!).

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          I’m just gobsmacked that in 2019 it continues to be a big deal. I’ll regularly get into it with my fellow males who make it an issue. I have no tolerance for that sort of bullcrap.

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              There are no men like me………

              Fifty cool points to whoever gets the movie reference first.

      5. MP*

        Just a counterpoint to all this “open about periods” stuff – but I kind of see it as no different than say talking about pooping? Which isn’t something I would bring attention to in the workplace (or life in general) because it’s basically “bathroom” stuff. So say I needed to bring in some wipes for a tender behind – I wouldn’t flash them around at work. Same as with tampons, I’m not brandishing them around. So I guess being discreet about my period isn’t trying to hide it from “uncomfortable males”, it’s more just not talking about bathroom stuff, full stop.

        Though I guess the heating pad equivalent would be like my co-worker who had a butt pad for her hemorrhoids. It’s not like I wouldn’t want her to use it, but 100% I thought about her hemorrhoids every time I saw it. I honestly just didn’t want to think about her hemorrhoids. Not that hemorrhoids (or periods) are things to be ashamed about, but they’re also things I don’t really want to be visualizing about my co-worker.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Periods are not analogous yo pooping. Without female reproduction, which periods are a part if, Homo sapiens would doin cease to exist.

          Yes, it doesn’t need to be announced: “hey everyone I’m going to the bathroom to change my blood soaked pad now in case anyone is looking for me..,” but it doesn’t need to be hidden as if it’s something shameful instead of a perfectly normal part if life.

          No one announces pooping (well mostly no one) but it’s not treated as alien, shameful, or bad. I wonder why…oh yeah…misogyny.

          1. Cherries on top*

            Well, it kind of is treated as shameful, but I agree its not analogous. We should talk more about pooping though (as in treating it as a normal bodily function that works different for everyone, and like periods can be very problematic. Or not.) But I would also think that you generally should be able to be aware of things, like person carrying pad in to bathroom, without necessarily pictureing them makeing use of it.

        2. Not Me*

          You could also think about it like a sprained ankle or a headache. Would you be disgusted by someone popping a couple tylenol and saying “I have the worst headache!”? Or putting ice on a sprained ankle?

          Yes, some bodily functions are gross, but that doesn’t mean people need to hide the treatments for them. Periods specifically have been treated as taboo and women shamed for discussing them, or even having them. It’s very different than hemorrhoids. There are still places where women are sent to live in “menstruation huts” while they have their periods, a woman and her two children die in one earlier this year. So yeah, it’s different than hemorrhoids.

        3. JB (not in Houston)*

          This sounds more like a you problem than anything other people should be forced to worry about. I know you say you aren’t saying that this stuff should be completely hidden, but your last paragraph kind of contradicts that. Nobody is saying that people need to start putting “talk about everyone’s periods” on the staff meeting agendas. But being open about period stuff, treating it very matter-of-factly, is a good thing because for too long people have felt compelled to hide that this very normal thing happens to them lest they make a male coworker feel the teeniest bit uncomfortable because he is forced to momentarily acknowledge reality.

          And for that matter, other “bathroom stuff”? no, we certainly don’t need to go into details with out coworkers. But there’s not any good reason to hide the fact that bodily functions happen. It’s not embarrassing, it’s just a part of being a person. Feeling like any acknowledgement that that stuff happens is embarrassing or shameful is part of the reason why some women don’t want to go to the bathroom at work, and why some people feel it’s ok to police other people’s bathroom use. Can we all just treat the fact that bodies do what they do as nothing to be embarrassed about?

          1. Gumby*

            Some of us don’t care if a male co-worker feels uncomfortable. We just don’t want to feel uncomfortable ourselves.

            Yes, it’s normal. No, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But if I need to change a tampon, I’m going to be relatively discreet about it (tampon will travel in my pocket, for example). Not for anyone else’s comfort but my own.

            I don’t think anyone else has to conform to my preferences on this. But I am still allowed to not want to advertise my own cycle without it somehow being a case of me pandering to immature male co-workers. (I have seen no sign that any of my male co-workers are particularly immature anyway.)

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              “But I am still allowed to not want to advertise my own cycle without it somehow being a case of me pandering to immature male co-workers.” I didn’t suggest walking down the hall waiving a tampon like a flag. There’s nothing wrong with being discreet. That’s not the opposite of being matter-of-fact. As Aurion said in their comment, acknowledging body stuff happens isn’t the same as advertising it. But there’s no reason somebody can’t have a heating pad to deal with cramps, and there’s no reason the person should have to lie about why if asked, just because a coworker might be made uncomfortable by the response.

          2. Jennifer Juniper*

            EEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!! Why would anyone want to even THINK about their coworkers using the bathroom, much less police their use of said bathroom?

            Those people should be told to keep their sick fetishes out of the office and get back to work.

        4. coffee cup*

          Who brandishes tampons? Unless you’re trying to fight someone with one, I guess.

          I think the point here isn’t ‘hey, let’s all talk in graphic detail about periods!’ but more ‘let’s not bother people for side effects of their menstrual cycle such as pain and needing to take tampons (etc) to the toilet’.

          If you think about your colleagues in that way, that’s something you need to work on, really. They have to be able to ease their discomfort without worrying that you’ll be imagining what’s ‘wrong’ with them.

        5. Aurion*

          But acknowledging it isn’t the same as bringing attention to it. To use your analogy, I would not announce nor describe an episode of extreme diarrhea, but I would say “yeah, my digestive system is not agreeing with me today” if someone catches me grimacing.

          If I’m getting stabby cramps and wanting to murder my uterus, I don’t think “yeah, cramps are bad today” is out of line. It’s not like I’m describing the blood volume in detail.

          1. Aurion*

            Whoops, cut off my own post. Anyway, I think where I fall is that I prefer to be discreet, but not ashamed. Sure, a pad can go in my pocket, but if someone spots it, it’s not anything to be ashamed of. And if someone asks, they’re going to get an candid, if not especially vivid, answer.

        6. Observer*

          So, you admit that it’s not reasonable for you to ask someone not to use a butt-pad for their hemorrhoids, despite your discomfort. Why would it be different for any woman’s period?

          And honestly, I do get thinking about it when you first see it. But most people do get to a point where it just becomes part of the background. But it IS a choice you make. You can decide that “This is none of my concern” and dismiss the visualization when it happens without any angst.

        7. JSPA*

          If the bathroom is out of toilet paper, do you hide the rolls while you bring them in? If the kleenex is empty, do you shield the new box, because snot is icky? We’re talking about bleached cotton (and heating pads), here. For that matter, nobody cares about your wipes, either, so long as you don’t plug up the pipes.

      6. Sleepy Librarian*

        I work in a female-dominated field and sometimes get crap if I mention periods. I came to express such gratitude for AAM’s advice for LW1 because even though I’m basically surrounded by women I never bring a heating pad to work because I feel like my coworkers would be weird about it.

        1. Chinookwind*

          Don’t get me started on the women’s group who were planning a two day conference and wanted to shorten the days by eliminating the coffee breaks by putting water on all the tables. They had noticed that no one ever smoked in the group, so why interrupt our discussions and voting system?

          I pointed out that those proposing this were all post-menopausal and have probably forgotten how much they needed those breaks every two hours and that, while an individual can get up in the middle of the discussion to use the washroom, doing so meant possibly missing an important discussion or vote. If you want women under 60 to be active participants, then plan for our bodily needs, ladies.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            Also, don’t those women pee? AFAIK, most people have to pee around every two hours. What were those women, androids?

      7. Dinopigeon*

        FWIW I use the disposables because they are much more convenient for me than a corded device, and more effective because they don’t have to heat through layers of clothing. It’s not all about discretion though that is an additional bonus.

        It’s a great sentiment you’re expressing, but it’s also ok if a woman doesn’t want to be the crusader for menstrual normalization in her place of work. Because in some workplaces, that’s a riskier proposition than many people in this post seem to realize.

    2. Observer*

      Thermacare pads (or similar ones) are useful because they give you much more mobility and they don’t require an outlet. If you’re in a cube farm with limited (or no) free outlets, or there are all sorts of rules around what you can plug in this can be a HUGE deal.

      This is nothing to do with needing to be “discreet” – I discovered Thermacare pads for my back and then started using them for cramps.

        1. Artemesia*

          I don’t see it as pandering to males but as simply being private. I don’t make a show of needing to use the toilet either and periods just seem like private things, especially when so many then attribute any emotional situation not to their own ridiculous behavior but on that time of month. There are lots of personal hygiene issues that other people like co-workers don’t need to be aware of. Many people have bladder leakage issues; nothing to be ashamed of but also something most people want to be discreet about too.

          1. Jasnah*

            Agreed, you can be private without being ashamed. Not everything needs to be shared with everyone, especially medical/bodily things.

            If I were OP, I might choose to be matter-of-fact about it just to make a point to my office, whereas if I were in a more accepting office with more women, I might choose something more discreet just because I want to, without having to worry about Making A Statement.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I guess the “matter of fact” thing is what I’m getting at.

              It’s part if life for roughly 53% of the population. I’m not gonna announce it or “make a statement,” but I’m not gonna hide it as if it’s shameful, icky, or some kind of “ do not mention ever” just because grown ass adult males can’t get past middle school mentality.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            Oh I get that. It’s not like I’m saying to make an announcement or anything. I’m just talking about not worrying about hiding/camouflaging anything just because they might find it uncomfortable to think about.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            I don’t make a show of needing to use the toilet either and periods just seem like private things, especially when so many then attribute any emotional situation not to their own ridiculous behavior but on that time of month.

            Yeah, that would be my concern. Someone’s going to write off any legitimate complaint as “time of the month.”

          4. Mel*

            Yeah, I don’t feel a need to pander,.but I’m not big on discussing bodily functions. so I tend to be fairly private about my periods too.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        The mobility aspect is what I love about my ThermaCare pads. I started using them for cramps, but I’ve also used them for back pain. Not being tied to a cord can make the difference for me between taking a sick day (because I can’t function without heat long enough to drive into work) and being more or less functional at the office.

    3. NGL*

      …TIL they’re supposed to go inside your underwear and not stick to the outside (where they always end up rubbing against my clothes and peeling off). REVOLUTIONARY.

    4. OP with cramps*

      OP here :) I will need to buy some of those – thank you. I’m trying not to pander to their discomfort but this seems more comfortable anyway.

      1. Shad*

        Honestly, until I got to the cords, that’s what I thought you were talking about in the question—I was so confused!
        Personally I prefer a reusable rice pack over the thermacare if I’m not going to be moving much (in addition to the environment, I find that the weight of the rice pack helps too), but both of them are great options.

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        If you have Daiso where you are, they also carry packets of disposable stick-on warming pads and they’re extremely cheap.

      1. Observer*

        Hot water bottles are not a really good solution if you need to be mobile or you need them for any length of time. They don’t stay hot for very long.

        1. drogon breath*

          Ok but if you’re seated and willing to use a heating pad with a cord, like OP, mobility is probably not an issue.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            But maybe access to hot water, or not being able to refill it frequently, are issues.

            1. drogon breath*

              Not saying this is the solution for everyone. But if one does not need to be mobile, has access to hot water, and wants to limit one time use plastic, a hot water bottle is a suggestion I’m offering.

              I don’t know why I need to spell out that a simple suggestion is not one size fits all or why people need to be contrary just for the sake of it.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                Some people might say making the same somewhat judgey comment, twice, is being contrary.

