my boss read my Skype conversations, parental involvement with employees under 18, and more

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

1. My boss read my Skype conversations

Help! My manager read all my Skype conversations between me and a friend at the company. For some context, I am in HR in my first job after college. I’ve been at my current company for a year now, and just received a promotion. Long story short, I made friends with a manager in a different department, who started IMing me fairly regularly. I made the (incredibly stupid) error of getting personal over Skype. There was a situation involving this manager, and he ended up resigning before he was fired. However, they pulled some of his Skype conversations regarding the issue, and therefore my manager (the VP of Human Resources) saw my messages to him. While I didn’t say anything about the company, I did vent about coworkers and express the occasional boredom/online shopping spree.

My boss was incredibly kind when she talked to me about it, did not make it a big deal, and I am not in trouble. However, I want to die of humiliation. I can’t stop thinking about everything that she may have read, and feel as though I should apologize again. As she has already spoken to me about it, should I apologize again and acknowledge that I’m not taking it lightly or leave it be?

Yeah, this is a thing about what you put in Skype, I.M., or any other company-controlled communications. Your manager may never have reason to look at yours, but if they’re looking at the messages of someone who was talking to you, your stuff can end up being seen too.

Honestly, if this was just some occasional venting about coworkers and occasional comments about being bored, it’s not a big deal. Your manager is probably well aware that that’s normal for many good employees. If you were writing about being bored every day or saying really vicious things about colleagues, that would be different — but it doesn’t sound like it’s the case. Sure, it’s not something you would have chosen for your boss to see, but if your boss has any experience with this kind of thing at all (and it sounds like she might), it’s not going to seem outrageous to her. Take it as a good lesson to be more careful, but give yourself permission to let it go. (The initial mortification is useful in cementing the lesson in your head, but it serves no purpose after that.)

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Parental involvement with candidates/employees who are under 18

You have addressed pretty consistently how to deal with early-career candidates and employees whose parents try to get involved. What about when you are dealing with minors under the age of 18? At my school’s summer camp, counselors-in-training are hired for the summer who are as young as 14 years old. While they are not leading classes, they are paid employees with responsibilities like a regular job. Sometimes parents contact HR or advocate for us to hire their children for a specific position. This is particularly common with parents of alumni at the school. I’m assuming some degree of involvement from parents is expected and necessary but where would you draw the boundaries?

Yes, when you’re dealing with kids as young as 14, it’s reasonable to accept some amount of contact from their parents. But I’d draw the line at letting parents apply for them, or lobby for you to hire them. It’s fine for parents to contact you about things related to their minor children’s well-being (like illness), but you can say that all activities related to applying for the job or actually doing the job (like scheduling) need to come from the kids themselves. I’d also explain that as part of your orientation (using concrete examples — like “if you need to take a day off, we want to hear that from you, not your parent”), so that your counselors-in-training are clear on the expectations.

3. Interviewers seem overly concerned about my creative fulfillment

I am a somewhat recent college graduate (I got my degree in 2016) stuck in a long job search. My degree is in the arts and most of my work history is in that field but at very low-level service type roles. (Think art museum admission sales or Broadway theater usher.) I tried to give my dream a shot, but honestly now all I want is regular hours and a livable wage. So in this most recent job search, I’ve been targeting reception and admin assistant roles at companies in my city. I get plenty of interviews and tons of second interviews but no offers yet.

One question that I have been asked in multiple interviews is how I plan to stay creatively fulfilled if I were offered the role. Right now my answer is to say a quick sentence or two about how I currently keep up with my hobbies on my days off and I expect that would continue. Something like, “I’ve continued weaving on my own time since completing my degree and it’s been a great way to relax in the evening. Occasionally I participate in the local craft fair when I get a Saturday off.”

The interviewer seems satisfied in the moment, but I can’t help but wonder why they’re so interested in my creative fulfillment in the first place. It feels somewhat patronizing to me, like they expect me to try to set up an easel at my desk or whip out a violin during a meeting. My current position is full-time and does not include creative work in any way, and I think that I’m clear when I describe the duties. I already understand that work is work and my creative fulfillment is my own responsibility. Am I giving them the wrong impression? Is there something else they’re looking for me to say?

