employee’s reading skills aren’t good, coworkers were aghast at a change in lunch plans, and more

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

1. My employee’s reading and writing skills aren’t good enough

I have a direct report who is chomping at the bit for a promotion that she’s not currently qualified for. Luckily, my company has processes in place for that: I wrote up a plan, outlining what she’s already doing well and where I need to see improvement in order to recommend her for promotion, and got it approved. She and I went over it together and she’s not only working hard at it, she really is showing strong improvement in most areas. But there’s one area that isn’t getting better, and that I’m finding really awkward to talk about: her reading and writing.

We’re in a technical profession, and the company is spread across the country so being able to communicate effectively in writing is important. Frequently, I run into problems with her because she didn’t fully read and/or understand things that were sent to her (recently, she responded to “X is ready and John’s piece is included” with “OK, let me know when X is ready”), or because she doesn’t communicate well in writing to other people — both on a basic grammar/proofreading level and because she doesn’t think through what’s in her head vs what other people know, and so only writes down half of what she should.

This means I have to manage her work more closely than I’d prefer (and a lot more closely than I’d expect to manage someone in the position she wants to be promoted to) to catch her communication errors, it causes misunderstandings and missed requirements in the work that she does, and frankly, it makes her look bad to our higher-ups when her work comes to their attention, which makes it harder for me to advocate for her promotion.

At her last review, the main area I gave her for improvement was her written communication. I tied it to her advancement and gave suggestions for improvement — read carefully before responding, proofread before sending, try to anticipate the questions that people will have and include the answers so they don’t have to ask. She took it well and I know she’s trying (I later noticed when walking past her desk that she was working on an online course in communication), but despite her improvement in other areas I haven’t seen any growth in this one. I’m 80% of the way to being ready to recommend her for this promotion and I really don’t want this to be the one thing that holds her back. Short of saying “I’m concerned that you can’t read very well,” any suggestions for wording additional feedback in this area?

It’s really great that she’s taking the feedback seriously and trying to improve, but the reality is that this might end up being the thing that holds her back from promotion.

I like that she took the initiative to take that online course, but I’m not sure a communication course is what will fix this. This sounds like it’s about reading comprehension, attention to detail, and the ability to suss out what info other people will need (some of which may be tied to critical thinking), and a basic communications course isn’t going to target those in the way she needs.

Any chance you have the time to do some serious one-on-one coaching with her? I suspect the thing that might help her most is sitting with her and working on this together — for example, watching her write an email and then showing her where she’s going wrong, asking questions to nudge her to identify those spots for herself, and coaching her for how to approach it differently. Even then, she might not be able to build the skill up to where it needs to be — at least not in the amount of time that’s reasonable for you to invest. (A few intensive coaching sessions are reasonable, but doing this long-term is not.) But one advantage of approaching it this way is that it’ll give you better data on how likely she is to be able to make the improvements you need — and another is that the coaching sessions themselves will allow you to talk openly about where she is with this and what still needs to change.

2. Are weird technical issues making me look bad to my boss?

I’m about six months into a new position, and overall I think it’s been going really well and my boss is happy with my work. I still feel like I’m trying to prove myself and what I’m capable of, and I’m building trust with my boss (who is remote) to prove that I am reliable and a hard worker.

However, I keep running into weirdly, seemingly random email technical issues that I feel like are making me look bad and potentially eroding my boss’ trust in me. On multiple occasions, I’ve sent important, time-sensitive emails that got stuck somewhere along the way and didn’t arrive in my boss’ inbox until the next day. Another time, I was at my desk all afternoon but five semi-urgent emails were sent to me but did not showed up in my inbox until later in the evening (interestingly, the time stamp still says they were sent during business hours). I’m pretty confident this is not related to the internet being down because on all the above occasions I’ve been doing other work online.

Each time I’ve reached out to my boss to explain what happened, but I’m worried she’ll think I’m making excuses for laziness or lack of attention to detail. She works remotely, so it’s hard for her to have the normal in-person oversight, but I’ve been trying really hard to prove that I am an efficient worker who can get things done without her physically being there to watch over me. And especially given that it’s 2019, most technology-related things, especially email, are just expected to work. How do I explain these seemingly random email technology problems without making it seem like I’m lying or making up an excuse?

If your work is otherwise good, your boss probably doesn’t think you’re flagrantly lying about technical malfunctions. That said, I can see why you feel uneasy. The best way to handle it is to (a) alert your IT team to the issue and ask if they can help you solve it and then (b) let your boss know that you’ve done that. For example: “I wanted to let you know that I’ve alerted IT to the email lag I’ve been having sometimes, where messages I send sometimes don’t show up until the next day and I sometimes receive emails hours after they were sent. I’m hopeful they’ll be able to solve it.” The subtext there is that it is in fact a real problem and you’re trying to get it fixed.

3. Is it okay to kiss my significant other when we part after lunch?

What are your thoughts on kissing a romantic partner after a lunch date during the workday? I’m salaried, working for one of the only employers in a smallish town. As my partner and I don’t see each other as much as we’d like, we have a standing weekly lunch date. After lunch, I walk them to their car, we kiss (very quick, sweet, closed mouths), and they go back to work (they’re a telecommuter). I frequently see colleagues at the same lunch places we go to, but never on the street after.

Am I committing a huge faux pas? I would never kiss someone *in* the office. I’m also aware that we are a couple of heavily tattooed semi-goth weirdos in a fairly staid town. FWIW, we’re in our mid-thirties and I am a manager.

You’re fine. If you were passionately making out on the hood of the car, that would be weird, but a quick peck in the parking lot is perfectly normal and inoffensive.

4. My coworkers were aghast when a lunch event switched its menu

A supplier is holding an event over lunch today to get feedback from my department on certain items they are considering developing. The invite for this came with a statement that the meal was to be a Mexican buffet. The invite was forwarded by my boss and his boss encouraging attendance.

Today we received a reminder email that also stated that the meal was being changed to Panera to allow more vegetarian options. My team sits around me, and many people were aghast at this decision. Some people decided to not attend for this reason. It sounded like they were not fond of Panera or not happy that the switch was made to allow vegetarian options or both.

I was surprised at this response. I turned to the guy next to me and in a hushed voice said, “How about go, give your input on the items and just not eat any of their food?”

Is this normal behavior? I understand that a Mexican buffet isn’t hard to keep vegetarian-friendly, but I feel the reaction was over the top. I don’t know if they were looking for a way to get out of an hour-long meeting. I may just be venting, but I think they were offered a free meal and are being overly picky.

I kind of admire the passion of the people who were aghast at the change in food plans.

Yes, it’s over the top. Amusingly so. But the food is sometimes the main draw at an event like this (which is basically giving free advice to another business, albeit advice that could end up benefitting your company), so if people were pumped for Mexican and not so into sandwiches, I don’t think it’s outrageous to decide to spend their lunch time doing something else. Being aghast is weirdly intense, but people get really excited at the prospect free food that they find especially delicious.

5. Lukewarm responses to pregnancy announcements at work

In the comments on a recent letter about an intern who asked her manager if the manager’s pregnancy was planned, some people said that they’re cautious about how they respond to pregnancy announcements because they don’t know if the pregnant person is happy about the pregnancy or not, and so they’re more neutral and guarded than congratulatory. I argued that in the workplace, the only polite response is congratulatory, as when someone is announcing at work, it’s rare that they’d be looking to share their conflicted or negative emotions about their pregnancy. Then, in Friday’s open thread, commenter Cat posted this, which I thought was important enough that I wanted to share it here as well.

I’ve been thinking about the “notifying co-workers about your pregnancy” letter for a while and some of the discussion has been bothering me. I wanted to bring up a perspective that I didn’t see reflected in the comments.

Basically, something I didn’t see discussed is this: most women are nervous when they announce their pregnancy at work. They know it opens them up to potentially personal questions that they don’t necessarily want to answer. But more than that, they know they risk discrimination against them by their employer for having a baby. Yes, it’s illegal. But we all know it happens and that being “mommy tracked” is a very real phenomenon. We also know that women have their duties reassigned while they’re on maternity leave and never get them back and that some companies find excuses to lay women off when they’re pregnant or on maternity leave. And we know that some coworkers resent having to cover for women on maternity leave.

It’s a scary time and women are absolutely going to be hesitant in how they approach it. For many women, just making an announcement in the break room or at a staff meeting doesn’t feel like the right approach for that reason. It does feel like a sensitive conversation. And you’re absolutely watching the nuances of coworkers — and especially your boss’s reaction — to see how they’re likely to respond. A lukewarm response doesn’t come across as “I don’t know if you’re happy about this so I’m being cautious.” It comes across as “I’m not happy about this and you have to worry about being treated worse as a result.”

This doesn’t matter so much when we’re talking about an intern. But it absolutely matters as to other coworkers. Feigning enthusiasm is a way of telling women that you’re not going to change how you view them professionally – you see this as good news and not career suicide. Just saying something like “That’s big news” in a neutral tone does not do that.

{ 793 comments… read them below }

  1. namelesscommentator*

    #2. If email issues like this are happening you should be looping in IT/whoever is responsible for the email exchang account. That’s not normal and should be addressed.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree with you/Alison on this, and I encourage OP#2 to be a squeaky wheel. I once had a bunch of problems with respect to processing speed, and IT blew me off a bit. It took over 9 months, with me putting in periodic help tickets (including comments telling others I was a diva/high-maintenance/a complainer). Turns out the computer was literally missing RAM.

      Which is all to say, definitely have IT come by and work this out. It’s not normal for email to be embargoed or delayed by hours.

        1. Sleve McDichael*

          This is a great suggestion. If you make a habit of doing it for all messages, you might be able to catch a disappearing email before it causes a problem. Or if it comes through to you immediately but not the recipients, then you can use the different time stamps as an example for IT, to help them realise they should take the problem seriously.

        2. Namelesscommentator*

          I don’t think this is a good long term solution.

          In my experience when one email doesn’t go through the identical email ALSO doesn’t go through for a few hours. So the recipient ends ups getting multiple messages too late.

          I think it also puts work that isn’t yours on your plate. Your job is to send the email, IT’s is to make sure it sent. I would not be happy with any solution that required me to babysit my outbox on every email I send. For a few days until they ID the problem? Sure. But that’s not a good use of my worktime. (As someone who spends a LOT of time babysitting my outbox due to current issues).

          1. MissBliss*

            I think that’s the point of the BCC, though– at least OP knows, if their BCC didn’t come back to them, that their original message didn’t go through. Then, if it’s urgent, they can follow up via phone call or some other method of communication.

            1. Glitsy Gus*

              Agreed. It isn’t a perfect long term solution, but it could do a lot as far as trouble shooting goes. As you say, if she doesn’t get it she knows to give Boss a heads up. Also, if she DOES get it but boss doesn’t, she not only has a record of the send time, she also has more info for IT, namely that it has no problem reaching her, so it could be internal connections are fine, but there is some kind of issue with Boss’s internet or some other issue like that.

          2. Venus*

            I don’t think valentine meant it as a long-term solution. It’s an easy, smart, and creative way to problem-solve in the short-term (and, provided the problem is about all emails and not just limited to ones going outside the company, would be a great way of documenting the problem).

        1. TootsNYC*

          she wrote: “(including comments telling others I was a diva/high-maintenance/a complainer)”

          I’d be glad to have someone else alert me to those sorts of comments, so I could factor that into my efforts.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I was glad, too. I found out he was saying it to others when he was on vacation and someone from another office covered him. In response to a persistent problem we were having, the Coverage IT Person remarked, “Wow, you’re not high maintenance at all!” I’m glad I learned our Terrible IT Person was talking trash, but I was also irked that he was doing it.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, but to be fair it was one person. We had a bigger team across three offices, but our location was the smallest and only had one IT person on site.

          Our IT guy was a jerk, and also incredibly lazy. He was doing it to shame me out of making requests and to discourage others from making requests. No one really believed him because they’d all worked with us both and thought he was being a jerk.

    2. Alphabet Pony*

      This. And if I was your manager I would want to know you were doing something about it, including checking things like your push email settings.

    3. TPS Cover Sheet*

      Yeah, this happens with M$ exchange a lot and its total buggery to figure out if you (the IT support) aren’t on the money. What happens is the gremlins yank the cables (well my scientific tech explanation, I’m renowned for them) and the email server drops you off. On the low right hand side on the screen if you’re using Outlook there is a ”connected” and ”connecting” or ”need password” in the margin that states if you are recieving and submitting. A quick check is, if sent emails are in your outbox then you’re not sending… Also a manual refresh every now and then might keep the connection alive.

      What I found if there is a browser-based Outlook you can access, that usually works whereas the big behemoth Outlook twiddles about.

      1. Glorg*

        Yup, with Outlook this is actually totally normal. Whenever I haven’t received email for a little, I will restart my Outlook program and while it’s restarting, log into the browser interface to check.

      2. A Non E. Mouse*

        What happens is the gremlins yank the cables (well my scientific tech explanation, I’m renowned for them

        Actually that’s about the gist of it (techie here).

        I would definitely check to see if your Outlook client is going offline – it could be that the software needs to be repaired/reloaded. It would definitely cause delayed emails (they’d be stuck in your Outgoing Mail, and any email trying to come to you would live on the server until you came back online).

        So you shut down for the day with unsent mail and pending mail not able to get to you, and when you come back in it re-connects and all the pieces flow where they should have hours ago.

      3. JustaTech*

        I had Outlook/Exchange decide not to let through any emails from one of our main vendors. If they hadn’t been on top of it and called me I would have just thought they were flaky. My IT couldn’t fix it, so I ended up having to go all the way to an actual Microsoft employee to get it fixed.

        None of the IT folks had any idea why the system suddenly stopped sending emails from that one place.

      4. Tech Troubles*

        OP here, thank you for this info about Exchange! After I sent this email to Allison, I had a moment where I wondered if I was crazy and somehow just missed those 5 emails coming into my inbox? But I’m 90% sure it was an issue on Outlook’s end.

        1. Stardust*

          You are not crazy. I’ve had this same thing happen and I wouldn’t have known that I missed an email if I hadn’t been talking with a coworker. I was waiting on an urgent reply and has called a coworker who had said that an email had come back from someone and she forwarded the response to me. Sure enough- I was on the email and should have received it. When I put in a ticket to IT to resolve they found it in the online Outlook and sometime later it showed up in my regular Outlook.

    4. Bilateralrope*


      About 15 years ago I had the same problem with my home internet. Random emails, in both directions, would get delayed by hours or days.

      That ISP doesn’t exist anymore.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      It’s been happening to me at home (gmail) and at work (MSOutlook, Fortune 500 company with HQ in another state). Hours delay even when I manually refresh. Report to IT, tell your manager, copy yourself…and tell critical customers especially if you’re on a tight deadline. If they have something time critical it may be worth it to them to call.

    6. Rebecca*

      My company uses MS Office, Outlook, etc. Honestly, I have no idea how Outlook’s spam filters work, but you might want to have IT look into that aspect. It’s possible there are words or phrases in your messages that are flagging them somehow? Just throwing that out.

      Example: last week our Outlook program quarantined as possible spam an email sent from our own server, from an address our company owns, about a product we produce and distribute (it was on sale, so we get the same email the general public receives). It was clearly not spam, or a malware threat, so we all had a good laugh. BUT. That same day, emails from various “click here to read the bank document” or “we can help you with all your logistics needs” and other spammy things popped right into our inboxes. There are other times customer purchase orders from one particular company I’ve worked with for over 15 years are quarantined, and when asked did I receive them, No, they’re resent, and then a few days later I’ll get the quarantine email from Outlook, and there they are.

      Hope you can figure this out!

      1. Tech Troubles*

        OP here, thank you! I didn’t even think about the spam filter, you might be right! Ours has been pretty wonky too

      2. fisharenotfriends*

        You can google the correct link your O365 Quarantine to check manually if you’re finding delays. That way you should be able to release on your own without waiting for days.

        If your IT hasn’t turned it off you should be able to white list by domain from said link as well so you don’t need to keep going back.

    7. Young coworker*

      Happened to me quite often with outlook! Incredibly embarrassing when I was happily enjoying an afternoon with a silent inbox and then I realized if I manually hit refresh a slew of emails came through!
      Maybe for the most critical emails, check your sent folder, and get in the habit of manually refreshing or sending yourself a test email if your inbox is suspiciously silent

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        We had something happen on Friday where I could hear people around me complaining of having nothing to do and I couldn’t understand why as I could clearly see tasks in the shared mailbox. It turned out that there was some sort of IT glitch that wasn’t refreshing some people’s mailbox, and after the obligatory turn off and on again those emails were showing up. But on that day mine and some others were working just fine. Luckily nothing on that day was time sensitive, but that is good advice for occasions where something might be.

      2. KatieZee*

        Yes – OP – if you are using Outlook, maybe in combo with a VPN (Cisco or similar), and perhaps switching wireless networks sometimes, this happens to me all the time. Keep an eye on your Outbox counter – your sent messages are probably getting stuck there. And similarly, incoming messages may not get retrieved.
        I find I have to restart Outlook any time I come back from “sleep” if I’ve left the VPN running.
        (Ironically or coincidentally, just noticed that 6 emails hadn’t sent from this morning… *eyeroll*)

        1. TPS Cover Sheet*

          Oh yes, my VPN used to timeout and reconnect, however the Outlook didn’t like it at all and wouldn’t reconnect… thats when I found out the wen-browser Outlook was way more reliable.

      3. Tech Troubles*

        OP here, I had no idea this was a common Outlook issue! I feel so much better knowing that, I honestly had a moment where I thought I was going crazy and happened to miss the notifications for all these emails. A quiet inbox is very common for me, but it’s good to double check if I know I should be expecting something important!

    8. Mel*

      Yes! My company had this problem for months and it turned out to he a problem with our internet provider!

    9. Silence Will Fall*

      IT here!

      Please, please, please let your IT team know using whatever help desk system they have in place. It will be most helpful if you can give a couple of specific examples of emails.

      Depending on the setup, you may have a browser based portal (like Outlook online) where you can check your mail. Whenever we’re having a difficult email issue, I always have users start using the browser portal. It helps me narrow down where it’s a mail server issue or a desktop application/Outlook client issue. Are you seeing new mail in the browser, but not in Outlook? It’s a problem with Outlook on your computer. The browser can give you an option while IT is figuring out the exact issue to send and receive emails in timely fashion.

      1. TooTiredToThink*

        Also (former) IT here – if its Outlook than either the cache or the OST needs to be rebuilt. I’ve had this happen as well and its usually one or the other. Very, very easy fixes.

      2. Tech Troubles*

        OP here, thank you for encouraging me to reach out to IT! I was hesitant because it’s only happened a couple of times, but you’re definitely right, and I don’t want to wait until the problem starts happening again when I have urgent work things. I am indeed able to check my email online, thank goodness! And I wasn’t able to check if I was seeing the emails in the browser but not Outlook, when I got back to my computer the next day the emails had appeared in my inbox in the application. But it’s a good reminder that I can use the browser version too, I may have to keep a window of that open in the meantime until I get this problem resolved. Thanks for the good advice!

      3. TPS Cover Sheet*

        Yeah, sometimes you really have a gremlin… like a ”zombie router” which even after reconfiguration holds the ghost of the old topology. It requires the patience of a saint to trace it. And if you have an outsourced IT department… yepppfff… I sometimes feel some of the old ways were better.

    10. Amber T*

      I’m pretty sure IT groans whenever they see a call from me given the amount of times I pop in, but it’s worth it. We have guards in place to prevent/catch spoofing, so if my email is amber.t@work, it will automatically flag something like ambert@work or amber.t@worrk. Sometimes, the program goes a little too far and it thinks I’m spoofing myself. This *always* happens when I’m emailing important documents that need to be received asap (because of course it does).

      I wouldn’t wait for something like this to occur again – I’d go to IT now and discuss the times it’s happened recently. I’d also let your boss know that you recognize the emails been having problems and you’re working with IT to see what’s up.

    11. KoiFeeder*

      I should hope that my experiences are not universal, especially since I’m translating them from school to the workplace, but did OP2 perhaps torq off someone in IT? That’s pretty much exactly what happened to my email account when I did that. :p

    12. BenH*

      We are absolutely blessed with how speedy and reliable our e-mail services usually are. The fact is, the standard is not meant for instant communication, its a highly tolerant system meant to deal with server and network issues. It’s not unheard of for emails to take up to a year to finally reach their destination.

      If you need speedy, you should investigate instant messaging or file share services.

    13. NotAnotherManager!*

      This right here – I can’t tell you how many times my folks complain to me that they are having technical problems yet have not reached out to the Help Desk for assistance. They seem to think that IS magically knows when their computer is not working as expected, and most of their problems can be resolved immediately or they can at least get a loaner computer to use while the troubleshooting work is done on the malfunctioning one.

    14. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Agreed. I’m apparently on a different email exchange server than my office mates because they will receive an email to our group list about 5-10 minutes before it shows up in my email. We joke that my pigeon is lost or still circling the building trying to find a place to land. It isn’t enough of an issue for me to get IT’s help yet. But I’m guessing that as our university has grown, they’ve upgraded or added new servers and I’m caught on an older server. The solution might be as simple as changing the preferences in your email account.

    15. Tech Troubles*

      OP here, thanks for the input! I think since it only has happened a couple times, I was hesitant to reach out to IT, but you all have convinced me to loop them into the situation.

    16. AllieJ0516*

      Also, I’m not sure what email program you use, but in Outlook there is/was a setting about when/how often the program should send/receive. You may be able to check those settings.

  2. Yankee in Dixieland*

    @ OP 1–This reads to me like it could potentially be a learning disability. My husband has similar processing issues related to dyslexia, and the reality is that he just *can’t* do better. I actually help him edit important correspondence for this reason.

    I would tread carefully (re: ADA stuff) when coaching and keep in mind that this may not be “fixable” in the way that this promotion may require. It’s also possible that if your employee does have a learning disability, she may not even be aware of it.

    1. Beth*

      I know this is well intentioned, but it’s mostly not good for employees when their bosses start making armchair diagnoses. Until and unless the employee asks for accommodations or brings up having a learning disability, OP should focus on being clear about what’s needed and offering coaching to get to that point, without worrying about the ADA or speculating about if a disability is involved.

      1. Yankee in Dixieland*

        The bigger takeaway point that I am making is that the employee very well may not be capable of producing work good enough to gain the promotion, and if that’s the case, make sure not to say anything in the coaching process that could cause legal headaches down the road.

        1. Beth*

          What would OP say that could cause legal headaches? Of course they shouldn’t say anything outright ableist or otherwise bigoted (this is true in all circumstances, for both legal and general human decency reasons), but beyond that, I haven’t heard of any ADA-related obligations an employer might have in regards to how they coach an employee that hasn’t disclosed any kind of disability or requested any kind of accommodations.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If an employer perceives an employee as having a protected disability, they are required to follow the ADA in their dealings with them, even if the employee hasn’t requested accommodations.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Although Beth is right that this is tricky, because the employer cannot treat an employee as if they have a protected disability before beginning the iterative process. For example, if the employee turns out not to have a protected disability, then it would be inappropriate for OP#2 to start the coaching process from the assumption that the employee has a qualifying disability.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But if the manager refers to it as a disability and they later, say, fire her for the reading issues, they could have an ADA problem even if she turns out not to have a disability.

                Regardless, the upshot is — don’t diagnose people!

                1. Jules the 3rd*

                  Could OP discuss this as a ‘communication style’ without heading down the disability path? A friend of mine has dysgraphia. She didn’t want to disclose, but asked for text-to-speech software at work to help with her ‘preferred communication style’ . It’s been great for her.

                  I came here to ask if OP1 could talk to her employee about whether there are other styles of communication that work better for the employee, such as verbal, and *IF* employee says yes, then recommend a text-to-speech tool for the employee. An employee who’s taking feedback and improving *and* working hard on real problem areas sounds like someone it would be worth supporting a lot.

                  Would that be ok for OP to bring up, or would that go too close to ’employee, do you have a disability?’

                2. Close Bracket*

                  “they later, say, fire her for the reading issues, they could have an ADA problem even if she turns out not to have a disability.”

                  If the reading issues interfere with a core job function, the employer can fire (although that would be extreme, as opposed to just not promoting her) the employee for not performing core job functions whether it’s due to disability or not. The employee can get reasonable accommodations to allow them to perform core job functions. They still have to be able to do the job.

                3. Observer*

                  @Jules the 3rd, The OP shouldn’t be going down this route at all. What they have so far is nowhere near enough to assume that disability is a likely issue. So, they need to coach.

                  If the employee gives them an opening, they could ask if there is anything that they are aware of the would be helpful. Not as a disability accommodation, but because the OP would like to help the employee, who is trying hard, to succeed.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  @Close Bracket: Yes, of course. But you still don’t want to bring ADA into a situation where it might not be in play. Beth had asked how that could happen.

                5. Jules the 3rd*

                  @Observer: I think we agree; I think what I’m asking is are there words that OP could use to start a conversation with OP that doesn’t get into diagnosis territory but does get into ‘let’s think really far outside the standard box.’

                  Because from OP’s description, sure, this could be a disability like dysgraphia or ADD and it’s not OP’s place to diagnose, but this employee seems to be growing as directed in other areas, taking feedback, etc – if I were their manager, I’d hate to leave stones unturned.

            2. Introverted Not Shy*

              Thank you! ADA comes up very often here and most of what is posted is incorrect.

        1. Clorinda*

          It’s not at all inconceivable that an ‘abrasive personality’ might be the result of a set of coping mechanisms for lifelong undiagnosed ASD. Note: I know, of course, that autism=/=abrasive, rude, etc. But would you be surprised if you found out that someone who routinely fails to understand social interactions has developed a cluster of angry and aggressive modes of response?

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Well… I also used to not understand many social interactions. I kept trying to learn and understand instead of getting angry.
            One of the reasons I didn’t get angry was the few times I did, I didn’t like the way people responded. I wanted pleasant constructive interactions, and that wasn’t the way to get them.

            1. Clorinda*

              Sure. Different people cope in different ways. I just don’t care for Civil Servant’s implication that the co-worker’s diagnosis was gaming the system in some way, on the evidence of abrasiveness, when the abrasiveness might well be a consequence of an undiagnosed condition.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                The coworker didn’t have to become abrasive in response to her condition. She could have made an effort to use other responses.

        2. Quickbeam*

          Thank you. As someone with a spouse on the spectrum (and wow was that expensive to diagnose), there is a legitimate hard wired difference. And for those of us over a certain age, childhood diagnosis was limited and non existent if you were academically ok. Diagnosis was a critical tool to understanding my spouse’s world view AND helped him understand his childhood isolation. Work protections were an afterthought.

        3. yala*

          Legit what happened to me. I started therapy after a blow-up, which eventually lead to ADHD and autism diagnoses. (And anxiety. I swear, I feel like I’m just going down the alphabet.)

          It’s not convenient, nor is it a “get out of jail free” card. It’s more that getting diagnoses as a kid just wasn’t very common when we were young.

        4. BBA*

          I sometimes think that when people say, “We’re all on the spectrum,” they mean it as an inclusive gesture, though it doesn’t really function that way.

          We’re all human. But there’s a rich diversity of human minds. It’s okay – better, even – to recognize both those truths.

      2. LauraSF*

        I know armchair diagnoses aren’t a good idea, but if that is what is going on, my heart goes out to this girl. I had undiagnosed dyslexia that I was finally uncovered in my late 20s, and this sounds 100% like me. Once I switched my browser and email font to one that was more dyslexia friendly, my productivity and email communication skyrocketed and it became much easier to do my job when my brain wasn’t tired from struggling to read all day. Definitely not suggesting that OP bring it up, but it’s hard to watch when she my not even know this about herself!

      3. Anomalous*

        This is not an arm chair diagnosis. This is raising a possibility which could potentially lead to a diagnosis by a qualified professional.

        Roughly 15% of the population has dyslexia —one out of every six people. Most are undiagnosed.

        Like Yankee, I have family members who are dyslexic (my wife and both my children). And like Yankee, this story immediately jumped out to me as a possible case of an undiagnosed learning disability.

        1. valentine*

          This is not an arm chair diagnosis. This is raising a possibility which could potentially lead to a diagnosis by a qualified professional.
          It doesn’t change the advice. OP should not speculate about the reason for the employee’s issues.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          We don’t generally raise possible diagnoses here because we can’t diagnose over the internet and because it’s not actionable for the letter writer.

    2. Amy*

      I can’t speak to the ADA but accommodations for dyslexia have gotten much easier in recent years. Dyslexia presents as a significant difference between listening comprehension and reading comprehension.

      Does she follow complex conversations well? Can she craft effective oral arguments and present them without grammatical mistakes? Apps to read emails, dictation software and tools like Grammerly should be very helpful if it’s just about reading and writing.

      1. anonagain*

        These tools are increasingly used by non-disabled people too. I use my operating system’s built-in screen reader to help me proofread important documents. I also know many non-disabled writers who use dictation software to write faster and avoid overuse injuries.

        Maybe there’s an opportunity to for the employee to try these tools without getting into the question of disability and accommodations at all.

        1. Gidget*

          Yeah this is the route I would go. Anyone who uses a computer for long periods of time or for writing tasks, disability or not, is probably used to glazing over a little bit given the amount of information and screen time. These types of tools definitely help break up the tasks and make rigorous computer use more user-friendly.

          1. Cactus*

            Seriously. There’s no such thing as absolute safety, so whether you use a Russian, Ukrainian, or American tool, you could be opening yourself up to malware. Take appropriate precautions, but making blanket decisions based on country of origin seems…silly.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        I’ve definitely known some non-learning disabled people who had issues reading e-mail in standard fonts, and who read anything on-screen with more difficulty than they read stuff on paper.

    3. Lalitah28*

      I had the same thought!

      Best to start documenting the process now though without the armchair diagnosis because (1) a manager is not LD specialist and (2) the employee hasn’t disclosed a diagnosis.

    4. Kathleen_A*

      Part of my job is editing, and I’m here to tell you that the fact is…an awful lot of people are not good at written communication. And I mean a *lot* (and that includes a small but significant minority who genuinely seem to think they are *good* at it).

      Sure, it’s possible that some and maybe even quite a few of them have some sort of learning disability, but it’s also absolutely true that lots of people with no learning disability just don’t like writing and so they told themselves all the way through junior high, high school and even college that after they got out of school, they’d never need any of this geeky writing stuff. And then after school they find out how wrong they were and that a whole bunch of non-writing jobs do in fact involve a lot of writing, especially now, in the age of email.

      So my advice to the OP is that she be upfront about this – that she be kind but blunt. I agree with Alison that some sort of in-person teaching/tutoring will probably be necessary. It may not be enough, of course, but since the employee seems really motivated, it might.

      If there is some sort of learning disability, allow the employee to discover and, if necessary, disclose this herself. That’s the sensible thing – and it’s the compassionate thing, too, at least IMO.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I was going to suggest undiagnosed learning disability, because that’s what I sense from the letter.

        That said, I worked for years at an org that primarily attracts mid-level performers or lower. Most of the resumes and applications I get contain spelling and grammar errors, and basic typos. Most of the mass communications I get (newsletters, all-staff letters, press releases, flyers, sales brochures, internal training documents intended for national-level use) spelling and grammar errors, misused words, and typos. Most of the interoffice I get contains spelling and grammar errors, misused words, typos, slang, words that are not in English, missing words, and responses or questions where it’s clear the person did not read the initial document at all.

        The average person is an average writer, and I think the OP should start trying to take the pulse of the writing skills of the office. If you’re someone who’s good at it, it’s easy to overvalue written skills, when many people are chugging along in their careers with a much lower skill level.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          Hmmm, I think I disagree. It’s true that errors are common in many people’s writing (heck, even good writers make mistakes), but who says this person is an average writer? It sounds as though the OP, at least, thinks she’s worse than average, and in any case she also has a problem with reading comprehension, and that’s never a good thing.

          Plus, it’s a plain fact that maaaaany people are far less tolerant of other people’s mistakes than they are of their own, partly because they of course don’t even notice many of their own. So even if this person’s mistakes are only “average,” that doesn’t mean they aren’t a significant problem, particularly if she’s hoping for a promotion.

          The OP says that this person’s reading comprehension issues and poor writing “makes her look bad to our higher-ups when her work comes to their attention.” The OP says this is a big problem, and I think we should take the OP at her word.

      2. Bee*

        Yeah, it could be dyslexia, sure, but a LOT of people just don’t read carefully, either because they blow through it too fast (especially with emails, which are often seen as something to churn through rather than something to focus on) or because they haven’t practiced close reading since high school English class.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Yes. A lot. My boss won’t even focus on something I’ve physically put in front of him. Though it doesn’t sound like the employee is doing that.

        2. Kathleen_A*

          Exactly. We all know that many, many people are poor listeners. Why should we be so surprised to find that people can be poor readers, too, even when there’s no disability? So while a learning disability of some sort is a possibility, it’s best to move forward with the idea the problem is that the employee is lacking in certain skills and she needs to work on acquiring those skills. The OP can’t do anything about it unless/until the employee discloses anyway, so what’s the value in speculating?