                1. Jasnah*

                  Rusty you’re getting into “not everyone can eat sandwiches” territory here. It’s not judgy to suggest using a hot water bottle instead of plastic if you can, and it makes sense to assume the OP has access to clean water and electricity.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            Hot water bottles and rice bags probably need to be reheated every 30 minutes at most to continue to be helpful, which is why I see the appeal of the corded heat pad, even if you don’t need to get up a lot. That said, mos offices I’ve worked in forbade people bringing in personal electronics that generated a heat source for fire risk reasons. Of a rice bag or a hot water bottle, I’d go rice bag any day. They’e usually less obstrusive and easier to reheat.

  6. Carrie Heffernan*

    The hard stop works so well! This is constantly an issue for me so I just say it up front and then things works out

    1. TechWorker*

      +1 I only discovered this phrase recently and I love that it’s professional and covers everything from ‘I have another meeting to get to’, or ‘I need to actually eat before my next meeting’ to ‘I have my fitness class at 7 and I ideally need to be out the door at 6 to get there in time’.

    2. Rebecca*

      Yes, this is excellent. I sometimes get invited to meetings where I may need to contribute one small thing, or not – so if I know it’s with a procrastinator *they are well known :)* I simply say, I need to hop off at 2 PM, even if it’s like Alison says, to do work, whatever. Plus, conference calls are great at my desk – I can put on my headset, mute the phone, and listen while I work if it’s just something informational or that I might need to contribute to.

    3. Antilles*

      The really great part about it is that it often works even if the group doesn’t fix their slowness. There’s a huge proportion of meetings where there’s only 15 minutes of content relevant to you…a few minutes of general background and project updates upfront, then the rest of the meeting is a general status updates from every group where your part is like, 2/3 of the way down the agenda.
      Announcing that you need to leave upfront gets you moved up the agenda, so you can leave without actually missing anything that really matters.

    4. BRR*

      My last job was bad about meeting timing and I also found the hard stop works well. Hard stops for me include that I was planning to do other work because this meeting was scheduled for an hour.

    5. OP5*

      The hard stop does work. I’ve been loathe to use it because I’m fairly new working with these people in this capacity. There were some issues with my predecessor too, so I’m trying to be a good team player. But I think I just need to get back to politely using the hard stop again.

  7. Observer*

    #2- Don’t do it. It’s EXTREMELY rare that the recording is what gets the boss fired. If you really don’t like Allison’s advice, please check your company’s handbook to see what it says about recording. In many companies, it would be a firing offense.

    1. Heidi*

      Yes to this. There are other ways to document abusive behavior. Keeping a log with dates, times, names of witnesses, quotes etc. may not show the volume of the yelling and the other dramatic elements, but it can be effective and won’t get you fired.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I can’t put my finger on why, but while logging all this and recording it get at the same information, somehow recording it feels far more adversarial. Which is definitely not how you want to go into a situation where you accuse a person of wrongdoing. It’s even stranger that I feel this way because it’s the only incontrovertible proof you could have. But it still seems wrong.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Because recording someone is active. It’s very in your face, even if you hide the recorder. I’m recording you screams so you better watch what you say. It’s in the moment, again, even if the person doesn’t know.

          Documenting is passive. It’s after the fact. It’s just making notes in a way that is less confrontational.

          Please also note that state laws may prohibit you from taping someone without their consent. Not only could you be fired but you could be facing criminal charges. If your boss is that bad, he won’t hesitate to file criminal charges against you. I had to document how bad my boss is is not a defense.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            The OP says they’re in a one-party-consent state, so it would be legal. But that’s still not a good reason to do it.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I think it’s because it feels kind of like wearing a wire on a police sting operation. It feels like a much bigger deal than just keeping a diary of what happened at work this week.

        3. Heidi*

          The ability to record video or sound secretly hasn’t been around that long if we think about it. The idea that the dumb things we say on a daily basis could be recorded word for word and thrown back in our faces for the rest of our lives is not something that we’re all that used to. So I can see how it makes people more nervous than writing things down. Some people are only just coming around to the idea that police wearing body cams can protect both the police and the people they interact with.

        4. Marissa*

          I think part of it is when you record you’re preparing for someone to do something worthy of being recorded. You pre-planned that you would want evidence of your interaction, and it might raise the question of if you behaved the way you normally would in that interaction since you wanted them to look bad and you to look good. Logging it after the fact doesn’t have that pre-planning. Someone went off the handle and you reacted.

          1. Roscoe*

            I think this is it exactly. Its kind of seems that you are being baited into acting a certain way. Like even if your reaction isn’t justified, if its provoked, it kind of just seems shady.

    2. JM in England*

      At OldJob, the site director was a bully who loved throwing his weight around. He even made abusive/threatening phone calls to a co-worker at home. The co-worker started recording these calls then made a complaint to HR, using these recordings to back it up. The director was let go soon after and I’m sure these recordings played a big part in it.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        When it becomes threats to a home phone, now THAT I could see recording. You’re not making a recording on the job any longer — you’re recording your home phone.

      2. Observer*

        As others said, the director was calling the person AT HOME. Also, no one said that it NEVER happens, but it really is rare and generally not to be counted on.

    3. Artemesia*

      I’d only do it for behavior far more egregious e.g. insisting you do something illegal or extortion or physical threats or demands for sexual quid pro quo things that are criminal, not things that are rude. There is always a risk that it then becomes about your recording and not their behavior and it is a risk only worth taking for something catastrophic not something that adds up to being a jerk.

      1. HarperC*

        I agree. I know of a couple of cases where a boss was recorded and it ended up working, but in each of those cases, the boss was saying blatantly discriminatory/illegal things.

      2. Kes*

        I agree, I think it could be worthwhile it the behaviour is actually at criminal levels, but is a terrible idea most of the time if it’s simply bad.

    4. Lena Clare*

      I agree. I wouldn’t record your boss at all OP. Use your words and the system in place to report wrongdoing, and by all means make a *record* of it, but even if it’s legal in your state (it happens to be illegal to record someone without their knowledge in the UK) I think it’s morally wrong to do it and a particularly contentious way to log your grievances. So, I think you won’t get what you want by doing it.

    5. Carpe Librarium*

      It might be worth considering recording the conversation to use as a reference to accurately transcribe what was said if you’re documenting something, rather than relying on memory. If treatment from your boss stresses you out, you may feel you don’t remember everything verbatim.

      For example;
      Tues 11 June
      Boss said “I’ll use small words so that you’ll be sure to understand, you warthog faced buffoon”
      Boss called me a “stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf-herder.”

      Then *delete the recording*, and rely on your transcription if you need supporting evidence.

      1. fposte*

        I think that’s the worst of both worlds, though; you’re still undergoing the workplace risks attendant with recording but not even using the synchronicity of the account to your advantage.

    6. Amethystmoon*

      Yeah, I once was advised to do this but I knew it never would have gotten that manager fired. Though oddly enough, after I left that toxic job, she was fired for something else. Karma works, sometimes.

    7. Lora*

      Yup, this. Assume that if you record someone at work, you will absolutely be fired for it.

      That said, I do wonder about companies who find their bad behaviors outed on social media by people making recordings. What recourse and justice did they realistically offer to the people affected? If you have a serial harasser or culture of bigotry, and your employees are offered only the following choices:
      1. Quit
      2. Be fired for complaining about it
      3. Sue and probably not have enough money to get a good lawyer to carry the case far enough to convince the company to settle
      4. Record the behavior and post it for all the world to hear
      were they seriously counting 100% on the notion that employees couldn’t afford a legal team and therefore would suck it up? Even in the absence of recordings published to the interwebs, I’ve seen multiple companies struggle to recruit due to their reputation alone for tolerating crappy behavior and then get frustrated with the whole concept that professionals talk amongst themselves about what companies are terrible to work for. It’s like these people really believe everything they do happens in a vacuum.

      1. Observer*

        Mostly? They haven’t really thought it through. Think of all of the instances where the DOL or the like went after the company. Some of these cases are mind-bogglingly egregious. The kind sof cases that even the most slothful agency will gladly take because they are an easy win if you have the kind of power these agencies have.

        I always think “What were they thinking?!?!” and the I remember, Oh, right, they weren’t.

    8. PunkRockPM*

      I respectfully disagree about recording – and here’s why. I am currently in a toxic environment where I needed to reach out to legal counsel regarding discrimination due to my disability. Per legal counsel, I was advised to record everything for personal documentation and for my protection; regardless if admissible in court. I live in a one party state, so I do not need disclose I am recording. This gives me a personal record – as well as to listen to later when my emotions are not so high and not “in the moment”. It also gives me a tool for ideas on how to better deal with their tactics.

      This has been an emotional and mental life saver. I can play them back and also have others listen for input and feedback – when you are living in it, your perceptions get skewed due to bully / harassment techniques such as lying, gaslighting, etc.

      As I stated, I am doing this on the advice of my legal counsel. YMMV.

      1. (Anon for this comment)*

        I agree with PunkRockPM. Bullies and harassers who have lasted a long time in their jobs are usually very good at cultivating networks of people to back them up. For example, someone might make demeaning comments to women but be chummy with men who will defend them, or someone who belittles people they supervise will be extra deferential towards their boss. Without hard evidence like a recording, it’s very easy for others be convinced that you’re just sensitive, exaggerating, etc.

        Any action you take can have negative consequences. Yes, recording might backfire, but it also might be the only way to show that your grievances aren’t in your head. We all get to make that call for ourselves. Though from personal experience, if your workplace is so toxic that you’re seriously considering recording people, it’s probably time to start job hunting!

      2. Le Sigh*

        I think the fact that you’re consulting with legal counsel is key though, because they can direct you and know how to proceed if you can get what you need. LW just moving ahead on their own and then presenting it to HR or their bosses boss could easily backfire, even if they’re right or it’s a one-party state. They’re on their own, whereas it sounds like you have a lawyer to back you up, which can make some companies rethink their response.

        Plus it sounds like you’re dealing with something legally actionable, whereas the LW just describes awful, mean behavior, which isn’t so clear cut.

        1. Le Sigh*

          And I say none of that to excuse bullying, toxic workplace behavior — just that it’s less clear for the LW.

      3. Observer*

        That’s a very different situation. You are describing one of the very few cases where recording can make sense – you’re working with a lawyer already and you don’t intend to use the recordings within the organization. You also are aware that these recording are not what’s going to get your boss fired. So, totally different from what the OP is thinking of.

    9. Mym*

      Don’t do it.
      In my sector, dismissal is time consuming and requires years of documentation, failed coaching, and PIPs. We mostly hope people move on to a job that is a better fit. There are three things that will get you walked out in less than 24 hours: porn, fraud, and ethical violations.
      Recording, even in a one party state, falls under “ethics” for us, both because there is a process to deal with grievances and because it shows a serious lack of judgment by opening the organization up for major risk (we deal with personally identifiable health information and research that requires security clearance, among other things).
      I know someone who did exactly this – recorded without consent or knowledge in a one-party state as part of making a “bad boss” complaint – six months ago. She was walked out that afternoon, no questions and no appeal.

  8. Cambridge Comma*

    OP1, no problem with the heating pad, but you can’t put the cord where people can trip over it.

    1. Marzipan*

      I am super interested by all these comments because evidently in the US plug-in heating pads are a fairly common thing, and I’ve never come across them in the UK. A quick Google confirms that it’s possible to find them, but generally I’d say we’re much more a nation of hot water bottles…

      1. londonedit*

        I was also confused by all this talk of plugging things in! I was imagining a microwave wheat bag or a hot water bottle.

      2. only acting normal*

        We’re also a nation of tea drinkers so every home and office is guaranteed to have a kettle (or boiler tap) with which to fill a hot water bottle. IIRC that’s less common in the US, so perhaps that’s why they don’t go for hot water bottles as much?
        I love my hot water bottles. :)

        1. Anonym*

          Heating pads don’t cool down until you tell them to, and are often larger and more comfy!