They’re not worried you’re going to whip out a violin in a meeting. They’re worried you’re going to be bored and unfulfilled by the job — that you really want to be working in the arts and this is a compromise that will make you deeply unhappy, and maybe that you’ll leave in six months to do performance art in the subway full-time.

So the best answer will assure them that’s not the case. For example: “For a while after college I was interested in working full-time in the arts, but I’ve since realized that I don’t want it to be my full-time work life. I still do some creative work on occasional weekends and that’s enough to fulfill me, but I don’t want it to be my professional focus.”

4. Can my boss make me go by my last name?

I am an elementary school teacher, and for the past year and a half I have worked at a private school in a supporting capacity, and have had students, faculty, and parents address me by my first name. Everyone at the school already knows me by my first name. For the upcoming school year, I will be back in a classroom full-time, and I would prefer to still be addressed by my first name. Some of my reasons relate to establishing a good relationship with my students more quickly, and other reasons are more personal. My principal, however, insists that I MUST be addressed by my last name as a classroom teacher despite the fact that I have told her how uncomfortable I am with the change. Can my boss force me to change my name at work?

Your boss can indeed require you to go by Ms. Last Name. I’m not in education so this is just a guess, but I’d suspect she wants the way students address teachers to be consistent, so the kids have one consistent standard for all the adults in the school (and so teachers who do go by Ms. Last Name don’t have to deal with questions from kids about why they can’t call them by their first name like they do with you, and so forth).

Unless your principal explicitly forbids it, though, I don’t see why you couldn’t say to parents who address you by your last name, “Please call me Jane.” (But I also suspect many of them will keep calling you Ms. Last Name, because that’s how their kids refer to you at home.)

5. We’re not allowed to know how long our coworker will be on paternity leave

One of the people on my team (the most junior) recently had a kid and went on paternity leave. He told us he’d be gone for a bit, but didn’t specify how long. One of my coworkers and I are responsible for assigning him work on several projects, so she asked HR to let her know exactly how long he’s going to be out, since obviously we’re not giving him work when he’s on leave (and we mark emails specially if there’s an emergency people on leave need to read about/answer questions about, to help their leave actually be relaxing, since we’re in a field where having to work in emergency situations despite being on leave is fairly common). Asking how long we need to plan to not give our coworker assignments and mark his emails appropriately … seemed extremely non-controversial.

Apparently it wasn’t. HR called my coworker and told her we’re not actually entitled to this information, despite the fact we need it to do our jobs properly (and avoid imposing on a coworker when he’s on leave). Surely, if we’re his supervisors (even if we’re not direct managers) we should be able to know when he’s actually on leave? Or am I completely missing something?

If you’re curious about our organizational structure, it’s basically flat, with more senior people holding the same title as the junior ones, but handling things like direct assignments and some performance reviews (we get compensated for our additional responsibilities). We don’t hire/fire, just provide input, guidance, and course correction where we can. And when he’s on leave, well, we’re the ones who do his work or arrange for his work to get covered by someone else.

That is really odd. Typically when someone goes on parental leave, you’re given at least a rough idea of when they expect to be back (sometimes along with the caveat that it could change). I wonder if something is unusual about your coworker’s situation, like health issues with the baby that are making the length of his leave up in the air. Even if that’s the case, though, the way your HR is handling this is bizarre.

As for what to do, I’d just handle it the way you would if he were out for a typical-length amount of parental leave (in the U.S., that’s often three months, at least for the person who gave birth). If he comes back earlier, you’ll know about it and can adjust accordingly. And if he’s not back after three months, you can check in again. Alternately, you could just assume he’s out indefinitely until you hear otherwise.

{ 392 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A request: When commenting on letter #4 (the teacher first name), please stick to advice for the letter writer, rather than stories about what you called your own teachers. I’ve just removed a bunch of comments on the latter which were taking us off-topic. Thanks!

    1. 123*

      When this type of thing occurs, could it be possible to have one comment maybe in the “ask a manager” blue where everyone can reply to? I find these comments interesting and it’s fun to learn about the cultural differences. Then people could either expand or collapse depending if they are interested and then it wouldn’t potentially take over the whole thread?