        3. Kat in VA*

          This. I’m setting up a dinner that has three things: are you attending, are you taking the charter bus, what do you want of three selections to eat.

          The amount of follow up emails I’ve been sending is staggering. I number the responses to make it easier, and I’ll still get the answer as, “Yes, I’m attending”.

          Then the follow up email: 1. Are you taking the charter bus, and 2. What do you want to eat?

          Response: I’m driving, not taking the bus.

          Necessitating yet ANOTHER follow up email: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO EAT

          It’s insane. And I keep my emails short and sweet (unlike my posts on this site) and just assume my reader has a 15 second attention span. Still, this persists!

          1. Nellie*

            Ha, I also used to deal with sending e-mail invitations with instructions to RSVP to another person, not me. Would still get RSVPs e-mailed to me.

      3. Turquoisecow*

        I’m not an editor, but I have an English degree and reading and writing have always been things I excelled at in school. I was told by many teachers and professors that in business communication, clear and concise writing is important. Many, many English professors and teachers tried to explain to the non-English majors that yes, you do need this course, because you will need to know how to write like an intelligent person in the corporate world.

        Then I got a job in the corporate world (not using my English degree!) and most of the emails I get are similar to what the OP describes. I write something asking three questions, the person answers one. They miss key details in my email and ask about what I told them. They ask questions I’ve clearly answered. They write emails that seem to leave out key pieces of information. Many of my coworkers prefer to have phone calls or meetings rather than send emails because they don’t communicate effectively by email. My husband, in a completely different industry and company, has similar experiences.

        Do *all* these people have learning disabilities? Possibly. But I think it’s more likely that the vast majority are in a hurry to speed through all the tasks they have to do and don’t read or write their emails as carefully as they could, because they’re rushing through that task to handle the others. Many of the people who send the worst emails are also higher up in the company, very busy, and probably don’t sit down to carefully read each email and craft a response because they simply don’t have time.

        If OP’s report is having these issues as a person who is under a lot of pressure, self-imposed and otherwise, to learn a new job, maybe she is rushing through emails to get to the next thing on her long list of to-dos. As she gets more comfortable with the workload and can manage her time better, maybe her reading and writing will improve. Or not, because the workload will always be busy.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          There is a distinct possibility that OP 1’s underling will not (or cannot) improve. A former grandboss drove me crazy when it came to email. I kept my emails to her succinct, leading with the information she needed to have. I’d get a prompt email acknowledging my email–and asking the question I’d answered in the first line of the my email.

        2. Mellow*

          I think there is an across-the-board indifference to proper writing in both public and private sector workplaces. In my field, a Master’s degree typically is required, and I’ve lost track of the amount of writing I’ve encountered that is jaw-droppingly bad in both grammar and usage. Such carelessness gives the impression that is it far too easy in my field to earn a Master’s degree, and thus presents a possibility for why my field has more workers than positions.

          When I was in junior high school – and that’s what it was called then – we actually studied grammar for its own sake, and composed diagram trees in the process. The teaching of grammar is now a rarity, and we’re seeing the results. Meanwhile, I’m currently wondering how verbs like “invite” and “ask” got to be nouns (“I sent the invite [but not the invitation]”; “Is that a fair ask [instead of ‘question’]?” and so on. Also, don’t get me started on run-on sentences, which are enough to make me scream at the sky.

          Imagine if bad math were as casually accepted as bad grammar: “Who cares whether this platform holds 100 people or 10 people? It’s just a couple of zeros!” The logic defies reason.

          Words matter. Typographical errors are one thing, but there is no excuse for bad grammar, disabilities excepted.

          1. Clisby*

            I went to a public junior high school also, and 7th grade was probably 2/3 grammar. Seriously, all I ever needed to know about English grammar, I learned in 7th grade. I wish schools still did this.

          2. A Social Worker*

            I could not agree more. I hire in a field that also requires a Master’s degree (likely not the same field, we do not have enough workers for the positions!) and the cover letters and resumes can be atrocious. I also find many errors in the writing of my existing staff. I do think that unfortunately, some Master’s programs are pushing people through despite poor writing skills. I remember that somehow in grad school I ended up proofreading lots of papers, and many of them were so bad (spelling, grammar, general incoherence) that I would tell my classmate that they would just need to start over because their paper was disorganized and incomprehensible.

          3. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

            I love this. I could not agree with you more. I have had more jobs in which a senior executive who earned a LOT more money than I did asked me to compose a letter for him. I am a lawyer, and I do think I have better reading and writing skills than the average person, but I don’t understand how people can get anywhere in business without basic reading and writing skills. OP’s employee is trying to improve. Coaching on reading more carefully is a very good idea. Also maybe a gift of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” would be in order.

          4. Cactus*

            Ugh, I HATE the usage of “invite” as a noun. I have been trying to train my gmail to suggest “invitation” instead of “invite” for OVER A YEAR. (Scheduling interviews is a big part of my job.) It still suggests “invite,” every time, and I have to change it, every time.

        3. InfoSec SemiPro*

          “I write something asking three questions, the person answers one. They miss key details in my email and ask about what I told them. They ask questions I’ve clearly answered. They write emails that seem to leave out key pieces of information. ”

          I say that I use literacy as a primary toolset in my job and people laugh but I’m SERIOUS. If we can practice actual literacy, we get so much more effective. I push the teams I work with to Write Things Down – like information, questions and decisions. And then Read Them, so that the verbal meetings have purpose and drive rather than rehashing to verbal consensus what is true.

          This is even, and even more, true with executive communication where time and focus are at a premium. Write the briefing document. It needs to fit clearly on a phone screen. Do analysis and crystalize your communication until it does. Then highlight action.

      4. epi*

        This is really the correct take.

        There is nothing less surprising than meeting a technical person who is not a very good writer. Errors like not getting all the details from your head into the documentation, not knowing your audience, and skimming for the information you think you need but missing something along the way, are really common in neurotypical people too. To some extent technical education and job tasks can encourage it. Many STEM degree programs simply don’t make students spend enough time reading, writing, and editing to improve if they didn’t come to college already writing at an acceptable level. Different work also rewards different reading strategies. This person may not even realize that there are different approaches they could and should take to reading and writing depending on the task.

        I have seen highly accomplished people in technical roles passed over or even fired because of their poor communication skills. Non-technical people usually have no patience for opaque, jargon-filled prose that doesn’t respect the audience– nor should they. This issue can severely limit one’s options in a technical career. Whatever this employee’s issue with reading and writing, it’s in her best interest to address it aggressively and to figure out what the means on her own. No one should be armchair diagnosing her.

        I would suggest that someone having problems like this skip the online courses and get themselves to a community college. Take their placement exams and get matched to an appropriate writing class! If they need to be in a remedial class at first, so be it. To get better at reading and writing, you need to do both more and you need to have your writing edited by a strong writer. This person needs a human instructor in remedial writing, technical writing, or business communication; and access to a writing center. If their degree is in a technical field, they may never have had to prioritize a writing class like this before. If that’s not enough, or if there are other difficulties they notice themselves, then getting medical help might be a next step. If their company provides tuition assistance, this OP can help out by making sure these courses are treated as being relevant and eligible.

        1. Mellow*

          “…someone having problems like this skip the online courses and get themselves to a community college. Take their placement exams and get matched to an appropriate writing class! If they need to be in a remedial class at first, so be it. To get better at reading and writing, you need to do both more and you need to have your writing edited by a strong writer.”


        2. Clisby*

          Yes, my first degree was in journalism, where I worked as a writer and editor for almost 12 years. I went back to school to get a computer science degree. Those might sound like incompatible fields, but my journalism training to be able to sit down and write competently about a subject, aimed at people with no more than a high-school education, turned out to be really helpful. I don’t mean that as a computer programmer, I was typically dealing with people with less than a high school education (although sometimes I was.) Sometimes I was dealing with a person with a Masters or PhD who just didn’t understand the technology we were using.

      5. Yorick*

        It’s also perfectly possible that the employee just doesn’t pay much attention when reading, which happens to everyone on occasion but happens to some people much more often.

    5. LMT*

      I wouldn’t step in disability-land in this situation. Reading comprehension failure does not automatically equal disability. It’s not fair for the manager to have to step in at the level likely required, but is there an external coach of some kind that the employee could utilize, or an educational resource in the community, like Sylvan? Someone trained may be able to accurately identify what the real problem is. And help!

    6. Wintermute*

      Nope, you should not start taking guesses about whether someone has an ADA-covered condition. If they do, they’re job is to tell you and start the mutual accommodation negotiation discussion. In fact the best way, both for professional and legal reasons, to handle something like this is to treat them exactly as you would any other employee, until they come to you and state they need accommodation.

    7. Troutwaxer*

      The other possibility here might be ADHD, which can produce similar issues, but I would also agree that armchair diagnosis is definitely something that shouldn’t happen. So I see two alternatives. The first is for the OP to encourage their employee to do a lot of reading of well-edited prose, and maybe even copy it carefully (not too much; the OP wants to employee to become someone who enjoys reading.) The OP should find out what subjects their employee likes and suggest that they read in them. The second is to suggest that the employee might get professionally tested for some kind of learning disability. Of course, a positive result might put the company into ADA hell, so the OP might discuss this with their management before making the recommendation.

    8. TootsNYC*

      would an EAP program offer an employee a way to find learning-disability coaches, or ADD coaches? or remedial learning?

    9. Kimberly*

      If I knew the employee in #1 personally, I would recommend they look at getting tested for dyslexia/dysgraphia. My sister, two 1st cousins, and I weren’t diagnosed until we hit walls in University. I understand why the letter writer can’t recommend getting tested. Some workarounds people who see themselves in this letter can use
      1. Using Text to speech as you read things on a screen
      2. listen to audiobooks with the text. (My niece transferred schools and they had this for her textbooks and many of the school library books. She gained 6-grade levels in 1 school year. Went from 2nd-grade reading level to 8th grade.)
      3. There is a font called dyslexie that can make reading on screens much more accessible. Mirror letters like dbpq are weighted, so they look different. Also, there is a thicker line at the part of a letter that would touch the bottom line on notebook paper. That creates the illusion of a line that helps anchor the letters, so they don’t float away or turn into optical illusions.
      4. Try different background color and text color combinations to sometimes that makes the letters stick to the paper
      5. Use speech to text for 1st drafts of things. You get the ideas down and can polish them up. I tend to get stuck in a loop of fixing everything and don’t get ideas down.
      6. Use Grammarly to help with editing.
      7. Turn on subtitles on your TV – also suitable for Second Language learners

      Something I tell parents. You wouldn’t tell someone wearing glasses or hearing aids that they were being lazy and using an unnecessary crutch. Using tech to work around glitches in the brain, we call learning disabilities is no different than using lenses to see or hearing aides to hear. I was in university before I learned to spell many 1st-grade sight words. I taught myself using spell check. The red squiggly line wasn’t someone telling me I was lazy. That is I could read the words, and on a university level in 3rd grade, I had to be able to spell simple words. With the emotion removed, I was able to figure out tricks to help me remember the spelling. Where the place word had Here in it. (In Texas where and were are homonyms. ) I still can’t read aloud because I read chunks of text, and my mouth can’t keep up with my brain. If I slow my mind down, I get lost in the text. I also couldn’t pass a traditional 2nd or 3rd-grade teacher calls out 10 words and you write them down spelling test. Words with no context are meaningless to me.

    10. TardyTardis*

      I knew someone with learning issues like that–she would always regroup and do stuff fine for a while, and then she would fall back into old problems, and it was really annoying (sadly, she was good at outdoor inventory type jobs, but those were ‘guy’ jobs and they would have had to pay her guy wages eventually if she’d stayed there. Yes, there are still companies like that) so they felt obliged to put her in an office ‘female’ job despite her lack of qualifications for it. She finally left, and somehow the person in the office who was really good at the job managed to find a clone of herself to take over that position.

  3. Annette*

    Love what Cat has to say. Congratulating someone on their pregnancy does not = assuming all pregnancies are wanted or all women want to be mothers. It’s just polite. And in a country and working environment that hates mothers and discriminates against them it’s the bare minimum. Don’t be part of the problem.

    1. Marie*

      Yes! I just announced my pregnancy to my team at work. My boss knew but I waited as long as I could with everyone else. And some people were really crappy including they key coordinator for my biggest project who privately said to me “I wish I could get time off work for no reason” and ” i guess that’s the way to get a lighter workload.” So for the ones who were neutral, it just felt like additional criticism. I was and am really nervous about this. I know that this means I’m going to have to prove myself all over again to the big bosses and that I’m going to have to fight against being mommy tracked. This is my second kid but first one at this employer and I know that I’ll be fine but right now it feels pretty horrible. A little bit of fake enthusiasm would have been really welcome.

      1. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

        Holy cow. May I ask how you responded to that awful coworker?! I can’t even imagine.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        What a horrible thing to say!

        I’m also curious how you responded. It may be a place of business but it seems totally reasonable to have said “wow f#ck you” and walked away.

        I’m sorry people responded that way, but congrats on your pregnancy!! I may be just an internet stranger but I’m excited for you and wish you the best! :-)

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        And some people were really crappy including they key coordinator for my biggest project who privately said to me “I wish I could get time off work for no reason”


        “You mean you’re not allowed to take vacation time? How awful! You should complain.”
        “Yeah, I wish I could get time off for no reason too. But it turns out that pregnancy and childbirth are very legitimate reasons. Who knew?”

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          This! Exactly! I’d have been like “Me too! But instead I have to go through some really difficult physical, mental, and emotional changes, push a living being the size of a watermelon through my vagina, and then raise it to adulthood! But yeah, those few weeks of time off when I’m desperately sleep-deprived and being milked like a cow multiple times a day are going to be such a relaxing break!”

          1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

            Playing devil’s advocate here, if someone said that to me, I’d snark back “Your choice..”

            1. Pibble*

              You…do realize that the someone saying it to you in this example would be as a comeback to you called their upcoming maternity leave time off for no reason, right? Your response makes no sense in that context.

      4. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Oh, Marie. I’m so sorry that you received such horrible responses! When I was had my first child, I was a 1099 contractor, so had no paid leave. The client still tried to get me to take less time by pointing out that another contractor had returned to work at 6 weeks postpartum, and that there were plenty of daycares that accepted 6-week-old babies. When I was about 4 weeks pregnant with my second child, I was converted to a regular employee by this same organization. I told them about my pregnancy once I reached 10 weeks (I wanted to wait until the 2nd trimester, but it was really obvious!) and was told, “If we had known that 6 weeks ago, we never would have hired you as a regular employee.” Not surprisingly, I got another job as soon after my family leave as I could. While it probably reinforced their disdain for women who choose to have children, they had done nothing to earn my loyalty.

        Hatred ofa pregnant woman doesn’t mean a personal hatred of that very person, but it does frequently manifest itself as a hatred of having to accept and accommodate women who choose to have children (and rarely does it extend to men who make the very same choice).

        1. Chinookwind*

          “and was told, “If we had known that 6 weeks ago, we never would have hired you as a regular employee.””

          Wow – that is a textbook case of illegal discrimination if I ever heard one. Good thing you left. Were there any other signs of illegal dysfunction there?

      5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Wow!!! I grew up (and started my career) in an extremely sexist country, but even I cannot say I’ve ever heard this come out of anyone’s mouth. How insanely insensitive and incorrect (giving birth and taking care of a newborn =/= “no reason – especially if you already have a young child – been there, done that) and indeed pretty chilling coming from someone in a position of power! I’ve never reported anyone to HR, and wouldn’t know how, but this makes me want to consider doing it – wouldn’t they need to know that the key coordinator on your biggest project is saying things to you in private that may be read as them planning to discriminate against you for being pregnant/a mother?

      6. Dagny*

        “And some people were really crappy including they key coordinator for my biggest project who privately said to me “I wish I could get time off work for no reason” and ” i guess that’s the way to get a lighter workload.” ”

        Response: “Why don’t you run that thought by your mother and see what she says? Because in case you didn’t know, someone went through a lot to bring you into this world, and you owe it to other people to be decent to them when they are doing it for the next generation.”

      7. EinJungerLudendorff*

        Wow, what a horrible and ignorant response. And from people you need to work closely with, that hurts.

        Good luck with the little ones! Hopefully they won’t give you too many problems and many happy memories!

      8. aebhel*

        Yeah, I don’t think you need to feign wild excitement, but a pleasant ‘congratulations!’ and no snide commentary is pretty much the minimum.

      9. Anon for This*

        I got similar comments too from a coworker. My reply was “Well, you know, you don’t have to have a kid to get paid leave. You can also have a sick parent or spouse! Take your pick.” (Our workplace offers equivalent paid leave for all of these scenarios.)

      10. Former Employee*

        I would be horrified to discover that a person at the level of project coordinator could be so stupid. I would start to wonder about what other topics they were completely ignorant.

        Only a total fool would think that someone would get pregnant to get time off and lighten their workload, given the fact that they could be dealing with significant physical issues (everyone is different) during and possibly after pregnancy and even if they have the easiest pregnancy, labor and delivery of anyone in the history of childbearing, they will certainly have many years of additional work in the process of raising another human being.

        Given that I don’t have kids and am one of the first to be annoyed when people complain about how much work it is to have kids, I still would never for a moment think that anyone would have a kid to get out of something unless that person actually told me that they did, in fact, get pregnant as a way to avoid some other obligation(s).

      11. Jill March*

        I think the best response would be, “I’m sorry, what?” (Idiot repeats statement.) “Wow.” I’d also be tempted to talk to HR. But it’s easy to react to hypothetical situations behind the comfort of the computer screen. In reality, I’d probably walk quickly to the bathroom, cry, and rage text my partner.

        Seriously though, congratulations Marie! My sibling is my best friend. How fun for your family!

    2. Feline*

      Whoa, “hates mothers”? That’s a bit extreme. If you go into any interaction with the thought that you are going to be hated, you preset the bad dynamic yourself.

      I’m childfree by choice and my responses to pregnancy announcements are probably perceived as lukewarm. But it’s not out of hatred of mothers. I’m genuinely happy for my coworkers or friends if that is where their life choices have taken them.

      If a coworker or friend just becomes visibly pregnant and doesn’t say anything, I don’t either out of respect for their privacy. My doctor is pregnant now, and at my last appointment, I didn’t mention she was clearly carrying a child. Neither did she. When she greeted her next patient, I heard them effusively congratulating her and wondered if she thought I was rude for not doing so. Based on your response, probably so.

      1. Eulerian*

        I don’t think Annette’s saying that individuals ‘hate mothers’, but that society as a whole and working environments in particular are set up to effectively, massively discriminate against mothers and pregnant women. And that’s a big problem, that really harms a lot of people.

      2. Mel*

        Yeah, working moms are easy to get annoyed with. They need accommodations that can be a big pain for the rest of us. So at work, I get why it would seem they’re hated. I’ve hated them sometimes, even though I know that’s not fair. So I try to be extra nice to make up for it!

        1. VictorianCowgirl*

          Exactly this. The truth is that in every workplace I’ve ever worked in, the working moms received far more leniency than us childless women who were just suffering miscarriages about which they never knew. With nothing to show for it, our emergencies and issues weren’t as pressing or important because there wasn’t a child involved. It was insulting, frustrating, demoralizing and upsetting and I did resent those moms who especially had many friday and monday emergencies. I never got used to it and experienced this double standard until the day I started my own business.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          This is workplace dependent, and it seems kind of misplaced to blame working mothers for your company’s staffing and management issues. If management makes judgment calls about whose personal needs are “more important” than others in their staffing and scheduling decisions (or does not have enough staff for people to reasonably use their PTO), that’s on them.

          1. EinJungerLudendorff*

            Yeah, if losing an employee for a while is causing problems, that’s a workplace and management issue. Not the fault of the person who didn’t want to let their workplace determine intensly personal decisions.

          2. Le Sigh*

            Honestly, this is what a system like ours breeds. Instead of focusing on the actual problem (a system that doesn’t actually support employees in general, including working parents and caregivers) and targeting blame where it belongs (employers, U.S. policy/lawmakers, etc.) we blame individuals. Which is the point, because it diverts attention away from the actual problem.

            I’m child-free by choice. Some pregnant people are annoying, just like literally any other population subset. Working parents aren’t the issue — the system is!

            1. Blerpborp*

              When we talk about extending family leave the part that gets left out so often is that countries where this is the norm have a system in place where they hire temps paid for by the government (or at least the cost is shared with the government, is my understanding.) As it stands now in the US if we were to expand paternal leave, it would likely lead to more of this resentment. How could it not if employees are leaving for months at a time and there is no structure in place to do their job besides “everyone else does it but with no increase in pay.” It sucks for everyone involved! I’m also childfree by choice and have felt mildly annoyed by the way maternity leave has played out but not AT the mother involved, just at the way that there is more work for everyone AND the mother still isn’t spending a reasonable amount of time with their baby.

              Also, it is weird to say (as they do in the quote from the original post) that if someone is sharing their pregnancy at work that means they are probably happy about it. I work with a woman who found out too late to terminate she was pregnant and she was honest about this so that was a case where a super enthusiastic OMG YAY BABY was not the right response, it does happen.

        3. Blunt Bunny*

          Wow never encountered this before but I’m not in the US. The only thing I have found annoying is when all they talk about is their children. But in work they do the same as everyone else. In one case a woman wasn’t able to go in the lab because chemicals we were using were harmful to unborn children but even then we worked round that. I think people need to view pregnancy more as a medical issue in that while pregnant they won’t physically be able to do as much as before. Maternity leave should be seen as returning from surgery as you need months for your body to actually recover. I’m not into babies so my response probably is polite but disinterested. But I feel like there’s plenty other people that will fawn over baby photos and ask lots of questions to not be bothered about that.

        4. I woke up like this*

          Oh come on, I am so tired of this gripe. It is well documented that moms face actual structural issues in the workplace (in fact, recent studies suggest there isn’t so much a gender pay gap but a mom pay gap). Please stop acting like moms are some unfairly privileged class of workers. If you want accommodations for all—flexible schedules, paid medical leave for all sorts of medical problems and caregiving—than you should stop complaining about moms at work and work alongside them to expand the benefits at your company. (Because let’s be honest, very few are mom-friendly, again as data suggests, and these perks benefit everyone.)

          1. Jenny Craig*

            Thank you!! Yes, I hear so much about entitled working mothers, when all the data shows that we are actively discriminated against. Believe me, being able to leave work to pick my kid up from daycare because he has an ear infection is not a good trade-off for the lack of raises and career advancement (assuming, that is, that my work doesn’t try to push me out completely). I was discriminated against and eventually pushed out when I had my kids…I was told that the rest of my team didn’t like me because I couldn’t work late without advance notice because I had to pick up my newborn triplets from daycare. Yes, that actually happened, and no, it’s not an uncommon occurrence. Even if you’re not discriminated against, CNBC says that the motherhood penalty costs working mothers $16,000 a year. So please, can we stop acting like moms are these entitled brats and everyone else gets the raw end of the deal?

            1. Jenny Craig*


              From the article:

              “Despite making gains in education and experience, mothers are still facing an uphill battle in the workplace — and a pay gap that has barely budged in 30 years. In fact, it’s costing them $16,000 a year in lost wages, according to an analysis of Census data by the nonprofit advocacy organization National Women’s Law Center in 2018. Mothers in the U.S. get paid 71 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make.

              They’re also dealing with employers who view them as less devoted to their jobs.

              “Employers still have stereotypes about the value of mothers as workers. Their social science research that shows if a woman is a parent, employers are likely to see her as less capable and less committed to work,” Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, tells CNBC.”

      3. Duck Duck Goose*

        I think Annette was commenting on how the US has abysmal maternity leave options because there are no nationally-mandated standards for what and how much (paid) leave is offered. As a result, it’s also well-documented that people who can get pregnant are often discriminated against in the workplace for that reason. I don’t think they were speaking about individual feelings about children.

      4. Smithy*

        I think if you think about “hates mothers” more in regards to how the US workplace is designed – it makes a lot more sense. Even in places where there is a ~ three month maternity leave, how companies are designed to cover that fluctuates. Very often other coworkers are just expected to chip-in/given those duties.

        What that means where I am now is that a more junior staff person steps into a more senior role without any formal help for their regular job duties. When the senior staff returns from maternity leave, there is a legit fear that the junior staff will feel somewhat disgruntled going back to their regular work. Or that the junior staff person will have impressed so much that quickly on return the junior person will receive a promotion to a new role and the newly returned person will lose a critical support staff person and have to add recruiting/onboarding on top of returning to work.

        Where I work now isn’t necessarily bad for returning mothers – but all those fears are genuine and contribute to a larger work environment that doesn’t support mothers/hates supporting motherhood.

        1. YetAnotherUsername*

          Yes. This is crazy. I was in online baby groups with a lot of American women and I was absolutely shocked at how they get as little as 6 weeks off, often completely unpaid, and to make it even more crazy their coworkers are expected to cover for them! If the company isn’t paying the mother during maternity leave then why on earth are they not taking the money they save on her salary to hire a temp?

          It’s definitely a system that seems intentionally designed to foster anger towards working mothers. I don’t think “hate” is too strong a word.

          I 100% agree with Alison that the ONLY polite response to a coworker, or to anyone you don’t have a close friendship with is congratulatory.

          If someone is conflicted about their pregnancy and considering not keeping the baby, they obviously wouldn’t be telling their random coworkers! They would be talking to close friends and family. The only reason to tell coworkers about a pregnancy you’re not sure about is if you’re working in an area where it is dangerous for pregnant people and even then it would be a private discussion with HR not a general announcement.

          So this bizarre idea about responding neutrally so as not to offend someone who doesn’t want to be pregnant is a complete red herring. If they are telling coworkers with whom they don’t have a close relationship, they have obviously made their decision to continue the pregnancy so the only polite response is congratulations. You don’t need to be over the top, but just say congratulations. It’s only five syllables, it’s not a hard word!

          1. Le Sigh*

            “It’s definitely a system that seems intentionally designed to foster anger towards working mothers. I don’t think “hate” is too strong a word.”

            Yup, this. Much as I love this country and all, the U.S. has a long, storied history of turning people against each other and re-directing anger at easy targets instead of, oh I dunno, dealing with the real problem (see labor relations, see people of different races and religions, etc.). Don’t get mad at a system that actively discriminates against women (sometimes overt, sometimes under the radar) and its misogynistic policies–no, look over here! At this lady! She’s the reason you’re having to do more work!

            1. YetAnotherUsername*

              This is basically it. Have a look at any online working mothers group you will see so much guilt about taking time off and leaving others to deal with their job – even though they aren’t being paid. The company is pocketing their salary for up to three months without hiring any extra help at all, and redistributing their work to colleagues. Yet the pregnant employee is the one made to feel guilt. There’s no way that’s accidental.

        2. Bryce*

          This was how I got my promotion and became the youngest VP at my company! No regrets and I’d do it again!

          1. Ugh*

            Of course you have no regrets that your company screwed over a new mother–it only affected *you* positively.

            Way to be, Bryce. This isn’t something you should be proud of – you got the job by default thanks to discrimination, not your skill or performance.

            1. Phoenix Programmer*

              Whoa! You are reading a lot into this comment that isn’t there!

              For all we know the new mother chose not to return, or the VP position was a promotion to another department.

              Bryce was clearly responding to the “young staffers resent stepping up into a more senior role part”

              And folks here are assuming the absolute worst!

              1. Anna*

                His comment was the absolute worst, so nobody is assuming anything. He benefitted off someone else’s loss. Let’s celebrate.

                1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

                  Nowhere did the comment say the person lost their job–rather they may have lost a support person. I didn’t see where anyone lost their job.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              Wow, what an incredibly unkind and presumptive comment. You have zero evidence that Bryce’s promotion was not due to skill and performance. All you know is that they got an opportunity to take on higher-level work because someone was out on maternity leave and it got noticed and led to a promotion – no indication if this was on a new team or how it affected the person on maternity leave. That could simply have been their opportunity to demonstrate that they were capable of higher-level work and it opened another opportunity up for them.

              1. Le Sigh*

                I suspect the actual circumstances of Bryce’s promotion were fine (an opportunity to prove themselves, etc.) — it just…wasn’t the best-timed/phrased comment in the discussion of how pregnant people are actively pushed out of their jobs.

              2. Ugh*

                Sometimes a junior person will take over for a pregnant person, and then the pregnant person comes back to no job.

                Bryce replies, “This was how I got my promotion.”

                It’s not presumptive, it’s literally what he said.

                1. The Rat-Catcher*

                  That comment also included “Or that the junior staff person will have impressed so much that quickly on return the junior person will receive a promotion to a new role and the newly returned person will lose a critical support staff person and have to add recruiting/onboarding on top of returning to work,” which could have been Bryce’s situation. And if he did good work in a time of business need, he had every right to a promotion. It could be either/or.

        3. Lissa*

          That makes more sense. I was more confused by the “hates mothers” thing because most women still have children at some point, so the idea that individually hating people who have kids is anything more than fringe (thanks internet) was a bit weird to me – you’d be hating most of the world. I don’t think the bad maternity leave policies mean that someone is obligated to show tons of emotion, but a simple “congratulations” is just polite, same as how “I’m sorry for your loss” is polite when a coworker’s parent dies or something.

      5. Perpal*

        Fyi, with your doc, it’s ok not to bring it up if they don’t. If/when they talk with you about leave (ie, “I’ll be out a few months on maternity leave, here’s who’s covering” or whatever) then it’s polite to say “congrats!” or something similarly nice/neutral.

      6. Steve*

        I don’t want kids, and yet I agree that the US has awful support for mothers. Parental leave, flexibility in work hours, and many other benefits which are available in other countries are non-existent in the US. Then again, all employee rights in the US are worse than many countries, so I wouldn’t say that the US discriminates specifically against mothers. Yet, when places* like Haiti (6 weeks paid at 100%) and Afghanistan (90 days paid at 100%) and Ethiopia (13 weeks at 100%) are better than the US, and neighboring Canada has a year of leave (at 55-80% of pay depending upon income), then it’s hard to feel supported.

        I usually respond “I’m happy you’re happy” as it reflects how I feel (I’m not someone who gets excited about pregnancies) and seems to be a good way to sound supportive. If the person seems unsure, then I phrase it slightly differently (I’m happy if you’re happy, or whatever makes sense given the context, but at work it’s usually the first one).

        * I found these numbers on Wikipedia, so no promises that they are completely accurate

        1. Lily*

          “I’m happy you’re happy” is really not a very warm thing to say. Can’t you just say “that’s great, congratulations! So happy for you!” and be done with it?

        2. Ann Perkins*

          “I’m happy you’re happy” is an odd response. Just say congratulations, it’s really not that hard.

          1. Clisby*

            Yeah, when I was pregnant with my first child (at age 41 – yeah, I waited until about the last minute to have children) one co-worker who had heard about the pregnancy second-hand said something like, “Well, X tells me you’re happy about it, so …. congratulations?”

            Me: If I weren’t happy about it, I wouldn’t be having it.

          2. MrsFillmore*

            Ooooh, yes. I’m especially sensitive to “I’m happy you’re happy” because it is my dad’s go to comment when he is disappointed in a choice I’m making. Many people probably don’t have the reaction that I do to it, but it really might be worth considering a different phrasing for non-effusive congratulations.

            1. Cercis*

              I kind of read it that way too. “Well, it’s good that you’re happy because this is kind of a crappy thing for me to deal with, but oh well, as long as you’re happy, it’s fine.” It reads as very passive aggressive, which like you say may have to do with past experience, but there are two of (at least) who have those past experiences, so it might be worth changing wording.

        3. Partially Bigoted Zealots*

          Gotta be honest–as someone who also is “childfree” saying “I’m happy you’re happy” is pretty dismissive and unhelpful to workplace culture (especially as a guy, assuming from your username). Much better/easier to say, “Congrats!” and move on. If they can fake positivity to your first response, you can easily fake positivity to muster a congrats.

        4. Steve*

          I think what is partly of interest to me (and has been mentioned by a few people) is that this is a different topic than most, in that (based on portrayal in the US media) I feel that I’m expected to be very excited about someone announcing their expected birth. I’ve heard about people screaming with excitement, or have weirdly emotional reactions to the news of someone else’s pregnancy. The fact that I don’t react with this enthusiasm doesn’t mean that I’m not supportive, but I do sometimes worry that I will not be viewed as being sufficiently emotional, and so I say something honest.

          When I say “I’m happy you’re happy” or “I’m happy for you” or similar, my coworkers know that it is genuine, and seem quite happy with it. I could probably say “Congratulations” but culturally it’s not that common – it is more likely that people don’t share their pregnancy except to their manager (other than perhaps discussing timelines of when they will be gone with coworkers). It might also be cultural in that parental leave is common and taken for extended periods of time, so parents don’t have the same worry about being supported. “Oh, your wife is expecting? Are you taking 3 months’ leave or 6?” “Let me know if you want me to pick up any of your projects while you’re gone.”