      3. Angus MacDonald, Boy Detective*

        I had this thought as well! I had never even heard of a heating pad with a cord, I can’t even really picture in my head what that would look like.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          They are great. You don’t have to keep heating them up like a hot water bottle. I’ve always had at least two because sometimes (more often as I age) more than one place hurts at a time.

        2. Jaid*

          Long, flat and with a flannel cover. Mine has a long cord, three heat settings, and a 30 minute timer.

          Some heating pads also come with a vibrating unit. Check out Sunbeam and Conair.

        3. Kimmy Schmidt*

          American here, and I had the exact opposite reaction! It took me a minute to process through what heating pad with no cord meant. My slow brain kept trying to go… batteries? Solar energy? Wizard magic?

          I love all the little cultural/regional things I get to learn about on AAM that I never even thought about.

      4. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I wonder how much this has to do with the different electrical systems? IIRC, the US system runs on a nominal 120V system, and the UK is a nominal 220V system. Therefore, an electric kettle boils much faster in the UK, but an electric heating pad might be a higher fire/burn risk. And if you’ve got a quick source of hot water, why not take advantage of that instead?

      5. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        American here. Hot water bottles are a thing but definitely not as commonplace as heating pads/electric blankets here. Americans don’t usually have electric tea kettles (or kettles at all) because we drink coffee here, so refilling isn’t as easy.

        My dad’s European and my mom is an Anglophile, so I grew up with hot water bottles instead (I still have my first hot water bottle cover, which I got from my dad’s sister as a baby and is shaped like a teddy bear) and I have a kettle for tea, but I’m pretty odd. I once went to a Walmart to get a new bottle and they had no idea what I was talking about — they led me to the thermoses instead!

        1. londonedit*

          So interesting! I suppose that’s it – we all have kettles anyway, and you can boil a kettle of water in less than a minute here. Hot water bottles are things most people grew up using (whenever I was ill as a child, my mum would always make me a hot water bottle) and I get the impression our houses tend to be a lot colder than US houses (because a lot of them are really quite old) so I guess they’re just much more normal to us as everyday items.

        2. nonymous*

          My husband recently discovered the joy of hot water bottles (and mueller ice bags) when doing a long stint of airport travel. Just bring it through security empty and ask for ice or hot water when you get coffee.

        3. pentamom*

          You just got the wrong Walmart employee! They have them, they’re with the heating pads and health-oriented humidifiers and stuff like that, in the health aids department.

        4. Le Sigh*

          American as well, but I actually bought an electric kettle for my coffee (but also use it when I happen to make tea). Pretty useful little appliance.

          Still use the heating pad, though. Too lazy to get up and reheat/refill a water bottle.

        5. smoke tree*

          Meanwhile in Canada, as usual, we’re stuck between the two sides. I’ve seen the electric heating pads in stores but hot water bottles and rice heating pads seem more common. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of these brought to work, though.

        6. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I’m not even sure where I’d go to buy a hot water bottle in the US. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in a drug store.

          1. MagicUnicorn*

            Most drug stores do have them but they are usually in a very out of the way location (probably a bottom shelf near the bulk boxes of gauze, bedpans, etc.)

          2. JSPA*

            They often have the sort that doubles as a douche or enema bag. Often red rubber. I can see that being awkward at work.

        7. Michaela Westen*

          I and most of the people I know have the kind of kettle where you fill it with water and put it on the stove to heat. (American) Maybe it’s a big-city thing – fancy teas are fairly popular here.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Tape down the cord with duct tape! Or tape down an extension cord with duct tape then plug the heating pad into that – so you can take it home without pulling up the tape.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        But only if it’s in a place where it won’t get stepped on!
        Or get one of the microwaveable heating pads. I posted a link below. It stays hot for a while.

  9. KarenT*

    I would Lose. My. Mind.
    I like Alison’s hard stop at 2:45 wording.
    Are the meetings running long because people are chit chatting, or are they genuinely discussing work?

    1. Massmatt*

      It doesn’t really change Alison’s advice, but I was curious about this too. Do they blather on, or argue, or does it take forever for a decision to be made, or what? It’s odd that this team goes SO far over when you say the overall culture is meetings end on time, and the feedback from them was they appreciated your sticking to the schedule.

      I suppose the reasons would be more important if it were your team and you wanted to fix the overall culture, if you are just sitting in occasionally then you can just politely bow out.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      I’m guessing there’s no agenda for these meetings, or a really vague one with no time blocks. My team is great about specifying how much time is allowed for each topic and we all add to an agenda before the meeting so there’s no extra crap added in that wasn’t budgeted for. The person leading the meeting keeps an eye on time and cuts us off if we’re getting out of hand with one item (which can be parking lotted for later discussion).

      If we know there will be extra things brought up, we block 10 or 15 minutes at the end of the agenda just for that miscellany. It works really well, especially when there isn’t extra stuff in that block and we get to end the meeting early.

    3. Asenath*

      I find so much depends on the work culture – I noticed a dramatic change in the length of meetings when I changed jobs – and, most of all, the chair. If you have a chair who has a good agenda, circulates it, and stops the discussion from ranging far and wide as soon as the original topic has been discussed, you will have a meeting that ends on time. If not, well, the hard stop is a good one. It’s an especially good idea to put it up front – I tend to wriggle uncomfortably in my seat for a while before saying “Excuse me, I really have to go, I have another commitment that I’m late for” (leaving unsaid “because this meeting was supposed to end a half hour ago and we’re just going round and round in circles!)

      In my experience, such derailings of the schedule aren’t usually general chitchat; it’s either going round and round the same issue repetitively with no conclusion and no decision to table the issue, or wandering off into related territory, usually something that cannot be decided at the meeting anyway, even if it were on the agenda.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I worked at only one company that truly understood what it meant to have someone chair a meeting. The chair wold tell people, ‘Let’s add that to the next meeting’s agenda, we’ll talk about some details off-cycle’, or ‘We have 10 more minutes so let’s move on the next topic,’ and so on. And yes, the chair would interrupt the derailers and get back on track. Attending meetings was actually a pleasure.

      2. Half-Caf Latte*

        Yeah. There’s good and bad. CurrentJob does tend to thoroughly vet things, so when decisions are made, they usually have consensus behind them. It was, at first, a refreshing change from OldJob, where things were done quickly but not necessarily in the best way. This style requires patience and long memories, however.

        I’m on one recurring meeting where the chair absolutely will not chair, and the meetings are regularly hijacked. Old business that is on the agenda for clarification, or new items that are FYI and not decision points, get treated as open forum for opinions, and we revisit decisions that were already made at literally every meeting. Chair cannot understand why attendance isn’t great.

        This person is known for disregarding time limits across the board. Infuriating.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Thorough vetting versus directives from above: These also are the two kinds of churches. My church is the first sort. Major decisions, including the annual budget, are voted on by the entire membership. This, on the one hand, presents the horrifying prospect of that old guy who stands up in the meeting to question why we need that much postage in the budget. On the other hand, once the actual decision is made, no one feels that he didn’t get his say. The meetings can be dire, but the alternative is worse.

      3. OP5*

        I think that’s the issue. There is an agenda. It has time blocks. But in the case of staff meetings the department lead just allows the free flow of ideas. He never gets upset if someone has to go, so I’m just putting this on myself in some cases. But man, does it rankle! (One meeting was scheduled for 1.5 hrs and went for 4. No joke.)

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      One thing that comes up in my meetings, which have a hard stop, is all the side issues that people are reminded of that could be dealt with later. And are, but people are so quick to go to this and return to the meeting’s tight focus that I picture some epic derails before my time.

    5. Amethystmoon*

      You could try having someone time the meetings Toastmaster-style, and see if that helps. Show a red card at the hard stop time.

    6. RabbitRabbit*

      Depends on the makeup and ‘culture’ of the group, even, not just the workplace. I have two weekly board meetings that do the same function and are set for two hour blocks, but one board generally takes the whole two hours and we’re picking up the pace at the end to be able to get it all done. The other used to take about a half hour, but has shifted to more like an hour, hour and a half. Part of the time increase for the second board was a change in board policy (needing to spend more time discussing certain items to match regulations), but part was losing the board chair who was very much interested in just running through the meeting as fast as possible. Which isn’t the best thing necessarily, in that some things need to be noted during the meeting.

      Meanwhile the chair on the first board likes inserting relevant (theory-wise) references, but these sort of things could be e-mailed to the group afterwards, rather than drawing out a discussion at an end-of-day meeting. Plus he doesn’t provide his written notes so you’re madly taking notes for the minutes (moreso than normal) and it lends itself to rambling right there. The other board members tend to ramble too in that many will provide written notes but then want various documents with tracked-changes opened up and scroll through to point out and repeat exactly what they said, even if the changes are minor.

      Anyway, that chair is retiring soon, and the new chair is from the second board and we suspect that the times will become more equal after the handover. You need someone who’s good at directing the flow of the meeting, and if you have a rambling chair, you’re stuck.

    7. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

      I used to work in a small division that would blather at every meeting endlessly, especially at staff meetings. Despite having no authority or clout, I insisted on agendas, and because my coworkers were nice and half of them hated the meetings as much as me, they instituted agendas! I was then that brat who pointed out when we exceeded the time frame for a particular topic and insist we move on! I was not usually so “full of gumption” but those meetings made me insane.

    8. alphabet soup*

      What I’ve noticed at my workplace, when meetings run over, it’s almost always because whoever called for the meeting didn’t understand the actual complexity of the issues to be discussed, and assumes that folks are more aligned than they actually are. So, someone schedules a 30 minute meeting, thinking that’s going to be plenty of time because we only need to talk about X. But then during the meeting, we find out that we can’t do X because first we need to do U, V, and W, and we can’t do U because the person in charge of U wasn’t invited to the meeting, and V is only half-complete because they didn’t know we were doing X so they didn’t bother to finish, and no one even realized W would be an issue before the meeting started.

      So, it’s all relevant work talk, but just the result of poor planning and lack of communication/coordination.

    9. OP5*

      It’s some of everything. Sometimes presenters just don’t shut up and blather on for 45 minutes when they’re given 15. Sometimes it’s chit chat. The absolute worst (and what drove me to write in in the first place) was the meeting where a key decision maker joined a 30 minute call 28 minutes late — and they started over!!!! I had already told them I had a hard stop at the 30 minute mark, but this person likes to give me action items so I hung on for 30 more minutes until I finally just said I had to go. I do like the hard stop at the beginning. I think I’ll just have to use it more often.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Gawd I hate that. Accommodating people who arrive late just punishes everyone else. If the key decision maker hasn’t arrived by xx minutes after the meeting start time, the meeting should be rescheduled. My current workplace really likes to do the “And now we all get 15 minutes back!” thing, rather than meetings going the full scheduled time just because they can.

  10. Cambridge Comma*

    I’d bet that OP5’s meetings don’t have an agenda, or don’t have anyone keeping things on track during the meeting.

    1. EH*

      This. You need someone running the meeting, otherwise if even one of the attendees is a rambler, y’all are in for a looooooong session. It took me a while to develop the confidence to run meetings myself, but when I found out how much shorter I can make meetings when I do, I became a huge fan.

    2. OP5*

      I wish it was that easy. They do generally have an agenda or are on a specific topic. It’s the people who get the floor that won’t stop talking and no one cuts them off. Or it’s that certain people are viewed with more reverence so if they’re late then they wait on them or recap the entire meeting when they finally show up. I’m just so used to running things tightly that it’s a real shock to me.

  11. MommyMD*

    I live in California where it is illegal to surreptitiously record. I’ve got nothing to hide but if anyone recorded me going about work or personal business conducting myself lawfully, I’d go after them legally. Bad idea. Use other avenues.