      1. Liane*

        It would still be a problem to moderate,* so I doubt this will happen. What regulars have done is bring the side/ off topic up in the Friday open thread, or if it’s veering strongly from work, even the weekend thread. “With the teacher’s last name question, several of us wanted to talk about what we called our teachers.
        *I have been a lead mod for a hobby site, and it is very hard work, and I, unlike Alison, had assistant mods

  2. Agent J*

    OP#2: Another way to frame it (but which might get some pushback from parents) is that, especially since they are paid employees, this is a safe space for them to practice important skills (e.g., applying for jobs, communicating and managing schedule changes, etc.) that will benefit them later. It’s better they learn to do it on their own now before the stakes are higher.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      It also depends on the age, and the type of issue.

      I’d expect all of them to apply for the job themselves (possibly with parents coaching at home), and to communicate about scheduling, absences, and day to day work, but I would also expect to need to tell some of them this explicitly, and explain why. After all, some of this is stuff they’ve never been allowed to do before.

      I’d expect parent involvement when it came to legal and safety issues, because as the parent of a minor it’s their responsibility to make sure their child is in a safe environment, and some employers will take shameless advantage of the fact that teens can be naive about the work world and are used to being under adult authority. And for things like discussing disability accommodations, I would expect the kid to be part of the discussion, but possibly with parental help, because they are still in the process of learning how to do these things.

      And I’d expect that a just turned 14 year old will need more parental assistance than an an almost 18 year old.

      1. Daisy*

        I just find it strange that 14 year olds would even want their parents to be involved. I’d have been so embarrassed if my parents had had anything to do with my job when I was 14 (not that they would have wanted to either).

        1. Anonymous 5*

          They might not! That doesn’t guarantee that parents won’t get involved anyway.

        2. Clisby*

          A parent should get involved if there’s something shady going on. (Not that anything about the letter implies there would be.) I could see an employer scheduling a 14-year-old for more hours than the law allows; sexually harassing a 14-year-old; requiring a 14-year-old to do something the parent thinks is clearly unsafe, etc. A 14-year-old isn’t necessarily equipped to handle any of those.

          1. Sarah N*

            This. This is absolutely no shade on the OP — I’m sure their workplace is great! But there are legitimate situations (such as those listed) in which a parent really has a responsibility to become involved, and a kid shouldn’t be in the position of having to advocate completely for themselves.

        3. Marmaduke*

          I had to do my own disability advocating with my boss when I was 15, and that’s something I really could have used parental help with.

        4. I'm A Little Teapot*

          My parents helped out a bit when I was that age, but yes, it was related to health/safety stuff. Behind the scenes, they basically dictated the tax paperwork while I wrote and they explained.

          1. L.S. Cooper*

            I had to have my grand-manager at my first job walk me through every step of the tax paperwork, which he was thankfully very gracious about, but I really would have preferred to fill it out at home with my dad, rather than with a guy who was mostly a stranger, but old enough to be my dad. (He was lovely and supportive, by the way, which I very much appreciated as someone working for the first time. Of course, I had also already mostly internalized the basic work skills of “show up on time and clothed and with a reasonably good attitude”, so he never had to really manage me.)

        5. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          Most cases of helicopter parenting are despite – or even because of – a child’s desire for independence. Ask me how I know.

          1. Elmer Litzinger, spy*

            I ran into a legit case of parental interference once elsewhere online. The highway patrol had closed the roads (humongous snowstorm) and the kid was being strong armed into going to their fast food job by their boss. Parent took the phone and said “my kid is not coming in When the highway patrol said stay off the roads” and hung up.

            1. Kiki*

              Yeah, there are legit cases where I’d say parental interference in a minor’s job are necessary. Sometimes because a lot of the types of jobs teens have aren’t always run by the most well-adjusted individuals. And especially because a lot of teens aren’t taken seriously by their bosses/ bosses know they can pressure teens into doing things most adults would know they could decline.

              1. Jennifer*

                “Sometimes because a lot of the types of jobs teens have aren’t always run by the most well-adjusted individuals.” Yes! I have noticed this too. No offense to the OP. But in general, sometimes a parent would need to check things out to make sure everything is above board.

                I have a friend who was scammed by his employer back when we were teens. He never paid him all of his wages, had him serving beer to adults, which is illegal, and all kinds of other crazy things. It was a concession stand at a sports arena. His parents knew and I don’t understand why they never said anything. Sometimes red flags don’t go off in kids’ minds due to inexperience.