          1. Cat*

            Yes, I think you obviously do what makes sense in your culture, and the discrimination issues aren’t the same everywhere. But you are not expected to squeal in the U.S., and I definitely never have even though it is something some people do.

          2. The Rat-Catcher*

            This reaction is more expected from close family or your best friend, who are expected to respond to any huge life change with a bit more than “That’s great!” or “Congratulations!” It is not the expectation of coworkers or acquaintances or even casual friends.

        5. Petionville*

          I have done international development work in Haiti. Really, you seriously think that new mothers have it better in Haiti than the US? Whatever the law may say *on paper* in Haiti isn’t followed, the government has next to no enforcement capacity, and women are so poor they are literally eating dirt pies, or giving away their children (“restavek”). Puh-leeze.

      7. MatKnifeNinja*

        At work, and other situations that are not close family friends, I just say, “Thanks for letting me know.” I say it with a smile and look happy, but that’s all the mom to be is getting out of me.

        I never comment on pregnancy if mom to be doesn’t make the first move. Especially after reading numerous posts here how many women consider it pretty invasive for people to do so.

        1. Lily*

          Seriously? Not even a “congratulations” or “that’s great!”?
          What is wrong with you people?

          1. Autumnheart*

            Why are you getting so upset about this? It’s really weird to insist that someone show a certain amount of enthusiasm for a coworker’s pregnancy, especially if it’s someone they barely know, or even more awkwardly, someone with authority over them.

            If you want someone to gush over your pregnancy, tell your friends and family. If I’m not either a friend or a family member, then why would I care about anyone’s pregnancy beyond a) hey, hope everything goes well, and b) what’s the plan for maternity leave coverage? Beyond that, what the heck are you expecting, streamers and balloons?

            People saying the genuinely terrible things about “vacation for no reason” and slacking at work are one thing, but it’s a bit much to expect people at work to care as much about someone’s pregnancy as they do.

            1. SweetTooth*

              Mat didn’t say anything resembling “hope everything goes well.” The response was exclusively about the impact that another person’s life event was going to have on them. It’s a weird thing to respond to something that’s major in the other person’s life with just a note on the comparatively extremely minor relevance for the person hearing the news.

            2. Ann Perkins*

              Because, as Alison and others have stated repeatedly, “congratulations” is the appropriate response to a coworker announcing their pregnancy, just like it would be for any other news like a new pet, or house, or whatever.

              1. Clisby*

                Yes, it’s not gushing, or showing enthusiasm. It’s just a pleasant acknowledgement. Something’s happened in a co-worker’s life that plausibly can be considered positive, and you wish them well.

            3. TootsNYC*

              She wasn’t suggesting you should gush–way to play the straw-man card.

              But if someone said, “I’m getting my degree finally,” wouldn’t you say, “Oh, congratulations.”

              You can say, “Oh, that’s nice,” without gushing.

              1. Clisby*

                Good analogy. For all I know, the person who’s finally getting the degree realizes that it’s not going to lead to any kind of work she wants, and she’s on the hook for a gazillion dollars of student loans. I’d still say “congratulations.”

            4. NotAnotherManager!*

              Because at a basic, socially accepted response. Like asking how someone is when you really don’t care or saying, “Fine, thanks!” when someone asks you how you are, even if you’ve gotten a flat on the way in and are wearing your morning coffee on your freshly dry-cleaned shirt. Basic demonstration of social nicities. You don’t even have to actually be happy for the person or ask follow-up questions. Just say “congrats!” And be done with it.

            5. Jule*

              People are responding in a human way to ill, anti-human, selfish behavior that harms society while masquerading as rational, calm, superior behavior. People see through the droll “sweetie, why are you making it all about you? Tch, calm down!” nonsense.

            6. tamarack & fireweed*

              Uh, because if someone shares a deep-reaching and, whatever the private apprehensions and conflicts may be, overall positive piece of news, “thanks for letting me know” is simply a clash in terms of affect. Imagine any of these:

              * “My youngest just passed her driving test!” “Thanks for letting me know.”
              * “My spouse is going to receive [prestigious national prize].” “Thanks for letting me know.”
              * “My medical tests turned out to be a false alarm.” “Thanks for letting me know.”
              * “I was accepted into [educational program].” “Thanks for letting me know.”

              I think it would be completely acceptable to conclude the interlocutor is a bit of an asshole. Formulaic expressions like “congratulations!” are purpose-made if you don’t want to think about a reaction, but if you have a hard time getting this particular word across your lips, there are many alternatives. You can always look the person — even a complete stranger — straight in the face with a big smile and say “Wow! That’s a huge deal!” and if they look even in the slightest happy, add “I’m very happy for you!” Sometimes, with people I know and who have a minimum of trust in me, I’ll say “How are you feeling? Has it sunk in yet? I’m sure that will mean a lot of changes! [depending… but that’s often the case — not so much for a one-time prize or a medical all-clear, but for the kid driving or marrying, or for being offered new opportunities, and of course for kids, yes, sure!]

              Here is when “Thanks for letting me know” is appropriate:

              * “I’ll be away for my desk for 30 min – in case someone calls…”
              * “I’ll be taking a late lunch today and run an errand. I should be back by [X time]”
              * “We’ve found / haven’t found the reason for the weird noises in the staff bathroom, and the next steps we’re taking are [XYZ].”

              1. tamarack & fireweed*

                Meant to finish with: With news that take us right into our humanity we connect as human beings, not as paragraphs from the employee handbook.

                PS: None of this means you have to feign enthusiasm. I’m not American and am usually not on board with the level of “great” and “awesome” that is sometimes expected. But you can express that you realize something is huge news without heaping intense emotion (worse: fake enthusiasm) on someone. If you’re the more quiet type I’m sure you have your ways to acknowledge gravity (and gravidity :-) ) quietly.

        2. Anna*

          What a…weird stance to take. “That’s all the mom to be is getting out of me” like it’s some sort of competition to see who gives up the most ground.

          1. Busy*

            People have a lot of “feelings” around women particularly having children. As a matter of course, I challenge you to name one other “role” in our society more heavily criticized than motherhood in general. I mean no one here is questioning what to say to a FATHER when they decide to have a baby. That is because you will say “Congrats!” and not have so many feeeeeeeeeelings (sexism) surrounding it or how it is somehow all about you.

            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

              Actually, non mothers are criticized as much if not more than mothers. And yes, I would say to a distant male co-worker, that’s nice just as much as a woman. (Or big news). I think a lot of people are assuming that the co-workers aren’t being polite–a co-worker saying politely “That’s nice” with a smile is not treating the mother to be badly. After all, we have no idea what the co-worker is going through or if mother-to be has been pleasant or has any compassion when her co -workers have a life event. What’s wrong with this exchange:
              A: I’m pregnant.
              Co-worker (smiling): That’s big news. or “Wow. That’s really nice.”

              1. Lana Kane*

                “That’s big news” is the kind of response that doesn’t actually say anything, and can often be read as “I don’t have anything nice to say so I’m keeping it vague”.

          2. aebhel*

            This. The whole attitude seems weirdly combative about basic social niceties. I can think someone’s degree is useless, the house they purchased is a crumbling money sink, their fiance is an idiot, or their new car is ugly, but I’m still going to say ‘congratulations’, because I have manners and I’m not a resentful weirdo about how other people choose to live their lives. Good grief.

        3. jamberoo*

          I mean, that’s certainly one way to keep people at arms’ length. If someone said that to me I would cease any further attempts to connect with them on a automaton level. Yeesh.

        4. CoveredInBees*

          “but that’s all the mom to be is getting out of me” Is the word “congratulations” a valuable commodity to be rationed out? This is such an odd approach. Adding the smile and looking happy are probably not coming off well in combination with that response.

      8. Batgirl*

        Well, I know that one of my pregnant friends was ‘congratulated’ by management with the words that she’d never get any decent projects after this and that going part time would mean extra work for others (and he made sure that it did; sadly some people fell for the set up and blamed her) so yeah, there is a certain type of boss/culture which hates and excludes mothers. It can mean a lot to have your peers’ warm support when the boss is trying to pit everyone against you.

      9. SweetTooth*

        The thing with your doctor is a totally different situation. She didn’t feel the need to comment on her pregnancy because it was irrelevant to the situation. As someone else said, it would only be relevant if you needed to know who to contact while she was out or if, like, she couldn’t examine your ear without getting close enough that her belly was touching you and felt like she needed to explain.

        With coworkers, you see them often, and plus it will be relevant for those who need to cover parental leave. More than anything, it’s the difference between someone telling you something and you noticing something on your own. If you just notice something, you don’t necessarily have to respond, whereas if someone is standing in front of you telling you information in a conversation, it would be weird if you didn’t say something.

      10. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        There’s a BIG difference between commenting on someone’s body by assuming they’re pregnant, and refusing to offer congratulations when they tell you they are in fact pregnant. Both of those things strike me as very rude.

    3. So anonymous*

      Also loving what Cat has to say… it’s true that that initial reaction can say a lot.

      As a PhD student, I told the head of my academic program that I was expecting twins. Her (mid-60s, straight, childless) face contorted in horror immediately. She recovered quickly and issued a meek “congratulations?” and then some rambling about being excited for me but worried about my progress with my dissertation.

      I instantly knew I was in for it. I was denied a teaching position I had already applied for in my department- explicitly because of the pregnancy- and basically had to beg for part-time admin work to keep myself afloat. I only had health insurance WHILE PREGNANT WITH TWINS because our HR manager had a heart and made sure I stayed enrolled even though I wasn’t technically given enough work hours to qualify.

      Once the babies came, it was clear my motherhood was a burden on the department and I ended up dropping out a couple years later. The attitude of the department was clear from that first interaction, and I should have known better than to stick around as long as I did.

      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        Holy cow- was this recent?! That sounds incredibly illegal. At my institution (in the chemistry department! So pregnancy really does mean you can’t do your regular work in a lot of cases!) the department is required to give people alternative work for the duration of pregnancy/parental leave. While it sucks for them because it often means their degree takes longer because they have to add an additional computational project of some kind, it also means they don’t have to leave. Often people are given a BS “teaching assignment” where they helped a professor type their textbook or something so that they don’t have to worry about making ends meet while they’re unable to teach their normal lab classes. I’m so sorry that happened to you!

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          In 2014 my school’s policy was that you could keep your health insurance if you went on medical leave, but you couldn’t have any family or dependents on that policy for some reason. So when I took a semester off on medical leave because I was pregnant with twins, I couldn’t add them to my health insurance at their birth. (And international students who had brought their family over and whose spouse couldn’t get a work visa and who then got sick… were just screwed, I think? I’m not sure what they were supposed to do, but there were enough international students at the school that it had to come up now and then.)

          Fortunately my spouse was employed and we all just switched over to that insurance plan, but it was an incredibly anti family way for the school to handle things. It’s possible that all the administrators I dealt with misunderstood the policy somehow, but that was the reality of how it was being implemented.

          This was at a top-tier institution you’ve definitely heard of and which has a huge endowment. I know someone else at a similarly well-regarded wealthy private school whose kids were on a state Medicaid insurance program because they couldn’t insure them through their student insurance.

          I think many students aren’t really covered under existing employment laws.

          1. anonykins*

            That’s if you’re lucky enough to be going to a school that even offers insurance for students. I work for the largest private school in my state and also attended as an undergraduate. I had insurance through the school when I was a student, but after the ACA they dropped the student insurance plan. They still require you to *have* insurance, though, so either you need to be on a parent’s plan (impossible if you’ve aged out, and there are plenty of other reasons a parent might not have insurance or might not allow you to piggyback on it) or you have to navigate the marketplace on your own.

            1. Clisby*

              Really? My daughter did her undergraduate degree at one public university, and is in graduate school at a 2nd public university. Both required that she have insurance. If she couldn’t provide proof of being insured on our policy (she can) she was required to take the university’s insurance.

        2. So anonymous*

          Where I was at school there were no policies around this… and culture depends heavily on the department head. This was a few years ago. I looked into legality a bit, but I was exhausted and overwhelmed and just decided it was better (for me) to let it go.

      2. Data Diva*

        This was my experience in my Ph.D. program as well. When I started telling people I was pregnant, the Director of Grad Studies told me that it would be really hard to get a job now and then offered to let me “complete my grading at home” two weeks after I had a c-section. My major adviser spent three hours “strategizing” with me on how we could spin my pregnancy into something positive while interviewing for faculty positions. I was having panic attacks because I was so afraid that this very much wanted baby was going to ruin my career. I was back to work at 10 weeks postpartum but only because I had the good fortune to have my baby just before winter break.

        I never did end up getting a faculty position. I’m not even sure I’d want one now. Academia is not friendly to grad students (or junior faculty) who are mothers.

      3. Anon.*

        My sister was denied a promotion she interviewed for and was verbally offered after she announced she was pregnant. Her supervisor actually told my sister, she wanted to give her time to focus on her new baby as justification for denying the promotion. My sister had to file an official complaint and met with the head of the company before they honored the promotion. Luckily the lady gave pregnancy as the reason for yanking back the promotion, so there was no way they could justify not promoting my sister.

      4. Dagny*

        The crazy thing is, your actions – dropping out after that massive discrimination – gets filed under the “choices” mothers make to “spend more time with their children.”

        I wish more people talked about the fact that when work goes from reasonable to massively discriminatory, you don’t really have much of a choice, and it’s most definitely not the same choice men are given.

        1. So anonymous*

          Yup. I have made my voice loud and clear, even after leaving the PhD program. I made sure everyone knew exactly what they were losing (the highest rated graduate instructor in the school) and that I was leaving because their expectations were unreasonable and their inflexibility was discriminatory (much more happened once I returned to the classroom after the kids were born… but that’s for another day)

        2. Ughhhh*

          Yes, my sister left her job recently after going through 6 months of hell where her workplace literally reassigned her to a different, horrible position which she started the day she came back from maternity leave. When she gave her notice last month, her supervisor was like “I think that’s probably for the best… it really seems like you want to be home with the baaaabyyyyyy.” It’s insane, all she wanted to do was return to her ACTUAL job that she liked after having the baby.

    4. cheese please*

      I’ve had coworkers comment on other’s (paternity) leave saying they would feel bad taking more than two weeks off of work, and this is coming from someone currently undergoing fertility treatments with his wife!! So while maybe “Hate mothers” is strong there are MANY aspects of employment in the US (especially is small companies, high-demand jobs, and male-dominated fields) that make pregnancy and motherhood feel unwelcome, and do not create a healthy environment. One could probably even argue that stress from work is bad for both mother and baby.

      So while many mothers / parents may not want a lot of questions, an office baby shower etc. I agree with Cat that a warm “congratulations! I hope for all the best!” is really welcome and appreciated, even for us women who are waiting to have children and observing coworker interactions as we plan for pregnancy.

      1. Myusername*

        Agree with the last paragraph. There are many aspects of the US employment standards that need revisiting for anyone. Smaller (numbers wise) would be pregnancies. I think that’s why the commenter was hard on the word choice of “Hate mothers” . If a co worker is celebrating a pregnancy, they get something good from that. Other employment standards that are horrible, there is nothing good to take from it.

    5. Meredith*

      Plus, if someone is announcing their pregnancy at work, there’s a 99.9% chance that, even if it was a surprise, perhaps even an unpleasant surprise, they’ve come to terms with it and decided they are keeping the pregnancy and parenting the child moving forward. There are circumstances where someone will be placing the baby for adoption or is serving as a gestational carrier, but that will likely all be addressed at the time as well.

      1. Lissa*

        Yes! I think some people are thinking of scenarios where people complain about unsolicited comments, and saying “well I won’t say anything” but someone tells me they’re pregnant, unless it’s a close friend confiding, I’m going to assume congratulations are in order. I feel like the few possibilities where an acquaintance is telling me and doesn’t want congratulations, but doesn’t make that obvious, are pretty far flung.

      2. Flower*

        Working in a lab environment where we deal with teratogenic substances all the time, I just don’t feel like that’s a safe assumption. It’s more than likely they haven’t already decided on terminating the pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean they’re set on it yet.

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          Still, you take your lead from them. If it’s a pregnancy announcement rather than a “can I stop working with teratogenic substances for a while?” email, I think it’s pretty safe to say congratulations are in order. Even then, what’s the worst that could happen? Someone takes offense to a quick “Congrats! Let’s see what we can do..” It seems like a bad bet to make that assumption.

    6. Becky*

      My current workplace is heavily skewed male and I don’t really have a good idea on how my department handles a pregnant employee. The last pregnant employee in my department did take the full amount of leave offered at the time (I think it was 6 weeks paid then, it has changed now) but then quit soon after returning to work (she is a very good friend of mine so I don’t think it was the quietly pushed out kind of quitting-I would have heard something about it from her in the last 4 years if that were the case). I am a woman but due to a number of different factors I am unlikely to ever have a child of my own, though I haven’t ruled out eventually adopting as a single parent.

      However, we have had 2 men this year take their full paternity leave. One was a direct report of mine and he expressed some worries about taking all that time off and leaving us short handed. Did it leave us short-handed–yes a little bit, but I did everything I could to encourage him to take all the time off he needed for his family. He did end up taking the full time (he got 5 weeks paid leave, I think if you are the one actually giving birth or the “primary caretaker” then it is 10 weeks paid leave).

      We recently had our big quarterly release of all our new features and generally we don’t like when people take time off during the week before and the week after release (so effectively a two week black-out for time off every 3 months) but that is flexible if an emergency comes up. Same direct report ended up having to take some time off last week because his 3 year old daughter had gotten injured and might need stitches/didn’t need stitches but they were worried about infection/abscess formed needed to monitor it…I told him take the time you need, we will handle things.

      I hope that if I can encourage more men to take full advantage of parental leave and promote a good work/family balance it will make at least our department more family friendly in general and hopefully if any of the women in our department get pregnant/have children it can make it more normal for them to take the time they need.

      The wives of two different managers in my department are currently pregnant–one of them started leave this morning because his wife’s water broke. The other is probably going to go on leave any day now. I do suspect the there will be some issues while these managers are gone that would be a lot easier to handle if they weren’t on leave, but we’ll get through it and meanwhile I wish them all the best.

    7. TootsNYC*

      If someone tells you they’re pregnant, be pleased for them.

      You don’t have to be ENTHUSIASTIC!!1!1!!

      Just be pleased.

    8. JD*

      Yes but a “congratulations” in a neutral tone should be plenty. For those of us who are devastated every day about not being mothers, asking us to pretend to be enthusiastic is salt in the wound.

  4. Drew*

    OP#1, this is such a hard task to take on. If it were just a reading comprehension problem, you could approach it from the side of, “Jane, I really need you to make sure to read emails closely before you send a reply. Yesterday, you asked Tyler when Project Nightmare would be ready for review. His email said it would be ready next week. When people feel like you aren’t reading their messages closely, it makes them wonder what other details you’ve overlooked–and that’s not fair to yourself and the hard work you’re putting in day after day. It may seem like a little thing but just taking an extra half-minute to make sure you’ve read a message closely before replying will benefit you greatly in the long run.”

    Unfortunately, it sounds as though the problem isn’t just inattentive reading but also poor outgoing communication skills. This may be a time when you have to say (directly to Jane, not in an email), “Jane, before you send the Project Nightmare report to Tyler, please run it by me first. I know it’s very easy to overlook important details in a project like this, especially when you’re so immersed in all the details. I sometimes forget that my bosses don’t know everything I know and are counting on me to fill them in. I’d like to see your draft by noon on Thursday so I have time to review it and discuss it with you Friday morning.” Hopefully, a proactive rather than reactive approach will help Jane become better in her writing without putting her on the spot or making your bosses uneasy about her talents in all areas of her job.

    Ultimately, however, if written communication is important to this position, and it sounds as though it is, you may have to tell Jane that her skills in that regard need more improvement before you can submit her name for promotion. That sucks to hear and it’s not easy to tell someone who is trying hard and is a good worker apart from this problem, but it’s the best thing to do if your coaching efforts don’t seem to be bearing fruit.

    Good luck!

    1. Loubelou*

      This is a really good suggestion for helping her improve on her own communication as well as her comprehension.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I think in your scripts it needs to be clearer that it actually is reactive. Because Jane flubbed the response last time, her manager is now asking to have the response get run by her this time so they can go over it together – so that on all future occasions Jane doesn’t flub it. The above scripts sound to me more like “you botched it last time so now I don’t trust you to do it anymore” (which may be true) but the point is OP already shouldn’t have to hand-hold this much on this type of task for Jane’s current role. So it needs to be clear from the start that the running by and the going over is a temporary thing to help her recover/get to the point she needs to be at since Jane’s made it clear she’s not there – and NOT an issue of OP now taking over this responsibility from Jane, which would permanently add the work to her plate that shouldn’t be there.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        The issue is not that the OP should be a micro-manager, but that the OP should be an educator and work with Jane to make sure Jane knows what to do with an email. Going over emails with Jane shouldn’t be a permanent thing, but a 30-day course in being better at the stuff she’s weak at.

    3. Trying a New Name*

      Any suggestions for if the person with the communication/read comp issues is senior to you? Jane sounds a lot like a coworker I work closely with, but she is senior to me, so I have no idea of how to approach this.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        Third time’s the charm, I hope.

        With former grandboss, I’d reply with the answer. Again. Wouldn’t let myself be tempted to highlight the answer in my original email in yellow, because that wasn’t the hill l wanted to die on.

        I should add I wasn’t sorry when that grandboss had to retire due to ill health.

      2. Drew*

        I think that falls into the category of “annoying things about your boss/senior peer that you just have to deal with.” At best, a reply that begins “As I said in the message below” might convey “Hey, could you read my emails more closely?” but even that could be read as sarcastic.

        You could always try the “It seems like details I’m putting in my messages are getting overlooked–is there a way I could present them that would be clearer?” approach, if you’re comfortable doing that.

      3. Blunt Bunny*

        If it is in documentation that is going to be widely shared I would just point blank say “hey I noticed I typo on slide 5”. Most people are happy to have these types of mistakes caught before it becomes a bigger issue. Ask for clarity if you don’t understand “hi sorry did you mean x?”. If it’s deeper than that and you are really struggling to understand them I would try and ask someone who would know instead. Another thing is having a couple of people who would be able to answer on the email. I usually use this so I have more chance of a timely response but it also allows other people to build on what was previously said if they see anything missing.

  5. Beth*

    #1: These kinds of communication skills are real skills that are, as you’ve noticed, actually pretty essential in a lot of roles. It’s ok to make a big deal out of them because they ARE a big deal, and will hold your employee back—now and in the future—if she doesn’t figure out how to do at least the baseline minimum.

    It sounds simple to say “pay attention when reading” and “communicate clearly in writing,” but those are actually skills that take a long time and a lot of practice to develop. They’re not something she’s likely to magically pick up on her own, at least not on the timeline you’re talking here. Ideally, you’d address this problem the same way you would an employee lacking any other major skill that’s essential for their role—either you’d send her for training to get up to snuff, or (if it’s too big a learning curve for that approach to be practical) you might end up deciding the role isn’t a good fit for them at this time. If you don’t have a class or other standard training mechanism available, Alison’s approach of coaching her yourself is a good option…but keep in mind that her trying isn’t enough here, she has to actually improve to the level you’d expect from your employees or the promotion still won’t be viable.

    1. Artemesia*

      someone who doesn’t have this basic analytic capacity is going to be a bottomless pit of need for coaching. I’d save the coaching for someone who has more potential. Not everyone should be promoted.

      1. Beth*

        Coaching (or a training class, for that matter!) is definitely for a gap that can be filled in a few hours, not one that would take months or years of close training. I think it’s up to OP where this individual employee falls on that spectrum, though; OP knows their full body of work better than we do, and is in a better position to judge what level of improvement is needed.

        1. valentine*

          someone who doesn’t have this basic analytic capacity is going to be a bottomless pit of need for coaching.
          Yes. She is already creating a lot of extra work for OP. If it’s not possible to pay for classes or hire a tutor, perhaps there’s a role that requires less writing and reading comprehension?

        2. Phoenix Programmer*

          No. It’s extremely common to “groom people for leadership” for example which is a process that takes years of coahing. If the skills needed could be learned in a n hour, arguable you would not need a coach.

          The problems the OP is seeing are definitely coachable.

          Frankly I think it is odd that everyone be is assuming reading comprehension where I am seeing carelessness due to responding too quickly.

          The fact that she took a course means she is open to coaching and looking for tools. OP should demonstrate with examples like Alison suggested.

          1. WellRed*

            It’s no odder to assume reading comprehension than assuming responding too quickly.

            1. Phoenix Programmer*

              It’s odd that people overwhelmingly are assuming that there is no other plausible reason(s) and deeming the staffer un-coachableas result.

              As a manager one of the first things I learned is have a frank conversation with the staffer, see what they think the roadblock is, then address once you have more facts on the table.

              Otherwise it is way too easy to anxiously agonize over solutions to phantom, frequently worst case, scenarios.

        3. Artemesia*

          The OP has already spent months on this. This person is not capable; she is trying but not succeeding because she doesn’t have what it takes. Pouring more energy down this rat hold when there are probably other more talented employees to nurture for employment makes no sense.

          1. Phoenix Programmer*

            Eh. Just because months have been spent doesn’t mean it’s been months of the correct type of effort. Since OP thinks the employee is eventually promotable, it’s worth giving Alison’s coahing techniques a try.

            The course for example could have been utterly useless, focussing on things like, always address your subject, add some small talk, that a lot of these email trainings focus on.

            Plus there could be all kinds of issues we are not considering. Is the employee frequently interrupted and needs to be told they are allowed to tell people to wait as they focus on their response?

          2. OhNo*

            I don’t think we can say that for certain. It’s equally possible that the OP just hasn’t provided the type of coaching or support that will actually address the issue for this particular employee.

            Which isn’t to say the OP is obligated to keep trying! The kind of coaching the employee needs might be way too much work to be worth doing at this juncture – that’s the sort of math that only the OP has enough information to run. But I don’t think it’s fair to write off the employee as inherently incapable just based off the limited info we have here.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              Exactly, to me the question isn’t “can this employee get there with X or Y amount of coaching” or any other amount of coaching. The question is: the person in the current role was supposed to already not need coaching; the promotion role absolutely requires this skill without any coaching. Is the person great enough in all the other ways to make it worth X or Y or any amount of additional coaching to see if they can get there in a reasonable amount of time? Or is it time to move on to someone who already possesses the necessary skills?

          3. tamarack & fireweed*

            Uh. The OP seemed to think that the time spent on overall coaching and the improvement in most, if not all but this one, area have been completely normal for a case of mentoring someone into growth for leadership. It sounded to me that the OP was surprised by persistent deficiencies in an unexpected area (while what I hear is that improvement *has* happened in areas the OP would normally have considered more advanced and complex than basic written communication).

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Sometimes this is a matter of training, though. It may be that the employee simply doesn’t have the required analytic skill set and can’t develop those skills. But from my limited experience trying to help folks figure out how to be more effective analytic writers, oftentimes they never received the kind of education that would enable them to convert their analytic capacity into writing.

        In this case, it’s hard for me to tell if OP’s employee lacks that analytic capacity, or if this is more of a reading comprehension and lack-of-writing-skills problem. The latter two can improve with coaching, but it’s very hard to coach someone who struggles with analysis.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          I agree that it’s just not possible for any of us outsiders to determine whether the employee’s problems can be solved by coaching or not. Lots of people are bad writers (and bad readers too), and some of them can improve significantly with the right sort of tutoring, particularly if they’re motivated enough.

          I agree with you that someone who struggles with analysis is very difficult to coach, but another kind of person who is hard to coach are those who (1) aren’t very good and yet (2) think they are. As an editor, I’ve run into quite a few of those, and they are…well, not hopeless, but it’s hard, hard, hard, because you have to find a kind but effective way to get them to accept that they’re not very good at this thing they pride themselves on.

          At least that doesn’t seem to be a problem with the OP’s employee. She sounds motivated, which is very important, so it truly could be that with the right sort of coaching/tutoring, she could improve significantly. And it sounds as though it might be a worthwhile effort. I don’t know if she can improve quick enough for this particular role at this particular time, but if she becomes a better communicator, it will help her for the rest of her career.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          Given the improvement in other areas, it doesn’t sound like a lack of analytic capacity.

        3. OhNo*

          Agreed. As someone who works with college students, I often end up having to coach them through the process of applying their analytic skills to writing. In my experience there is a good way to tell the difference between a lack of analytic skills and lack of experience writing: get the person to vocalize their analysis.

          If a student comes in needing help with writing an analytical paper, I’ll talk them through their analysis and argument before ever allowing them to put a word on the page. Normally I’d be talking to them about scholarly articles, but as a work-based example: Read this email. Summarize for me what it says. Explain to me what that means, i.e.: why is it important, how does it relate to previous emails, etc. Based on all that, tell me what info the sender needs from you. Now tell me how you would phrase that information if you were having a face-to-face conversation.

          For inexperienced writers, getting all the info on the table first means they aren’t trying to analyze and write at the same time. Once they’ve decided what to say and how to say it, then they can start typing and it usually comes out better (if possibly still in need of minor revisions).

          If someone doesn’t have the analytical skills, though, you’ll be able to tell because they won’t be able to answer your questions completely, or even make the leaps in logic necessary to answer your questions at all. That’s something that can be taught, but it can take an incredibly long time.

          For what it’s worth, OP, I can usually run through this process with a student in about half an hour to an hour, depending on how complicated the information is and how in-depth their analysis needs to be. So this is the sort of thing that can be done in a one-on-one coaching session, if you have the time to do that. How many sessions it would take the employee to get used to the process and be able to implement it themselves is a complete unknown, though.

          1. SophiaB*

            Oooh, I love this approach! I’m going to save this comment.

            *Read this email. Summarize for me what it says. Explain to me what that means, i.e.: why is it important, how does it relate to previous emails, etc. Based on all that, tell me what info the sender needs from you. Now tell me how you would phrase that information if you were having a face-to-face conversation.*

            I have a colleague who gives the appearance of having no critical thinking whatsoever. Which is a concern, because his job is 95% critical thinking… I’ve been trying to figure out whether he truly has none, or if he’s just waiting to be spoon-fed because he’s new to the working world – it sounds like this approach will help me figure that out!

      3. TPS Cover Sheet*

        Hrmpf. I would say the worker is prime promotion material. I’ve never come across management with any reading comprehension or grasp of logical causalities. Or no, they have logical skills, you know the kind logic that if a woman can make a baby in nine months then nine women can make a baby in a month. Definitely that worker is destined to be a project manager or a product owner or any higher-up that will make people write here. Prime promotion material fast-tracked!

        1. hbc*

          I was thinking along the same lines, except I wanted to thank the OP for considering this a show stopper. The only thing worse than an employee or coworker who can’t/doesn’t read your emails is a boss who doesn’t. I can always write back a terse “Like I said, X is done as of yesterday” to a colleague. For a boss, I’m having to figure out how to walk the fine line of making clear I didn’t slack while not appearing to call them out for a mistake. “You said you wanted to know when X was done–was there more to X than X.1 and X.2? Let me know if there’s something else you need.”

          1. Allypopx*

            This. You’re not doing the employee or anyone who has to work with her a service by putting her in a job she’s not equipped for. It’s not just how her work reflects to the big bosses – the people under her can be seriously frustrated and demoralized by it as well. Not all roles are ideal for all people.

            1. Moray*

              I have a coworker (senior to me) with horrendous reading and writing skills (spelling, grammar, scattered half-thoughts), who has been told by our boss that this is a problem, but refuses to address or even acknowledge it. I’ve had conversations where I’ve gently tried to point out that something she’s written is confusing, and she’s simply said “no it’s not.” As far as I know, our boss has never pushed the issue or tried to track any improvement.

              She’s senior to me, and when our boss leaves the standard in my company would be to promote her into the position, and she will definitely apply for it. If the company makes her my supervisor, I will absolutely quit.

        2. Bryce*

          You are awfully confrontational. Plenty of senior management have good writing skills. Some of those that don’t are there because they’ve achieved things in other ways.

          The founder of JetBlue had ADD. It helped him found the company because it made him a “big picture” person. Have YOU founded a similar company?

          1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            Big picture people who have no idea what the details required to execute said big picture are EXHAUSTING. Especially if you’re in an area that has bureaucratic internal policies, labor laws, OSHA laws, board of health or safety regulations, and the “Big Picture” person doesn’t care about any of those real and valid limitations to the idea, and wants to barrel ahead anyway angry that you’re impeding their brilliance.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Seriously. As any writer will tell you: ideas are cheap, execution is what really matters.

            2. Lance*

              Even better when that ‘big picture’ is a massive vagary that nobody can make any sense of in the first place.

            3. bonkerballs*

              Yep! The amount of big picture people I have worked with who had no idea how to make anything they wanted to do a reality and then got mad when I actually sat them down to work through the idea and showed them the issues we’d need to deal with is astounding.