      1. MommyMD*

        I got it ;) the point is people don’t take well to being surreptitiously recorded and this could backfire and get her fired. Company may value her Boss over her, rightly or wrongly.

    1. Avatre*

      Or you can make your very own Magical Rice Sock of Warm! (As I call mine.)
      Ingredients: Bag of dry rice. Pair of cotton socks (old ones are fine as long as they don’t have holes).
      Pour rice into one sock. Knot shut. Pull other sock over first sock. Knot shut. Microwave 1-2 minutes and enjoy the warm!

      1. Artemesia*

        I have done this with both rice and beans, the downside is that they have a very strong odor. The commercially available ones do as well — so you will smell like hot groats. I’d go with the under clothes disposable heat strips that have been mentioned earlier.

        1. Carlie*

          I’ve made several kinds – birdseed is good for ones that smell less, and basmati or jasmine rice smell nicer than standard (and stop smelling as much after a few reheating).

          1. BookishMiss*

            I love my rice socks. You can also use barley, but it is pricier than rice. Seems to hold heat somewhat longer than rice, though.

        2. Pretzelgirl*

          They work well, but you’re right they have an odor. Its like the rice gets toasted or something. You can change the rice out every few days and get a new sock that will help. Or you can add essential oil to the rice before shutting the sock closed.

        3. Dahlia*

          I’ve been using a rice one for like a year now, and just got a new one and after two or three heats, they don’t really smell anymore.

      2. Amethystmoon*


        You can also add herbs like chamomile or lavender for calming scent, though I’d avoid that if you have any coworkers with severe allergies.

    2. MatKnifeNinja*

      If you have a office microwave that doesn’t look like a crime scene.

      Otherwise it will smell like chili fries and hoisin sauce. Don’t ask me how I know. And the microwave wasn’t totally splattered. Had to throw my rice warmer out. It WAS on a plate.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Worked with a chick who would put her slippers in the office microwave. I think they had rice packed in them or something to keep them warm? But nonetheless… there was a lot of muttering about it behind her back and then I think someone finally confronted her and told her to keep her footwear out of our food heating device, because it did finally stop.

        1. RandomU...*

          I know am having an inner argument with myself to determine which I think is more egregious… slippers in the microwave, burnt popcorn, or fish.

          I seem to be stuck in a loop…

          Slippers don’t smell… but feet!… but stinky food… at least it’s food… but it stinks hours later… but food… but no smell with slippers… but feet… and floor germs… but…but… but…

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Burnt popcorn is probably the worst of the bunch. Even regular popcorn can be smelled on the other side of the office sometimes.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          OMG I don’t think I would ever be able to put my food in that microwave again. Maybe after I’ve bleached every little part of it.

        3. TeapotDetective*

          Drive-by love for your username :D

          And also how clueless do you have to be to put FOOTWEAR in a communal food-prep device!?! If you’re at home and it’s your own microwave and your own floor-germs and your own contaminated leftovers that’s one thing, but to subject other people to it??

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I love these, but I haven’t found one that stays *usefully* warm longer than half an hour or so, and that includes commercial versions filled with some kind of fine seed-like substance, and homemade versions using corn or rice. I want to know what you guys are using!

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I love the one that double as icepacks as well.

      Mine is shaped like a stuff animal. Come for me, “men” who cannot handle that I’m adorable.

  12. AcademiaNut*

    Regarding #2 – recording someone without their knowledge to use their words against them, even when it’s legal, is something people generally regard as a really big deal. It’s like scrolling through your partner’s phone to find evidence of their misdeeds – it might be totally legal, you might get the evidence you want, but you’ve substantially weakened your position by the method you used to get it.

    That’s not to say there’s no situation where you might do this, but I don’t think an asshole boss is a high enough threshold to resort to taping their conversations. A boss who is breaking the law might, if you’re willing to risk your job to address it. (For phone snooping, the line is probably if you’re looking for evidence to use in a divorce/custody case, but not if you’re interested in working things out).

    I also suspect that if you’ve reported your boss’s behaviour, with clear examples, and the higher ups don’t care or aren’t willing to address it, having more evidence probably won’t help, unless it’s something you could use to sue.

    1. MommyMD*

      Yes to Nannycams and recording if you feel a child or dependent adult is in danger. No to recording anyone at work you’re just have managerial issues with. No unless it’s directly threatening or a crime is being committed.

  13. Heidi*

    Hi OP5. If you all truly need 1.5 hours to get the business taken care of (and I’m very sorry if you do), then you might just need to schedule longer meeting times so that expectations match reality. If they are going long because they are inefficient and frequently sidetracked and people don’t want to handle stuff over email, then you might want to ask if you can address your essential items first and leave at the scheduled time. Even if I don’t technically have another meeting with someone else right after, I will sometimes block out time to review records or put together slides or write, and these pseudomeetings can help me stay on track.

    1. Massmatt*

      I suspect that if the meeting time were extended to 1.5 hours they would still run over if the overall reason were not addressed.

      I would be curious to try the opposite: What if you planned for an hour meeting, but scheduled it for 1/2 hour. Would they then go for an hour?

      1. Antilles*

        I agree. Changing the calendar invites/schedule so that the meeting times are extended won’t fix the problem. Because everybody will immediately think “oh, we each have more time to present, so I can go into more detail”…and suddenly you now have “1.5 hour” meetings that take 2+ hours.
        It can be helpful to mentally plan “yeah, this is an hour and a half, not 45 minutes”, so you don’t get frustrated…but that mental plan needs to stay on your personal calendar, not a formal change to the schedule.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Sounds to me like OP#5 is going to someone ELSE’s meeting so doesn’t have the authority to change the schedule itself. If they did, I’d be suggesting the “overkill approach” taken by one of the project managers here — ongoing problem gets an ongoing series of half-hour meetings at the END OF THE DAY when no one wants to have the meeting drag on. Ridiculous to have to do it but … it works.
      Skippable minutia unless you’re as amused as I am. One recent case, the project manager started the end-of-day meetings on Monday….it ran over, and he didn’t dismiss the meeting until they got through the agenda. Tuesday, everyone was much more succinct and they left on time. At Tuesday’s meeting he excused people who had shown their parts of the project were previously completed. (Including me.) From what I hear, magic happened on Wednesday and some badly overdue tasks were *FINALLY* delivered so the people waiting for those could do their part.

      1. OP5*

        You’ve got it right. They’re not my meetings. And the staff meeting agenda has me on last because I’m an “outsider”. Of course we’re alwats running late by then so I give my report-out in 5 minutes so we leave “less late”. Funny thing about the end of the day. The last one that was at the end of the day was scheduled from 4:30-5. One of the “key people” didn’t show up until 4:58. Instead of saying “Thanks Pat. Instead of holding everyone else up, I’ll get you caught up to speed tomorrow” the meeting organizer *started the meeting over*. I just about lost my mind. It’s kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to me writing in.

        1. lazuli*

          It may be worth asking if you can move the agenda around so you’re first, so then you can leave? Our workplace is pretty good about letting people in and out of meetings as needed, especially if you’re not a decision-maker on other agenda items. (Partly because our workplace is super-meeting-heavy and everyone always ends up triple booked.) It’s pretty normal for someone to say, “I can only be here for 15 minutes, so can we talk about anything you need from me first?” Sounds like you have enough seniority to make a similar request.

  14. Veggiesforlife*

    Op1 – I suggest using the term ‘old fashion’ over conservative. I have many conservative coworkers who wouldn’t bat an eye at a heating pad. If you are shy about it, you can say it’s for a different kind of pain (i.e. back or leg) or even hide it with it under a jacket on your lap. But I’m all in favor of letting it show because it’s not a big deal.

    1. The Jeff*

      I mean old fashioned doesn’t really cover it either as people have been having periods and dealing with for about a million years or so. It really depends places individual cultures to thoughts about women and periods. Calling people’s conservative attitudes old fashioned is a disservice to ‘older’ people who had different attitudes or cultures.

      But seriously to OP1 use the heating pad if you feel comfortable with it or my other suggestion is those reusable hand warmers that you snap then boil. They can be very small and discrete and you can have several that you snap throughout the day.

      1. Jasnah*

        Agreed, I think OP was using “conservative” to give us a general idea of the office, not presenting this nonsense as something every conservative person believes.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I’ll grant an exception if the office is just as straight-laced & tight-lipped about genderless bathroom issues. I worked somewhere where people used euphemisms to take a toilet break from their DESK. Let alone a meeting. (Great combo there–open office and people who were aghast if you mentioned the toilet. Mix in new symptoms that might be celiac and there’s one reason I wasn’t upset to be caught in their big layoff.)

          1. RandomU...*

            I always thought this was just politeness. Like asking where the restroom/washroom/ladies room/men’s room is instead of the toilet.

            My company has adopted “Bio break” and “Comfort break” as terms for using the facilities.

          2. londonedit*

            Did people actually announce that they were leaving their desk to go to the loo? (Or ‘take a comfort break’ or whatever euphemism they used?) I can’t imagine actually broadcasting the information – I just get up and go to the loo. If I was in a meeting and desperately needed to go, I’d just excuse myself (literally, ‘Excuse me for a moment’, that’s it). I wouldn’t say ‘Excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom’.

            1. L.S. Cooper*

              I wouldn’t announce it to a meeting, but with coworkers, it’s pretty normal to run into one another in the hall on the way to a meeting and say something like “I’ll be right there, just gonna run to the restroom first!”.

            2. RandomU...*

              I think the most common usage in my company (which is infamous with it’s back to back meetings) is. “Ok, we’re all done 5 min early. Just enough time to grab a cup of coffee or take a bio break before your next meeting” or like below “Hey.. going to be a couple of min late. Need a comfort break after my last meeting” or “Fergus will be joining in a few min. He needed a bio break”

              Basically it’s way to indicate that you aren’t just Lucy/Larry LateForMeetingsWithNoGoodReason

    2. JSPA*

      Isn’t this “big C” vs “little C” (as with Catholic and catholic having drastically different meanings)?

  15. P*

    Along with the hard stop announcement, I have found that for meetings where we aren’t moving well through an agenda, 10 minutes (or so, ymmv) before the end I will remind people I will be leaving and to cover anything they need my input on.
    And if there isn’t an agenda, perhaps requesting one ahead of time will also help. Then you can see if there are topics that you do definitely need to be around for and specifically ask to cover them before you leave so you can allay your fear about missing something important.

    1. Iain C*

      I was going to comment much the same thing. When a meeting is half way through, I start using phrases like “That sounds like something interesting to discuss, but not with everyone – can we can get back to issues that involve everyone”.

    2. RandomU...*

      I usually give a 10 minute warning (regardless if it’s my meeting or not) “I see we have about 10 minutes left, is there something else that we should discuss as a group” “Hmm, we’re coming up on time, should we recap the action items and capture next steps”

      Sometimes this isn’t possible, but for most meetings it’s pretty effective.

    3. Kes*

      Came here to say this as well, I have done this – remind people we only have x minutes left and could we discuss y matter that I actually need to be there for

    4. OP5*

      Thanks for that suggestion. I think I’m just going to have to do that more often. Or as we’re getting to the end saying “It looks like we’re getting close on time. Can I make sure that I’ve captured all of my action items correctly?” And then at the end “I’ve got to run. Ferguson, if anything else comes up for me let’s touch base.” And then just leave… that would be so freeing…

  16. Liv Jong*

    OP #1, I kept a heatpad at my desk the entire decade I had a desk job. I am constantly cold and a sweater wasn’t cutting it. It rested on my lap almost every day during the summer and some days in the winter and kept me warm and productive.

  17. Melissa*

    Temp agencies have NEVER successfully placed me in a job. Like the old saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” And I have. One agency in five years has placed me in a job that last one day KNOWING that I do not do Accounts Receivable, only AP and 14 years of that. They still send me monthly opportunities to me. I just ignore them now.