        6. Acornia*

          Depends on the 14 yo. All my kids dealt with anxiety and around that age I did tons of “no, you’re old enough to handle this yourself” and coaching/pep talks on how to do it behind the scenes. Because of their anxiety, they never wanted to talk to other adults if they could get out of it, but I always pushed for independence. It was a TON of work, and I can see how some parents might just take the easier way and do it for them.

          1. wenhaver*

            I’m actually having this issue right now. My kids are just about to turn 14 and 15, and they both want jobs. Both have not only general teenage anxiety but actual diagnosed anxiety disorders. My son can handle talking to people (his issues are more performance-based and not socially-based) but my daughter is the opposite. We have finally gotten to where she’ll order her own food when we’re out, and she can handle standard transactions with cashiers. It’s been a ton of work, but if she wants to get a job she’s going to have to be able to handle the interview and stuff herself. So we’re slowly working towards that.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I remember FORCING my 13yo to go to the grocery store (down the block and across the street) to buy soda.

        7. Jennifer*

          It can be a good thing. 14 is still very young, no matter how mature a teen might be. There are people who use these situations to take advantage of minors. I watched a news story a while ago about teen girls being sexually harassed by their managers at Starbucks. Not that that’s what’s happening in the OP’s situation – but since most women, and a lot of men, have experienced harassment in some form, it’s something I’d keep an eye out for if I had a teen entering the working world.

        8. Mrs. H. Kenway*

          I dunno. For things like calling in sick, I would expect to do that for my (minor) child just as I’m the one who calls her school when she’s sick–if for no other reason than to show that her illness is indeed legitimate and she’s not just bunking off for fun.

          If a 14-y-o calls to say she’s sick, she might get some rolled eyes or they might doubt even if nothing is said to her. But if *I* call, it’s a different story. That’s how I see it, at least.

          The other stuff she can do herself (with my advice and help behind the scenes, if she wants/needs it), but I would definitely expect to be the one calling in for her if need be.

          I love Alison’s idea about telling the kids this is a place where they can learn and practice that stuff without fear–not only does it help the kids but it gives those in charge an idea of how that stuff should be handled/gives them a tone to keep in mind. As with interns, “They’re here to learn how to interact with managers/request vacation days/etc.” might help someone stay patient or explain norms kindly.

            1. Mrs. H. Kenway*

              In my fantasy, he did. :-) Why not, right? After all, everything is true and nothing is forbidden.

              (You are the first person who ever commented on my screen name, btw! I’m so tickled!)

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Also, with regard to scheduling, this may well involve a parent driving the kid to and from work. This gives them a legitimate interest in the subject.

            1. Harper the Other One*

              So much this! Places where public transit doesn’t exist or isn’t reliable mean that parents are providing all transportation to and from work.

      2. Hi there*

        This just came up for me the other day. Kiddo is 13 and wants to be a counselor in training next year. The camp website does not describe the process so someone has to ask the head of camp about it. I mentioned to the head of camp that Kiddo is interested and would be asking about the process. He did so and will take it from here. I am hoping this isn’t too much parental interference!

        1. Working Mom Having It All*

          This was definitely about the level of parental interference when I was a CIT around the same age. My parents did the legwork in finding out that there were CITs needed that summer, whether I would be a good fit, etc. and then let me take it from there. I think that’s entirely appropriate. Most 13 and 14 year olds have never looked for a job before.

      3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        At 14 I don’t really think the usual helicopter parent warnings apply, at least not in the same way. When I was that age I had to get a special certificate from the state in order to prove that my parents consented to me having a job and there were rules on how many hours I could work, etc. I just looked it up and 14 is the minimum age at which you can get a job (except for things like delivering newspapers). So having a parent call and ask about the job on behalf of their child does not seem particularly concerning. If the parent is handling everything, that is a different story, but I would definitely expect a parent to be more involved in a minor’s first job.

    2. Leslie Knope*

      OP #2
      For our CITs the parents can come to the training at the beginning of the summer and are our contact during emergencies, other than that it’s the kids. We are obviously handling CITs differently that Counselors as far as shadowing, timesheets (do a how-to session, work on them together), etc. as CIT is Training, it’s right there in the title. But specific position requests, nope.