          2. TPS Cover Sheet*

            JetBlue? I didn’t sell my previous airline company shares, the company I didn’t start myself, to Southwest Airlines, so the funding is a bit lacking. Also not having rich parents has somewhat inhibited my career as I actually have had to work for a living.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        I don’t think we have enough information to assume that this person fundamentally lacks the ability for analytic thought. As many others have said, the mistakes OP describes sound more like a combination of rushing (skim-reading, not fully articulating her thoughts, not proofreading, responding without fully reading the initial e-mail) and general poor grammar/spelling.

        And even if she does, there’s no need for the OP to fall into a “bottomless pit of need” – she could set out a clear programme of coaching with a specified end date. Set aside a session or two per week to check in and go over example e-mails, perhaps suggest some reading comprehension exercises, and tell her that she expects to see a marked improvement by X date or the promotion will be off the table.

    2. Alphabet Pony*

      Actually I wouldn’t say those things because they’re not really specific enough – and I think you do need to get super specific because someone who lacks these skills may not have any idea what ‘good’ looks like. If you haven’t already, I would define it in specific, measurable ways – maybe including some checklists (which ideally she would create or at least be involved in creating). This would help her self-assess more accurately and also define the standards that she isn’t currently meeting.

      So this might include things like:
      – identify key points from previous email, and check these are reflected in the response
      – anticipate questions, note what these might be and include info to address it

      1. BethDH*

        Yes! I’m thinking how often I run into this pair of issues as a teacher at the college level. It feels a little weird to people who find this easy to create checklists like this but I’ve seen it be helpful. It grounds something kind of abstract in concrete steps, and I’ve also seen it help with people who know they have a problem in the area and have gotten anxious and self-sabotaging about it.
        If you have the time/available resources, I also find that showing examples where the employee has been on the receiving end of unhelpful or unclear communication can help. In my field, that means we look at academic publications, but I think it would work even better in your environment. Even the grammar issues can be presented as part of this same goal of making things unambiguous and helpful for the end reader. We have sets of rules for communication (which are different in different communities/contexts). Following them helps avoid confusion or drawing attention to the language over the content.
        If she has some standard types of communication, perhaps she can also spend some extra time developing some templates for herself so she’s not having to think as much about grammar in real time. If she has enough good examples it might help her develop an ear for the right language.

      2. Anonym*

        Something I find helpful if I get a complex email (or am just tired or stressed and feel like my comprehension isn’t going to be 100%) is to copy the message into Word or Notepad and break it into bullets of the parts that require response, acknowledgement, recording, whatever. Then I delete the pieces from that as I address them in my response (or file/update/add to to do list). I also bullet my more complex responses to people, because I want to ensure it’s as easy as possible to for them to catch everything on the first pass.

        If OP thinks it could be helpful to her employee as a “make sure I’ve hit all the key points” tool, perhaps she could share that? Also, think of the reader when you write! Make it easy for ’em.

    3. Orange You Glad*

      I’m curious if there is an online assessment available that could be used for benchmarking here?

      Have the employee take it, do 2-3 coaching sessions over a 2-3 week period, then retake it to demonstrate progress.

      This might also be helpful for identifying exactly what the skills gap is? Reading comprehension? Attention to detail?

      I’ve taken English language fluency assessments online to determine reading level; I bet there is something that exists for this.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        ESL teacher here!

        I was actually going to recommend reading comprehension exercises for this worker if that’s a path that OP wants to go down. I would look at the Cambridge B2 exams or even IELTs papers as there are a number of exercises that require reading and comprehending the exercises in order to answer the questions correctly. Something like this might help the employee more than an online communication course.

        1. TPS Cover Sheet*

          I’m coaching a person who goes to an ESL class. They asked me to ”help with homework”. Now the thing I found out what we need to do is actually class preparation. It isn’t any use for them going to class if they are missing a word or a concept and spend half the class not understanding what the teacher is babbling about. Like ”fill in the blanks with adjectives in bold”…. what is adjectif… ahh pryzmiotnik… yes yes, comparatif, superlatif… What is bold? What is blank? …. *those* were the issues, not the adjectives themselves. The ”homework” they do fine on their own once they figure out what is wanted. So it is actually not a ”content issue” but a ”wrapper issue”.

      2. Exhausted Educator is Exhausted*

        The thing about canned exercises or assessments is that they most likely lack context. It sounds as though part of what the employee is struggling with is communicating with attention to contextual info such as what her audience already knows or needs to know, what they expect her to know, etc. If that’s the case, I think the kind of one-on-one coaching recommended already–i.e., working with actual texts she is reading and writing–would be the most helpful.

        1. TPS Cover Sheet*

          Problem with that is when you have a familiar text you become blind at the obvious and miss out the mistakes. Old trick in doing layouts on the light table was to turn it upside down so you couldn’t start reading the text but would notice the misalignments and orphans immediately as well as wrong fonts. Likewise when I am writing and godforbid compiling together documentation written by other people, I need to find someone who isn’t familiar of the technology to do the ”grammar and spelling proofreading” (I always get accused of finding excuses to chat up the marketing assistants) and then give it to someone who knows the tech to see if I have included any silly logical bombs. It does work, actually. You need to find someone who thinks in a different box… I always try to get the project manager to run any install scripts in the sandbox as they definitely don’t know shit about computers…

    4. RecoveringSWO*

      Yes OP 1, please be cautious to avoid promoting her if she can’t fix these communication issues. The worst boss I ever had was someone with this exact problem. I’m sure your employee isn’t toxic like my old boss, but I want to bring up my experience as a cautionary tale.

      Unfortunately, he had promoted to a position just under C-level. In our org, his level was where higher level bosses wouldn’t be cc’d on emails, so his superiors relied on his reports to monitor progress. He was toxic and handled any clarifications from subordinates with anger. It wasn’t a culture where we could really speak up about the problem. My misery was only tempered by knowing that he likely had an undiagnosed condition (and I later found out his son had what I imagine he had), but that feeling of sympathy didn’t fix anything.

      You’ve got an employee who is loyal and dedicated, so it’s natural to want to support them in promotion. If you feel guilty for not finding them at promotion level, please think of their potential subordinates. I wish someone would have thought of us when they promoted my ex-boss…

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      This is actually a common problem – because it’s not taught in school any more.
      If I had this problem, I would look at adult courses for reading comprehension (search on “reading comprehension courses for adults”.) There are on-line courses, and the local junior college might also have night classes if they learn better in person.
      Also useful are courses in effective writing (search on “effective writing courses for adults”) – but they are different from reading comprehension. Both are probably needed.
      Requiring reading comprehension and good writing for professional advancement is not unusual, and many on-line resources are geared to that.

      1. TPS Cover Sheet*

        When I went to school in the 70’s we had four different ”Englishes” at one point…. grammar, vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing (both penmanship as well as creative writing). The ”Reading Comprehension” was textbooks with short stories or book excerpts and then a million questions of who did what and why…

  6. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

    I’m not sure of #5. As long as someone is polite, the person announcing their pregnancy has no room for complaint. Maybe the co-worker is upset to cover your work because maybe co-worker is tired of carrying the load (because she’s done it before a lot). Maybe co-worker has her own life issues and really can’t be enthusiastic but is polite and smiles some. Maybe the pregnant co worker hasn’t responded to her co workers’ life events as they would like so the co worker simply says “That’s big news.” And/or maybe the co-worker really doesn’t care. As long as they are polite and civil, I don’t think the pregnant person can ask for more unless they have always been empathetic to their co workers.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think it’s about having a complaint or being unhappy — the writer is pointing out that there’s a significant downside to a studiously neutral response that people may not have thought about and may want to factor into their thinking. (And the context here is that she’s responding to people who say they don’t react positively because they can’t be sure the pregnant person is happy about the pregnancy, which is different from the sorts of context you’re laying out.)

      1. Blah blah blah*

        But why should other co-workers feign excitement (or congratulations)? Doing so just reinforces the idea that parents expect and receive special treatment from the very beginning. Why should others have to regulate their (re)actions so that pregnant person doesn’t feel nervous? Not our problem. How they choose to respond is on them. Not everyone cares about your pregnancy. Not everyone wants to hear about it. Not everyone wants the extra work. Faking excitement (congrats) is disingenuous.

        1. Cat*

          It’s a basic social convention. We say congratulations in a friendly way for all sorts of things – new pets, weddings, retirements, new houses. It doesn’t really matter whether we care. This is no different except that it is also coming up in a situation where women are rightly on edge about the responses they get.

          If you don’t want to be polite to coworkers about anything you don’t care about, there’s no law that you have to. But that does have implications.

          1. Blah blah blah*

            Maybe you do, but I don’t. If I don’t care, I’m not going to feign excitement. Having a neutral response isn’t impolite (as you imply); it’s perfectly acceptable. If the pregnant person is going to be nervous or worried by a _neutral_ response that’s on them. Not everyone is excited about pregnancies, or new pets, or weddings or etc.

            1. Airy*

              Congratulations don’t mean you’re personally excited, they’re just an expression of goodwill. If you don’t feel that either, okay. Don’t be surprised if people don’t seem to like or trust you.

              1. ES*

                I wonder if this person never says “Have a good night!” on their way out of the office because it would be disingenuous to act as though they’re excited about what kind of night their coworkers are having. It’s part of the social contract to be kind to our coworkers, we live in a society!

            2. Alphabet Pony*

              It doesn’t matter if you’re excited. That’s the entire point. This is all just really basic being a human stuff.

            3. Short Time Lurker Komo*

              If your general response to anything is neutrality, then you specifically are likely not expected to respond excitedly. I would wager that it would be seen as ‘off’ if you faked excitement for this but not other things.

              BUT!! If you ARE the type to offer a congrats on other life events, and your response to a pregnancy announcement is neutrality, that is ALSO seen as ‘off’ and will make the pregnant person go ‘Bwah?’.

              As I read the letter, that’s the targeted audience. Its for people who don’t want to offer congrats on a potentially unwanted pregnancy. Cat is just saying to assume all pregnancies that are announced at work (unless you know for sure one way or the other) are desired and respond as you normally would to that news. Excited, not excited – do you.

              1. Lissa*

                Yes, definitely some people are just more neutral in general in their reactions – but I also think this can depend on who the person is if they can “get away” with it. I’m not trying to turn this into a sexism thing but that plays in – an older, gruff, professorial dude can get away with a grunt and a nod as a response and it’s just how he is, but a younger woman is more likely to be seen as a witch-with-a-b.
                I think if you’re generally more muted, a muted response is totally fine. The problem I see happening is someone who squeals with joy about a new puppy and gives a flat stare for a pregnancy (thanks extreme internet childfree people who make me not want to say I don’t want kids.)

            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              This reads as kind of… aggressively contrarian? Saying “congratulations” warmly is a social convention, the same way that asking, “How are you?” is a social nicety. You don’t have to feign excitement. You just have to be relatively warm instead of neutrally cold.

              Given the challenges pregnant women face in the workplace, opting for a low- to no-cost response that also fosters inclusivity seems like a net benefit. And probably good karma.

              1. Jeannie2018*

                Couldn’t agree more. When I announced my pregnancy to my boss I would have been worried by a neutral response. Thanks to Cat for flagging this in the first place :)

              2. gbca*

                Yes! I hardly think receiving a warm “congratulations!” is setting a precedent of entitlement to special treatment. If you find saying that ONE word with a smile to be making too much of a statement, you are in fact making a counter-statement.

                It’s similar to saying “I’m sorry” when someone’s dog dies. You might not care about dogs, and you didn’t kill the dog, but it’s just a social convention to give a small acknowledgement of major events in others’ lives that are shared with you.

            5. Asenath*

              I’m with the group that thinks its necessary to feign some degree of excitement – maybe the word “excitement” is the difficulty? I don’t see smiling and saying “congratulations” in response to a pregnancy announcement as being particularly excited, any more than I am excited when I say it in response to a marriage announcement, or “That’s great” when someone announces a special vacation, the acquisition of a new pet or the purchase of a house. My actual emotions may be closer to indifference, but it’s kind and polite to show some level of interest in co-worker’s major events.

              1. Overeducated*

                Agreed, saying “congratulations” and then dropping it is basic courtesy but definitely doesn’t read as “excited” or “I want to hear more about this ever.” If you don’t ask any follow up questions, I promise I won’t take that as a signal to tell you when I’m due, talk about baby stuff, or ever bring it up again except as it relates to work scheduling.

              2. Moray*

                The last “congratulations” I got was for getting my car back from the shop.
                “I can finally move from place to place freely again!”

                Does coworker care? Probably not. Did I care? Not all that much. But it was still a positive interaction.

              3. The Original K.*

                Yeah, I don’t think saying “congratulations!” reads as particularly excited either. Actually, I was kind of confused about the use of the phrase “neutral response” because saying “congratulations!” IS neutral, to me, or at least just kind of baseline polite. It’s just what I say when someone tells me something they’re clearly excited about. I can’t imagine someone telling me “I bought a house!” or “I finished my dissertation!” or “I’m pregnant [when it’s obvious that the pregnancy is wanted]!” and me just saying “OK” in response. All of those things would yield a “Congratulations!” response from me.

                1. Alexander Graham Yell*

                  Exactly! It is the polite acknowledgement that something good and out of the ordinary has happened in somebody’s life, it does not mean that I have any kinds of feelings about it.

            6. Thursday Next*

              Your congratulations don’t have to rise to the level of “feigned excitement,” but what you’re describing is quite impolite. Social conventions generally call for polite affirmation of other people’s announcements of major life events. It doesn’t matter whether you personally find those events desirable.

              Is your approach incorrect by the letter of some social law? Perhaps not. But it’s certainly not politic (if you need to think in terms of how someone’s announcement affects you personally).

            7. Quickbeam*

              I’m more or less with you. I do say a hearty “congratulations”. I get blow back if I do not. But then, it’s assumed I am interested in every trimester, Braxton Hicks twitch, # of vessels in the cord etc. This carries over to later when I hear about every burp and elimination. If I could WFH it would be for this reason. I am a nurse in a non-clinical role so apparently everyone thinks I care about their uteri. I do not.

              1. Lissa*

                Oh man I was so confused about why people were telling you all these extra details since that doesn’t seem normal (a few TMI people sure) to happen that often and then you said you were a nurse and it all made sense!

              2. Autumnheart*

                I have a coworker who just had a baby last week, and for the last month, it’s been non-stop conversation from all the other parents (ironically, not a word about it from the woman who was actually pregnant!) about every TMI detail about labor and infancy. I am nowhere near a healthcare-adjacent role. Stop talking about this stuff in the office, people!

            8. Ann Perkins*

              Having a response like a flat, “wow, what big news” to a pregnancy announcement would be considered quite impolite in just about any social or work circle. I don’t see what effect in can have on the responder to say, “Congratulations!” with a smile instead. But for the pregnant person those two responses are very different. Yes, you don’t have to be excited about others’ milestones, but to get along with coworkers a bit of warmth goes a long way.

            9. fhqwhgads*

              The point is not that neutral response=impolite. It’s that neutral response does not necessarily communicate a “neutral” message to the recipient. In your examples it sounds like you’re making an intentional choice when your feeling is somewhere between neutral and negative to go neutral to retain the politeness. You’re not wrong that it’s hard to argue neutral is actively impolite. But the point being made in #5 is that if the person choosing “neutral response” is doing so to hedge bets about the Announcing Person’s feelings, it’s probably in many cases not landing as a neutral response. That may be contrary to the intention of those people choosing the so-called “neutral” response and something worth it for them to consider. Keep in mind the comment was in response to a whole slew of comments from others who were specifically saying they kept it “neutral” in case the Announcer wasn’t actually happy. It was not in response to people being neutral because of their own feelings.

              1. YetAnotherUsername*

                Exactly this. Maybe a good comparison is if someone says “it’s my birthday” or “I got engaged”. Social convention is that you say “happy birthday” or “congratulations” or similar. If you just say “OK” that’s going to come across as really rude, even though “OK” is the definitive neutral response.

                There is no law saying you have to congratulate coworkers on birthdays, engagements and pregnancies, so yoi can feel free to say whatever you like in response. But just be aware that social convention is really strong on this – if you don’t say something explicitly positive on these types of announcements, it’s going to come across as really rude and negative.

                1. smoke tree*

                  Yeah, the baseline for “neutral” shifts depending on the circumstance. If your response to a pregnancy announcement is indistinguishable from your response to someone telling you where to find the latest axolotl regulation checklist, it will come across as pretty negative for the context.

                  This really is very similar to other discussions about social niceties that come up from time to time–it’s not about the literal message, it’s about cultural convention. “Congratulations” is just a way of saying “I recognize your major life event.”

            10. Anon Today - Procreation Takes a Toll*

              It’s not about excitement, it’s about providing assurance that the pregnancy will not change expectations for the employee’s duties. Pregnancy and maternity leave are often used against women, denying them promotions and opportunities or causing reductions in duties. My own history is a case in point.

              While on maternity leave with my second child, my tech writing support branch was split up and my staff assigned to different engineering teams. The reorg was one that I had refused for a multitude of valid business reasons. The results were horrendous – my staff was miserable, assigned to roles they weren’t suited for (example, a junior tech writer got assigned to the most technical team and was completely out of her depth), the workload was unbalanced, and the deliverables schedule went out the window. Since I no longer had a team to manage, I too was reassigned. I left shortly thereafter.

              1. Former Employee*

                Boy, your management was going to show you what would happen once you dared to get regnant
                and go on maternity leave.

                So they essentially cut off their nose to spite their face.

            11. lost academic*

              Sounds like this comment isn’t meant for you. It’s meant for people who DON’T want to convey that they don’t care or are to some extent not thrilled at all but may not have factored the societal and professional problems that create anxiety in the person who needs to inform people in the workplace of the impending status change. From your responses, you are going for that impression so this isn’t about you.

            12. Parenthetically*

              The always wise fposte said something I love in a previous post about people bringing babies into the office or simply having babies — I may not be interested in curling, but if a coworker won a big curling championship, it’d be pretty churlish to decide that MY level of interest in curling, rather than THEIR level of interest, ought to control how effusive my congratulations were. It’s not a perfect comparison but I think it’s an apt one.

              Also, just fcking say congratulations, FFS. It’s not that hard. You’re not, like, “living a lie” by pitching your voice a bit higher than normal and saying, “Wow, congrats! I wish you all the best with everything!” It’s a social convention, and it’s a kind thing to do.

            13. Delphine*

              No one is asking you to be excited personally–just be happy for the person who is sharing the news with you. Be kind, be cheerful.

            14. tamarack & fireweed*

              No one expects you to feign excitement. In fact, I’d very much suggest you do nothing of that sort. What is expected is to conform to social norms around congratulations for events that deserve congratulations.

              And sure, if you’re the kind of person who, when a child runs up to you with their essay announcing ” I got an A+”, you just coldly respond “It does not actually matter to me what grades you get in English class”, then don’t complain if you’re getting treated accordingly.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            Yep. I increasingly see comments to to the effect of “I don’t want to socialize with my coworkers or say anything that’s not 100% genuine and fully truthful” here and elsewhere, and like, that’s totally your right, but it will absolutely have repercussions both for you and the people you interact with. It’d be both silly and disingenuous to pretend that opting out of those minor social pleasantries (literally, five seconds of “Oh, congratulations!” or “How exciting!” doesn’t have an effect. That’s not a social norm that’s likely to change anytime soon, I don’t think–and frankly, that’s partly because many people, myself included, don’t want it to change. I don’t want to be All Business All The Time, nor, to be quite honest, do I want to eschew a veneer of social nicety in favor of total honesty. I have seen people go for total honesty and boyyyy howdy does it become eighteen hundred times more involvement and drama than “Congrats!”

            I dunno. I sometimes feel like I’m posting from an alternate timeline or something, because not participating in these small social things would be so weird in any workplace I’ve ever been at that it would be A Thing, and not a positive one. And I work with engineers!

            1. Doctor Schmoctor*

              Agreed. Sometimes you have to smile and be nice, even if you don’t feel like it. If I had to be 100% sincere at work, I would have told my boss I think he’s incompetent. I wouldn’t have a job anymore. It really doesn’t take any effort to be friendly. You don’t have to be excited and say “Oh my god, that is so amazing!”, but a simple “congratulations” won’t kill you.

            2. PB*

              Yes. This reminds me of the OP from a couple years ago who felt that saying “Good morning” was inauthentic, because they didn’t actually care if their coworkers had a good morning. (Link in a follow-up comment.) These are just really basic parts of being a human interacting in our society. If a coworker wished me a good morning and I responded in stony silence, or announced a pregnancy and I reacted with a stony “oh,” then I would be the problem.

              1. How are you?*

                PB, I’m the letter writer of the question you’re referring to, and I believe you misunderstood it.

                I say “good morning” to everyone I pass on my way in, unless they are mid-conversation. I wrote in saying that the constant exchange of the question “how are you?” stresses me out, not because I don’t care how people are, but rather because:
                1) it feels like no one cares how people are if they are asking this question when they don’t expect an answer to it (which is especially problematic when people are actually going through a rough time)
                2) it makes it hard to find out how people actually are doing when they hear my genuine question “how are you?” and fall into a script
                3) it makes it hard for me to sort out when people are actually looking for an answer vs when I’m just supposed to say “fine, how are you?”

                I’m not sure how you got the interpretation from my letter (other than the effect of time on memory) that I don’t care how people are doing, but anyone who knows me knows I care deeply about other people.

                I’ve been thinking of writing an update about how I feel and deal with that question now, including how the response of the AAM community affected how I interpret it. I’ll try to do that sometime soon. :)

                1. Alexander Graham Yell*

                  Please do! I went from a culture where that is a kind of social lubricant question to one where it is considered very invasive and personal. The shift was jarring and took me about 4 months to feel like I finally got the hang of it – just long enough to go back to my original culture after my secondment was done. It surprised me and your letter feels like the inverse of my experience – I’d be very interested in hearing how you’re feeling about this now!

                2. tamarack & fireweed*

                  I’m German, and I’ve known other Germans (or French people) who, when transplanted into an American workplace, would respond to “How are you?” with a detailed, sincere, accounting of the ups and downs of their current state of mind, health, hunger, happiness, fitness, and professional satisfaction. Needless to say, this was much to the bafflement of their American interlocutor.

                  Coming in as an outsider, I was actually taught in English class that “how are you” (in the American workplace) is not an inquiry into how someone is. If you really want to know this (for example, you’re their boss, or manage a project, and have good reasons for really want to know) you have to apply different tactics.

            3. Falling Diphthong*

              xkcd has of course covered this: https://xkcd.com/592/

              Gist: You think you’ve come up with this totally logical system where everyone will just be straightforward and logical about things, and then it turns out that people are complicated and the drama has grown exponentially.

            4. EventPlannerGal*

              I agree. I must say that I’m consistently baffled by the small but ever-present number of commenters here who seem to view very small, basic social niceties as personally-targeted impositions. Harbouring this type of attitude towards two-second interactions like happily saying “congratulations!” or greeting your colleagues in the morning is not, IMO, a healthy or realistic way to exist in the workplace.

              1. pleaset*

                I’m on the grumpier side of most things, and so I don’t love a bunch of “good mornings” every day, day after day.

                That said, pregnancy is stressful for the reasons Cat said (among many others) so a simple “congratulations” is a kindness. It’s like not greeting someone nicely on their first day of work. It’s a big deal. Play nice. Pretend for a little bit. The value added to the other person is often way above the energy expended.

              2. Emily K*

                As a lifelong, avowed introvert this is a phenomenon I’ve noticed across the last 8-10 years or so on social media. It started with a couple of viral comics about what it means to be introverted and how to give an introvert what they need…but over time morphed into a place where “introvert” seems to be increasingly defined as “anti-social loner, you can’t make me socialize.” Maybe it’s partly a reaction to the culture of extreme sharing/extreme socializing that social media created? I’m deeply introverted and also a rather private person (esp at work) but I’m not even slightly anti-social. Yes, I get overwhelmed or easily tired out in some situations, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that I’m never going to end up in such a situation, or that someone else is being rude or disrespectful if they put me in that situation. It’s just one of those life things you deal with by advocating for yourself and your needs in the moment, as needed – not something you expect the world to cater to ahead of time.

                1. Becky*

                  I am an introvert as well–but I am neither anti-social, nor shy. I’m actually really really not shy at all. I can be quiet and reserved which is different than shy. I also love public speaking and teaching and I am fairly good at them! And yet, I am still an introvert.

                2. Burned Out Supervisor*

                  I think a lot of people consider themselves anti-social, when they really mean that they have social anxiety or just introverted and keep to themselves. If you were truly anti-social, or displayed anti-social behavior, that would mean that you were behaving in a way that causes harassment, alarm, or distress to other people (i.e. unwilling or unable to associate in a non-hostile or friendly way with other people). Not wanting to go to crowded parties or share your private personal experiences isn’t antisocial at all, unless you went to that party and loudly pissed and moaned to everyone about how much you hate parties and then threw your drink on anyone who told you how much fun they were having.

              3. Introverted Not Shy*

                YES. These same folks would write in complaining when something happens to them and their coworkers ignore it.

            5. Lynca*

              Signed. (I work with engineers too)

              I have seen the 100% honesty outlook in play. It always ends with someone either accepting that social nicety is actually necessary for smooth, productive working relationships or that person burning all the goodwill bridges in existence then wondering why no one likes them/wants to work with them/wants to promote them/etc.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                Well, my partner is a 100% honesty person and hasn’t had a problem, but it’s probably because he’s naturally quiet and generally nice. If he doesn’t say anything, it’s not noticed. If he *does* say something, people take him at his word.

                1. Parenthetically*

                  Well, there’s honesty and there’s honesty. In my observation, people who brag about being counter-cultural truth-tellers are actually just dicks. People who value truthfulness but are also generally kind people are a different creature than the You’re Just Trying To Repress My Natural Truth-Telling Boldness With Your Talk Of “Manners” And “Society” And I Won’t Be Forced To Conform To Your RULES, Man types.

                2. Lissa*

                  The difference is that the 100% honesty people that cause problems are the ones who “can’t just say silent” when they see something they disagree with, I think.

                  So, coworkers talking about a reality television show, the 100% honesty person wouldn’t just stay quiet if they don’t care, they’d have to let everyone know how stupid they think reality television is and/or how much they don’t care.

                3. Turtle Candle*

                  You know, that’s true. I think what it is is that being both reliably pleasant and completely honest is a ton of work, navigating the line between ‘cold, rude, dismissive’ and ‘white lies.’ If you’re committed to doing that work, I think you can–but if you’re trying to opt out of social niceties because you can’t be bothered or don’t see why you should be distracted from ‘real work,’ you’re not going to do that work, and that’s where the problems begin.

                4. Gazebo Slayer*

                  “People who brag about being counter-cultural truth-tellers are actually just dicks.”

                  I might buy that on a T-shirt….

              2. WantonSeedStitch*

                A lot of people who pride themselves on being brutally honest seem to be doing it more for the brutality than the honesty.

              3. Falling Diphthong*

                Whenever people start going on about why everyone can’t just be logical instead of polite, I am reminded of the guy who let broken glass lie in his kitchen for a month because LOGIC.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  It’s a Captain Awkward letter, which led to the coining of the term “Darth Vader boyfriend”–you can search on that.

                  In milder form, I have seen that “I’M the rational one here, so everyone else must be wrong” from a whole lot of Logically McLogic guys.

              4. Becky*

                Phrase I found in Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch that kind of sums it up:
                “unthinking rudeness masquerading as blunt speaking”

            6. Aquawoman*

              Right. I’ve had times when people have asked “How are you?” at times when the real answer was essentially “on fire,” to the point where the question would make me inwardly cringe, and I still said “Fine.” Because that’s what you say.

              1. Perse's Mom*

                I answered this mostly honestly once because the asker was one of Those People who insisted everyone be cheerful and happy at work All The Time. He never asked again. I considered that a win.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  I think that’s fine if you understand and accept that you’ll have significant future consequences.

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


              I’d love to see the Venn diagram of “100% business all the time because social niceties are for basic bitches and fakers” people and those who can’t ever seem to get that promotion they think they deserve.

            8. Archaeopteryx*

              Agreed, absolutely. It’s also quite unhelpful, on what is after all an advice blog, to be giving the impression that adhering to the social niceties which oil the wheels of everyday interaction is somehow optional – because the reality is that in almost all real life workplaces they aren’t, and trying any of this “saying ‘Good morning’ is A Betrayal Of My True Self” stuff would be a seriously career-limiting move.

              1. Academic Addie*

                > “saying ‘Good morning’ is A Betrayal Of My True Self”

                I actually laughed out loud at this.

              2. Turtle Candle*

                Yeah, it’s on my mind because I have a coworker who I genuinely think is a kind person–I have seen him be very generous with his time and very compassionate. But he Doesn’t Do Social Niceties. He only asks “how are you” of people at work he actually cares personally about (which is more noticeable than I think he realizes), he’s blunt to the point of curtness, and while he is never abusive or directly insulting, if he finds a task boring he’s quick to say so or try to get rid of it, if he thinks you’re annoying or irritating or wasting his time, it will not be at all hard to figure out.

                And he desperately wants to be a team lead, and his technical chops are up for the job, and he’s quite a good programmer, but I can tell you, it’s not gonna happen. Because the Powers that Be quite understandably don’t trust him to interact pleasantly with other departments (where this kind of thing would be even less acceptable) or to not scare off new employees/interns/mentees or to not rub other teams with which he has to collaborate the wrong way. He’s capped out on what he can do at the company, and I don’t think he comprehends why despite feedback, and it’s sad.

            9. smoke tree*

              Yes, exactly, it’s just convenient cultural shorthand. I’m glad it exists, because I really don’t want to get into an in-depth conversation with my coworker about their reproductive plans and their deeper thoughts about them. I just want to say “congrats!” and have some cake in the board room and go on with my day.

            10. emmelemm*

              Same about posting from an alternate timeline. I’m a hardcore introvert, etc etc all the things people always bring up with letters like these, and for this specific circumstance, I’m also a childless by choice person, yet *even I* can muster up a “Congratulations!” for someone who’s pregnant. Geez.

              You don’t have to be Meryl Streep to at least pretend for a second that you don’t absolutely hate everyone else in the universe, and it doesn’t make you a lying liar either. I may not want to be everybody in my office’s best friend, but I’d prefer they didn’t hate me.

            11. BananaPants*

              I *am* an engineer and work with all engineers – someone who completely checks out of any workplace social niceties and avoids any of the “social lubrication” kind of interaction that’s normal in a workplace is definitely considered strange. I know there’s this stereotype of engineers as being socially-inept nerds, but in my experience that’s very overblown.

              A colleague presents with a very flat affect and refuses to engage in any non-work conversation or exchange pleasantries under any circumstances, and it’s quite career-limiting because no one wants him on their team regardless of the quality of his work. Kind of sad, really.

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            It’s a basic social convention… It doesn’t really matter whether we care.

            This. Lots of soft skills at work come down to ‘because it is the convention and aids in the smooth functioning of the group.”

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Again, the context for this is that it’s a response to people who say they give a neutral response because they’re worried it might not be good news. That’s a very specific context, and it’s different from what you’re talking about.

          That said, it’s basic social convention. It’s the same reason you don’t turn away silently when your coworker says “I’m so excited for my trip next week.”

          And saying “why should I care if women worry about discrimination?” is pretty awful.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I fail to see why people can’t give a smile and something like “Congratulations! Have you seen the latest Spout Curvature Report?”

            It’s basic courtesy, as well as professional courtesy. It does not go diving into personal details or harp on later plans for coverage. It acknowledges the statement in a positive way, does not pry, but leaves the impression that nothing else has changed.

            If I was being expansive, I might say “Congratulations! Do you know the due date yet?”, but only if they didn’t include it in their announcement.

            I say this as a confirmed childfree person and blunt curmudgeon. I don’t have to be interested in kids to congratulate a coworker on their pregnancy when they announce it.

            BTW, if it was “I’m so excited for my trip next week.”? I would say “Awesome! Hope you have a great time!” Neutral, doesn’t pry, but supportive of the person.

            It’s little courtesies like that that show you see them as a person with a life outside of work, not a robot or something.

          2. Burned Out Supervisor*

            Word. Stating that you don’t care about what 50% of the population worries about tells me an awful lot about you, namely that you might be pretty selfish and not a team player. While that’s not a crime, it means that you’re perceived as being difficult to work with and could get passed over for cool projects, etc.

            And frankly, you should care that 50% of the population experiences some sort of discrimination in the workplace because humans should care that their society is actively keeping a subset of people down when they could be making awesome contributions to our society. I mean, you don’t have to march with us, but I think keeping an open mind to what women are telling you is a good start.

        3. Alphabet Pony*

          For the reasons Cat gave, that’s why. Assuming you’re not the employee in #1, you have the reading comprehension to understand why as it’s been explained in the letter.

          I wish people would stop dressing up this kind of sexist – and yes it is sexist – bile as somehow speaking on behalf of women with fertility problems. Because while I am unlikely to have kids through any method due to health problems (including adoption so resist the urge to suggest it thanks) I still care about people other than myself including the women who ARE carrying on the human race. I care about living in a world that is kinder and less sexist. You are not currently contributing to that. Please try to read the letter with a more open mind.