  18. coffee cup*

    Good luck with the heating pad, OP1! I can totally empathise. I have terrible cramps many months, and I’ve been known to just bring a hot water bottle to work to try to ease things (doesn’t really, so I take strong painkillers, but it’s soothing!). I have the advantage that I work in a female-dominated office, although I know not everyone has the same pain I experience. Your comfort and health is most important, and a heating pad really isn’t intrusive in any way.

  19. Mookie*

    My coworkers are much more understanding, although since I’m the first full-time female employee, I think there’s been some “getting used to.”

    This isn’t one of those instances where we needle LWs about their word choices; I just find this a very sad sentence. I recognize myself, as recipient of such patient “understanding,” in it.

    1. Mookie*

      And to riff off what Alison wrote, we women, too, are everyday, unremarkable facts of life. Men accustomed to thinking they live exclusively homosocial existences still benefit from our presence and invisible labor.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Yeah, it sounds like OP is grateful that coworkers are not as disrespectful as boss and they manage to tolerate her (after an adjustment period, of course).

        1. Jasnah*

          It makes me wonder if they truly are respectful, or if they just seem good compared to her boss. I feel for OP. You’re a pioneer fighting the good fight!

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      As a “first woman” in my job, I can sadly relate. Unsurprisingly, there was more hostility from the older (+50) employees than those my age.

      1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        Sexist jokes, mostly. One even called me “femnazi”. Not nice at all. At least that person quitted shortly after that.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Yeah be a woman who knows her worth and refuses to be subordinate *because* you’re female…”feminazi(!!!).”

    3. AnotherAlison*

      Very male dominated field employee here. I led a meeting of 19 yesterday as an engineering project manager, and I was the only woman. Even though it is something I am very used to over the past 20 years, sometimes I still look around in a meeting like that and am kind of like “WTF”. I mean, it probably seems crazy to most of you who work in more balanced fields that we regularly deal with men who still don’t expect women to have a seat at the table. I work with man who has a daughter in her 20s who is in the Air Force, but it took a month to train him that I was his [high level project management] peer not his admin. But, at the same time that I’m bewildered how much 2019 can look like 1819, you also have to look at the “curve” of feminist and equality progress. My mother couldn’t wear pants to public high school. I played co-ed t-ball in the 80s because they didn’t have girls teams yet. Women were excluded from any combat until the 90s, and the all combat roles weren’t opened until 2016. This is recent history, folks! Why would we be surprised some men still think women should be teachers and SAHMs only.

  20. nnn*

    #1: Imagine you had an athletic injury that requires some self-care throughout the day.

    Your heating pad is morally equivalent. Your body language when using it should be the same as if it were for an athletic injury. And, if anyone asks, your explanation of “Oh, I’m just having some pain, don’t worry about it. Anyway, TPS reports!” should be delivered the same way as if it were for an athletic injury.

    1. Kesnit*

      ^ This.

      I’m a guy, but have back issues (just due to aging) and knee pain (from playing rugby many years ago). I sometimes keep a heating pad in my office for those times when my pain acts up.

      Pain happens. It happens to everyone, for countless reasons. Anyone freaking out because “AHHH!!! Menstrual cramps!!!!” needs to grow up.

      1. General Ginger*

        Yeah, I hadn’t thought of using heating pads for pain as at all gendered or controversial until this post — pain happens, sometimes heat is just the thing. OP’s coworkers absolutely need to grow up.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Yep! I use a heating pad for my back due to arthritis and muscle spasms. Some days, it’s the only reason I’m able to walk across the parking lot to my car at night without whimpering the whole way. I wouldn’t bat an eye at anyone else who had one, and I wouldn’t even assume it was for menstrual-related reasons.

        (Also, fellow former rugby player fistbump!)

    2. Kat in VA*

      Every now and then my neck flares up (three neck fusions, two of which didn’t take, around 8 oz of titanium rods, screws, and a plate in there). I put on self-adhesive lidocaine patches and they’re…noticeable. People ask what they are, I say, “Lidocaine patch, neck hurts” and that’s it.

      Also, there’s no “moral” equivalency between my busted-up neck pain and period pain. If I still got periods (miracle of taking the Pill continuously, no periods, yeet), I would use a heating pad and tell people I was hurting and needed it. Nosier folks might get a blurted “CRAAAAMPS” accompanied by a funny face, but I’m also known as A Personality™ at work so that might not work for you.

    3. OP with cramps*

      I actually like that a lot. I had an athletic(ish) injury when I first started and had to bring in ice packs all the time. My boss is the type to push for details of these things and then broadcast any and all details to the whole office… so I like your idea of just changing the subject!

  21. Sonya*

    OP 1 – go forth and warm up your heating pad. I’ve got a wheat bag at work. Sometimes the stomachache or the cramps are distracting, but not bad enough to go home.

  22. Draley*

    I’m a longtime feminist who has worked in all sorts of different settings and I’ve never ever seen a coworker use a hearing pad in the workplace, but sure, use it. Don’t pretend for a second it’s effing normal to do, however.

    1. Anon25*

      Maybe if more people do it, there will be less shame about a very normal thing that happens to people with female reproductive systems. It was only until I became the boss that I felt comfortable bringing a heating pad and it cut down my sick time from endometriosis by 50%.

      1. Arielle*

        Yes, definitely. I said this in a comment earlier, but I used to sit next to a woman with severe endometriosis and she used different types of heating pads basically daily. It was that or not come to work.

    2. Temp*

      Hmm, I’ve seen lots of women here in my office with hot water bottles/wheat-bags. TBH I assume they’re cold but going on how many of them do it, it seems pretty normal here. I’d never thought of or assumed it was for cramps or pain but TBH I don’t care why they have it. They’re cold/sore and that helps and it’s none of my business. I’m in a different room with better HVAC so I don’t need one for temperature but if I needed one for back pain (which is where my TOM pain actually hits me) I wouldn’t hesitate, or spend much time thinking about what other people would think. No one has to pretend anything. She wants something warm for her comfort. I’d like think that people being comfortable could just be normal without anyone needing to think too hard about it or make any judgements on it!

      I find your tone weirdly harsh for something so banal just because you’ve never seen it in your workplace?

    3. Bagpuss*

      Maybe you’ve simply never noticed?
      They aren’t particualrly bulky or obtrusive. If someone was sitting at their desk with a heat pad in the small of their back, or against their stomach I would not have thought it would be noticable (and depending on what they are wearing, and the height of the desk, possible not even visble!)

      I don’t think it is particualrly uncommon but equally not something that would be very noticeable or worthy of comment in most offices.

      1. CSI Tink*

        Oddly effing harsh statement there Draley.

        I work in law enforcement with a job that’s 25-50% at a desk depending on the week. My office/squad has literally no boundaries when it comes to things said to each other. We’d be an HR nightmare in a normal job. Not once has anyone commented on my heating pad usage winter or summer.

        1. Venus*

          Agreed that it’s off-putting that the original commenter seems to think that their situation should be the norm for every part of the world…

    4. Asenath*

      I’ve never noticed a co-worker using a heating pad, but if it was one of those little microwave ones, I probably wouldn’t notice. So I can’t say if they’re normal or not in my workplace.

      Fans for hot flashes are quite common, and no one blinks an eye at them, even when the user is obviously flushed and makes a comment about why she has her fan on. I would expect a similar non-reaction to heating pads.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Oooh nice comparison. We don’t say anything when someone is having their own personal summer but somehow menstrual cramps are “too personal” to be mentioned. But the cracks about having h9t flashes are rampant.

        BTW, having a hot flashes in the middle of court while wearing a suit with no way to get relief is NOT fun.

    5. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I’ve used an electric heating pad on my back while sitting at my desk for days at a time on at least 3-4 different instances, and no one has even commented on it. (They did ask with concern about how stiffly I was walking.) It’s not exactly usual in our office, but it’s also not considered abnormal or anyone else’s business.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’ve seen heating pads at a Fortune 100 company and I didn’t blink an eye. I didn’t ask because I assumed someone was tired of sitting in a cold zone. (Our building has been expanded so many times our HVAC system is a Rube Goldberg device that leaves hot & cold patches. Why bother migrating to another space if you can just use a heating pad?)
      OP#1 I do suggest you invest in a timer-controlled one though because an automatic shutoff will do a lot to reduce corporate worry about fire risk.

    7. MatKnifeNinja*

      My jobs in health care and elementary education were probably the LEAST sympathetic to things like menstruation and pregnancy issues. Those are female dominated jobs.

      You have are having cramps? Staff would talk smack behind you back for days. You’d be shredded for bringing in a heating pad.

      My lab job? Mostly men, and I doubt they would even know unless they tripped on the cord.

      It’s not all sisterly love for all things womanly. I get men may not want to hear it, but some women really ramp up the BEC if you need more than a Midol and caffeine.

      1. MOAS*

        I went to an all girls Catholic high school and my (female) biology teacher said “you’re not a real woman if you can’t handle cramps.”

        I was 15 at the time and a little sad to admit I followed that thinking until later. I’m lucky enough that I’ve never had to deal with really bad cramps that take me out of commission, but I know that’s not the case for everyone and have gotten rid of that thinking.

        Although I really really really still hate how anytime a woman displays emotion it’s PMS regardless of what the situation is.

    8. Marthooh*

      Also a longtime feminist here. I, too, would have considered a heating pad for menstrual pain unprofessional, until I read Alison’s reply and the many, many supporting comments here. Now I gotta think it’s completely acceptable, which is not the first trick this old b***h has learned from AAM.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Would you have considered a heating pad for, say, back or shoulder pain equally “unprofessional”? Is it necessary to suffer in silence in order to be seen as professional?

    9. Jule*

      Ew. Is your preference usually to devolve into swearing at people who deviate from your (key word: your; you’re very wrong about what happens discreetly in offices everywhere) idea of normal?

    10. Marzipan*

      I find your comment a bit harsh, tbh, and not in ways that are mitigated by your identifying as a long-time feminist.
      FWIW, I have also worked in all sorts of different settings and have quite often used a hot water bottle to combat cramps. It has never caused any issues, and was perfectly normal.

    11. Moocowcat*

      Heating pads are normal in a lot of places. I keep one at number desk (a Magic Bag) for winter when its ‘effing cold. It’s possible that OPs coworkers wouldn’t even notice a hearing pad.

    12. londonedit*

      I don’t know, maybe it’s industry-specific, but I’ve never worked in an environment where someone using a heat pad/wheat bag/hot water bottle would even be an issue, let alone where someone would think they were unprofessional. People have all sorts of things at my office – scarves/shawls for when it’s cold, desk fans, extra cardigans, etc. Many people commute to work in trainers and keep smarter shoes under their desk. We’re not robots; we need these things to make our lives a bit more comfortable at work. So I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at anyone using a heat pad (if I even noticed) – it’s just another one of those ‘makes life a little easier’ things. And I definitely wouldn’t automatically think ‘OMG that person’s got menstrual cramps’.

    13. pleaset*

      “Not normal” can have different connotations:
      A: weird/bizarre
      B: not common.

      I think different people are interpreting the phrase differently here.

      1. Massmatt*

        Well, the comment was “don’t pretend for a second that it’s effing normal…”. The “effing” emphasis and “don’t for a second” impatience both strongly imply connotation A.

        The comment is oddly vehement if it simply meant “not common”. I think everyone is on the same page on which connotation it is.

        1. pleaset*

          ” I think everyone is on the same page on which connotation it is.”

          I’m not. I’m not sure.

    14. Environmental Compliance*

      This is a really oddly aggressive statement to make. With all the commercial products out for this, I am really side-eyeing the “effing (!!) normal” comment. Surprise! A whole lot of people have uteri! Sometimes those uteri decide to be little demonspawn and hurt like hell. Sometimes we need additional things to go through our lives normally due to that pain.