    3. Avasarala*

      When I was a CIT, it was not a paid position but instead we paid them–basically like being an older camper with responsibilities. So my parents still applied for me to get in and took care of all the “outside” paperwork, transportation, etc. and I handled all the “inside” stuff: schedule changes, duties, etc. I think that is a fair expectation to set of 14 year olds even if they are technically being paid. And of course scale up for ages 16+.

      This is the age where you start to go from “parent does everything and child can’t be alone” to “child can make some decisions but doesn’t have the experience to ask all the right questions.” Kids who have been scaffolded properly and given chances to lead/handle real responsibilities will thrive with some direction, but some kids are not sure how to take over stuff from Mom-Who-Can-Do-Anything and Dad-Who-Has-Never-Been-Wrong (and the parents don’t know how to hand it over either!). So I think unless the parents are being really overbearing or pushy it’s OK to be more forgiving of parental involvement in principle for these younger people.

      1. Mel*

        Same for me, but I filled out my own camp application each year, so my parents were still mostly just writing the check and driving me out.

    4. Mel*

      Yeah, parents may be more accepting of stepping back if they’re considering it a learning opportunity (which they already should be, but people lose perspective). Of course, there are also parents who do their kids homework, so who knows!

    5. Quiltrrrr*

      My son started referring soccer games when he was 13, and we really expect him to take the reins on it. We might remind him to do something, and when it became apparent that other parents were responding with Saturday scheduling info and our kid was missing out because he was STILL IN SCHOOL FOR THE DAY, we did that for him. But, it is up to him to deposit his checks, manage his money (and keep 1/3 of it for taxes!), get himself ready (uniform washed, everything packed…and we don’t do the kids’ laundry), and make sure he was ready to go on time. He wanted to change his schedule last minute? HE had to communicate it, or we would make him honor his commitment.

    6. TootsNYC*

      ooh, nice!

      Especially if you do have a little time and energy to provide some feedback or slightly more detailed directions.
      And to volunteer the information that they didn’t realize they should ask, etc.

      And when you’re making this point to parents, I would suggest that you give some examples of the guiding/”minor hand-holding” you do, both to set the limits and to reassure the parents.

    7. Goya de la Mancha*

      Parents, if you deem your child mature enough to seek employment, then they are mature enough to start learning to do this on their own.

      The best parents we deal with are what we call the background parents and we can tell who those parents are almost immediately. They will walk in with their youth and stand back a little bit, but the youth will be the one who asks for an application, states they need to turn in paperwork, or will ask any questions (generally coached by the parents on what to ask).

      It’s probably Johnny’s first job, we and “you” know that Johnny does not necessarily know anything about how the working world runs between paperwork, orientation, training etc. A good parent will be there for their child for help with any questions and step-in only when it’s related to the child’s health/safety.

    8. Ms Cappuccino*

      Aren’t parents supposed to give their written consent for their kid to have a job?
      And if a child takes a day off or is sent home, parents should be informed.
      I agree the kid should apply herself though.

    9. Miss Annie*

      Two of my kids had teenager jobs. I drove them to the interview/work and sat in my car in the lot. I told them how to fill out the forms. I reminded them to be sure they had their social security cards when they did the paperwork. I told them what to say and what to write down when they quit. But, to be honest, the only time I spoke to their bosses as their parent was the time my daughter had appendicitis and would not be in for a week.

      I was available for them to talk to and bo0unce ideas off of, but they had to do the work. If they were old enough for a pay check, they were old enough to deal with their managers. ALthough, I will say that they were lucky enough not to have the kinds of managers you see in this column.

  3. Esme*

    LW 4: Former teacher here. I agree that using your first name with your students is far from the norm in the classroom. While you do want the rapport, you also want to establish some authority, and the title+last name is a widely recognized and expected way to further that goal. If you’re uncomfortable with your last name, can you compromise and go by Ms. LastInitial? I encouraged my students to do that after my divorce, and it worked well.
    (I will mention here that I wholeheartedly disagree with the use of courtesy titles refer to teachers and would much prefer a more neutral title+last name, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

    1. Cath*

      I’ve never called a school teacher anything other than Ms/Mrs/Mr Last Name, and my mom had taught for 40 years and it’s always been the same. But when we went for my daughter’s kindergarten observation, it was Ms. First Name. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the Montessori program (still at the public school, though) but I was really surprised. Even in kindergarten, I used the last name.