          1. SuperAdmin*

            Absolutely agree. I’m someone who has chosen to be childfree (apparently my cats don’t count), and am not generally enthusiastic regarding pregnancy and children, but I still would absolutely congratulate someone at work announcing their pregnancy, unless their tone/words suggested congratulations weren’t wanted. I would ask them polite questions if they wanted to talk, and I would contribute to any collections/cards when they went on maternity leave. Just because I’m not interested in reproducing, doesn’t mean I’m going to shirk politeness and common social behaviours, especially with someone I work with.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*


              I’m childfree as well, and I have no problem being supportive to coworkers who choose to have kids. It’s their life, not mine, and I want them to be happy in their life outside of work. (Happy coworkers are better coworkers, IMO.)

        4. Tallulah in the Sky*

          “Doing so just reinforces the idea that parents expect and receive special treatment from the very beginning.”

          There’s nothing special or over the top in saying “Congratulations !” with a smile. I think people are overthinking this way too much.

          1. Koko*

            They are. By the same token, OMG, it’s like whatever your reaction is, it’s definitely wrong and the itent is going to be overanalyzed and criticized no matter what you do. A warm congratulations! shouldn’t be something anyone feels is going to be held against them.

          2. TechWorker*

            ‘Parents expect and receive special treatment’ just rubs me the wrong way. Yes – having kids is (usually, not always) a choice, but so are a bunch of other things that might result in needing time off work (eg illnesses caused by lifestyle choices). It doesn’t make the need for time off any less real.

            Plus the position of ‘I will never have children therefore parental leave is discriminatory against me’ forgets that everyone was a child once and everyone would have benefitted from better parental leave policies. Pay it forwards maybe?

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              It does rub me the wrong way especially that it came up in the context of Cat’s comment. Not being discriminated against at work because you added a child to your family is not “special treatment”.

              I also do not care for the subtext in several of the comments higher up on this thread that the pregnant coworker is somehow eager to shout about their pregnancy from the rooftops, and to beat their coworkers over the head with the news regardless of whether the coworkers like to hear it or not. They may be excited to share, or they may not be. They would probably rather not share with the coworkers who they know would not want to hear it. They share the news about their pregnancy because they have to, as 1) the coworkers will find out anyway in a few months 2) they need to make workplace arrangements for parental leave, adding a dependent, adding a new member to their insurance policy and so on. Just like we tell our team when we will be out on vacation, not because we want them to be jealous because we are going on vacation and they are not, but because we will be out for a week or several weeks and they need to know in case they try to find us during that time. I’m not sure why that is hard to understand.

              1. aebhel*

                ^ I actively did not want to talk about either of my pregnancies when I was at work, but I still would have been put off if one of my coworkers reacted with the kind of barely-veiled hostility that some commenters here are showing. I don’t expect you to throw me a frigging baby shower, just maybe don’t be a complete dick about it?

            2. Parenthetically*

              Plus oh ye GODS we live in a SOCIETY. As people who live in a society, it is incumbent upon us not to exclude entire vast swaths of humans from the work force through practices that benefit one group at the expense of another. ALL people benefit in a society that adopts more flexible work practices for the sake of parents. ALL people benefit in a society that demands family and parental leave. These practices represent a move toward inclusion, and that’s good for everyone. Even if I personally never experience any direct, measurable benefit from, say, anti-discrimination measures aimed at including people with disabilities in the workforce, I indirectly benefit as a member of a society that values people with disabilities. It is BETTER, 100%, absolutely, full stop BETTER to be part of a society that works to include people with children and not just people without, people with disabilities and not just people without, people with chronic illness and not just people without, etc.

          1. Washi*

            Right! Cat was responding to people who were saying that their first instinct was “congrats” but who then overthink it and end up with a flat “big news” response. She’s pointing out that the “big news” or “wow” responses can actually feel quite the opposite of neutral.

            Congrats! + smile IS neutral in a work context, just like “how are you” is a neutral social convention and not a request for deep personal information.

        5. PB*

          Saying “Congratulations” is not feigning anything. It’s a social convention, and it’s one word. Also, it’s about the person you’re talking to, so I’m not sure how that’s feigning?

        6. Lucette Kensack*

          Geez. Saying “congratulations” hardly constitutes special treatment.

          Are you similarly affronted by saying “I’m so sorry” when a coworker’s mother passes away, or “Sounds like a great vacation!” when someone comes back from two weeks away from the office? Those folks don’t deserve any special treatment, after all.

          And Cat’s point actually articulates why you might want to be more attentive to the needs of pregnant people. She’s saying that pregnant people experience discrimination at work, and forcing yourself to say an enthusiastic “congratulations!” can help alleviate that burden.

        7. LarsTheRealGirl*

          The “special treatment” you’re referring to…being passed over for promotions, being questioned on taking (the horror! the nerve!) more than 2 weeks of maternity leave so you can actually sit without excruciating pain before attempting to be a productive employee….THAT kind of special treatment? Well, I’m sorry you feel like you’re missing out.

        8. pleaset*

          We say “Congratulations” for the same reason we do many other thing – it’s polite pleasantries.

          I was frankly appalled by some of the comments suggesting to not say congratulations because that is too presumptuous and the expectant person could be unhappy about the pregnancy. What Cat said makes a lot of sense to me.

          “Not everyone cares about your pregnancy.” I certainly don’t. But I still “fake” it with a moderate “Congratulations.” I don’t see what is hard or wrong about that.

        9. Artemesia*

          Really. We are going to start slagging pregnant women because they would like people to be minimally polite to them and congratulate them rather than treat the like gum on the bottom of the shoe? This is such a hostile point of view to have towards colleagues in a workplace. When Joe returns from his heart attack should we also be surly because he caused a lot of work and he shouldn’t expect us to regulate our emotions by showing we are pleased he is well?

          1. AnonyMouse*

            I think that’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison… Also I feel like the ultimate issue reading through people’s comments is over semantics and not how to act. I’m seeing some people describe saying “congratulations” while smiling in response to someone’s announcement as “excited,” and some describing it as “polite.” To me personally, I would consider and “excited” response to a pregnancy announcement to be akin to what we see in viral pregnancy announcement YouTube videos where people are overjoyed, possibly crying, asking lots of questions of their loved one, etc. Unless my coworker is also my best friend or family member, I will never have that type of reaction to a coworkers pregnancy announcement. I will say “congratulations!” which I consider to be polite. On the flip side of this, as you bring up, if I find out that a close friend or family member has had a health tragedy, I’m likely going to be upset to the point where I am not functioning like normal for several days. If a coworker has a tragedy of that nature, I’m going to be upset but probably not at the same level. Additionally, if there is an office collection to help with medical expenses or to purchase a baby item, I’ll contribute. I think where people are having a negative reaction to the OP is that the last paragraph implies that the polite congratulations is not enough.

        10. ket*

          I hope you take that approach when someone gets a puppy, too! “Why should I fake excitement about your dog by saying something pleasant? Ugh!” Or when someone says they have fun weekend plans and are taking off early on Friday. Wow, how unpleasant!

          Do you feel that if your intern is graduating college on Saturday you shouldn’t have to feign excitement because it just reinforces the idea that college grads get special treatment from the very beginning? You probably don’t care about this kid’s graduation either, and don’t want to hear it, and don’t want the extra work when they move on.

        11. Ugh*

          Woof, you sound like an unpleasant person.

          “But why should other co-workers feign excitement (or congratulations)? Doing so just reinforces the idea that parents expect and receive special treatment from the very beginning.”

          Projecting much? Complain to your supervisors if you’re tired of covering for pregnant workers; it’s not the pregnant person’s fault your job sucks

        12. mark132*

          I see where you are coming from. A perfunctory polite congratulations is in my opinion more than adequate. I personally am usually more interested, and I will ask some questions. But others don’t have to.

        13. aebhel*

          Why should you congratulate anyone about a big life event you don’t give a sh*t about? Are you this aggressively resentful about congratulating people over their engagements, their upcoming retirements, their new houses, their completion of a degree program? Or do you just say, ‘oh, congrats!’ and move on with your life?

          Maybe stop dumping all your weird resentment over your employer’s failure to manage personnel issues properly on your pregnant coworkers. Or don’t, and accept that you’re acting like a jerk and creating an unpleasant work environment for anyone who is or is ever considering becoming pregnant.

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        A ton of people react neutrally to everything personal at work for one reason or another. I would argue that there is a lot of overlap between workplaces that punish women for getting pregnant and workplaces where it is circumspect to be studiously neutral when discussing personal issues.

      3. not neurotypical*

        I still say that if someone says to me, in a serious or anxious tone, “I’m pregnant,” then I am not going to reply “Congratulations!” as if this were inherently happy news. If someone smiles and tells me “I’m pregnant!” then I will reply “Congratulations!” But if they have not made clear why they are telling me or what they are feeling, and especially if they themselves seem troubled, then I will ask something like “is this good news for you?” while wondering why you are bringing me into your private life in this way. So, if what you’re hoping for is accolades, just tell people: “I’m happy to report that I’m pregnant.” And it might also be helpful to go on to say “I’m telling you because you’ll need to plan for me to be out from x until y” because otherwise they will have good reason to wonder why you are telling them about this personal thing and might ask questions you might deem too private if they don’t understand the business reason for the disclosure.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          I think that if you’re not sure (like if they look worried), asking, “is this good news for you?”is fine. If they say something like, “Yes! I really want a baby, but I’m starting to worry about whether I’ll be able to finish this project I’m working on,” you can come back with “well, congratulations! Why don’t we sit down sometime and look at the timeline for the project and see if we can figure it out?”

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          But that is almost entirely irrelevant to workplace situations, which is what’s under discussion. The vast, vast majority of pregnant women who are conflicted, unhappy or planning to terminate the pregnancy will not be going to their coworkers to discuss that. Maybe this would be relevant in a general discussion of pregnancy announcements from friends and family, but it’s just not really helpful or relevant to the workplace.

    2. Annette*

      Not sure about this. People resenting you for making then ‘cover your work’ is exactly the problem Cat is talking about. Pregnancy is viewed as a burden so pregnant people are viewed as worse workers. Leading to discrimination and bias.

      In general I expect more than polite and civil from colleagues.

      1. Julia*

        Plus, it’s not the co-worker who is making anyone cover for her. It’s the boss/company. And what is she even supposed to do? Never get pregnant so no one ever has to cover for her? Is she allowed to get sick or go on vacation? Are you?

        1. ket*

          Sign a contract that you won’t get pregnant for the next two years, like they do in China now, or did back when women were fired for pregnancy in the US! It’s not so long ago. Or just hire men, like the good old days! If only we kept women out of the workplace. Then there would be no more sexual harassment, no more pregnancy leaves to deal with, and no more problems with peeing in spacesuits.

          (Oh wait, guess men also have problems peeing in spacesuits. Shoot. Look up Mary Robinette Kowal’s hilarious Twitter thread to learn more!)

    3. Beth*

      I don’t think anyone’s saying that enthusiastic congratulations are a strict requirement and you’re forbidden to react in even a neutral way. As long as your reaction is professional and civil, you’re technically fine.

      But in terms of social dynamics, congratulations are likely the best response for maintaining a warm relationship—which is worth keeping in mind even if you don’t really care that much about it. And it never hurts to consider how your response might come off to the other party; the point about pregnancy announcements being nervewracking and a time when people are likely to be looking for signs of support vs potential discrimination is a good reminder of that. Sometimes it’s worth faking a little enthusiasm for a minute, if it makes a colleague’s life a lot nicer.

    4. Young coworker*

      May be better to frame it as you should be *warm* and not excited. Excitement is hard to feign – raised voice, gasps, higher pitch, whatever it may be – but warmth could be a big smile and a couple of phrases about them, not you. Maybe not “I’m so happy for you!” But “that’s fantastic news, you must be so excited”

    5. hbc*

      What’s not to be sure about? The advice is not for how pregnant people should receive responses to their announcements, but for people who are responding. Not all advice is reciprocal–just because the advice to responders is to assume that this is a positive thing for the announcer and act accordingly does not mean that it allows the announcer to take offense if not given an effusive and positive response.

      Announcer: People don’t owe you excitement, and don’t take offense to a less-than-excited response since it could mean all sorts of things.

      Responder: Assume the person is happy about the subject of the announcement, unless you have really specific information from your interactions that indicates otherwise, and even then tread lightly. Most people who spouted off a “I never want kids” in a gab session with a coworker don’t want to explain that they either a) had a birth control failure or b) made a confidant but wrong prediction about their future feelings.

    6. Ann Perkins*

      The point that people are arguing is that the “polite and civil” response to a pregnancy announcement is a warm, “Congratulations!” That’s the social nicety. People in the original commentary were overthinking it and some suggested a flat “what big news” in case the pregnancy was unwanted. That would be an incredibly odd way to respond to a pregnancy annoouncement from a coworker.

    7. DAMitsDevon*

      I’m not that into babies and don’t like that our culture pressures people into thinking you must have children to be fulfilled, but still, it really doesn’t take a lot of effort to say congratulations when a coworker announces their pregnancy. One of my coworkers recently announced her pregnancy during a team-wide meeting and saying, “congrats!’ and smiling took me all of a few seconds, and once the short congratulations were all done, we moved on to other meeting topics fairly quickly.

    8. AnonyMouse*

      I do agree that it’s not anyone’s business to figure out if a pregnancy is wanted or to make a judgement about what this means for their career. All of that seems out of line for someone to do in the workplace. But I also don’t see what the problem is for someone to say in a neutral/polite tone “Congratulations, that’s big news” and literally leave it at that. Because for me personally, unless you are my best friend or family I probably do not care about whether or not you are pregnant. I literally feel neutral about coworker pregnancies, and that’s what I’m expressing with that type of response. Yes, be warm and smile while you say some type of generic congratulatory statement, but I don’t think there needs to be an expectation beyond that. I also assume that by the time I’m finding out about a coworker pregnancy, it’s already been announced to those higher up than me. I’m sorry if this is a controversial opinion, but it’s just the way I feel on this topic. It’s also the same way I feel about most major life announcements among coworkers (i.e. I’m engaged, I bought a house, etc).

      (Full disclosure: I did have a past experience where my job was literally changed to accommodate someone’s maternity leave. That may be coloring my response here. Yes, this was frustrating for me, but I did my best to not take it out on my coworker because I knew it was not their fault)

      1. AnonyMouse*

        I had another thought on this topic over lunch. I think both sides are essentially saying the same thing, just using two different emotional descriptors. Those that agree with the OP are saying “yes, be excited. Smile, and say congratulations!” while those that disagree are saying “be warm/polite by smiling and saying congratulations!”

        I think we all agree on smiling and saying congratulations, we just describe that action in two different ways.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          There are actually several people saying that they feel they should not be expected to say “congratulations.”

          1. AnonyMouse*

            This thread has gotten so long that I’m having trouble keeping straight who has an original comment and who’s commenting to a comment, etc. I’m now seeing that most of the debate I’m referencing is housed under probably the most negative comment to a comment. My apologies for the confusion.

        2. pleaset*

          “I think we all agree on smiling and saying congratulations, we just describe that action in two different ways.”

          No, some people here and in the earlier thread think saying congratulations at all is either wrong or risky. There was an anti-natalist in the earlier thread, for example and at least one person who said they were bummed out by hearing someone is pregnant.

          I don’t agree – a polite congratulations seems to cover the most bases.

    9. Jule*

      If you don’t care how anyone else feels or what anyone thinks of you, can I ask what you’re doing here? Just…hoping that everyone feels smugger and more comfortable creating issues for new mothers than they already do?

  7. Kimmybear*

    OP1 – I had a similar issue with someone that reported into me and it ended up being something that not only held the person back but contributed to their dismissal. Though it may seem like micromanaging, try asking your report to send you a few critical communications a day or two before they are due and then review and correct them and then walk through the corrections with her. Of course that’s not something that works for all communications but might help see where the patterns are. Is it that she gets flustered by quick responses? Does it help to read things out loud and/or backwards? Does it help to make sure that she thinks of the 5Ws when composing a communication? I can not do a detailed proofread on a screen so unfortunately I have to kill a few trees for critical items. Does that help? Good luck.

    1. Orange You Glad*

      I had a college friend go through multiple jobs after we left school that ended up not working out because she doesn’t have high enough attention to detail for the roles she was doing.

      Like being an assistant in a pediatric eye doctor’s office when she would regularly transpose numbers and forget + or – signs. Which make ALL the difference in the world when dealing with eyesight prescriptions and notes to prepare for eye surgery.

      It was hard listening to her complain about her unreasonable bosses who kept firing her or transitioning her out once they realized she couldn’t do the basics of the job: take accurate notes with accurate numbers.

      I told her multiple times that being any type of assistant who needed to handle lots of written details for lots of people wasn’t her strength…but after a certain point, those were the roles she had for so long that she couldn’t get anything else. Her entire resume was geared towards detail oriented assistant work even though she wasn’t good at it on a basic competency level!

      Eventually she got married & became a SAHM & is much happier.

    2. Butter Makes Things Better*

      Yes, I was wondering about this too. Based on the OP’s list of things going wrong with the employee’s communications, I’d be more concerned about whether they’re a good fit for their current role. I’m curious as to why the level of oversight they now need isn’t worrisome to OP, because it sounds like way too much OP energy is being spent on quality control of the employee.

  8. pcake*

    LW1 – is it possible your employee is always feeling rushed? Many of the people I work with tend to skip parts of emails, and when I talk to them about it, it’s often because their jobs has overloaded them with work or they just feel rushed in general.

    LW4 – as a vegetarian who’s severely allergic to more than tiny trace amounts of wheat, I’ve never eaten at Panera. I check their menu, and it seems like most of the food either has chicken, has wheat noodles or a bread or I’m not sure. Since many hours of terrible pain isn’t my idea of a good time, I avoid eating at places without GF items that are clearly marked and vegetarian. I do, however, eat all sorts of Mexican foods, because these days most Mexican places don’t cook with lard – some do, but I can find out in advance – and beans and rice and guac all work for me if lard-free. If not, at least I know in advance, and unless their food is above medium spicy, I can always eat corn tortilla chips and guacamole.

    That being said, I wouldn’t get upset – I’d just bring my own food and feel a little let down.

    1. Another Manic Monday*

      I can sympathize. I don’t have a wheat allergy, but I do have a severely allergy to all forms of shellfish and I would never eat at Red Lobster or other seafood restaurants. Anaphylactic shock isn’t fun and a free lunch isn’t worth it.

    2. Bilateralrope*

      I must point out that the letter writer didn’t know of the switch until the day of the lunch. Which limits your options to:
      – go to the event. Dont eat lunch. Hope your allergies aren’t set off by proximity.
      – skip event. Buy lunch from somewhere nearby. If there is somewhere affordable nearby.

      I’d be really tempted to hit reply all and ask what their plans are for people with wheat allergies.

      1. Lance*

        Yeah, the thing that bothers me the most about this is the super short notice for the complete change of menu. That seems fairly poorly thought-out on the organizers’ part; so much so that I wonder if something happened behind the scenes to cause it.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I hear you but on the other hand, my experience with this sort of thing is we don’t usually get told what the lunch will be at all before this type of meeting. Just that there will be one (and to tell the organizers of allergies and other restrictions). So on the one hand, sure hearing Mexican and being fairly confident there are plenty of options for you – but then having it last minute turned to Panera and no longer being so sure is a bummer. Yet on the other…I literally can’t think of a time I’ve known in advance what would be served other than “lunch”. So it’s hard for me to empathize with the upset people because it’s so out of context for me for this to be a thing known in advance. I tend to go into all “lunch will be provided” meetings considering it a crap-shoot. The ones who even ask about restrictions in advance are best. If they changed due to not-enough vegetarian options I would assume the original Mexican plan did involve lard or chicken stock in nearly everything. For celiacs or wheat allergies unless those kitchens are gluten and wheat free or have set allergen protocols there’s no guarantee the Mexican would’ve been safe either. I’d wager anyone with wheat issues was probably always going to get something separate anyway (if these organizers were even planning for that at all).

          1. Anon for now*

            Not necessarily. I have celiac and I am willing to risk Mexican. I have never gotten sick there and they don’t use that much flour. Panera however is an absolute no go because there is flour everywhere. If I am not told what lunch will be in advance, I assume I can’t have it and plan accordingly. If I am told what it is and it is something I am willing to risk, I don’t bring lunch that day.

      2. Anon for now*

        Exactly this. I also cannot eat wheat (even trace amounts) and can never eat at Panera. If I didn’t bring lunch because I was told we were having Mexican and then find out they switched it to something I could not eat, I would be pretty upset. If I knew in advance, I wouldn’t mind because I could easily bring something else.

        1. Paleo in Palo Alto*

          I follow a Paleo diet and do not eat at Panera. I would have no problem canceling this lunch unless the products being demoed were vital to see for business reasons.

      3. KoiFeeder*

        I’ve just taken to keeping snacks with me all the time even if my plan for the day indicates that I’ll have safe meals, but frankly that’s a pretty crummy thing to expect people with dietary restrictions to do, especially if their dietary needs aren’t as inclusive of backpack-stable things. Also, people get remarkably weird about someone bringing their own lunch/snacks and not offering to share… Although maybe that’s just a school thing.

    3. Daisy*

      I just looked up Panera as well, out of interest- it doesn’t look bad for vegetarians (and a couple of vegan options), but yes, it does look mad wheaty.
      (Also looks super boring. I think I’d be on Team Let-Down.)

      1. Antilles*

        It’s actually even more boring in reality of what companies *actually* order for lunch from Panera than the online menu seems. All those options like mac&cheese, pasta, soups, smoothies, special salads, etc?
        Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. You’re getting the most generic sandwiches on the menu (usually some mix of BLT, ham&cheese, roast beef, chicken/tuna salad, and a vegetarian sandwich), a large bowl of salad, some cookies, and maybe a fruit tray.

        1. Polymer Phil*

          I’ve noticed that too – whoever does the ordering tries to play it as safe as possible. I’m always especially disappointed when this happens when I’m traveling and they give me the same bland Panera sandwich I could have gotten at home.

          This is probably what motivated the switch to Panera – someone whined about Mexican, so the organizers chose the most generic, inoffensive thing possible. I’m glad people pushed back.

        2. Peachkins*

          Yes! My company has ordered from them a number of times, and it’s always a variety of sandwiches (none all that good either) and some cookies. I would love if mac and cheese, soup, or salad was an option.

        3. Perse's Mom*

          I can’t abide the taste of raw onion. Somehow, every time my company orders from Panera, the sandwiches have raw onions. I’ve tried taking the onions off, but the taste lingers (they have been sitting wrapped in those pouches for hours). So I end up with chips and a cookie. Sometimes a pickle. It’s… not great.

        4. ClashRunner*

          Can confirm. I just ordered boxed lunches for a large group and that’s exactly what they’re getting–BLTs, a few variations on turkey, veggies, a couple salads. Cookie, chips, and ice tea for all. Sorry!

        5. Curmudgeon in California*

          Ugh. I hate most “deli” sandwich box lunches – they usually have mayo (which contains soybean oil, which gives me the runs), mystery meat, raw onion, and American “cheese” on soggy bread. I can’t eat the chips (soybean oil), and the cookies taste great but are all made with soybean oil (it sometimes says “vegetable oil, but that is usually at least 50% soy.) The “salad” would be made with weird “lettuce” that wasn’t properly washed, and doused with soybean oil based dressing. So yeah, I would be bummed, because if I ate it I would end up in the bathroom for half an hour.

          In general, if it’s made for vegetarians, I can’t eat it because of the soy.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        The best option is 100% the bread bowl with broccoli cheddar soup in it. Settle for nothing less.

        1. BookishMiss*

          Just a fair warning, though, it is Delicious, and you’ll find it difficult to eat anything else.

    4. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Personally, I’ve been to wayy too many work functions that had Panera, and I am pretty sick of it. I like their soups, but they always get sandwiches for these kind of things, and their mass sandwiches are pretty bland.

      If I thought I was getting Mexican, especially from a non-chain restaurant I would be pretty excited and if it was switched out with Panara at the last minute I would make my disappointment vocal. Not because it was really that horrible, but because there isn’t a lot of excitement at my job and it is a thing that happened to us all we can talk about. But also I am so over Panara. And Jimmy Johns – so very over Jimmy Johns.

      1. Polymer Phil*

        I don’t know how Jimmy John’s and Subway stay in business. A hoagie from a randomly chosen pizzeria is almost always vastly superior to anything they sell.

        1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

          For me, Jimmy John’s Veggie sub — change the Mayo to sauce* and add hot peppers –is one of the best fast food veggie sandwiches around. Sooooo good.

          * Oil and vinegar with herbs and stuff like oregano I think

          1. Nuss*

            Jimmy Johns is one of my few hard ‘nos’ because of the owner’s big game hunting obsession. Pictures of him with dead elephants and leopards pretty much kills my appetite. And yes, it’s hypocritical because I’m an omnivore, but that’s my line in the sand.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              It doesn’t matter that you’re an omnivore; nobody kills leopards and elephants because they’re hungry.

              I’ve bailed on a ton of fast food places because of their politics. Which is fine, since even the liberal ones serve junk I don’t need to be eating anyway! As for meeting food, it’s hard to find a place that everyone can agree on. If they do, changing it at the last minute like they did at the OP’s workplace is just going to piss everyone off. I don’t have to worry about health issues, but neither do I want to eat food from a place I don’t support.

        2. Mr. Shark*

          I think of sub sandwiches like I think of pizza. Sometimes a Subway sandwich is just perfect–piled high with lots of choices of veggies, versus something else that you may have to go to a pizzeria and wait for, and may cost a lot more. Same with JJ. Sometimes I like just heating up some cheap frozen pizza, even if it doesn’t taste like real New York or Chicago-style pizza.

    5. ChimericalOne*

      As a vegetarian married to a vegan, we have better luck at most Mexican places than at Panera, but we *can* eat there reliably (as long as my husband’s willing to eat black bean soup or a salad), and maybe the Mexican caterer that the vendor was going to use *did* cook with lard.

      (We both think Panera is super boring, though, so I have sympathy for these employees! I’d much rather have a Mexican buffet. Hate that “accommodate vegetarians” is so often an excuse to put out boring food, when plenty of good stuff is vegan!)

        1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

          Right? Meat tastes good (esp with choosing that as their name here) sounds like the kind of person who thinks vegetarians are being vegetarians AT them.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        plenty of good stuff is vegan

        So true, and I’m not even vegan, but I made tofu taco crumbles last night for dinner and they were magnificent. I’d happily eat a vegetarian or vegan option.

    6. league.*

      Vegetarian here too. Panera is such a boring default choice for work lunches. Their vegetarian sandwich has hummus, which I hate on a sandwich – beans don’t belong on bread, in my opinion!

      Mexican can be tricky too. On the one hand, it’s easy to eat vegan if they don’t use lard, because of guac, chips, salsa, beans. But a LOT of places use a gross powder called “chicken base” in their rice. And with a move toward more culturally authentic food, a lot of places are returning to lard even though they switched to veg oil years ago for health reasons.

      1. Kimmybear*

        Vegetarian here. There is a Panera across the street from my office so I will order online and walk over if desperate but I did find a piece of chicken in my vegetarian soups once. I was not amused and let the manager know

    7. Lorine*

      pcake, I also can’t have wheat (celiac disease) and I’ve been able to eat Panera salads at catered work events with no reaction/gut problems. (The salad is specifically ordered for me and separate from the rest of the order.) Just a thought!

      Also, obviously I’d rather have a bread bowl of soup, but ’tis not to be.

    8. ceiswyn*

      The switch was announced on the day of the lunch; nobody could choose to bring their own food instead without going back in time. Anyone who couldn’t or didn’t want to eat the new choice was just SOL.

      I got hit with something similar once. One day it was announced that bacon rolls would be provided for breakfast at work the next day. Woohoo! Although it wasn’t actually specified that there would be a vegetarian alternative to the bacon, I assumed that ‘bacon rolls’ was a generic term and that there would also be other options, because OF COURSE nobody would provide just a single non-vegetarian, non-kosher option. So I turned up to work fasting and excited.

      Nope. They really did just mean bacon rolls and nothing else. There was nowhere near enough for me for me to quickly run out and get something, so I just got to be hungry until lunchtime.

      Funnily enough, I was a bit upset…

      1. Miss Cheeks*

        Wait, did you ask anyone if there would be alternatives, or did you just assume? I would find it really hard to be upset with anyone but myself in that situation.

    9. Meredith*

      When I was a vegetarian, I was also not a fan of Panera, and I didn’t have any other food allergies or restrictions. Oh hey, a hummus sandwich? Greeeeaaat. It seems that a lot of their food isn’t substantial without a “protein” added to it.

    10. Metikon*

      Yup, Mexican buffet was the ideal lunch for me when I had gestational diabetes, since corn has a relatively low glycemic index and I could balance the proportions myself. Panera would’ve been the inside of a deconstructed sandwich, and staring loningly at cookies and chips that I couldn’t eat.

  9. Coyote Tango*

    #4: We have a large variety of different groups vying for attendance in our academic setting and it 100% comes down to food quality if you want a good turnout. Here, if you wanted people to show up you better do better than Panera, which will only attract interns and newer folks that don’t know they can sniff out better pickings at other conferences.

    1. Cat*

      At my office, the option that I just will not attend for is Au Bon Pain. I hate that place so much. Everything tastes like sadness.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        We had one near campus a couple jobs ago, and it sounded so fancy….and I was so, so disappointed. Even the workers dripped of sadness and lethargy.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          Even the workers dripped of sadness and lethargy. Haha, that’s a funny description.

          I’ve never heard of this place, and it sounds like a good thing.

      2. Le Sigh*

        I’ve had exactly one sandwich at ABP. A chicken salad sandwich. It was dripping–no–swimming in mayo. Imagine someone made a chicken salad mayo soup and put it on bread and forgot any type of seasoning.

        And I like mayo, when used responsibly! But I refuse to step foot in that place again.

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          That’s pretty much the reason I stopped eating at Burger King. Last time I ate there it wasn’t mayo on a bun, but a bun in mayo, so much it actually dripped out. I only eat a little mayo to begin with, so I thought it was absolutely disgusting and it overpowered the flavour of anything else.

    2. JJ*

      Ugh yeah, Panera’s catered vegetarian sandwich options are somehow unbearably dry AND soggy at the same time. A+ cookies though.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I sometimes swing by and grab a couple dozen bagels and cheese on my way into work. Other than that though? Nah…

      2. Nobby Nobbs*

        Ugh, catered? I assumed the meeting was at the restaurant. I certainly wouldn’t show up at a meeting for Panera offerings that didn’t even include the soup/mac and cheese! And after being promised a Mexican buffet, too.

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        I have several vegetarian and vegan friends, and Mexican is always our go to for going out to eat somewhere were everyone can be happy. If I told them we should go to Panara instead so they could have vegetarian food I would get glowered at and then dismissed.

      4. Peachkins*

        They are! I’m glad I’m not the only one who would have been disappointed with Panera. I’ve never been impressed with their catered sandwiches, vegetarian or not.

    3. Another Manic Monday*

      True. I would be excited for a local Mexican buffet. A chain like Panera is just “meh” and feels like a cop out. I would dare to say that any chain restaurant would have been met with the same reaction.

      1. MsM*

        Eh, I don’t know a whole lot of people who will go out of their way to eat at Panera when there are other, similar chains available, at least for food-related reasons. Certainly not people who’d been primed to expect tacos instead.

      2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        #1 After a certain point you have to look at the big picture. A blind person can be an excellent swimmer but that doesn’t mean that they’ll make a good lifeguard.

    4. LW 4*

      This is not an academic setting. There are not many options for free meals.

      To clarify, the food was brought to our facilities, it was not at the restaurant.

      1. Antilles*

        True, though that makes it a calculation in a different way – would I rather have Panera for free or pay/brownbag to have better food? It’s essentially the same calculation people make when they’re trying to decide between cooking some pasta/rice/whatever at home versus going out for dinner…and you can’t be surprised that a large number of people would rather “pay money for good food” rather than have “free but meh food”.
        Also, this might not apply to any of your team, but it’s worth noting that the preservatives in mass-produced sandwiches like Panera/Jason’s/etc are a semi-common migraine trigger. Personally, if I go to a meeting and they bring that for lunch, I legitimately won’t eat rather than having it.

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          Plus the food’s not “free” – you pay for it with an hour or more of your time in a meeting.

          1. WellRed*

            +1 I agree the coworkers were over the top but I didn’t like the OP’s thinking they could just go and not eat the food. Why should they?

            I would have gone either way, but yeah, Panera = let down for me.