      Perhaps you didn’t intend for this statement to come off as needlessly aggressive (and harsh) as it does, but please be aware that….well, it does come off as pretty damn harsh.

    15. Alfonzo Mango*

      How would it not be normal? It’s no different than a space heater or blanket.

    16. Victoria, Please*

      Truly puzzled here as to why using a heating pad for cramps would be considered non-feminist.

      1. Jadelyn*

        If I had to guess, I’d think maybe Draley is of the older school of feminism where the goal was to be indistinguishable from men in every possible way. Less “challenge gendered expectations” and more “just conform to the male expectations instead of the female ones”. By acknowledging that you menstruate, you are Publicly Being Female In A Male-Dominated Setting, which is a betrayal of The Cause since the men around you must acknowledge that you are not, in fact, just “one of the guys”.

        1. Kat in VA*

          I’m the biggest feminist on the planet, teaching my girls to do the same, get in my boss’ face when he thoughtlessly says something stupid like “lady lawyer”, regularly challenge friends, coworkers, and family on sexist notions…

          I also wear high heels, pencil skirts, and scarlet lipstick when I feel like it. This notion that women must be the same as men has got to die out.

          I don’t WANT to be a man; I want to be treated EQUAL to men and for some folks, that’s a difficult concept to visualize.

    17. Staja*

      I’m not sure what being a feminist has to do with a heating pad. Unless one decides to make an announcement, I doubt co-workers will know about it, much less why. I had one at my desk for years for on/off costochondritis & pancreatic pain. Was I being un-feminist because I was trying to get some pain relief?

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Saying “I’m a feminist” gives one “cred” to speak on period issues. Apparently…::eyeroll emoji:;

    18. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Um, what? I don’t get bad cramps, but I have used both heating pads and ice packs when I had a back injury. No one in the office batted an eye. Yes it is effing normal.

    19. Observer*

      You’re completely correct. The OP should not PRETEND that it’s normal. She should KNOW that it’s normal – at least as normal as ANY self care and pain management.

    20. General Ginger*

      And I’ve seen both male and female coworkers use heating pads in the office. I hadn’t even considered it could be interpreted as gendered, or at all weird, until I read OP’s post. Athletic injuries, chronic conditions, menstrual pain, etc — pain happens! People use what they need to in order to manage it!

    21. Samwise*

      I’m a longtime feminist who has worked in all sorts of different settings, too, and I have seen people use heating pads. Ice packs. Special pillows. Foot rests. Ace bandages. Etc.

      Use the heating pad, OP. Because in many workplaces, it IS normal.

    22. CanCan*

      Wow, Draley, that’s super harsh!
      Not common is one thing.
      Not “effing normal” – meaning not acceptable, weird, and people are entitled to look at you funny??? That’s something else. I guess you’re demonstrating to the OP that some people will be rude for no reason whatsoever!

      OP – bring your heating pad, as long as you can use it safely (not where people can trip on it!). Doesn’t matter if it’s not common, – if it eases your discomfort and doesn’t impede other people, it’s fine.

    23. SenseANDSensibility*

      Imagine if men had to deal with often-crippling pain for one week out of every month for 40+ yrs, I wonder how “normal” all sorts of help-aids would be to help them “get through it?” Add to the pain the side effects of mental & physical fatigue, frequent diarrhea, leg cramps, insomnia, back pain…I venture to say we’d see an astronomical absenteeism rate from men for one week a month. The entire workforce would be brought to a standstill. Now quit harassing us about what is normal and not normal.

    24. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Honestly, I’ve had other women tell me that I should try heat packs when I mention cramps. It’s not something I want to do or ever even dabble in, I just eat some OTC meds and go on with my day.

      It can also be due to the fact you just never notice, since tbh it’s weird to “notice” things like “oh Nancy is holding something in her lap, let’s investigate what she’s doing over there, oh my goodness it’s a heating pad, what’s that about?!”

      I wouldn’t notice unless someone was making a show out of it.

    25. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’m going to say that just because you’ve never seen it doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. Mathematically speaking, you’re bound to have worked with at least one person who had a bad back and needed a heating pad to get through the day. But heating pads are smallish and most people don’t announce to the office that they’re going to plug one in or heat it in the microwave, so you probably just weren’t aware.

      What’s normal is that professionals live inside bodies, and sometimes those bodies aren’t particularly comfortable places to live. So why shame someone for trying to reduce their pain levels so they can focus on the work they were hired to do?

      1. Observer*

        You know, it IS possible that Draley has primarily worked in places that were “macho” and low key hostile to disability and self care. In which case, yes it would be reasonable to expect that she’d never see a heating pad. Because in places like that heating pads are just “for sissies” (or whatever slur you want to use for weaklings.)

    26. Kat in VA*

      The lidocaine patches I mentioned elsewhere that I use on my neck aren’t “normal” or “everyday” either.

      Who cares? I’m hurting, they work, end of story. Whether or not you think they’re normal…IDGAF and the OP shouldn’t either.

      Also: just because you’ve never seen it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Longtime feminist (and who cares? what relevancy does that have?) and worked in many situations and yes, I HAVE seen women using heating pads/rice socks/corn bags/whatever.

      Harsh statement met with equally harsh rebuttal.

    27. nonegiven*

      You may not have ever known. Thermacare has been around for ~20 years. I remember using them for cramps 15ish years ago.

    28. JSPA*

      I’d guesstimate I’d seen at least 1 in 15 women use some heating device, at least occasionally. So while it’s not statistically “the norm,” it’s hardly notably peculiar.

  23. Rebecca*

    OP #2 – I think the best thing you and your coworkers can do is get other jobs and be honest in your exit interviews. Not bridge-burning ranting, but honest statements about why you’re leaving. Tell HR about how your boss acts, give examples, like “when Bob learned we needed an extra day on the X project, he berated me and our team and called us [insert name/s], called us babies in a sing-song voice, and told us that if we didn’t complete the project on time we’d all be fired”, or stormed around the office swearing and threatening us when Y happened, etc. For now, document dates, times, things said, and look for another job. I did this once, and after I left, so did the bad manager, not by her choice, but she was gone. Sometimes it takes multiple workers leaving and a few honest statements to HR for companies to sit up and take notice.

  24. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

    #4 reminds me of a job I had at a large hospital. Our department employed a lot of people from around the world and also had a big sexual harassment problem with a few of the male employees. My coworker and I finally went to HR to report the problems. Their suggestion was a “diversity potluck” so we could all learn about each other’s cultures. I thankfully got transferred to a similar department at another location because HR did not try to hide who made the report and my coworker decided it would be easier to be friends with the harassers than face the drama and exclusion.
    Thankfully my new manager and coworkers were pretty great, but I’m still blown away many years later.

  25. Bookworm*

    #1: Agree with Alison’s advice (sorry for the awkwardness, although it really shouldn’t be!). Also, there are plenty of other ailments you could need a heating pad for: general aches and pains, muscle cramps, it’s just cold in the office, etc.

    Years ago I was an intern and my desk was in a super drafty hallway that wasn’t meant to hold staff. So I’d bring a heating pad and no one blinked an eye (people were sympathetic and one offered her mini heater). So there are plenty of other reasons why you might need a heating pad.

    Hope no one gives you grief for it.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m thinking of my temp job where two of us worked in the hallway next to the frequently used courtyard door. Aren’t hallway desks marvellous!? That was such a delight in March!.

    2. not really a lurker anymore*

      I don’t think I’ve ever noticed/heard about anyone using a heating pad/water bottle for cramps but it’s common enough for them to be used for other sore muscles here. So I don’t think anyone would think twice about it.

  26. Probably Nerdy*

    Interesting answer to #2 – I used to work for a federal agency and had a horrible boss who said illegal things to me during performance reviews. When I complained about it, they told me it was a “he said she said” thing and there was nothing they could do since there was no evidence. I was told that recording my performance reviews would have been the only way to counter that.

    Methinks my former workplace was beyond messed up and every day I find out more ways in which that is true. Thanks AAM!

  27. just trying to help*

    #1 – Just make sure you don’t plug the heating pad into an UPS. I worked with a woman many years ago who needed to do the same thing. We worked closely in a server room, she brought in her heating pad, plugged it into the server UPS, and this promptly sent a signal to the server to shutdown due to the overcurrent condition the heating element introduced. It was quite funny afterward and we found a non-critical outlet for her use later.
    #5 – I have been there and simply tell people I have a hard stop and unapologetically leave the meeting. I also used to do this in physical meetings by simply getting up and leaving the room. I truly had other things to do. It sent a message about running better meetings and I never took flack for it from my management.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      My brain initially interpreted this as USB and I wondered where she found a USB-powered heating pad…

      1. Moray*

        Such things exist! I don’t know how warm they can get, but one of my coworkers has little USB-warmed fingerless mittens she wears when her hands get cold.

      2. General Ginger*

        I have one! Two, actually. I work in a repurposed factory building, and it can get really cold/hard to effectively heat in winter, so we all have personal heating devices at our desks. One is sort of like a fleece pillowcase, but open on the sides; you put your hand through it to use your mouse (Mouse Hand Warmer should work for a search). The other one is a gel-like bar that’s great to rest and warm your wrists on as you type. Both plug into a USB, and work great.

  28. BRR*

    #3 this is something where I’ve pushed back a little the rare times it’s happened to me. Basically I just gently word the message “you reached out to me. You’re trying to woo me.”

    1. Michaela Westen*

      So I thought of this one:
      “What do you like about our company?”
      “Well for a start, your company likes me!” say it as a joke, it should get a laugh.

  29. NYWeasel*

    Re OP#2: I totally get Alison’s advice for not recording the boss. And I get that the grandboss may be valuing something the boss brings, so might not want to address OP’s concerns. If that’s the case, it’s likely OP leaving is the only option left for OP. But, since that’s pretty much a “last resort” sort of action, I’m wondering if there’s any way for OP to frame the concerns differently for Grandboss, ie more of a business case rather than a personal complaint. Thoughts?

    1. fposte*

      If you can quantify it, maybe–“We’ve lost three of our Rock Massagers since Boss started as a direct result of his abrasive and contemptuous management style.” Or “I’ve had two clients ask me if I’m okay and if he’s always like that.”

      But the impact really needs to go beyond the speaker herself (if she had enough power to incriminate the boss just with her report, she wouldn’t be wanting a recording), and I’d be unlikely to recommend going to GB if the only impact she could mention was that other employees don’t like it. Maybe with a GB she has a relationship with (was her boss before, that kind of thing) or who’s notably sympathetic, but “My boss is really mean” isn’t usually going to get much grandboss traction.

  30. Sara without an H*

    OP#5, I’m curious about why you feel you have to hang on to the bitter end if you don’t have an outside commitment? Is the problem that they don’t get to your section of the agenda until last? (I’m making the generous assumption that they have an agenda.)

    I work in higher education, which is full of badly-run meetings. What I usually do, if I’m aware that the chair doesn’t control meetings well, is say something like: “I have to be out of here by 2:30 at the latest. I wonder if we could move discussion of the Permafrost Project up, so that I can leave on time? Thanks!”

    Your “other commitment” doesn’t have to be another meeting. You might just have made a “prior commitment” to spend some time in your office getting work done.

    1. OP5*

      It’s a lot of things. In the staff meetings I’m at the end of the agenda. And like I mentioned in my letter, part of it (I think most of it truth be told) is that I’m still fairly new at working with these folks in this capacity, so I want to be seen as a teammate and a partner. Last issue is that the person in my role before didn’t do a very good job so I’m paying for the sins of my predecessor in some respects.