      1. Shad*

        I grew up with Mr./Ms. LastName for teachers, and Mr./Ms./Dr./Coach FirstName for other adults (including Aunt/Uncle FirstName for relatives).
        The first time one of my teammates referred to a coach as just FirstName, in 8th grade or so, I thought they were talking about a new teammate who had the same name.
        Even now as an adult student, I tend to start with Professor LastName (or Mr./Ms. if they seem to be more adjunct level or are grad students, but I’d always rather err on giving them more credit than less) when speaking to teachers (and then revise with further communication based on the response, though I don’t generally do the Title FirstName variant anymore; that one seems to be more specifically a kid to adult thing to me).

      2. CatCat*

        I went to an elementary school from kindergarten through third grade where we called teachers by their first names. When the moved and I started at a new school, I found it weird to refer to teachers by their last names and still recall it being an awkward adjustment.

      3. Turquoisecow*

        Me either. In fact, my first grade teacher was new the year I had her, and for some reason some of my classmates became obsessed with finding out what her first name was and called her by that in class, after she specifically told them to drop the subject and move on. She was so upset about this that she made the offenders stay after class – just for a few minutes, it wasn’t real “detention” but it was traumatic enough for a bunch of six year olds that they came out much ashamed, some of them crying to their mothers. The teacher explained to the parents right away what the kids were upset about and the parents immediately took the teacher’s side, telling the kids that the teacher was on the right and they shouldn’t call adults – especially teachers – by their first name – especially if they were told not to.

        Even in college, where a few professors were quite casual with the students, “Professor” or “Doctor” was the title, not their first name. My philosophy professor used to go to bars with his students in the evening but, to my knowledge (I never went), they still called to him and referred to him as Professor.

        I would personally find it weird if my (at this point hypothetical) elementary school kid was told to call a teacher “Jane” rather than “Ms. Smith.”

      4. SunnyD*

        (Not going into what I called my teachers because Alison requested we not.)

        LW, a bit of “it’s not really about you” perspective here. You’re thinking too much of yourself as an individual rather than as a position. Think about it more as code switching, which most adults are fairly adept at (unlike younger kids).

        As a parent, I am very aware of code switching to reflect the current situation, and how important titles are for that.
        1) When we’re chatting socially, 1 on 1 with no kids around, I’ll call them by their first names. That’s fine because I know them well and have built that rapport.
        2) With kids around, I switch to the title – to reinforce to the kids that this is how teachers are called at this school, and to *model respect for kids*, and because they’re NOT good at code switching yet so need consistency.
        3) With a new teacher, I’ll stick with the title. This is a social convention, which is enough by itself, and it has a respect element for the role the teacher has, and how grateful I am for all they do to help my kid!

        But it’s analogous to how I talk to my rabbi. Socially, I might call her Sarah. But in any official capacity I would call her either Rabbi Sarah or Rabbi LastName, depending on the formality of the occasion and place. (So at the children’s holiday social at the playground, I’d do Rabbi Sarah, and at formal services in temple I’d do Rabbi LastName.)

        I tend to be extra vigilant of the name I use because she’s a female clergyperson, and I’ve read enough to know that a lot of people default to Rabbi lastname with male clergy and first name or Rabbi firstname with females, in a way that in aggregate comes across as diminished respect based on gender. Which isn’t a direct corollary to teaching, but has some elements in common.

        1. Psyche*

          When my mom had my brother in her class (only one class per grade, so unavoidable), she had a pin she would wear and taught him that when she wore the pin she was Mrs. Lastname and when she wasn’t wearing the pin she was Mom. It worked well for him.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Yes a good friend of mine is a teacher and when one of her sons was at her school (I forget if he was in any of her classes) at school he called her Mrs. Lastname, same as the other kids, because That’s How That Worked At That School. Every once in a while one of his friends would comment on it, but in the school context that was her name. She mentioned to me once she’d had more experiences of other kids accidentally calling her “mom” at school than her own kid. Neither of them were bugged by it. The school dictates the naming convention for the teachers.

          2. Person from the Resume*

            My mom taught me and my brothers in 4th grade in the 80s. We all called her Miss because that’s how it was done in the school. I not sure why it was “Miss” instead of “Mrs.” but that’s how it was. Later in the same school, they tried to convert to using the last names for all teachers as a school decision. It was a bit hard to get the kids and adults to change habits, but it is the school’s decision.