            1. Peachkins*

              I agree. The letter says this meeting was over their lunch break, so I’m assuming people would be giving up their break to attend. I wouldn’t go either if they decided to serve food I didn’t like.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        I also didn’t like the idea of going and not eating the food. When do they eat then? Take an hour before or after? Not everyone can skip meals, including me.
        I’m surprised the Mexican food was not considered vegetarian-friendly. There are several common Mexican foods that are vegetarian – beans in a taco or burrito instead of meat, chile rellenos, rice, refried beans, cheese – vegetarians could have made do if the buffet included some of these items.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Hello fellow soybean oil intolerant person. I keep getting hit with it in everything. Those great tasting cookies? Soybean oil. Chips? Soybean oil. Restaurant dressing? Yep, soybean oil. I can’t have French fries from most places because of the $#%^#^# soybean oil.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              There used to be soy allergy support forums, they’re probably still out there. They could help a lot. Good luck!

      3. Tisiphone*

        I work second shift, so we rarely get free meals. I like it that way, because the leftovers for the day shift meetings are usually lasagna, pizza, sandwiches, or salad. The salads and sandwiches all have mayonnaise glopped on them, and everything else is full of cheese and garlic. I’m in the minority. Cheese, garlic, and mayonnaise make whatever it’s on inedible to me. That means I can eat my own food and not have to stress about whether I’m going to have to give up my dinner hour and get nothing to eat.

        I love Chinese and Thai and anything where fixings are optional, and if that was the plan and they switched it with pizza or sandwiches, I’d be more than mildly annoyed.

        A couple jobs ago, I had to attend three days in a row of 8-hour training sessions. When we broke for lunch, we assembled in a meeting room with catered food. We didn’t get the option to skip it and grab something on our own or go back to our desks to check emails. Each day it was nothing but super cheesy garlic-rich offerings and no time to so much as grab a quick candy bar. I tried to be discreet but the trainer brought in for the training noticed I wasn’t eating and asked me in front of everyone if I was going to eat anything. I brightly said, “No thank you,” and was glad the smell killed my appetite so my stomach didn’t growl until much later.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I can’t have onion or garlic because of fructose sensitivity. I feel your pain. It’s the reason I have to make all my own food. Every chef and food manufacturer in the world seems to think there’s a law that onion and garlic must be in everything.
          I couldn’t have skipped lunch in your training days – I would have had to bring my lunch. Normally I heat it in the microwave. I would have to check ahead of time to see if they have a microwave available and if not, bring some kind of cold/room temperature lunch for myself.

    5. Dana B.S.*

      Yes, I was surprised at the very bland choice. It’s likely that the Mexican food caterers use lard in their beans and chicken stock in their rice. However, as a vegetarian that prepares 95% of my own meals, I do allow myself to go into the 5% without thinking too hard about what I eat. I don’t eat actual meat, but I just don’t ask questions about everything else.

      However, my company LOVES to get food from this local BBQ joint which seems to exist to only serve food that I won’t eat. Besides the main dishes, the beans have chunks of bacon and there’s potato salad (I hate mustard) and cole slaw (I hate mayo). Also white bread which I’m not a fan of. I eat pickles and pick at the other sides. So at least this company is trying.

    6. LW #4*

      My workplace is very loose with lunch breaks. Most people count it as work, I definitely counted this meeting because management encouraged us to go.

  10. Skeeder Jones*

    Maybe there is someone on the team that is in a leadership position or grooming for one who also happens to be great at communication, who could work with her one on one? It would be a double win because one person gets to develop their leadership and mentoring skills and the other gets to develop their communication skills.

    1. valentine*

      The employee needs a skills assessment and in-depth, possibly long-term, teaching.

      1. Kiki*

        Yeah, if this were a situation about putting polish on lackluster communication, maybe it could be seen as mentorship, but right now it seems like the employee needs basic reading comprehension and grammar tutoring. That’s not really professional mentorship.
        It would also be a lot to put on one person. I’m considered a pretty good communicator, but if my boss asked me to help a coworker with their reading comprehension, I’d have no idea where to start and it’s not really my job to know.

        1. Artemesia*

          This is exactly the mystery to me. What about her says ‘promote’ except that she wants to be promoted. I have seen so many incompetents who can’t learn in positions of authority making everyone else’s life a misery that I cannot fathom looking to promote someone whose failings are so core to effectiveness. You can learn technical skills but if you are not smart, or not analytic or don’t read well or are careless — those things are not teachable at the level needed to be in high level positions. If she were just a bit careless and so had been told she needed to develop some systems to make sure details are attended to, she might be able to do that. But she has been working on this for months and still isn’t any good. It isn’t happening.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Or in the alternative, the one with good communication skills gets penalized for being capable by being given extra work. This is the workplace equivalent of back in school being used as an unpaid educational aide rather than being, you know, taught stuff.

  11. Massmatt*

    LW #5 You seem fixated on promoting someone that is missing really crucial skills—ability to communicate, critical thinking, attention to detail, and reading comprehension. I would not be considering her for promotion but rather a PIP.

    Honestly if I were in your office and had to deal with your employee’s shortcomings and saw her get promoted I would regard it as a sign that the organization’s priorities are deeply out of whack and start looking for another job. This might sound extreme but I was actually in this situation, someone was promoted to a manager role and had none of the skills for it, every email she sent to her team required several emails of corrections, clarifications, etc. It was a nightmare.

    I disagree with Alison’s advice to coach her never more intensively. Getting someone ready for promotion should mean honing technical skills, gaining management experience, and exposure to different areas of the business, not rudimentary skills such as how to read and compose email. It sounds as though you are spending more time on this than you want to or should already.

    1. valentine*

      You seem fixated on promoting someone that is missing really crucial skills—ability to communicate, critical thinking, attention to detail, and reading comprehension.
      Yes. It’s right and proper that such vital skills would hold someone back. Does she even meet the skill level for her current role?

    2. TPS Cover Sheet*

      Ah, but that is the ”Peter Principle” in action what you just described.

    3. Paula*

      100% agree! These are basic elements of every job that you should pick up during the early years of your career, I think.

      I’m almost a little yealous of how much support the employee is receiving for a potential promotion, while I would be afraid of keeping my job with the feedback she is getting.

    4. GMN*

      Definitely agree – I can’t imagine wanting to promote someone who can’t manage to read or write properly even after being told to focus on that.

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

      This. My current team leader was promoted because at the time he was the eldest member in the project. He has the technical skills, but his communication style is patronising, masplaining, and even straight away rude. I’d rather leave the position vacant.

    6. EPLawyer*

      Just because the person asked for the promotion and you got together a plan, does not mean you have to advocate for promoting them. A good manager does help people advance. But your first loyalty is to the company. Is this person really someone who should move up in the company? I agree that reading comprehension and basic communication skills are essential to any job. If this person is having trouble at their level with basic office skills, then they are definitely not promotable.

      Now, if this is fixable, then maybe you could consider it. But someone who lacks these skills is not 80% of the way there no matter what else they have done in the plan you put together. I think you are looking at this as a checklist and if everything on the plan is checked off, then great, they should be promoted. You need to look at the overall abilities of the person. Reading comprehension and communication are the building blocks, on which every other piece of the plan rests. They aren’t just another item on the list.

      1. Allypopx*

        I wouldn’t even classify it as loyalty to the company – although that’s certainly part of it. Putting someone in a position they aren’t equipped to handle is not doing the employee any favors, even if they think it’s what they want. Or the people that report to this position. There are ripples to this kind of choice and no matter how hard the “you’re not promotable” conversation may be, dealing with the fallout could be much harder.

        Sometimes being a manager is making hard choices and having hard conversations. I applaud OP for the effort they’ve put in this far, but I agree that 80% there does not a promotion make, and this may not be an easy thing to check off.

      2. Washi*

        Yeah…I mean, maybe the employee is great in other ways that the OP didn’t detail here, but “chomping at the bit” for a promotion she’s not qualified for + lacking critical thinking skills when it comes to reading and writing =/= promotion material to me.

        1. Anomalous*

          Lack of reading and writing skills is not necessarily a lack of critical thinking skills.

    7. The Other Dawn*

      I have to agree with this. Normally I would be working hard to help someone get promoted, but there are some things that shouldn’t need *this* much work, as in it’s part of who they are, not due to a lack of training. I feel like reading comprehension and decent communication skills are things one either has a good baseline to work from or they don’t.

    8. un-pleasing*

      I was wondering whether this person will have the social capital to be a good manager, given her current communication problems. She can want what she wants. But, working with her so intensively on a promotion she may not ever be able to get, paired with the ways poor communication can lead to poor work relations, suggests that maybe LW could focus her attention elsewhere. Who might not be getting coaching who needs it and could get promoted if LW could focus on them?

    9. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not “coach her ever more intensively.” It’s try a few intensive coaching sessions so you can see if she’s coachable or not. A few. It’s worth trying to invest an in existing employee that way before you conclude the problem can’t be fixed.

  12. FTW*

    The situation described is absolutely one where a manger should get involved coaching.

    If it were one of my team, I would take the time to answer some emails with her and give her corrections on her drafts before she sends that out. It is painful, but having my team make corrections in real time absolutely makes the learning stick.

  13. Lucia taer*

    Lukewarm responses to pregnancy announcements – this brought back something that I was grasping at at the time of the original post.

    I get that pregnant women and mothers get a lot of pressure on a daily level, and a lot of crap for things that are out of their control. I also understand that this is an emotionally charged time, for all kinds of reasons. That sounds like a tough place to be in.

    It does not make it a better time to think we are mind-readers. It creates all kinds of sensitivities that are understandable but in the end very difficult to accommodate.

    Just in this particular issue, we are talking about people who 1. in principle understand that a pregnancy annoucement can be a happy news thing but 2. have considered that it may not be happy so they are trying for a reasonably neutral initial response based on the results of which they can go the happy road or this is a problem road and 3. now are being told that neutral is also harmful because the response is being analysed for signs on the future carreer of the announcer.

    This is now not secong-guessing, it’s third- or fourth-guessing ourselves. All the considerations come from valid needs: congratulations is expected reasonably by happy pregnant people, supporting noises and no “big joy” are expected reasonably by unhappily pregnant people, support is expected reasonably by nervous people. But still, no mind-reading, so:

    Dear pregnant people, I get that is is a confusing time. But you are the ones with the information. If you are expecting a particular response, please work some hints into your announcement. Say: I am so happy! Say: I am happy on a personal level but nervous for what this means for work! Say: This sucks! Even so, the audience may get it “wrong”, based on their own personal issues, unfortunately.

    Just for the record, I agree that congratulations is an appropriate work-context response. But for everyone who said congratulations once and got an “actually, it’s going to be an abortion” reply, well, I see how they want to be more cautious.

    1. Poppy*

      I agree so hard. Also, please bear in mind that the people being told the news might have their own baggage around pregnancy. Or might be run off their feet with work. A smile or otherwise is a very useful pointer to the recipient of the news, if you’re wanting a specific reaction.

      1. valentine*

        Say: This sucks!
        No. That’s a terrible position to put coworkers in. I find both the concern that congrats may not be in order and in-person announcements odd, but who would both be announcing an unwanted pregnancy and not wanting good tidings? Wouldn’t you say you’re a surrogate, accept the positive response, and move on? I mean, “Tough/good luck” just isn’t appropriate, especially if true.

        1. MsM*

          Yeah, I’m having trouble coming up with a circumstance where you’d make an office-wide announcement if you weren’t planning on carrying the pregnancy to term.

          1. Myrin*

            That’s the thing I kept coming back to here and with the other letter referenced in the OP, too – basically, the whole situation itself seemed very alien to me in a “is this actually a thing that happens?” kind of way, but I wondered if there might be cultural issues at play; I’m glad to see I’m not the only one confused by the basic premise here.

          2. Marmaduke*

            To me, a big piece of the puzzle is that someone may be hoping to carry to term but very worried that they won’t. As I started needing more and more medical care around my high-risk pregnancy, I decided to tell my boss and coworkers so they’d know why I was missing work, and congratulations felt out of place—especially when I miscarried shortly after. Obviously I wasn’t angry with them or anything, it was just very uncomfortable.

            1. Washi*

              Genuinely wondering: what would you have preferred?

              To me, even if brief congratulations isn’t perfectly appropriate, at least it’s an easy social ritual to complete.

              Coworker1: I’m pregnant.
              Coworker2: Wow, congratulations! + smile
              Coworker1: Thanks! + subject change OR more details if further discussion is welcomed

            2. Allypopx*

              I’ve worried about this too. I try to read the tone of the person telling me. If it seems nervous or simply informative I try to be very warm and smile and just ask what they’ll need or what the timeline looks like – keep it work related but warm and relaxed. If they visibly relax after that and I can see it was nerves I’ll try to steer the conversation towards congratulations. If they don’t I’ll just keep it impersonal but friendly. That’s typically from a management perspective though. Wanting to be clear I’ll be supportive no matter the situation and trying not to pry too much.

              When my current boss announced her pregnancy I did end up asking her if it was planned just because it was SO out of character for her, and we’re a very close and relaxed office so it was fine in context, though I agree with the original letter – don’t do that in 99% of cases.

              It can be such tricky territory, depending. I think following the pregnant person’s lead tends to be the best approach – but as you’ve been the pregnant person more info on what you would have preferred would be appreciated, if it’s not too much to ask. No need to elaborate if you don’t want to though. I’m sorry for your loss.

            3. MsM*

              I’m so sorry. Still, I do think there’s a difference between a wanted but high-risk pregnancy, and the scenario Lucia posited.

            4. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I have a medical condition that increases my risk of second trimester pregnancies. My plan for making an announcement at work would probably include some reference to that so my coworkers could understand if I’m emotionally a little off. I wouldn’t expect people who don’t know my circumstances to know that my pregnancy was a little different from the norm, so I’d feel like I needed to include the extra information.

            5. doreen*

              Having been in your position , was it really the “congratulations” that made you uncomfortable ? I know for me the “congratulations” didn’t make a difference- the awkwardness and discomfort were due to issues that would have occurred regardless of whether or not my co-workers congratulated me.

          3. Poppy*

            It wasn’t an office-wide announcement but the pregnant woman definitely wasn’t sure whether to carry to term. I had no idea how to respond to the bald announcement, “I’m pregnant :(” especially as I only knew her as a colleague. Friends and family might know the wanted response without being told; a colleague, perhaps from another department, probably won’t.

            I’m just sayin’, people who are pregnant, please throw us some more information on your own feelings before sitting back and waiting for the perfect response!

      2. Cat*

        So I actually get the baggage thing – I’m pregnant as a result of IVF and there were years where it was hard to hear the news from other people. That’s a “me” issue though – they still deserve a smile and a simple “congrats.” It doesn’t need to be an extended conversation.

        And no, I don’t think any of this is calling for mind reading in a work context. If someone isn’t happy about it and wants you to know, they’ll tell you. If they’re giving the baby up for adoption or are a surrogate, they’ll tell you. If they want you to know it’s medically risky, they’ll tell you. If they dont, you can assume it’s good news or they want you to pretend it’s good news.

    2. Tallulah in the Sky*

      I really think people are overthinking this one. Like you explained, a pregnancy is a very personal thing and can be happy, sad, complicated, very simple, an accident but wanted, wanted but not the good time… So I agree it is unfair to put the burden to react perfectly to each individual and unique announcement on people who probably don’t know you or your personal circumstances that well.

      That’s why, saying a quick “Congratulations” with a smile is I think the best neutral response (unless you do have insider knowledge on this particular pregnancy). The vast majority of people announcing their pregnancy at work at least plan to keep it, most are even happy about it. If you land on the rare person who announces her pregnancy and follows it by announcing they plan to abort, you did nothing wrong by offering a small polite congrats. If the pregnancy wasn’t wanted, or arrives at a bad time, the same applies. As long as you’re not all “Oh, this is such a great news, you must be so happy ! Do you already picked a name ?” (meaning are not making assumptions), you’re fine. Reasonable people understand that you’re being polite. If you get a negative reaction from someone because of this, I wouldn’t let the exception dictate how I react to the next announcement “just in case”.

      1. NYWeasel*

        That’s exactly how I read Cat’s letter. Strike a warm but not overly enthusiastic response, so that you are demonstrating support but not gushing too much to a person who might feel conflicted about the situation.

      2. Overeducated*

        Yeah, I think “congratulations” is a sufficiently canned response that it’s completely inoffensive. It doesn’t have to be followed by a line of personal questions or plans for a baby shower. It would be like if a coworker said “I just bought a house” or “my kid just graduated high school” and you reacted like “hmm, big news, there are definitely lots of challenges as well as blessings there” or “oh, how are you feeling about that?” – a little socially odd and emotionally invasive.

        1. Emi.*

          Yeah I was super put off by all the comments like “you can’t just say congrats and move on! you have to become the 5,000,000th person to ask how she’s feeeeeling!”

      3. Holly*

        I agree… plus if someone announced their pregnancy at work and suddenly followed it with “I’m getting an abortion” honestly they would be the odd one… saying congrats would not be the faux pas here.

      4. pentamom*

        An analogy is to a death. We don’t seem to have any problem with “I’m sorry” as the neutral, socially civil response to the announcement of a personal bereavement. Yes, cases happen like “My mother made my life a living hell and it is a relief not to have to deal with her anymore” or “my husband was dying of a degenerative disease over decades and we’re just thankful that he’s not suffering anymore” and they’re not actually rare, but most people don’t use those cases as reasons to stop saying “I’m sorry” as the default answer. The social code is that the bereaved understands the intention, and the person to whom it’s announced doesn’t decide that the polite thing to do is nod, say uh-huh, and then ask about the next work task with absolutely no acknowledgment of the nature of the event. I would think that pregnancy announcers, like the bereaved in complicated situations, bear a *small* part of the burden of understanding that when an announcement is made, there will be a conventional response, and if they want co-workers to understand that the situation is more complicated it’s on them to explain that. It’s almost like taking offense at people out for saying “good morning” on the day after a loved one died, when they haven’t even yet been informed that you’re not having a good morning.

        1. Washi*

          Yes, exactly! I feel like some people are arguing that the bulk of being respectful lies in *anticipating* even the most unlikely negative response. Whereas I would say that being respectful is mainly about what happens *after* the first social convention response. So AFTER someone’s loved on dies and you say “I’m sorry”, don’t ask your coworker a million personal questions if they’re clearly trying to change the subject. Same with after brief pregnancy congratulations, don’t bombard them with questions and opinions about their health unless they’re asking for that.

          Same with other points of contention – if you ask someone how their weekend or vacation was and they say “fine” and don’t seem to want to talk about it, that doesn’t mean that asking about someone’s weekend/vacation was super impolite. You just then follow their lead and don’t continue to ask follow up questions about it.

          1. Lissa*

            I wonder if part of it is reading a lot online, where every exception gets brought up and analysed, when I feel like still in the “real world” most of these situations are never really going to come up. But people can start examining everything they say, like “oh god what if I ask about my coworker’s weekend and I retraumatize her after she was mobbed by emus” or something, when most of the time, even if your coworker had a bad weekend she’ll say “fine” and not burst into tears or secretly hate you.

    3. Pickled Beets*

      A smile or minimal additional info (“I’m a surrogate and so happy to help out another family”) is so, so helpful. For many situations, not just pregnancy: “I’m getting divorced!” with a big smile results in “Congratulations!” rather than “Oh, sorry to hear that.”

      I’m taking my cues from the bearer of news; if I’m picking up nervousness, I don’t know the reason. Work concerns? Baby concerns? Pregnancy jitters? Should I ask or is that rude? It might temper my response more into neutral.

    4. Manya*

      Why on earth would anyone announce a pregnancy that was going to end in abortion? I’ve been in this position, and would never. I seriously doubt this has ever happened to you, and you are just reaching.

      1. Morning reader*

        Yes, this is what I wonder about with responses other then the standard “congrats.” Why on earth would anyone announce a pregnancy at work When they are not planning on continuing it? I was a single when I was pregnant and it always mystified me when I would get a question when I mentioned it along the lines of “oh, and is this a happy development, or what are you going to do?” Unless you are my best friend or the father, I would not be telling you about it if I weren’t intending to have the baby. Reacting as if you might have some input or advice in the situation implies a level of familiarity that as a coworker, you will never have. Aanything other than a polite, positive response can read as “I think I have standing to question your reproductive decisions because we are so close.”

      2. Batgirl*

        I’ve had a co-worker tell me she was pregnant; I fired off a standard congratulations and then she responded that didn’t know what to do and what she really wanted was an abortion. I simply added “That sounds hard”.
        It does happen. She was a mess, in a controlling relationship and struggling to hide the pregnancy.
        It still doesn’t make saying ‘congratulations’ a faux pas though. I think it simply suggests that you know a social convention + don’t object to co-workers having human lives and would have their back while they have life stuff going on.

        1. Lissa*

          Yes! Any reasonable person is not going to be offended that someone says “congratulations” even if the situation is non typical. Yes people can be unreasonable but we shouldn’t completely overhaul the social contract and potentially offend way more people due to a hypothetical rare situation like this.

    5. Jane*

      I think the number of times the ‘I’m pregnant’ announcement at work is followed by ‘congrats!’ and then ‘well actually I’m terminating’ is vanishingly small. I can’t imagine many women announcing to their workplace when they already know they’re terminating (other than in private to a manager for time off).

      I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of your comment though. As a pregnant person currently I’m so very aware that while this is delightful news for me, I don’t have any way of knowing how it’ll be received by others, I have friends struggling with infertility, who’ve had stillbirths and miscarriages, who dearly want children but can’t find someone to have a family with. I actually think the onus is on me, as the person with the joyful news, to bear that in mind and not expect anything from someone’s reaction. I don’t know whether this will be the third time this month someone has announced a pregnancy while they’ve had a miscarriage or can’t fall pregnant. Announcements raise all kinds of complex emotions and if someone was silent in response or seemed cool or any other reaction that wasn’t a warm ‘congrats!’ I’m certainly not going to judge them for it or think any differently of them.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        I really like your view point.

        I worked in health care, and nursing is heavily female. I had a unit manager, who could not carry to term at the time. I think she had 8 miscarriages before finally succeeding, and our floor always seem to have two women pregnant. We used to joke it was in the water.

        The other RNs groused about the “luke warm response.” But our unit manager would fight tooth and claw to figure out how to get the moms to be more time off. After 8 miscarriages, I don’t know if I could pull off an enthusiastic congratulations. In this case, actions (figuring out how to give her moms to be more than 6 weeks off), spoke louder than her words.

      2. CMart*

        The one time I needed to make an unhappy “I’m pregnant but” declaration at work was in private to a manager, and I made sure I rushed directly to the “but” to circumvent the polite congratulations that I knew would come. People won’t tell colleagues unless they really have to if it’s not a “congratulations” kind of event and I’m nearly certain most of them in those situations would do what I did and make it exceedingly clear it wasn’t a congratulatory situation.

    6. Lucette Kensack*

      This is what social conventions are FOR. So you don’t have to second- or ninth-guess yourself. Just follow the social convention. Say “congratulations!” Or, if you can’t bring yourself to use that word if you don’t feel personally congratulatory — which is eye-rollingly self-centered, but whatever — you can say something else that is true but warm, like “You must be so excited!” or “Wow!” (with a warm tone, not a Carolyn Hax flat “Wow.”)

    7. CheeryO*

      This is way, way over-analyzing the situation. I would argue that the vast majority of people who announce a pregnancy at work without adding additional context (“I’m actually acting as a surrgotate,” whatever) are people who are happy to be pregnant, and the response is a smile and a “Congratulations!,” end of story.

    8. ket*

      I have to say, given the current status of abortion law in the US, it’s quite a small chance that you’ll get an announcement of pregnancy at work and then an announcement of abortion. The timing just doesn’t work out in the majority of cases — many/most women don’t announce until they’re done with the first trimester and sometimes more, and 90% of abortions in the US occur in the first trimester. Only 8% happen in the second trimester, and an abortion in the third trimester is generally due to medical disaster and is incredibly expensive and heart-wrenching and involves either flying somewhere (if planned, because so few clinics in the US do it and it’s illegal in most states) or sudden unplanned hospitalization and intervention. No one plans that sh&t.

      So just on an expected-value calculation basis, because I’m a math nerd, the chances in your life that a coworker will announce to the whole office a pregnancy and then reveal she’s having an abortion are slim.

    9. Parenthetically*

      “It does not make it a better time to think we are mind-readers.”

      This is precisely what you AREN’T being asked to be. You’re being asked to be warm and give a “Congratulations” — a simple, socially-acceptable, default response that works 99%+ of the time. You’re not being asked to intuit the circumstances behind a pregnancy, a person’s feelings about being pregnant, a person’s choices. You’re being asked to give a warm, socially-normal wish by default, no inner turmoil or scrutiny required. “I’m pregnant!” “Congratulations!” “Actually, I’m going to have an abortion!” is an incredibly awkward, bizarre exchange that might happen once in a lifetime but most likely will never happen at all. “I’m pregnant!” “Congratulations!” “Actually, it was a huge shock and we are still reeling, so save your congratulations for someone who’s excited.” is a similarly unlikely scenario.

      In virtually every single circumstance in a work environment, a warm smile and “wow, congrats” are going to be appropriate and appreciated. The exceptions rather serve to prove the rule.

    10. smoke tree*

      This is way overthinking it. I really don’t think anyone will be offended by their coworkers briefly congratulating them on a pregnancy they’ve announced to the office. That really is the neutral response in this context. The more you hesitate and fumble for some response that is particular to whatever you project onto the pregnant person, the weirder they are going to feel about it. Just say congrats and move along.

    11. EventPlannerGal*

      “But for everyone who said congratulations once and got an “actually, it’s going to be an abortion” reply, well, I see how they want to be more cautious.”

      How often has this happened? In the workplace? How many people in the world – in the actual real world, not in a hypothetical what-if world – has this happened to? Really?

      I’m sorry to sound exasperated but I sort of am. Advice based on extreme edge scenarios like this is why I find the comments here pretty unhelpful in terms of actionable advice. It’s like the “not everyone can have sandwiches” of social interaction. It is unreasonable to expect your colleagues to spell out for you how you should respond to them because you are anxious that someone, somewhere might respond to your “congratulations” with “actually I’m aborting”.

      1. Allonge*

        Look, I fully agree that it is not a very likely scenario – although announcement can be just saying it in a small group or one on one. I don’t know about everyone else, but I had heard plenty of comments from pregnant women about how they were disappointed by responses to the big news, so the mind-reading is, in my experience, an expectation from some. Certainly there is the tendency for the responses to be over-analysed.

        Even more, the original post has signs of this, in that it reads waaaay too much into a neutral response. Honestly, if someone’s boss is jerk enough to penalise people for being pregnant, there is not going to be a difference if he says congratulations or OK / something neutral. Replies from other coworkers will not make a difference either. In this sense, I don’t quite get how it matters so much what everyone says. If it is a convention, than it is largely meaningless by default.

        In the end though it does not matter, as I definitely think congratulations is the way to go either way. Again, some people will read something into that. That is their problem, though.

  14. Richard*

    #1 One good short term tool is using a Text->Speech tool (browser extension, website, program, etc.) to read text out loud. Sometimes things that are difficult to catch when reading and writing jumps out when heard.
    I teach ESL to working adults and work with this kind of problem all the time. It might be a little awkward to send her to a language teacher, but there should be writing coaches out there that she could work with. Good ones will know that most writing problems stem from reading problems and work on both.
    I hope it’s very clear to her exactly what she’s missing, though, as it sounds like she may have taken the general idea of “poor communication,” which she may not know what to do with. I get lots of students whose linguistically-unaware managers send them to ESL classes with very unhelpful feedback like “poor communication” or “spelling problems” or “maybe mixes up UK and US?”. Language is big and complicated and many of us have the privilege of rarely having to think about it in our day-to-day, so when people have trouble with it, use both your empathy and critical thinking to work through it.

    1. Massmatt*

      The example from the LW said the employee response to an email saying “x is ready, and John’s piece is included” with “ok, let me know when x is ready”. This is lack of basic reading comprehension and attention to detail, it’s not something that’s vague nor that an ESL or other class is really likely to help with. I would expect even a non-native English speaker to have better language mastery in a professional setting.

      1. Pilcrow*

        I was thinking this too. It doesn’t sound so much like a matter of grammar as it is not anticipating/responding to the audience. This employee is the kind that responds to “should it be red or blue?” with “yes.”

        In the day-to-day, the wrong or incomplete response causes more frustration than minor grammar gaffs.

        Maybe a business writing course would be better?

        1. Richard*

          Business writing isn’t a bad idea, especially if it has a substantial reading component. It does seem like more of a skill/proficiency problem, though, and many of those courses assume high skill/proficiency but low familiarity with business writing conventions.

      2. Richard*

        Hmm, so language instruction couldn’t possibly help her to improve her language mastery? I’m gonna go ahead and disagree. Language performance in specific areas and discourse communities (including the workplace) is just as much a part of language instruction as the nuts and bolts of grammar and vocabulary.
        Either way, the LW supplied that example, but it’s not clear how the LW communicated that issue to the woman in question. That could easily be explained as a one-off mistake that all of us have made at some point, but a broader pattern is harder to explain and isolate and improve. That was my point, and you proved me right with your mixed up response.

    2. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

      I teach ESL as well, and I wondered if she’d benefit from a grammar course as well as reading comprehension. A lot of people never got proper grammar in school. A few top-up lessons could do wonders.

      1. Richard*

        I don’t know, I’ve found that native speakers’ intuitive understanding of grammar is too good for any teacher to really reform. Teaching grammar to her will likely make her more confused and unconfident in the short run unless she really needs to do something with the nuts and bolts of grammar. I teach ESL teachers, and teaching them grammar terms is a long frustrating slog that only works because they directly need it. It doesn’t sound like this woman needs to use the present perfect progressive correctly, but needs to develop better strategies for maximizing reading comprehension and appropriate responses.

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      I’m another ESL teacher here, and I mentioned above that I think reading comprehension exercises from exams like Cambridge or IELTs might be beneficial. Honestly, maybe working with a language teacher is a good idea. I’m from Britain and can say that until I began training to teach English, I didn’t know half the stuff that native speakers of Spanish or Italian know about their language.

      1. Richard*

        Reading comprehension exercises are a good idea, and you can get similar ones from SAT/GMAT/LSAT prep if you want to avoid the non-native speaker feeling.

  15. Cathie Fonz*

    Regarding the communications problem, I spent my working career as a writer (journalism, public relations, administrative writing). Over the course of that career, I met many people who thought that writing well was some kind of magic. But its not — its a skill that can be learned by anyone who puts in the time and effort.
    In this case, I would not recommend that the supervisor herself try to teach the employee how to write, its going to be too time-consuming and likely too frustrating on both sides. Instead, the supervisor should tell the employee to search out a “real” course in writing (like in a classroom with a teacher) with a title like “office writing” or “news writing” or “non-fiction writing”. Such courses are taught in community colleges, university English departments, secretarial schools, maybe even high schools. Any such course will teach the employee the basic rules of writing: first you need to clarify your writing goal (ie, figure out exactly what you intend to communicate) and then you need to analyze what you wrote to make sure it meets the goal. Its a process you can use for everything from an email to a book. If she works diligently on a course where she has to produce lots and lots of writing examples, which she can then discuss with a teacher and with fellow students, her writing at work will certainly improve. Also, if there is any underlying problem, like a learning disability, the writing course instructor will be able to identify the issue and provide info about where to go for additional testing.

    1. TPS Cover Sheet*

      I agree, I went into night school a couple years back and sat with teenagers who failed their English GCSE’s to brush up my spleddning and grammer. Reason being I was sat in a role doing very anal retentive regulatory documentation and hadn’t done that much writing in quite a while and it wasn’t exactly in my comfort zone. I still hate doing documentation, but I hate reading sloppy documentation even more.

      1. Turnip-face*

        I think your device may need to do some work on its spleddning and grammer too… good old autocorrect!

        1. Pilcrow*

          I read it as being ironic. ;)

          That or TPS Cover Sheet’s device is being ironic for them!

    2. Scarlet2*

      I’m European, so I don’t know much about college/university classes in the US, but wouldn’t those classes be organized during the day? So would employee get PTO to attend those classes? Who would do her job while she’s attending class? Would the cost be covered by the company? That looks like a lot of time and money invested in an employee who’s lacking very basic skills.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I think they would likely be evening classes. I have previously taken an evening class on company money but my own time (Spanish) and that would seem an appropriate compromise here. Such classes would be significantly cheaper to the company than the equivalent lost work hours by LW and her report if LW embarked on specific coaching.

      2. ellex42*

        In the US, community colleges in particular offer evening, weekend, and online classes, many of which are geared towards taking the GCSE (high school equivalency test), taking basic courses that are required by more expensive colleges and universities at a cheaper tuition rate, and lots of certification and continuing education classes for adults who are already working full or part time. As for whether the company would pay in full or in part for the employee to take one or more classes, that depends on the company.