    2. Richard*

      I can confirm that about higher education meetings. Any time I’m at a meeting outside my department (and the occasional one in my department) there’s a vague agenda and people just talk about whatever for a while, nobody takes notes, and then are mildly shocked when an hour passes and people need to leave and nothing got done.

    3. Talik*

      Sara without an H, I just wanted to say how excited I am that you used the Permafrost Project as an example! I hope that was the real project you worked on:)

  31. Newlywed*

    OP #1 – Absolutely use a plug-in heating pad when you’re sitting at your desk at work. I do it when I have bad cramps, and some of my coworkers use one for back pain. And sorry, popping ibuprofen just doesn’t help like consistent application of heat does. There is nothing unprofessional about using a legitimate medical device to manage pain just because it is visible. Yes, the discreet single use ones are good for travel — but you shouldn’t have to buy boxes of them every month and bear the additional cost that accumulates over time just because someone else might be vaguely uncomfortable with the idea of you having to use a heating pad to manage a legitimate issue. You already have to pay the pink tax (if you’re in the US) on feminine hygiene products; please don’t feel like you have to also pay more for another person’s convenience when you’re trying to manage your own pain symptoms in an appropriate, cost-effective way. I’m sorry you have to be the one to set the precedent, but it’s better to do it now, not only for yourself but for other women who will be hired in the future.

    I got my heating pad at CVS, and it’s nice because you can detach it from the cord and keep it on if you have to leave your desk (it won’t stay hot for too long, but it’s got a gel insert you can use that keeps it warm a little longer), and it has velcro straps so I can wear it under a shirt or jacket like a slim fanny pack. Not stylish by any means but practical and gets the job done. I have never had anyone make a comment to me about it once, except to ask where I got it because they also wanted one.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Microwaveable heating pads are a thing too. I use a sock full of rice at home, but there’s fancier, more streamlined things you can make or purchase that could be a bit more discreet. I would find myself killing myself every time I spun my chair around if I had a plug in heating pad.

      1. Newlywed*

        sure, but the OP seemed to imply that she had a corded one that she really liked, so I was going off of that assumption

  32. Phoenix Programmer*

    Ugh. Why do managers use “mediation” for office jerks who don’t want to change? I have a co-worker whose clients dislike him, is a jerk to everyone all the time, and he has had HR mandated remediation multiple times. He is rude to management too.

    1. knitter*

      This is my life right now…mediation next week with the office bully. So pointless.

      LW #4: What I’m doing to prep is just to have a few talking points that I can keep returning to in the event bully uses her “act”. In my case, it’s either a swear-laden diatribe about crazy someone is (and thus is useless and shouldn’t be listened to) or a sob story about how insulted she’s been and thus can’t actually do her job. So even though the time is useless, I can reinforce my own self-worth. In an ideal world, I will also be able to get her on the record to commit to certain behaviors (like making sure I have reports I need).

      1. not really a lurker anymore*

        My grand boss stopped someone dead in their tracks (according to reports from someone who was there) by informing PITA coworker that “We’re not here to discuss X and their work behavior. We’re here to discuss you and your work behavior.”

        1. knitter*

          Wow, that is amazing… and literally a dream scenario for me.

          What is so frustrating with mediation, to me, is that it is implied that both parties have equal responsibility in the situation. I’m so frustrated that someone didn’t tell the bullying co-worker to just cut it out and I have to take on management’s job by standing up to her through mediation.

  33. Roscoe*

    #2 Don’t do it. Its a bad idea. Because not only is there a good chance nothing will happen that wouldn’t have happened if you just went to someone anyway without a recording, but people will look at you different. I once had a situation where I was kind of entrapped into getting heated with a co-worker while she was recording me. Thing is, nothing happened to me, except my boss asked me what happened. I didn’t get in trouble, but you can bet everyone else, the boss, other co-workers, all treated her different when they saw what she was willing to do. You will be looked at as untrusworthy at best. Even people who may agree that your boss sucks, don’t like the idea that you may be secretly recording them at any time

  34. it_guy*

    #5 – Several suggestions:

    Use an Agenda! Usually, but not always, meetings run over because the conversation veers off topic. When this happens, I just say “That’s a great idea, but lets put that in the parking lot and if we have time at the end of the meeting we can discuss that”

    Be ruthless, you are running the meeting. The first couple of times that you have to derail a conversation, people look at you, but after you establish your credibility and leadership, people will be more willing to defer to you running the meeting.

    1. Marthooh*

      It sounds like OP manages to end their own meetings on time, but other people’s meetings that they have to attend still go long.

    2. OP5*

      Thanks. In my own meetings I am ruthless about staying on track. These are other people’s meetings.

  35. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    OP#4: I have been you. I am finally recovering.
    I have been the person who was put into the Appropriate Behavior training with the Deliberately Provocative Co-Worker. And I found that it was important to speak to my supervisor and say outright, “I will attend this training and behave appropriately, but if x or y happens, I will do z in order to maintain my composure.”

    You may want say to the powers that be that being in the group with your nemesis will make it difficult for you to take advantage of the learning, and politely request that you be swapped to another group to reduce the amount of friction being brought into the room. And be prepared to hear that they’ve put you in that room on purpose, because they’re too afraid to address the issue directly, so they’re hoping magic will happen. But then at least you know.

    1. RandomU...*

      I kind of disagree with this. If HR gets wind of a particularly juicy conflict, they could easily focus in on it making things worse for the LW. It sounds like it worked for you, so I’m not saying it’s a terrible idea, but it could just as easily backfire.

  36. Miss Fisher*

    OP 1 – You just want to make sure a heating pad is allowable. At my work, you aren’t allowed to bring in fans, heating pads, heaters etc because of fire hazard. You might have a handbook you can check.

  37. Losing the will to live*

    My colleague keeps sniffing all day, and picks at the spots on their face. What can I do to fix this?

    1. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

      Offer to pay for the reconstructive surgery for their deviated septum, and donate your vacation time so they can afford to be out of work while they recover.

      Your colleague may dislike sniffing all day at least as much as you dislike listening to it–they’re the one who has to deal with it sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. From your end, it’s an annoying noise: from mine, it’s low-key but chronic discomfort plus an annoying noise.

      (The deviated septum is a guess; there are other physical conditions that can cause this. Mine is partly an aftereffect of anesthesia for abdominal surgery, which doesn’t exactly make a person think “a surgeon can fix this.”)

    2. Michaela Westen*

      Encourage them to see an allergist for the sniffing and a therapist for the picking.
      Only, though, if you have a friendly relationship with them and can do it in a kind supportive way.

  38. MuseumChick*

    OP 4, given what you have seen from HR, I would keep things vague no matter how they claim your feedback will be used.

    1. OP4*

      Hi, OP 4 here. The session we have to attend is *required* and our conflicts are going to be used as part of the group discussion. I didn’t know I was going to be in the same session as the other coworker. Honestly, he’s more of a nuisance than anything else but I’m afraid of a worst case scenario.

      I’ve been contemplating several options to bring up as my “conflict” and they’re mostly in the vein that Alison suggested – vague and related to ongoing management issues.

      Our HR is so out of touch that this “training” will likely not end well.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I’m sorry OP. Having a crappy HR department makes things so much worse. Please send in an update on how the “training” goes!

      2. RandomU...*

        Oh dear. This is one of those times I’d pick something boring and innocuous. “Jane uses the breakroom microwave to warm up her slippers”* Something low stakes, easily solved, that you have negligible emotional investment in.

        Basically nothing good will come from this so best not to engage in any meaningful way.

        *I am so going to use this for every ‘bad/clueless’ coworker from now on. It was a comment from someone upthread about a coworker.

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          Basically nothing good will come from this so best not to engage in any meaningful way.

          Yes, this. Make up something that’s easily solved, and that is also completely impersonal to you (and ideally everyone else in the group.) If you have a real problem to be solved, this is clearly not the venue to do it. If the goal of the session is to “practice” conflict management, sure, but you don’t need to practice with a real problem to get the benefit.

    2. Admin Amber*

      OP 4, bear in mind the company is doing this as a way not to have to deal with it. I would play it cool and watch the dumpster fire. Bring popcorn if you can.

  39. Falling Diphthong*

    #2, I think you’ve fallen into a fallacy where you hope that if the people who know what’s going on and don’t care really, really understood it, then they would care. That the only problem is that you somehow haven’t explained your boss’s unpleasantness in the right words, and if you did then forsooth he would be gone.

    That’s not the problem. No one caring that your boss is awful is the problem. The answer is to find yourself a new boss.

  40. voyager1*

    1. Record Boss
    2. Post to Twitter
    3. Let Twitter “Do its thing”

    Seriously don’t do that!

    I think we all have been there though either with a boss or a coworker, the thing is the company will fire you because they will be scared what else you might record in the future. It is risk management to them.

    1. irene adler*

      Mighty tempting though, to post something like this.
      And you are correct. What else -who else-are you recording?

  41. Catsaber*

    LW #1 – I understand feeling weird about calling attention to yourself, but like Allison said – please go ahead and bring your heating pad, and treat this like the non-issue it is. I had my second child several month ago and have been pumping breastmilk, and while it is kind of awkward to discuss my pumping needs with my boss (and basically just have conversations in which my breasts are the subject in front of all my male coworkers), it got less awkward over time. People take their cues from you. I decided to just be very matter-of-fact about it, and everyone else has been as well. I don’t go into all the glorious details that come with breastfeeding, but when it comes up, I just treat it as a normal bodily function ( which it is) that I need some accommodations for. There are plenty of people who bring heating pads or have other devices for things like injuries, back pain, etc, and I don’t see cramps as anything different.

    I work in the IT department at a university and it’s about 80% men, so believe me, I understandt! But I try to just be casual and matter-of-fact about things like this. I sometimes have to fake that casualness, but over time it has gotten better.

    1. jennie*

      Exactly. Treat is as a part of life. You don’t have to say “it is for my period” if you don’t want to, but just say it is for cramps. Even many misogynists have sisters or women in their lives who have cramps, and if they are horrified, they are the ones who jumped to the conclusion about what type of cramps. It is 2019. At least consider pretending they might be normal human beings just to see what happens.

  42. JN*

    #1: To get the benefits of a heating pad without the visibility or trip-hazard, Thermacare makes a product specifically for menstrual pain (similiar to their back/shoulder wraps). The menstrual product comes with a sticky back that adheres to your clothing. I’ve used this for years and it has helped me a lot.

  43. JustAnotherHRPro*

    #2 – I am no lawyer, but depending on what state you are in, there might be a wiretapping issue at play. I had a similar situation where a union employee secretly taped a manager, and the arbitrator sided with us due to the lack of consent.

    1. Not Me*

      The LW said they are in a single consent state, which means only one of the people being recorded has to be aware of and consent to the recording. Wiretapping laws have to do with connecting a recording device to a phone (or other type of communication).

  44. JustAnotherHRPro*

    And #4 – You have a terrible HR department – and people like that give us talented HR people a bad name.

    I cannot glean all the details from your post, but sometimes mediation is not a bad idea if its the first time it is being handled. And if otherwise his work productivity and output is good, workplace disputes aren’t illegal. HOWEVER, a large part of your job is working with your coworkers. You don’t have to like them, but you have to be polite and professional. Again, if this were me – and i lack a lot of the details here – i would probably skip the mediation and bring him in for a first and final.

    1. OP4*

      Thanks! It’s not him specifically I’m concerned about (we’ve had conflicts with him addressed in the past), but the possibility of the session becoming a Pandora’s Box, so to speak. Our HR is not equipped to handle conflict, solutions, or any sort of training period. Since there are so many other people in this session with their own conflict, it could get ugly depending on the severity of the issues.