            For the LW, this is a decision for the school to make how the students address the teachers in school. It makes sense to have a uniform style. The LW should let it go. It doesn’t mean that outside of school when her students are not around that she can’t choose how she wants to be addressed.

          3. PhyllisB*

            Two of my grand-sons had one of their cousins as a teacher. (Same cousin, different years.) She (and I) both told them in the classroom she was Mrs. but if we saw her at a family function or elsewhere it was all right to call her First Name. I think it confused their classmates more than them. Some of them would say, “She’s your COUSIN?? And you call her MRS. S???” They just said, “Yup. Don’t wanna go to the principal’s office.” (Side note, another cousin was the former principal there, but luckily she retired before they started school.)

        2. blackcat*

          “LW, a bit of “it’s not really about you” perspective here. You’re thinking too much of yourself as an individual rather than as a position. ”

          This is really the point here, and a point the LW needs to internalize. There are SO MANY things in a school that you may have feelings about at the individual level, but are important at the institution level. Like, do I really care if students email me from their personal email address instead of their school one? No, I do not. But FERPA! So yeah, I gotta care.

      5. Justme, the OG*

        Montessori is a whole different thing and I’ve never known a Montessori teacher to be caked by anything than Ms/Mrs/Mr Firstname.

          1. blackcat*

            LOL, I read it right the first time, but now I have an image of a very strange new teacher hazing ritual.

        1. ellex42*

          I think usage of first name or last name is less important than including the title, which conveys a certain amount of adultness and authority. My mother has been both a preschool teacher and a daycare teacher, and we have a long and difficult to pronounce last name. At preschool, she was Mrs. W., and at daycare, even though other daycare teachers (it’s not unusual, especially these days, for daycare workers to have teaching degrees) went by their first names to the kids, she was still very firm about children addressing her as “Mrs.” FirstName.

          And now I want a piece of cake.

          1. Miss Jackson, if you're nasty*

            I had an internship during my senior year of HS that placed me in a kindergarten classroom in the same school at which I worked at the aftercare program (independent program, but using school space). Some of the kinders were very confused to hear older students call me “Miss FirstName” in the hallway, since they only knew me as “Miss MaidenName.” It messed with their heads to have the “Miss” honorific applied in two different ways.

      6. Policy Wonk*

        I hated teachers who wanted us to call them by their first names when I was in school. It seemed like they wanted to be my buddy instead of my teacher. Having students call you by your first name may make your classroom seem more friendly, but it may also make it more difficult for them to take you seriously when you try to assert authority. Some teachers did use Mr./Mrs./Miss first name when their names were difficult to pronounce, particularly those who taught younger grades – but the use of the title helped establish authority.

        1. MagicUnicorn*

          Agreed. Even with college professors, I had one who was desperate to be “cool” and wanted us to use his first name. He just came across as a socially unaware and weirdly dependent 50 year old looking for approval from a gaggle of 20-somethings, not as relatable. Outside of the lecture hall we all referred to him as Prof LastName anyhow, because none of the other profs knew who we meant if we used his first name.

          1. Jamey*

            Really? I thought college profs going by their first name was fairly common. I had a large handful that did.

            1. MagicUnicorn*

              Probably depends on what a particular college considers normal. At mine it wasn’t the norm.

          2. iglwif*

            Every one of my university profs went by their first name in seminars and tutorials, except one who refused to tell ANYONE his first name (he went by initials) and we called him Dr Lastname. Lecturers were kind of different, since in a lecture with hundreds of students there’s not that much interaction between students and instructor anyway; I don’t actually remember, for example, whether we were told to call the dude who spent an hour every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 08:30 pontificating about Elizabethan society to a couple of hundred third-year English majors “Firstname” or “Professor Lastname” but I personally never spoke to him at all.

          3. Sarah N*

            I feel like perhaps you had an unusual college experience — where I teach, people are about 50-50 in having their students use Prof/Dr LastName or FirstName. But regardless of what students do, it’s a very unusual environment that colleagues wouldn’t call each other by their first name (or KNOW each others’ first names???).