        As for whether or not the employee can learn better reading comprehension, my own experience is that if the problem is just that she doesn’t pay sufficient attention (not necessarily attention deficit), then it’s pretty easily fixed by learning better work skills, but I’d expect that issue to show in other areas, as well. If she really lacks reading comprehension skills, it will be much harder to fix. There are ways to help with that, like reading out loud, but even if she improves reading comprehension, her communication skills will be even harder to improve, because that requires a very fundamental change in the way she thinks.

        I’ve heard people who were did not previously read for pleasure say that after they started doing so , they found their reading comprehension skills improved considerably, but I don’t know if their communication skills also improved.

        1. MissBliss*

          All of this, except we don’t do the GCSE in the US. There are a few high school equivalency tests here but the GED would be most common, in my personal experience.

          1. ellex42*

            Oh dear! Well, at least you knew what I meant. One of my personal bugaboos is acronyms and initialisms, which is why I double-check them at work, but not always while commenting on blogs or social media!

            1. MissBliss*

              Oh no, your comment was perfectly intelligible! I just had to comment because I went down a befuddled rabbit hole since I was fairly certain GCSE was a thing specific to our friends across the pond.

              I write for public distribution as my day job, which uses up all my brain power. So when it comes to comments online, editing mode is not always on. I get you!

    3. Kiki*

      Yes, if LW is really invested in helping the employee succeed, I think this is the way to go. I truly believe anyone can learn to write well with practice, but what the employee is struggling with isn’t something that most managers are equipped to teach.

      It may be fair to first ask the employee why they think they’re struggling with reading comprehension. Are they in a rush? Are they confused by whatever digital format the communications are being sent in? When the employee reads the original message and their response over again, do they catch the error? Or does the manager have to point it out? I think some kind of course will still be necessary since the LW struggles with grammar too, but there may be some adjustable reason why their comprehension is currently lacking.

    4. Lady Jay*

      Yes, as someone who teaches writing for a living, I was coming down here to say this. What the employee probably needs is not a class in communication but a class in English. Literature will do, since most literature courses train for attention to detail, while a “writing in the workplace” type course has some expectation of proofreading. Many are available online, though she may get better results if she can take one in person, as interacting with the teacher/students is what trains reading and writing skills.

      Fun fact: Astronaut Michael Collins recommended English as a great major for entry into all sorts of work, including technical jobs. It trains the mind.

    5. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

      I’m a lawyer and not a naturally good writer. But I learned, mostly at my job, and now I’m an able writer (thankfully as that is most of my job).

  16. abraaa*

    #5: was the “aghast” reaction intentionally over-the-top or joking, maybe? People do often get very invested in free food, and honestly I’d also get excited about a Mexican buffet myself, and would also feel disappointed at a Panera bait-and-switch. I’d probably engage in some over-the-top grousing with coworkers in this situation myself, to vent that frustration, and if the lunch was truly optional I would joke about skipping it — and might even actually skip it, depending on the value of the non-lunch part.

    If the switch was made to accommodate people who couldn’t eat Mexican, and that was conveyed in a thoughtful way, I personally would be a little more understanding, but Panera seems like a not-great choice for broadening options, considering that there really is nothing on their menu for people who can’t have wheat and/or rather a lot of carbs. There wouldn’t be much I personally could eat from Panera, and maybe that’s also true for the people at your work?

    1. abraaa*

      Whoops, meant #4. (And really, it sounds like the lunch was a bribe to get people to do extra work on their break, so on rereading I say that those planning not to go are totally within their rights to decide the exchange is no longer satisfactory given that the terms have changed.)

      1. Willis*

        Yeah, if it was folks skipping a work meeting cause of the menu switch that would be one thing. But this sounds like the supplier essentially bribing people for their time and input. In which case, I can totally see attendance depending on how good of a bribe they’re offering (and aghast seems pretty extreme but I can see how a deli sandwich would not be particularly enticing…it’s like the most uninteresting meeting food option imo).

    2. Bilateralrope*

      Note that the letter writer was informed of the switch on the day of the lunch. So where would you get your lunch from if you skip the event ?

      Or if you go with a wheat allergy ?

      1. Holly*

        Anywhere else? Granted, I live in a big city where there are unlimited walking distance lunch options.

        1. ceiswyn*

          I currently work in a city centre where there are unlimited exciting options within walking distance, but most of my working life has been spent on business parks where the options were 1) a nice sandwich from a van that arrived midmorning (sucked to be gluten intolerant, busy, or too hard of hearing to notice the shout) or 2) a 20-minute walk to get a sad packaged sandwich from a corner shop.

          1. Tisiphone*

            Food trucks at my workplace are day shift only. We see the announcements weeks in advance. Hey, the XYZ Food Truck is coming and we get a corporate discount! but it’s always a couple hours before my shift starts.

            But if I order my own sandwich, I can leave off the dealbreakers like mayonnaise and cheese that seem to come standard on any prepackaged offering.

        2. Shad*

          Well yeah, it’s not necessarily difficult or complicated to get food elsewhere, but I can generally bring my lunch for cheaper than even fast food, and if I hadn’t done so because I expected good free food? That’s now an expense I didn’t expect.

    3. Holly*

      This is what I was thinking… at my former job everyone was so busy that you had to have a serious draw if it was going to take you away from your desk. If Mexican was changed to Panera I can see my colleagues and I saying “well guess no need to attend now!” And doing some exaggerated (for humor purposes) complaining.

    4. Michaela Westen*

      I can’t eat Panera either, but most restaurants are challenging for me.
      Assuming the Mexican food was not cooked in soybean oil and the taco meat did not already have spices, onion, etc. mixed in*, I could maybe have eaten part of it, if I brought my own wheat-free tortillas.
      *IME real Mexican restaurants don’t, and Americanized restaurants do.

  17. CM*

    #1 — Assuming that everyone’s fluent in the language you’re working in, I agree with the advice with the caveat that these kinds of skills usually don’t improve very quickly and generally wouldn’t be taught by a manager (you’d be looking at prolonged tutoring from someone specialized in teaching literacy and/or writing skills). That’s totally possible, and not something anyone should be ashamed of, but it also means your time horizon for this promotion is probably being measured in years.

    As for how to tell someone you don’t think they can read — even though nobody SHOULD be ashamed of that — don’t say it. What I recommend instead is going on a fact-finding mission — which can be done alongside the one-on-one coaching — where you don’t make any assumptions about WHY this is happening but you discuss how it’s interesting that the two of you are reading these messages differently, and see what comes out of the discussion. Switch out the framing of “How do I tell her she’s illiterate?” for “How do the two of us figure out whether this communication disconnect is a problem we can solve?”

  18. Bilateralrope*

    How does a Mexican buffet mean limited vegetarian options ?

    I’m wondering if the stated reason for the switch is the truth. My next thought is that this was a cost cutting move (I dont think Panera exists in my country) or something else they dont want to admit, like the Mexican food source failing a health inspection.

    Which leads to more questions:
    If they lied about the switch, can you trust their word on anything else ?
    Is the event useful if you cant trust their honesty ?

    I’d probably still go as it’s still free food. Though I would have feedback about how I perceive their honesty.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        Fair point. Though one that would go over better if they announced the switch before the day of the lunch.

        1. Antilles*

          The time factor is actually part of the reason I don’t think they lied. Personally, I’d bet that the situation is basically this:
          “We didn’t even *think* about vegetarian options until this morning when someone came and asked about what vegetarian options were available. Called the Mexican restaurant and they said they use chicken stock and lard as part of their process. Now I’m scrambling, uh oh, crud, who’s available on such short notice that could produce vegetarian options…maybe a chain restaurant that does lots of lunch catering…Panera! Got it set up, now let’s just shoot off that quick reminder email we were already planning on sending and we’ll mention the switch as part of it.”

          1. Working Mom Having It All*


            I used to have a job where I had to cater lunch for a team of 20-ish people every day. I made all the catering arrangements in advance, because a lot of places needed more than a day or two of lead time to accommodate us. Every once in a while, our catering plans would fall through or there would be a last minute problem that left me in the lurch to provide lunch, sometimes same day. And thus I had a list of nearby chains that I knew could turn around something acceptable with only a couple hours’ notice. I don’t remember if Panera was one of them, but it was all places like that. Chipotle and Panda Express are the two I remember most clearly. If you came to work and we announced lunch was Panda Express, what actually happened was that our initial plans fell through with no notice.

          2. bonkerballs*

            Or that they, like bilateralrope, assumed there would be plenty of vegetarian Mexican options until someone pointed out the stock/lard situation and they checked.

      2. Omnia*

        In my experience, any smart food service business that wanted to cultivate their business function catering clientele would do well to accommodate one that inquired, “Hi, we’re like to order a Mexican buffet for a small conference. It needs to have vegetarian options, that also avoid the use of chicken stock or lard.” There are so many delicious options in Mexican food that can be made vegetarian or even vegan, and that would garner such a restaurant a lot more customers—with minimal effort/cost to accommodate.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          It may be they had planned to block out a room at a restaurant with an existing buffet, no customized menu. Just one per-person fee.

        2. Working Mom Having It All*

          Having catered for this sort of thing before, one thing that happens a lot is that someone who has never done it before (or the boss, who has no idea how much leg work goes into catering even a simple meeting) will say, “Oh, we should get Mama y Papa’s! I ate there last week and it was SO GOOD! We could do a taco bar or a little buffet or something. It would be great for vegetarians and people with dietary restrictions…” etc. And then you, the admin actually doing the legwork on catering the meeting, call up to place the order and find out that all their beans are made with lard, abuela’s ropa vieja recipe uses flour as the secret ingredient, and also did they mention they don’t usually do catering orders and wouldn’t be able to change their recipes at short notice, especially for that scale and budget (nobody wants to recalibrate their entire menu for $300). So now you’re the jerk who has to go back to everyone and say you can’t cater from there, you’ll have to do Panera.

          The reason people cater meetings from Panera and places like that is exactly what you’re pointing out. They have endless options, and their catering menus are set up so that nobody gets left out and there aren’t huge blind spots like items having hidden allergens in them. The prices are reasonable, orders can be turned around quickly, and there’s a high degree of flexibility if you find out that the VP of Finance needs to be in this meeting, and she has a soy allergy.

          In a lot of cases, catering from interesting locally owned restaurants is hard or even impossible, because their businesses just aren’t scaled for it.

          1. Antilles*

            The other common way this happens is the task gets passed off to a random junior staffer (not the admin) who happens to be attending the meeting. Junior Teapot Designer John is handling the normal logistics of preparing the agenda, sending reminder emails, etc and someone mentions we should get lunch and “oh yeah John, do that too”. However, John has rarely-if-ever ordered catering before, so he calls them and places the order but doesn’t know to ask the right questions to ask with regards to allergens/gluten-free/kosher/etc.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      Removed a long off-topic thread about red apples.

      Y’all, please stay on topic and follow the commenting rules or I’m going to need to get more aggressive about blocking repeat offenders from commenting. – Alison

      1. Alexandra Lynch*

        Golden Delicious straight off the tree are pretty good. And they make a good applesauce. But they don’t keep their flavor well. Honestly if I were going to plant an apple tree now for general eating and cooking I’d plant a Courtland. When dried those have an absolutely addictive spice-wine undernote.

        1. ellex42*

          I’m partial to Empire apples for flavor (slightly tart, slightly sweet, usually a nice “snack sized” apple, but a bit grainy in texture). If you want the crisp, smooth texture, Pink Lady’s are a bit sweeter but also good.

          My rule of thumb is to avoid grocery store apples and to get them from farmer’s markets whenever possible. The ones in the grocery store usually seem to have been shipped from the other side of the US although plenty of apples are grown in my own state.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            I’m in Washington so when I *do* get apples they are always grown locally. I do farmer’s markets as long as they last until they pack it in for the winter, but sometimes I gotta do the grocery store…

      2. LarsTheRealGirl*

        (Off topic, but the history of red delicious apples is SUPER interesting. Tl:Dr, they used to actually taste great, which is why they became so popular, but they’ve been so “inbred” that they’re just terrible now.)

        1. Artemesia*

          Since apples are propagated by graft i.e. cloned, it seems odd that the flavor would shift. Once an apple is developed, it is not further bred. All Granny Smiths are from the original granny smith tree etc. Apples don’t propagate from seed. (you get trash trees that don’t breed true from seed — Johnny Appleseed was doing it for the applejack made from the trash apples not to produce eating apples i.e. he was providing liquor to the old west)

      3. LawBee*

        I feel that SO hard. I was in the H&B aisle at the grocery store last night looking for toothpaste, and the constant refrain of “oh, no that deodorant has BAD THINGS in it” “nope, can’t use that one kids, it has BAD THINGS in it” made me lean right in front of that family and snag three huge things of Secret that I don’t even need, just out of spite. I may have even done a loud “oh, great, my FAVORITE brand!”
        (which it actually is. I’ve been using that brand my entire life, and my armpits are just fine thank you)

      4. RUKiddingMe*

        And mealy…they are mealy.

        I’m not a huge apple fan anyway. I don’t actively dislike them…except red “delicious” but I won’t go out of my way to eat one either.

      5. RUKiddingMe*

        “It makes me want to eat the unhealthiest thing I can find out of sheer spite.”

        Glad I’m not the only one that reacts to stuff …not necessarily Panera, not necessarily not Panera… this way.

      6. DAMitsDevon*

        Also, back a few months ago, when I had to eat a pretty low sodium diet because of an acute kidney issue and was trying to figure out what was safe to eat at certain restaurants, I noticed that unless you asked for a lot of accommodations/changes, the only things you could really order there and still get a full meal were either oatmeal for breakfast, or the salad with berries and chicken for lunch (and that’s a seasonal item so it’s not even offered all the time). So yeah, you could say I’m kind of skeptical of Panera’s clean eating claims.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Unless the cuisine is maybe genuine Arctic, restaurants based on it should have plenty of vegetarian options, just like the traditional hearty peasant food of Mexico or Italy or wherever. And yet! It has been my experience that plenty of them don’t.

      1. Alexandra Lynch*

        I think a lot of them respond to the American love of meat.

        I study Anglo-Norman cuisine, and given that half the days in the calendar had meat (but not animal products) prohibited, you’d naturally assume there are plenty of dishes that are lacto-ovo or even very easily vegan (substitute olive oil for butter, and you’re there.) And that’s true.

        But when I cook this cuisine for others in America, people largely expect meat, and big hunks of meat were a status symbol in the society, so we have cookbooks telling us how to make it.

        Annoyingly, one of them says, “As to the cooking of porridges and stews without meat and all the various vegetables that come out of the garden throughout the year, I’m not going to talk about that because any woman knows how to do that.” Thanks.

      2. doreen*

        Sometimes it’s because those cultures don’t consider “peasant food” to be restaurant food. I was once in an online discussion about as ethnic food that is prepared differently in the US than most of the rest of the world- and when I suggested that perhaps it was because most of the restaurants in the US of that ethnicity were operated by people from a particular part of that county, I got blasted with “You don’t eat X in a restaurant – mamma makes X for dinner at home”

    3. hbc*

      I’ve seen a lot of catered “Mexican buffets” that are essentially a taco bar that has beef, chicken, or pork options. Yes, you can eat vegetarian, but a corn shell filled with tomato and lettuce isn’t going to make anyone feel like they had a meal. But I can see how the omnivores would be disappointed with the switch.

      1. Alexandra Lynch*

        Usually there’s beans too. Which makes all the difference. Now, there’s no guarantee the beans are strictly vegetarian (because sometimes lard is used in preparation) but it’s at least better than eating meat.

        1. ceiswyn*

          You will struggle to find a vegetarian who thinks that eating lard is in some way ‘better’ than eating meat.

          Personally, I’d consider it worse; putting non-essential, non-visible meat products into an otherwise vegetarian item is kind of like sticking a finger up to vegetarians.

          1. Dana B.S.*

            I try to not be 100% strict on my vegetarianism when I am being provided food. I will not eat meat, but I don’t ask questions when the purpose of the meal serves a larger purpose than just consuming food – parties, weddings, work gatherings, etc. I think it’s just too stressful personally, but it’s also really rare for me. I found an essay on this on Bon Appetit recently as relating to travel too. See also – fish sauce & oyster sauce in Asian cuisine.

            Also, I’m from Texas where almost the entire state is sticking a finger up to vegetarians, so maybe I’m just never surprised. I once got a taco in Austin that used a frozen bag of mixed veggies for the veggie taco (think peas & lima beans *unseasoned*).

          2. smoke tree*

            Another issue is that some vegetarians will get sick if they accidentally eat a meat product, and they may eat the beans without knowing there’s lard in them.

          3. Michaela Westen*

            95% of restaurants cook with “vegetable oil” which is sticking a finger up to the millions of us allergic to soy. No matter what they use, they won’t please everyone.
            Needless to say, I’m thrilled when I find a restaurant that cooks with real lard (not “vegetable lard”, which is hydrogenated soybean oil.)

        2. londonedit*

          Yeah, I think you’ll find most people who describe themselves as vegetarian are ‘strictly vegetarian’ and would not be happy to find out they’d been eating animal products without anyone telling them. This is why actual vegetarians get so pissed off with the ‘Yeah, I’m vegetarian…well, mostly, I mean I still eat chicken…’ people, because that’s how you end up with everyone thinking vegetarians probably wouldn’t mind a bit of lard in their chilli beans.

          1. Is It Performance Art*

            I’m a vegetarian. Several years ago, a very pushy coworker insisted I try her “vegetarian” soup. I sniffed it and asked about it and she said “it’s completely vegetarian but I but a little bit of bacon in it. But I consider it vegetarian.” I just walked away. (I have always thought bacon was gross so I’m not even going to eat vegan “bacon”. )Later on she apologized because she didn’t think it was a big deal.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          No, it’s not? Lard and meat literally come from the same source. It’s exactly the same is eating meat.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          You need to rule out:
          Lard in the tortillas
          Lard in the beans
          Other pork in the beans
          Chicken stock in the beans
          Chicken stock in the rice
          (and other things that aren’t necessarily deal-breakers for the whole meal but which vegetarians would want to know: gelatin in the sour cream, animal rennet in the cheese)

          From the timing of this it sounds like the organizers may have assumed “yeah sure there’s rice and beans for the vegetarians” and then when someone actually asked, they got yeses to more than one of the above, and suddenly the Mexican place they had in mind was a no-go. Possibly there isn’t another Mexican place close enough to use. So no more Mexican.

          1. Dust Bunny*


            I’m not a vegetarian but one of my close in-laws is and she will order a quesadilla, knowing, though, that it was grilled on the same grill as all the meat so even that is not actually vegetarian. Mexican, at least mainstream Mexican in the US, is generally very not-vegetarian-friendly.

            1. Autumnheart*

              That sounds like you mean “vegan” instead of “vegetarian”. I don’t know any vegetarians who are so strict as to dictate whether their non-meat dish touches anything that also touched meat.

              1. abraaa*

                Sometimes ovo/lacto people care and sometines vegans don’t care, just as some people who keep kosher are okay with food cooked on a grill that also makes cheeseburgers and some aren’t.

              2. Ron McDon*

                I am a vegetarian, and I would not wish to eat something which has been cooked on the same grill/pan which had been used to cook meat!

              3. Omnia*

                If they are vegetarian for religious reasons, they would care. A vegetarian Brahmin Hindu (for example) would not eat vegetables touching meat. No way.

              4. Working Mom Having It All*

                Yeah, if you won’t eat something cooked in a pan that may have been used to cook meat an hour ago, that’s extremely strict. Like to the point where you probably either eat in strictly vegan restaurants, or you don’t eat out much at all. Which is fine! But much like people with severe allergies or celiac, those people tend to know who they are and cater their own food/aren’t coming to this meeting for the free food.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            I’ve been reading labels since 1991 and I’ve never seen lard in the ingredient list of a tortilla. Flour tortillas have vegetable oil. Corn tortillas have no added oil.

            1. Cog in the Machine*

              Prepackaged tortillas don’t tend to have lard in them, but the house-made ones probably do. Even the corn tortillas. You might as well give up on any house-made chips, too.
              At least in my part of the world, Mexican food doesn’t tend to be vegetarian friendly.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Where I live everyone uses corn tortillas from our local company, and they don’t add lard or other oils. They’re often still warm from the oven when they hit the stores. :)

      2. Omnia*

        If it’s catered (not a pre-existing, set restaurant buffet) then it should be as easy as requestion: please have more vegetarian options (or one veg main dish, not cooked with lard.) Any professional food business would be accustomed to doing this all the time. And, if they haven’t already, would immediately see an opportunity to cultivate new clients—costing nothing to them while earning them $.

  19. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    re #5, which was very well stated:

    When I notified my then-boss of my first pregnancy he explicitly split out his personal feelings (baby! yay! congratulations!) from his professional feelings (dang it how the heck are we going to navigate project xyz without you). That was helpful, because at work it is a dual announcement so there is a dual reaction.

    Additional to the professional worries, someone announcing a pregnancy may have health worries – I have three children from five pregnancies and announced them later and later each time, still on terrifying “knicker watch”. One becomes in some odd way public property when pregnant, and it often becomes the only thing people will talk to you about, so you lose interesting chats about tv/film/music/philosophy/politics to be replaced by prurient interest in your bodily functions, reducing you to a vessel for the blessed unborn. The longer you can go without telling people, the longer you cling to your personal identity and your social existence.

    If someone is making a general announcement at work, they’re typically keeping it, so I think it’s safe to default to “what exciting news” or “I’m thrilled for you” and proceed as normal with work.

    1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      Back at ToxicJob, when I told my manager I was pregnant, her reaction was, “Oh s–t. I mean, congratulations.” That pretty much set the tone going forward.

  20. Seeking Second Childhood*

    OP1, if your company had the budget, it might be worth considering a night class in technical writing. Standard documentation techniques can be used in emails — and a class would give her graded feedback from someone without your emotional involvement.

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Even if the company doesn’t pay for it, it might be doing the employee a big favor to let her know that classes like this exist. Sometimes people don’t realize that you can get training in such things.

    2. Light37*

      If your local library system has a subscription, Gale Courses runs free six week tech writing classes online. They’re quite good, I took one a few years ago as a refresher and learned some new things.

  21. Myrin*

    OP #1, when I read your question, I immediately thought of a letter we got a year ago which featured a similar person with similar problems: I’ll put a link in a reply but meanwhile, its title was “How can I help an employee who has no attention to detail?”, if you want to search for it. There were many great answers and discussions in the comments which, in addition to Alison’s advice, might be helpful to you, too.

  22. Retired Teacher*

    If it is truly a learning disability or reading comprehension deficiency, then you won’t be able to help her within a reasonable time frame. (Would a lack of critical thinking skills affect her other areas of work? Does she speak well, using proper grammar?)

    However, it could be other things….maybe she needs glasses, maybe she thinks that emails must be returned very quickly which means she isn’t taking her time, maybe technology makes her nervous, maybe she is a poor typist.
    I love Allison’s suggestion of a few intensive coaching sessions, which hopefully can be conducted in a private office. If the sessions aren’t successful, she will at least understand why she can’t get the promotion—nothing personal, just not a good fit. Also you will be able to diagnose why she is having trouble. (And kudos to you for caring enough to go beyond the call of duty!)

    You may want to have her read the email aloud from the screen. If she has trouble, print it out (large font, perhaps?) and try again. Have her discuss and highlight the key points. Then ask her what information she wants to relay. Encourage her to hand-write a quick bullet list for her outgoing emails.

    Stress that taking her time to do it right is more important than being fast. Good luck to both of you and please update us!

  23. Delta Delta*

    #4 – People being aghast at a change in lunch sound like they are too much work to be around, generally. It seems entirely reasonable that people would feel disappointed if they were excited for lunch menu #1 but it got changed to lunch menu #2. But it seems like “disappointed” is as far as it ought to go. If “aghast” comes out for “sorry, we’re not having Mexican food” I would hate to see how the coworkers react when something actually serious happens.

    1. Anon for now*

      If they announced the change in advance, I would be disappointed. If they announced the change day of, I would be upset because it is too late for me to bring my lunch from home.

    2. Lexi Kate*

      If it was a work meeting or a party then yes, but for a voluntary meeting I disagree. If for weeks I was told I was getting the Qdoba(Mexican) taco buffet and the day of or before you switched it to salad and sandwiches I would boycott too. Its a different ball game when the food aspect is your payment for attending, and it would feel like switch and bait especially if we are talking about tacos or bar-b-que. All I can think about is tacos now.

  24. Bree*

    A lot of folks seem to be writing off LW#1’s employee but as someone who works in communications I’m not so sure. I’ve worked with lots of people – including in leadership – who have these challenges, and I think there are still some practical things that might help.

    First and foremost, have the employee read things out loud to herself, both things she receives and what she sends. Not quickly, word-for-word. This will force her to slow down, as well as digest the information in two ways. I had a colleague whose work I edited, and recommending he do this with his drafts improved things dramatically.

    Secondly, ask her to make bullet points or outlines of her main points or the information she needs before composing an e-mail, possibly by hand on paper. This will similarly encourage her to slow down, digest, and re-order information.

    Third, make sure she knows she doesn’t have to rush to respond, that it’s more important to do things carefully than quickly. It sounds like your employee is eager to impress, which is good, but that might contribute to her jumping to conclusions, etc.

    Lastly, show her specific examples of strong e-mails, point out co-workers who do it well and explain why. With e-mail in particular there are such wildly different standards that it can take some time to find the style that works best for the environment.

    1. pcake*

      Excellent suggestions! Rushing was my first guess regarding the employee from letter number 1, too.

    2. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

      Rushing when I was a new employee was my biggest issue. Once my manager told me to slow down (a fair few times) I was perfectly capable of avoiding all those mistakes.

    3. Clisby*

      Those are all good suggestions – I also wondered whether she was hurrying too much. I’ll second the idea of reading out loud. I can remember giving my high school aged son feedback on an English paper, and trying to explain to him why a particular sentence was worded awkwardly. I knew what I meant, but “awkward” isn’t very specific. I said, “OK, read it out loud.” He did, and immediately said, “Oh, it should be more like XYZ.” When I read, I think I unconsciously “hear” the words in my head, but I’m sure not everyone does. (My son also studies by his notes out loud – he’s found he remembers the content much better that way.)

    4. Bagpuss*

      These are all really good suggestions.

      I would also suggest sitting diown with her to review specifc messages / pieces of writing where there were issues.

      Flag up with her whaere there are problems, and get her to suhgest how to fix those / how she could do better next time. So don’t tell her what to write, give her more general pointers and get her to work out the fix.

      It is more likely to stick with her if she works out the probalem for herself than uf you tell her what it is.

      I would also be fiarly blunt with her about the importnace of this to her promotion prospects – I think you probably need to be saying that as things are, you could not recommend her for prmotion because the issues with her written communication, and her ability to effectively read and action incoming messages isn’t good enough, and is currently not at the level it needs to be for her current role, still less a more senior one.

      You can make clear that you remain willing to work with her on improving this but do lay out clerly that this is a big issue.

      Another thing in addito to the specifc points Bre made would be to suiggest that once she has drafted her response, save it and leave it for half an hour or so, then go back and re-read it once last time before sending it.

      It’s generally easier to spot mistakes in someone else’s work than in your own, but putting yours aside and then coming back to it can give you something of the same ‘fresh eye’.

    5. abraaa*

      As long as LW1’s employee has enough private space to read out loud, that’s an idea— but if the employee shares an office or cubicle, that advice might lead to some frustrated team members. If I had a coworker reading all their email out loud within earshot I’d have a hard time concentrating on anything myself!

      1. Bree*

        Depends on your setup and culture, for sure, but my colleagues and I are in cubicles and talk to ourselves pretty regularly. I needn’t be loud, or any more distracting than a phone call. Particularly if these are short e-mails.

  25. Kipper*

    I can’t blame #5 for being worried. I worked for a small business and when one of the support staff became pregnant (with morning sickness) it was threatened at a meeting that she would be put on leave for her pregnancy if she couldn’t perform her normal duties. Obviously illegal, but someone being paid $12/hr can’t afford a lawyer. It was pretty disgusting and those present at the meeting immediately informed the affected woman. Boss figured this might happen and told her right away that this was said and tried to cover it up as just being a heated moment. Boss still doesn’t understand why the business hemorrhages staff.

  26. Mother of Cats*

    OP 4 – Panera’s owners recently discovered that their family had Nazi ties that led some people to boycott their products. Your coworkers may have been upset that your company decided to do business with them after that news came out.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Erm. People might want to be really careful about “I heard someone’s ancestors whom they never met did a bad thing, and so I am boycotting them.” Pretty sure none of us are actually able to swear to the eternal nobility and lack of forced labor regarding our own ancestors.

    2. Emi.*

      Does my cousin in the resistance who was arrested and presumably tortured by the Gestapo cancel out my cousin the the Luftwaffe who participated in the Blitz?

      1. Lynn*

        Yes. Considering my husband’s family, do we judge him by the slave traders and owners in his family tree, or by the abolitionists? We haven’t researched my family history much as it doesn’t interest me, but I’ll bet if I were to look back I would find both saints and sinners there too.

    3. Bagpuss*


      A distant cousin of ours won the VC in WW2, (He climbed back into his burning plane in order to fight off a Nazi fighter who was attacking one of his comrades, before bailing out a second time and getting shot on landing by an over enthusiastic member of the Home Guard..)

      A different, more distant ancestor is recorded on his death certifcate as having died from injuries sustainedfalling off a wall. From what we have ben able to find out, the wall in question was that of the local prison, and he was trying to leave… (Which leaves me feeling the local Coroner muct have been a compassionate person, to word the detah certificate that way and keep the truth from his family)

      Another, in around 1860 or so, was sued for breach of promise of marriage. (He won, but only because the lady in question couldn’t prove he’d ever explicitly promised to marry her, when he had persauded her to sleep with him)

  27. Llellayena*

    Related to OP 1:
    How can you deal when the person with the reading comprehension/attention to detail issues is a client (or manager). With multiple clients, I’ve used bullet points, separated paragraphs, mentioning in my first sentence how many pieces of info I need, but inevitably when I ask for X, Y and Z I’ll get X while Y and Z are ignored. I’ve chalked it up to the client being crazy-busy and not reading through, but it’s frustrating.

    Also, I have a coworker who knows he’s terrible at writing (and to a lesser extent reading comprehension) so he brings drafts of content-critical emails to me to edit. I think he will always need some editing/oversight but it shouldn’t hold him back as long as the company is willing to have someone take the minute to edit. I’ve seen definite improvement in his writing skills and the time it takes is minimal. Something like this might work for OP1 if the employee can recognize which correspondence she needs to have edited.

  28. Alexandra Lynch*

    Re #4: I can see that dinging my boyfriend, who had weight loss surgery five years ago and now MUST eat low carb/high protein. Normally he solves his problems at work by bringing his lunch, and owing to his food issues and mine, I cook for us 99% of the time. But if we do go out, Mexican is one of the few cuisines where he can assume that he can assemble food that won’t make him dump. Panera….well, neither of us can eat there. It’s way too bready.

    But in that instance, he’d just bring his own food and enjoy his turkey and white bean chili while everyone else ate Panera. He wouldn’t make a fuss.

    1. Introverted Not Shy*

      How is Mexican low carb? I am diabetic and avoid mexican food precisely because of the high carb counts.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I think that you *can* do it low-carb. Heavy on the meat and cheese, low on the tortillas and rice.

  29. Jesse*

    Letter #1

    I teach reading and writing to immigrant professionals. I’m assuming your employee’s first language is English.

    An online communication class is great and all, but it’s not necessarily appropriate for this issue. She needs a basic English class, even if it’s just English 101 at the local community college. There are a lot of online options available and any English department can advise her. Some colleges even offer these classes for first language speakers who require remedial support at the professional level!

    English Communication classes are for decent readers/writers who need to learn how to write better in a professional environment. There are English classes for people who have weak reading and writing SKILLS (this is very different and without boring you, there are so many stages to each skill and she probably missed some).

    I hesitate to say “learning disability!” because her reading and writing issues are entirely common in people without learning disabilities. From your description, I would wager she’s likely just one of those with lower-level skills that slipped through the cracks and never got enough training to reach an appropriate level. There is an unfortunate gap between “learning disabled and gets support” and “not great at reading/writing, but good enough to graduate” and these people are at risk of this issue.

    1. Jesse*

      I want to add that some people have offered advice, from the perspective of a manager/fellow employee, on how to improve someone’s reading and writing issues. I don’t disagree with a lot of the advice given *but* I would argue that if this employee’s problem is rooted in missing core reading/writing skills, then the advice isn’t necessarily applicable. Some of your examples make me think that she isn’t connecting dependent and independent clause instructions together in her head… I don’t know. I’d have to get her tested. I think she’s that C- English student that passed college but nobody thought was “bad enough” to get more help.

      1. Justin*

        This is my professional background as well and it makes sense to me.

        Some folks haven’t had the steps laid out for them and they filled in the blanks admirably but with some things not quite fitting. I hate that there is a standard (because it’s just based on who created it for their own power), but people still need support in understanding and using Standardized English (or whatever language) and a lot of schools aren’t quite equipped to do so beyond making sure people can understand basic instructions.