  45. Database Developer Dude*

    Anyone considering using a heating pad for menstrual cramp pain to be unprofessional needs to take a long, hard look at their own life choices. And I’m a man saying that.

    I’m also gobsmacked that the other OP has a borderline abusive boss, but people are more worried about the OP recording him. Bullies thrive on secrecy. Dirty laundry that doesn’t get aired, doesn’t get cleaned. You’re basically consigning OP to leave the job.

    1. Massmatt*

      The comments gave many solid reasons why they thought recording the boss would be a bad idea. It is unlikely to have the result the OP wants and instead result in the OP being fired or severely reprimanded.

      I think looking for another job is far more likely to result in a better outcome for the OP than recording her boss. Once she leaves she can put a review on Glassdoor.

    2. Observer*

      What @massmatt said.

      Also, there are other ways to bring the issue to light. The problem is rarely that the abuser’s behavior is a secret, but that the people who can make it stop DO NOT CARE.

      There is a reason why laws against discrimination or other workplace abuses only work when there are significant penalties for the company as a whole or the top bosses. It’s because too often the decision makers know (or should know) about the misbehavior and don’t care enough to do something. When the law changes the mix by making penalties a real possibility, it changes the whole dynamic and decision making process.

    3. Jennifer*

      Exactly. I say record him. So many times when people report abusive behavior they aren’t believed because there’s no proof. Here’s someone trying to get it and being shut down. The recording would give them leverage.

      1. JM in England*

        Jennifer, I feel your pain!

        At OldJob, reported the bullying behaviour of a coworker to the boss. Boss then said that I was making a serious allegation, where was my proof? Then said I had been keeping a diary of all incidents over the last couple of months. In response to this, boss tore me off a strip, essentially saying how dare I keep such a diary. The matter was then taken no further! *sigh*

    4. Jennifer*

      And “just leave” isn’t always an option for people. Why would they be asking for help if it were that easy? Drives me up the wall.

    5. Lemon Zinger*

      “Bullies thrive on secrecy.”

      EXACTLY THIS. Obviously OP shouldn’t tell anyone at work about the recording because it’s to protect themselves. But in my opinion, OP should definitely record.

    6. Colette*

      The thing is, recording isn’t likely to actually help the OP. This situation isn’t going to play out in court – it’s going to be a discussion with people who already know the boss. Either they believe the OP is giving them credible information – in which case they don’t need the recording – or they don’t – in which case the OP is already in a bad situation, and the recording has the potential to change the conversation from “boss is behaving inappropriately” to “why did you record people at work? What else have you recorded? What have you done with the recording?”

  46. LaDeeDa*

    OP1, I understand why you are worried, men get so weird about it! It is especially concerning that you work someplace that in 2019 you are the first woman to be employed there!! Use Alison’s script and hopefully they will be so clueless they won’t put two and two together, or it will make them so uncomfortable they will just shut up.
    Even astronaut Sally Ride had to deal with clueless men at work…
    NASA gave astronaut Sally Ride 100 tampons for 7 days in space.
    “Tampons were packed with their strings connecting them, like a strip of sausages, so they wouldn’t float away. Engineers asked Ride, “Is 100 the right number?” She would be in space for a week. “That would not be the right number,” she told them.”
    There is no excuse for men being so clueless and weird and icked out by women’s menstrual cycles.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Agree and disagree. . .every woman is different. The right number for me would be zero. The right number for someone else would be ???? I am a woman, and I wouldn’t pretend to know. Never mind no one knew what impact space would have on women’s cycles. Maybe not an issue in Ride’s time, but now I do wonder what the impact is for women who are staying at the space station longer.

      I’d actually say there is some excuse for men being clueless about women’s bodies because we have been left out of medical research and investigation of how our bodies work differently from men’s. Now, there’s no excuse for the medical field, though.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Right, I get that, and I know the typical order of magnitude, but then there was the time my mom went through menopause and used approximately a million sanitary supplies in 3 months (because nonstop). My sister has endometriosis. People do have serious medical issues. I’d rather they send me 100 than 7. Same for toilet paper. Err on the side of too much.

    2. SenseANDSensibility*

      Hahaha 100 for one week?! How did she answer them with a straight face? And all the strings tied together?! So she had to untie each one to use it? ‍♀️‍♀️‍♀️

      1. Michaela Westen*

        So someone took 100 tampons out of their packages and tied the strings together. That’s a good use of a worker’s time! They could have left them in the boxes, or left them wrapped and put them in a bag…

  47. Jennifer*

    Use the heating pad. The thermacare packs are a good option, but the cost adds up buying those every month for years. I plug mine in in the socket under my desk so there’s no chance of anyone tripping over the cord. Can you do the same? I would imagine so if you have a desk with a computer plugged in. If not, maybe a homemade trip hazard warning sign would do the trick?

  48. Krampus not at Xmas*

    I always used Thermacare back pain pads, they are underneath your outer clothing and therefore they don’t signal that you are on your period. They worked great! Or, with no heat I used Tiger Balm pads.

    1. SenseANDSensibility*

      But what is the big secretive issue with wanting to conceal at all costs when a woman is having her period? Why should we have to be all covert and undercover about it? I’m tired of doing that. I used to come to work and suffer on Day 1 of my period (always the worst day), trying heating pads, popping ibuprofen like candy, just to drag myself through the day. Now I call in to use a sick day or a work-from-home day. Why am I killing myself when I have earned sick leave time & am in such bad pain I can barely get out of bed?

      1. Observer*

        Sick time is great if you have enough to take it each time. I certainly didn’t. Heating pads made a HUUUGE difference. And when I finally found the thermacare pads they were a lifesaver (more for my back then periods by that point.) SOOO much easier to use than most of the alternatives.

  49. PunkRockPM*

    I respectfully disagree about recording – and here’s why. I am currently in a toxic environment where I needed to reach out to legal counsel regarding discrimination due to my disability. Per legal counsel, I was advised to record everything for personal documentation and for my protection; regardless if admissible in court. I live in a one party state, so I do not need disclose I am recording. This gives me a personal record – as well as to listen to later when my emotions are not so high and not “in the moment”. It also gives me a tool for ideas on how to better deal with their tactics.

    This has been an emotional and mental life saver. I can play them back and also have others listen for input and feedback – when you are living in it, your perceptions get skewed due to bully / harassment techniques such as lying, gaslighting, etc.

    As I stated, I am doing this on the advice of my legal counsel. YMMV.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You’re absolutely correct, if your legal counsel recommends this kind of thing, you should take the advice. However just doing so in a regular situation, without outside counsel, I would steer clear.

      So it’s good that Alison, who isn’t an attorney says it’s not advisable because there are too many variables, including state and regional laws. But yes, please if you ever think that you’re in a place where you want to record something that’s going on, seek legal counsel and not the advice of a columnist!

  50. Greg*

    OP#1: I just hope your boss isn’t the one who wrote an employee up for having a box of maxi pads visible in her car. Because if so, you might want to think twice about that heating pad.

    1. SenseANDSensibility*

      Or she could purposefully stain the heating pad with ketchup or red magic marker or anything else looking like blood & fly it like a flag – just to make them more uncomfortable in their own archaic ancient stupid opinions. If that had been my boss those maxi pads would’ve been stuck all over the outside of boss’s car the next day. Women bleed, get over it.

  51. AP*

    For the heating pad question, I feel your pain! If you’re worried about a bulky heating pad or people asking pointed questions about why there’s a cord going from the wall and under your lap blanket, ThermaCare makes AMAZING heating pad things. They have ones for stomach and back, and you just peel and stick. They’ve been lifesavers for me.

  52. Chips and Dip*

    #1 if you go with the plug in heating pad be sure to unplug when you are not at your desk. I left mine on and went to lunch to which my heating pad fell out of my chair and into my recycle bin and caught fire before I got back. My office shame is that I am now the reason we can’t have things plugged in in the office. But I used a heating pad for 2 years before the fire and no one ever asked why I use a heating pad only where did you get it.

    1. cheeky*

      Yup, I second this advice. This is why we’re not allowed to bring in plug-in appliances of any kind in my office.

    2. SenseANDSensibility*

      You’re the “Ryan started the fire” Office employee. Cool. I once worked with a woman who put her microwave popcorn in for 10 minutes, walked away (of course) & caught the microwave and kitchen wall on fire.

  53. XtinaLyn*

    LW5–I managed a team of volunteers for nine months, and we had meetings every two weeks. My promise to the team was that our meetings would ONLY last an hour, and I kept us to that goal by doing a few things:
    1. Starting the meeting on-time, and announcing the end-time at the beginning.
    2. When conversations got into the weeds, I’d invite people to take their discussions offline out of consideration for everyone else’s time.
    3. At the 30-minute mark, I would remind the group that we were halfway done, and encourage them to focus on items that needed to be addressed before we closed.
    4. I always brought the meeting to a close 2-3 minutes before the hour was up, and invited any last minute questions or concerns to be quickly dealt with at that time. If a topic required additional time, I would suggest an offline conversation, or invite the person to place the item on the next meeting’s agenda.
    5. Most importantly, I always had an agenda, and I would attribute time components to each item:
    a. Ticket sales (5 minutes)
    b. Fundraising (10 minutes)
    etc. It all helped to keep everything moving smoothly, everyone knew what to expect, and those who tried to dominate the conversation with drama or other B.S. were taken to task.
    Hopefully you can take some of this and share it with the manager who doesn’t know how to run a proper meeting.

    1. OP5*

      These are great suggestions and tools. I think this entire group needs to have an “effective meetings” class. I’m probably not going to get very far giving the GM pointers, but I appreciate the feedback. :)

  54. cheeky*

    This is probably not an issue for a small company and a small office, but my company explicitly bans heating blankets, heating pads, fans, and other plug-in devices at people’s desks because of fire risk. So at a minimum, make sure that you always unplug the heating pad when you’re not using it.

  55. Anonny*

    #2, I was in a similar position with a boss who talked down to me, insulted me, and would tell me one thing in a private conversation and then insist she never said anything of the sort when I acted on it.

    I recorded her, but not to take it to HR. I used it to a) prove to myself I wasn’t going insane or overreacting and b) as a handy dandy reminder whenever she was feeling generous for a couple of days that I really, really needed a new job.

    You’re probably not going to get a resolution in that office or a better behaved boss from recording conversations, but if it’ll help you in the way recording helped me, well – it’s not the worst action you can take.

    1. SenseANDSensibility*

      Yes! I’ve had conversations or heard conversations with a manager when something was definitely, no question said or talked about, but then hours or days or weeks later that manager would say “I didn’t hear that” or “No, we didn’t talk about that.” Is it a memory issue on the part of the mgr? You start to even think you’re being gaslighted in situations like that. You start to wonder what is really going on here.

  56. agnes*

    We have people recording people–both audio and video– all over the place where I work. In my opinion it is creating a hostile work environment.

  57. CastIrony*

    OP#2, I was recently on the other side, except that it turned out that it was this new head cook recording that no one was on the serving line (Long story short, I was wrongly accused of insubordination.)

    Because I am a minority, though, I was so scared that I was being recorded. It didn’t help that I caught him recording my same-race co-worker and me, and saw him “sneaking away”.

    What saved me is having my superior and witness call Grandboss, their relative, as it was happening. I hope you can call someone above your bully as or right after instead.

  58. ForkMath*

    The ThermaCare patches saved me when I had a red-eye transcontinental flight on the first day of my period!
    I teach HS and don’t want to explain a heating pad/cramps 100 times a day so I use one of those rice packs and drape a sweater over my lap/abdomen. It works pretty well. If the kids do see it girls who see it know and the boys are usually clueless.
    As a side note, girls talk about their periods a whole lot more now! Standing up in class and asking who has a tampon is a weekly occurrence in class.

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