        1. Jesse*

          “Some folks haven’t had the steps laid out for them and they filled in the blanks admirably but with some things not quite fitting.”

          That’s a really great way of putting it. It’s so true, and a very difficult habit to reverse. All human habits take time and habit to reverse, but I think a good remedial English course (not Communications) would help this employee learn better comprehension and expression strategies. She needs to “fill in those blanks”!

    2. I hate coming up with usernames*

      Agreed. I’m an English teacher, and was reading this thinking she needs the kind of tutoring I give my students who are lower level in comprehension rather than a communications course.

  30. Amethystmoon*

    #2, unless your e-mails contain attachments, if I were you, I would use the telephone and/or work IM for urgent messages and e-mail for things that can wait. If it does contain an attachment, you may want to follow up with a phone call or IM, just to cover yourself.

    1. LQ*

      Agreed, follow up for actually urgent things. Don’t do it for everything but if you have time sensitive things. You could (while you poke at IT) ask your boss to do the same. “Hey, can you call/im/slack me for urgent items? I’m working with IT to get it fixed but I have email lag happening and don’t want to miss something that is time sensitive.”

      1. Lady who lives in a shoe*

        Yes! I’ve been on the other end of this situation and even though I trusted that it wasn’t my colleague’s fault I was still very frustrated.

        We agreed to respond to all emails with “got it” or “I’ll get back to you by X.” It was tedious, but we were on deadline and couldn’t afford to question whether the information was going through or not. If I didn’t get a response, I knew to follow up with a call. Everyone was happy when IT fixed the underlying problem.

    2. Tech Troubles*

      OP here, thanks for the good advice! I’m a recent college grad and definitely still navigating the professional working world, so I guess I get nervous about “annoying” my boss too much. But in reality, some of these things are important and it’s worth the extra level of confirmation.

  31. Arctic*

    I’d be momentarily outraged by the switch from Mexican buffet to Panera too. I’d get over it. But Mexican buffet sounds like a real treat. Panera is just a typical generic corporate goop.

  32. PMP*

    Uh, as a celiac if you told me there was going to be a Mexican buffet (yay, sounds like lots of options for me!) and I show up and it’s Panera(!?!) yeah, uh, I would definitely be pissed while everyone is chowing down on sandwiches and cookies and I get what…a bag of chips? Food may not be the point, but if you set me up not to bring a lunch and then there’s nothing I can eat? I would be pretty pissed.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*


      I usually bring my lunch to work.

      If you tell me that a lunch meeting will be having food Type A, that I can safely eat, I will not bring my lunch. If on the day of the meeting, you switch it to food Type B, which I know I can not eat, I will be irritated, because now I literally have no lunch!

      Yes, I have some canned soup in my drawer, but it’s a nuisance to heat up for a meeting where everyone else is happily eating, and not really an adequate lunch. I resent it when the organizers pulling a bait and switch on my food.

      The people complaining have grounds to do so, IMO.

  33. Emi.*

    The imaginative lengths people are willing to go to just to avoid congratulating a pregnant mother are really something.

    1. Arctic*

      It’s pretty weird. Years ago when we reached our late twenties my friends (like real friends outside of work I wouldn’t be this inappropriate in work) and I used to joke about how we’d reached the age where if someone tells you they are pregnant you don’t know whether to say “I’m so sorry” or “Congratulations!!” Meaning we’d got to that age where some of our friends were deliberately trying now.

      But it was a joke. People really think this way? And bring the thought process into work? She say “congratulations!” It’s so easy.

      (Albeit in that letter I did think the intern should be given a break. The way it was told was very intimate for an intern and she didn’t know how to react. I’m sure she’s already kind of embarrassed.)

        1. Arctic*

          In passing. I think everyone could have been told at the same time.
          I’ve had at least half a dozen co-workers become pregnant in my working life. And it’s never once been communicated to everyone in an intimate one-on-one session.

        2. Kiki*

          I agree that taking people aside 1:1 to tell them is a bit out of the ordinary (but not unheard of! There are plenty of situations where doing it this way makes a lot of sense). I can see a situation where if I were an intern, and my boss didn’t call me into 1:1’s very often, I would be really scared of being in trouble. Then I’d be on the wrong wavelength when the pregnancy announcement happened and might say the wrong thing. The same way we’ve heard about people hugging CEO’s randomly, sometimes people just flub. There were a few responses that were kind of harsh towards the intern– her question certainly wasn’t ideal for the workplace, but it wasn’t terribly offensive either. She should be informed of better ways to respond for her professional development, but holding it against her seems harsh.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Years ago when we reached our late twenties my friends (like real friends outside of work I wouldn’t be this inappropriate in work) and I used to joke about how we’d reached the age where if someone tells you they are pregnant you don’t know whether to say “I’m so sorry” or “Congratulations!!”

        In 10 or 15 years, you find yourself back at this stage. ;-)

    2. Temperance*

      So, my now-former boss was pregnant and discovered that her child has a serious, life limiting disability. I don’t know at what stage in the pregnancy it was discovered, but I can only imagine how awful I would have felt if I congratulated her in person after she received the pretty devastating news.

      1. Lehigh*

        That’s a kind instinct, but isn’t it a little over the top? That’s like saying “congratulations!” to a friend who is getting married and later finding out that the fiance is horrible to her; or saying “I’m sorry,” about a death in the family only to find that the rest of the family is quite relieved to be rid of the deceased. There’s no way you should feel guilty about following the polite convention. It’s not your job to ascertain all the facts of everyone’s personal life before you give any hint of reaction to news.

        1. Emi.*

          It’s not even that, unless we think a child with a disability is like a horrible fiance. The disability is bad news, but the child is still good news and deserves to be celebrated every bit as much as an able child.

          1. YetAnotherUsername*

            Emi, “life limiting” means something that will significantly shorten the child’s life.

            Temperence, if someone is pregnant with a child who is likely to die, then they will either 1 mention that there are complications or something similar, in which case you can say eg “I hope it all works out”, or 2 she will choose not to mention it because she doesn’t want to get into it, in which case the polite response is still “congratulations” .

            Trust me, when you are carrying a child that is likely to die soon, you have bigger things on your mind than the exact wording of people’s responses (source: I have twice been told that my unborn child will most likely die soon, once after I had already announced). Both did die. (I also have two living children).

            Just say congratulations unless the mother is giving you really obvious hints to the contrary.

        2. Washi*

          Yeah, and especially for non life-limiting disabilities, I’ve read a lot from parents and disability activists about how hurtful it is to have their existence treated as a tragedy.

          Again, this is why social scripts are so handy! Everyone reads their lines, and it’s not personal because you’re just saying the things you’re supposed to say. I really don’t get what the alternative is…mind read to understand the situation and have the perfect tailored response?

          1. Parenthetically*

            “I really don’t get what the alternative is…mind read to understand the situation and have the perfect tailored response?”

            Yeah this is where I land. “Congratulations” isn’t one-size-fits all, but in a work context, it’s one-size-fits-99%-of-the-time.

            1. boo bot*

              I think that even when it absolutely doesn’t fit, it’s still the appropriate response in a work context. People whose reactions to something aren’t exactly what might be expected already know that, and they know they will be dealing with the dissonance of people’s responses.

              I don’t mean that to sound unempathetic: I’ve been in the circumstance where the standard response (“Congratulations”/”I’m so sorry,” etc.) wasn’t the easiest thing to hear, but it allowed me to just say “thank you,” and close the social interaction loop. It’s the Life News version of “How are you?”/”Fine, thanks, you?” – what it means is, “I see you, I reach out.”

    1. Keek*

      Certainly didn’t impact my understanding, but it’s funny and highlights that none of us are perfect. Have a great Monday.

  34. Cwæþ*

    #1 Check with your public library – they probably have a literacy program that can help. Such programs help with improving reading & writing skills for the workplace, as well as basic literacy. Your employee would be assigned a 1-1 tutor. The cost is either free or very low cost.

  35. ComputerD00D*

    #2 – this is a really common occurrence with Outlook and email servers. We deal with it all the time. Things sometimes get stuck somewhere along the way, and show up hours later. Definitely loop in your IT department!

    FYI– this is much more common, in my experience, when someone is sending emails in Outlook for Mac to a PC that is running Outlook. So if your boss is mobile and using a Macbook while your desk system is a PC, there are a lot of places along the way that things can break down. Outlook for Mac is generally terrible.

    1. Tech Troubles*

      OP here, wow I had no idea this was a common issue! I feel so much better, I actually thought I was crazy there for a bit. I have a PC, not sure what my boss uses but she definitely often checks her email on her iPhone, so I’m curious if that causes issues as well. Thank you for the helpful info!

  36. Jess*

    I get this. Whenever we get something other than Panera, it’s exciting. Panera seems to be the go to for all business lunches lately. It’s never very good, it’s pretty standard sandwich and a sad salad type deal that permeates the room with the smell of onions. I wouldnt take it as far as complaining out loud about it but I understand the disappointment.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, we don’t have Panera here so I can’t comment on that specifically, but a Mexican buffet would be totally out of the ordinary everywhere I’ve worked, and it would be quite an exciting thing. To then get a message on the day saying ‘Oh by the way, it’s actually sandwiches for lunch’ when half the office would buy a sandwich for lunch anyway would be disappointing! I can totally picture a ripple of ‘Oh, what? They’re just doing sandwiches now? That’s crap!’ dissent if an email like that went round.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Mexican would be totally ordinary here and we’d still all be excited because, hey, it’s not a wilted salad on a stale bun.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’m okay with Panera as business-lunch food, because I guess it has something to accommodate all dietary restrictions. Yeah it is bland and it wouldn’t be my choice of a place to go out for food with friends or family, or by myself, but for work lunches, it is a huge step up from what they used to be early in my career. They have semi-healthy soups, bowls, and salads, and that’s good enough in my book. Early in my US career, I had to go out of town for a week-long training class where the hotel was in a food desert, I didn’t have a car, and the food we were provided in class every day was donuts for breakfast and pizza for lunch. Every.single.day. That was 20 years ago, don’t know if I would’ve survived it now with my health intact. Back then I just gained more weight than I’d ever gained in one week, and then quickly lost it because I was a lot younger then. Now, I’d be miserable. At least the workplaces have moved past that.

  37. Ms.Vader*

    OP#4 – It may be possible that someone has food allergies and we’re able to be totally comfortable eating Mexican without a trigger and now that it is Panera – they are less confident. That would be distressing especially the day of. I have severe allergies to certain things and it always sucks thinking I can participate in a group meal when it turns out, I can’t due to an oversight.

    I am someone that gets super excited for different foods and I would be so disappointed getting sandwiches that don’t sound appetizing to the Mexican affair promised. I don’t know that would be prevent me from attending but I’d be giving that feedback.

  38. Zach*

    #4- I’d be a little aghast, but only because Mexican food is literally one of the easiest types of food to convert to vegetarian. Panera probably has *less* vegetarian options. With Mexican, just swap out beans for whatever meat. (Unless this place only serves refried beans with lard, but having that as the only bean option is pretty rare.)

    1. Dust Bunny*

      In restaurants, though, the beans are usually cooked with animal fats. And the rice is cooked in chicken broth.

      It’s easy to *convert*, yes, but most restaurants’ recipes aren’t set up that way in the first place.

  39. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    #1 Oof. Reading comprehension doesn’t come easily for everyone (I am a super bookworm, but my little brother had REAL difficulty with reading until I introduced him to Spider-man), so I feel for you and your employee. I used to tutor reading all through school, and in my experience, pretty much the only thing that improves reading comprehension is… well, more reading. Is there a way to tactfully suggest they maybe try spending X amount of their off time reading something they find enjoyable? It doesn’t have to be anything super heavy or lengthy, beach reads, magazines/cool articles, comics/graphic novels, well written blogs, etc, are all great choices–it just needs to be something that holds their interest while they are reading it. They sound so earnest and hardworking, and really, just practicing reading for comprehension (which will be so much easier if they make it enjoyable) would probably go a really long way towards helping them.

  40. Michaela Westen*

    #2, would your boss be open to communicating by text instead of email until these email lags are fixed? Maybe some of the communications can be sent by text either on the office IM, if it works well, or phone to phone.
    My boss loves texts. It was annoying when he insisted on multiple long texts when a 5-minute phone call would have worked, but it is a good way to circumvent the paging system that always seemed to drop the most urgent messages. He and I and our other administrators have been texting each other’s phones for years.
    My boss has been better for the last year or so about texting appropriately. :)

    1. Tech Troubles*

      OP here, yes I think my boss would be! We already use texting for some urgent, time sensitive things. Great suggestion, I think I’ll run that past my boss next time we have important work going on that can’t get bogged down by email issues!

  41. Jessen*

    I’m wondering about the second half of #1. It sounds like most people are focusing on the first half – reading comprehension and spelling/grammar issues. I’m curious about the second half because that’s something I struggle with immensely, despite having good reading comprehension and overall writing skills. But it’s really really hard to figure out just the right level of information to put down so you’re getting all the relevant information on the page, but not talking down to your audience or putting in so much extra information that their eyes glaze over. And that doesn’t seem like something that your average english or writing class is going to cover, or even a technical writing class. What would people recommend as far as that skill?

    1. Buttons*

      This is about understanding your communication style and understanding the communication style of your audience. You can take a free assessment by searching tracom assessment. Communications styles is something that is very big in my company, all employees get an assessment (we use on more in-depth than the free tracom) and we talk about the ways in which different people like to receive and give information, and how to adjust our message style for different audiences.
      I know that my grandboss likes no fluff, and high-level details. No fluff is her style, high-level details are because of her job- she needs to know the big picture, not the details. She wants to know the expected outcomes of what is going on. I usually provide her with no more than 5 bullet points.
      My direct boss likes fluff and requires a bit more of the details. Fluff is her style, starting an email with “Hi! Hope you are having a great day!” starts the email in a tone that she likes. Details that she wants is what is getting done, the why, but not the HOW.

      So if you think about why they need this information, how are they going to use it, who are they conveying it to, it will help you determine what to give them.
      As far as greetings and “fluff”- if they always start their emails with “HI! Hope you had a great weekend” it gives you a clue as to their preferred style. If they get straight to business, sometimes without even putting a name- they are showing you their style.

      Hope this helps!

      1. Jessen*

        In my experience it’s not really a style issue. It’s more an inability to call to conscious mind all the relevant pieces of information that another person would need. So conversations (not just at work) often tend to go like:

        “I have problem X”
        “Oh, well, have you tried A?”
        “No, that can’t work because I also need to take into account Y?”
        “Ok, so what about B?”
        “B would cause greater problems because of Z, so that’s not an option.”

        And I know that frustrates other people; it comes across as I’m being negative or difficult. The problem for me is that I know Y and Z, and I’m trying to work around them, but I don’t really consciously pick them up as relevant to the discussion until someone else says something. Then I realize I haven’t communicated them. (It’s gotten me blasted in internet comment sections a lot because people get the idea that I’m just rejecting what everyone is telling me, when the truth is there’s just this one thing that I didn’t realize I needed to say up front.)

        1. Buttons*

          You did exactly what you are describing the issues is. In your OP you stated “right level of information to put down so you’re getting all the relevant information on the page” My answer addressed that– determine communication styles and who your audience is, why they need the information, and how they are going to use it.
          In your second post you state “but I don’t really consciously pick them up as relevant to the discussion until someone else says something. Then I realize I haven’t communicated them” and “there’s just this one thing that I didn’t realize I needed to say up front.”
          My suggestion would be to think about the outcome you want, and exactly what you are asking from the person you are speaking to. Your ask isn’t clear.
          I felt like I was reading a post from two different people with two different problems.
          The conversation example you gave I would say it this way.
          “Jessen, I am having a problem with X. In trying to troubleshoot I have tried A, which impacts Y. B won’t work because of Z. Is there something I am not thinking of?” “how would you approach X if A and B aren’t the solution?”

          1. Jessen*

            That’s useful. I think we’re going to get off topic though, so I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for Friday!

            1. Buttons*

              I am in Leadership development and often help people with their communication skills; written, verbal, presentation, etc. I am happy to help if I can! I will look for your post on Friday :)

        2. Michaela Westen*

          For this I would do an imaginary conversation just like the one you put here.
          Imagine they say they have problem X, and how you would respond. And where that would go. And keep doing this until you reach the solution to X, or a suggestion for X that might work.
          Then send them that suggestion/solution with any details they might need, and the thought process if it seems like that would help.
          If you’re not getting as far as a solution or suggestion, that might mean you need more information yourself, or need to do research or check your notes for more info or direction.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      To a certain extent I think the “anticipate what questions they may ask and answer them up front” bit of the advice goes hand in hand with the “give them the level of detail THEY need because you have more in your head than they probably do”. It’s about pausing to consider the audience’s frame of reference. You’re not wrong that it can be hard to draw the line. But it sounds like the OP’s employee is regularly landing on the “way too vague to be useful” side of it. She wouldn’t want to overcorrect and go into minutiae either, and it’s OK to not find the perfect middle. But I think it would probably be an obvious difference from what’s happening now to some sort of attempt to consider the audience’s point of view. It sounds to me like the employee may be using lots of shorthand, and could possibly fix a lot of that problem by just being more explicit. Even small things like, maybe employee currently might say something like “the file blah blah blah” and switching that to “the Ferfenfeffer XYZ file”. It’s hard to do examples without an existing example of where she went wrong. But I know when I’ve tried to break down “what was not useful about this email” an underperforming employee sent a LOT of it boils down to “it’s too vague”.

  42. Buttons*

    I really want to commend OP1 for doing exactly the right things for developing an employee, and based on the OP’s description of the employee, the employee is open to feedback and actively trying. I agree with Alison in that the best way to figure out what is going on is to have her respond to an email right in front of you. How to improve is really dependant on knowing if this is a reading comprehension issue, a communication issue, or an issue of someone trying to multi-task and missing details.

  43. Beancounter Eric*

    #1 – Put it very simply to your employee – you are substandard in skill X to be considered for promotion. Don’t sugar coat it, don’t get too caught up in not hurting this person’s “feelings”…..if they aren’t qualified, then they aren’t qualified, and quite frankly, if being told that makes them upset, then too bad.

    1. V*

      I agree with this. The fact you feel awkward about it is the biggest place you can / should focus on. Can you role play with a trusted friend / partner the conversation you need to have with your employee? No beating around the bush or waffling, just straightforward delivery of the message that her performance in this area is not what it needs to be, with concrete examples. She might then have her own ideas about what would help her address this.

  44. J*

    I’m struggling with a similar issue as LW#1. It looks like a lot of commenters have experience with editing/teaching reading and writing skills, so I’m going to throw myself upon the mercy of the commentariat.

    My employee has similar issues with reading comprehension and clear writing. I think rushing is a big part of it – but only part. Frankly, I’m unsure of how to approach it with her and how much coaching I can/should provide, because she’s not a native English speaker, and I think that may be playing a big role as well.

    I work in an organization that has many employees (and clients) for whom English is a second language, so please do not take this as a blanket assessment of the communication skills of non-native speakers.

    So those of you who have given great advice (usually prefaced with “I’m assuming English is their first language…”) – what would you advise in this situation?

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I’ve been semi-tutoring a student whose first language is English, sort of, since she was born here, but whose family doesn’t speak English at home, so she uses English words with [other language] syntax, and her English vocabulary is not that great (read to your kids, y’all. A lot). She’s in college now and is signed up for intensive tutoring and introductory classes that I don’t think she intended to take, because her poor language skills are getting in the way of all of her other writing. She’s a STEM major but can’t write well enough to put together acceptable lab reports, etc. She’s making a lot of progress but there is definitely a learning curve.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I think probably a lot of the advice is the same as for OP- the underlying reason for the issue is different, but the outcome you need is the same – possibly add in a suggestion to use a dictionary if she is not certain of the correct English term (and depending on your field, consider whether asking for a techincal dictionary is a resoeuce you should be suggesting your employer provides)

    3. German Girl*

      English is my third language, and I’ve studied a few more.

      I think good reading and writing skills transfer across languages pretty well, once you’ve reached a certain level of grammar and vocabulary.

      That said, I’ve only studied European languages so far, and while there are differences in sentence structure, grammar and of course vocabulary, they are easy to learn as a native speaker of one of them. So the case of your employee may be different, if her native language is from a completely different language family.

      So what I’d do is think about whether you feel it’s grammar and missing vocabulary that is holding her back. If so, maybe you should offer to pay for an ESL course to help her improve her English in general. If you feel that that’s unnecessary, because what she writes is usually legible, just the wrong level of detail or similar issues, then her English is probably good enough and it’s communication skills she’s lacking, so coach her like you would coach a native speaker.

      And also make sure to tell her not to rush.

    4. BonnieVoyage*

      If it is possible to address the rushing at all, I would, as I would bet that it will make a big difference – the two things are very likely interlinked.. Most of my stupidest language mistakes occur when I’m rushing, because there are just so many things to remember when going from one language to another and the faster I try to do it, the more details I forget. If it is possible for her to take her written work more slowly, re-read, take the time to use tools like a dictionary, etc, I would encourage her to do so.

  45. Arctic*

    Also, thanks a lot LW#4. I brought lunch today but now all I can think about is Mexican food. Gonna have to go out for lunch.

  46. NKOTB*

    #4 – I’d be super annoyed too! Mexican food is not only delicious but REALLY easy to accommodate vegetarians (as well as other food restrictions like gluten free, vegan, etc). Just have a taco bar where people can make their own taco.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Mexican is not easy to accommodate vegetarians, actually, because a lot of restaurants default use chicken broth in the rice or animal fats in the beans, or saute vegetables on the same grill as everything else. So, yes, if you make it at home it could, but for most restaurants and caterers, it’s going to have meat products in nearly everything. Panera is a lot more vegetarian friendly unless you’re ordering from a place that has a specific focus on vegetarian Mexican.

      However, if I were promised Mexican and then offered Panera, I’d still be annoyed, especially if this meeting, which now has food I’m not that excited about eating, is hogging my lunch hour.

    2. ButterflyHigh*

      I’m allergic to wheat. I would be very upset too if it was switched to Panara. Way higher chance of gluten contamination in my food.

    3. Introverted Not Shy*

      I dislike higly spiced food and cilantro. Mexican is not my favorite. I don’ get all the mexican food love here, and Panera bashing.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        I agree. I live in the Southwest. Mexican is everywhere–I’d kill for good Chinese. (Yes, I like Mexican but variety would be nice.)

  47. ButterflyHigh*

    #1 I’m looking at this from a learning disability side. Ensure that you are clear and direct in providing feedback. I disagree with Allison. Communication courses can help. I’m dyslexic. I’ve taken a few communication courses that helped me articulate my view better. So hopefully you’ll see some improvement. I value real world examples the most. Show me the mistake. Dyslexia is such that I don’t see words, letters, and numbers right that often I don’t see my mistake. Even when I type something, what I have in my head can come out different on the computer or what I actually say. If it’s happening to your coworker a lot and they haven’t been diagnosed with a learning disability, that makes it harder because she doesn’t have the tools to cope with it.

  48. Live from Bread Co City*

    Coming from St. Louis, home of St. Louis Bread Co and renamed to Panera to the rest of US (and which was started by a couple of local business partners, only recently sold to nazi trust fundees), I would be delighted to have it for a work lunch. We love it here, but arguably, it’s only good in the St. Louis Metro area. I’m not sure why, maybe the bread is fresher here. Please, do not let your second rate Paneras prevent you from enjoying it should you find your way to St. Louis, where a Bread Co will be waiting for you on every street.

  49. Wing Leader*

    Re: #5

    I get what Cat is saying, but I disagree. Personally, feigning enthusiasm wouldn’t be my desired outcome.

    For example, my husband and I do not want children. If I were to accidentally become pregnant, I would have a rush of complicated emotions and would have to decide exactly what I want to do about it. If it were to come to the point where I would tell my coworkers and such, someone exploding with enthusiasm would make me feel obligated to feel the same because OF COURSE I’m thrilled to be having a child, right?

    The fact is, though, there are so many different angles to this that it’s going to be hard to get it right in every situation. Some women want to be congratulated, others would prefer you didn’t say anything. And a million things in between. The best advice I can give is do your best to ascertain the woman’s body language and non-verbal signals, and then respond accordingly and politely. If you mess up or accidentally hurt someone, simply apologize and say you meant no harm (which is true–we just do the best we can).

    1. Emi.*

      No one is saying people should be “exploding with enthusiasm,” though! Cat is saying that a warm “Congratulations” is preferable to a studiously flat “Wow, big news.”

      1. Wing Leader*

        But she did say “feigning enthusiasm”, which I wouldn’t like. A warm congratulations is fine, but that doesn’t require anything more than the word and a kind smile. “Feigned enthusiasm” is on a whole other level to me.

        1. Myrin*

          I believe – as someone above already said but dang if I can find their comment again, apparently – that’s more about our individual understanding of “enthusiasm”, though. Saying “Wow, congratulations!” with a big smile, a bit of an elevated voice, and, IDK, a handshake or hand-on-the-shoulder or whatever might be the equivalent in your culture seems plenty enthusiastic to me and would, as such, 100% fall under the “feigning enthusiasm” umbrella.

          1. Lissa*

            Yeah, I really don’t think anyone meant you needed to scream with joy or anything. Heck even showing the same level of enthusiasm as you would for an upcoming vacation or their sister graduating or anything along those lines is fine. I mean the word choice “feigning enthusiasm” could be taken to mean the person has to appear actively excited which I think some people are reacting to, but I think you’d have to be pretty unreasonable to expect your coworkers to do much more than “congrats!”

    2. Buttons*

      “someone exploding with enthusiasm would make me feel obligated to feel the same because OF COURSE I’m thrilled to be having a child, right?”

      1. I am not exploding with enthusiasm if I say “congratulations!” That is the social norm when someone announces a life-changing event; baby, marriage, graduation, buying a house, getting a dog/cat, completing a marathon…
      2. If someone is going to terminate their pregnancy they aren’t announcing it at work.
      3. If a colleague (not a close personal friend) tells me they are pregnant and doesn’t follow it with “I am giving the baby up for adoption” then I will assume that the child is wanted, to assume otherwise is ridiculous.
      4. If you don’t want a baby, don’t have one, the internal turmoil a person goes through with an accidently pregnancy isn’t anything a colleauge would know or assume.

      1. Wing Leader*

        1. Social norms are stupid. But saying congratulations is fine–I never said don’t do that.
        2. Probably not, but it has happened due to nosy coworkers and bosses.
        3. How about we don’t make any assumptions at all about other people’s reproductive choices and personal lives?
        4. Again, not always true. I’m talking about situations where you are pregnant and upset about it, but you have to pretend every single day that you’re over the moon because that’s what people expect (this happened to my cousin–she ended up not coming back from her maternity leave because it had worn her out to fake emotion every single day because–despite asking her coworkers many times to drop the baby talk–they wouldn’t).

    3. Meredith*

      On the flip side, I struggle with infertility (5 rounds of IVF, 3 miscarriages, etc), and sometimes working up a weak smile and a warm congratulations is all I can do if I want to keep it together.

      1. Wing Leader*

        Your situation is a good example of why I don’t think pregnancy talk should be a thing at work at all. Of course, the boss and others are going to need to be informed if someone is expecting, but that should be the extent of it. You have no idea how that person feels about that pregnancy and, even if they’re giddy about it, I’m sure there are others–like you mention for yourself–that have different struggles they have to deal with. There’s just so many variables.

        1. bonkerballs*

          Honestly, that’s ridiculous. We all have things in our lives that are happy things for other people bad sad for us. Telling the happy people they’re not allowed to mention the happy things just in case it touches on our sad is…I don’t even have words it’s so ridiculous. Yes, be mindful of other people. But telling pregnant women not to ever mention their pregnancy at work just in case someone else is dealing with infertility or miscarriages? My coworker can’t afford to own a home right now, do I not mention I’m moving? When someone asks my weekend plans, do I not mention that we’re celebrating my dad’s birthday because someone else at work might have a strained relationship with their father? Do I keep the photo of my soccer team off my desk because I work with someone who uses a wheelchair? No, because doing any of that would be ridiculous.

          I say this as someone who has gone through a miscarriage – the world does not and should not revolve around your hurt. People are not happy at you.

          1. Wing Leader*

            I agree, and I’m not saying there should be an office-wide Ban On All Happy News or anything. I’m specifically talking about pregnancy, which I think is still quite different than anything else you mentioned. It’s personal and visceral, it’s an actual change in your body. It’s not just because of other people struggling with infertility either. That’s just one of the many, many reasons.

    4. Parenthetically*

      A warm, “Wow, congrats!” is really so far from exploding with enthusiasm. It’s expected and normal to congratulate someone making a pregnancy announcement. You’re right that it’s not always going to be the perfect response, but in a work context, defaulting to the baseline socially normal reaction is the smartest move.

  50. C in the Hood*

    Funny thing is as I was reading all the comments about the lunch switcharoo, a Panera ad came up on the bottom of my screen!

  51. LawBee*

    Mexican buffet vs Panera? Yeah, I’d skip, too. I don’t think I’d be AGHAST at it, but I kind of love that people were so committed to their guac, haha.

  52. Bunny Girl*

    I don’t have any advice for Op #1, but I do want to thank you for taking it seriously. I work at a University, where 85% of my department is faculty, and less than a quarter of them have the reading comprehension skills that you’re describing. I can send an email that says Hey this is what’s going on with item A and this is what’s going on with item B, and they will send back and say Hey that’s great can you please tell me what’s going on with item B? Even at this level, no one reads their emails completely and it’s really frustrating.

    1. JustaTech*

      I was just informed that my new-to-me boss^2 is one of those people who says they want to be on all your emails, but then either doesn’t read them, or responds “why are you sending me this?”.

      Not super looking forward to that, but at least I’m prepared.

      A technical writing class suggested that the way to get people to get all the points of your email is either to put it in the subject line or use a numbered list.

  53. Oxford Comma*

    Aghast seems over the top to me. Disappointment, I could understand. Like when we were promised a celebratory lunch catered from a great local restaurant and they went with the crappy university catering.

    On the other hand, if the switch was made on the day of the event, and the employees really really don’t like Panera and if it’s a lunch meeting, you’re not giving them time to bring their own food.

    Panera is just so generic and so bland. A few steps up from Jimmy Johns, but not exactly a treat.

  54. ClumsyCharisma*

    Don’t promise me tacos and then bring me a soggy ham sandwich on cold bread. I get hangry and the switch will not fix that.
    I always want to like Panera but I don’t think I’ve ever not been disappointed in their food. I mean it’s always extremely busy so there must be something I’m missing.

    1. Oxford Comma*

      There’s no guessing with a chain restaurant. It promises a safe, familiar experience. That’s the appeal to most chain food. You’re out shopping in a busy suburb and there’s a Panera. It’s right there. You don’t even need to leave the parking lot. You know how long it will take. You know how much it will cost. You know what it will taste like. Same thing with road trips. We’ve gone places where I’ve done research and pulled up the names of restaurants that are supposed to be fantastic, and usually my travelling companions overrule me in favor of some generic chain restaurant.

      Personally, I’d rather go someplace truly local and have better, more interesting food.

  55. Jennifer*

    Totally agree with #5. Just say congratulations and get on with it. It’s a normal social convention, as others have mentioned. We can’t read minds and can’t know the complicated thoughts in their head at the time. If you have a close relationship with them they may share more with you and you can adjust your response accordingly, but if not, stick to congratulations.

    Also, if you suspect someone is pregnant but they haven’t announced, keep your mouth shut.

  56. AnotherSarah*

    Going to print out and frame letter #1 and show it to all the students who pass through my doors with complaints that I should have known what they meant in their essay….

  57. HigherEd on Toast*

    If you do say “Congratulations!” to a pregnancy announcement, or “I’m sorry” to someone saying they lost a loved one, or any other expected social nicety, and the person shoots back with something like, “Yeah, well, this is an unwanted pregnancy, don’t say ‘congratulations’, it’s dumb,'” then that person would definitely come across as the weird one or the high-maintenance expects-everyone-to-be-a-mind-reader. The only time I was in this situation, I said “Congratulations!” to a co-worker who I knew had been trying for a long time to have a baby when she announced, and she screamed at me about how I jinxed her pregnancy and if she miscarried it would be my fault. And other people stared at her, not me, and carefully avoided her for the rest of that day. (The pregnancy went fine, but not many people actually asked about it after that because, holy disproportionate reaction). This has never happened to me before or since.

    Just use social niceties and anticipate that 99.99999% of the time, it will be fine.

    1. Wing Leader*

      Your coworker’s reaction was over the top and uncalled for, indeed. I’m not a fan of social niceties, but I also don’t think it’s a crime to use them. Annoying as hell, but not a crime.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      …wtf. Yeah, that is seriously high maintenance and inappropriate. I would be afraid to say anything to that coworker ever again!

  58. BenH*

    #1. It’s great that she’s already taking classes. I encourage staff to do so, even if they’re not having issues. She may invest in a service like Grammarly, ProWritingAid, or Gra