          4. whingedrinking*

            I did a double major, one in fine arts and one in humanities. In the arts, most of the instructors didn’t have PhDs and usually went by FirstNameOnly or, in a couple of cases, LastNameOnly. In the humanities, everyone was Dr. LastName, at least in part because there were more grad students running around who got called by their first names. Also, there were more international profs, and for some reason I think people are more comfortable calling someone by an honoriffic and an unfamiliar-to-them last name than just an unfamiliar-to-them first name.

          5. PhyllisB*

            When I went to college in the seventies I had a number of teachers who had students call them by their first name. These were all young professors just starting out. When I went back to school in later years, I noticed these name professors were now referring to themselves as Mr/Ms./Dr. Lastname. Guess they figured out that wasn’t a smart thing to do.

        2. OrigCassandra*

          Hm. I tell my professional-school students to call me by my first name, but I also tell them that I am making a specific point in so doing: I am a professional also, and once they graduate so will they be. It’s not too early to adopt common practice in the profession, which is typically to use first names.

          I find that this usefully disrupts some stereotypes around instruction and instructors in my type of professional school: that we’re out of touch, that we’re not actually practitioners (I still am!), that we’re high and mighty and think we’re better than practitioners.

        3. Double A*

          I used to think this, and went by Ms. Last Name for my first 6 years of teaching, per school convention. Then I got a job in a juvenile detention facility where all the adults went by their first name (school staff, probation officers, counsellors, etc). And I came to totally love it. Because it turns out the title has less than nothing to do with establishing respect and authority–you HAD to develop a relationship and rapport with the kids, and I found going by my first name actually helped with that, which contributed to my ability to establish respect and authority. But really, what you got called had very little to do with it.

          I’m really kind of sad I’ll have to go back to the more formal title in my next job most likely.

      7. Virginia Girl*

        My siblings went to a Montessori school (but not me). Their teachers pick if they go by Mrs./Mr./Ms. Firstname or Mrs./Mr./Ms. Lastname.

        1. pleaset*

          This is the practice at my child’s public elementary school in New York City.

          At his private pre-school it was all Ms/Mrs/Mr Firstname.

          In one of my grad schools (library school) my wisest teacher told us to call her Prof. Lastname until we graduated – then a first name would be OK. She was awesome.

          Though with other teachers it got kind of weird since some of them were adjuncts who had been classmates of people still in the the program a year or two before. I called them all Prof Lastname and I think most students did, at least in class.

    2. Quoth the Raven*

      Where I live (Mexico City) teachers are generally addressed by their first name (and even a shorter version), and it’s only until high school and university that it changes to last name (and especially in the latter you will find teachers who will ask you to address them by their first name or their academic title). I don’t think either establishes more authority than the other (and I’d even say using the last name with the younger student would feel too formal), but it probably has a lot to do with habit. It’s interesting!

      I do agree with the suggestion of using the initial, though.

      1. Annette*

        There may be nothing inherent about last name establishing authority. But it certainly is the norm – at least in normal public schools. If just one teacher in a school went by first name. I’d have some questions.

      2. TL -*

        I think it has a lot to do with cultural norms about establishing hierarchy. Not so much that it can’t be established any other way, but it’s a lot easier to gain control of a classroom if the norms fall in line with what the kids expect in terms of establishing authority.

        And a first year teacher is going to struggle enough with classroom management. They don’t need the added challenge of the kids considering them more of a friendly cool aunt/uncle figure than a teacher.

        1. Recovering Educator*

          It’s all about US cultural norms, I suspect that it’s baked in from the British class system (Ok, I’ll blame Oxbridge and English Public Schools for just about all the ills of modern education, but this one actually probably is from them).

          There’s an interesting paper there that could probably get sold…

          1. Uldi*

            It’s the norm in Japan as well. Teachers are usually addressed as “[Family Name]-sensei”, or sometimes as just “sensei”. Of course, using the family name for all but family and very close friends is also very much the norm; though if I recall correctly first names are used for young children.

            I’d say it’s used around the world to establish a boundary at the very least, and usually that boundary comes with authority. And it’s generally a good thing, since children tend to act differently around authority figures than those they see as friends.

            To this day, in my mid-forties, I STILL think of my teachers as Mr/Ms/Mrs Family Name.

            1. Uldi*

              Correction: GIVEN names are the norm when talking to or about young children. Since Japanese names are Family Name Given Name, I really shouldn’t have used “first names” in that bit.

              1. Avasarala*

                Yep! Use of last names vs. first names (or even nicknames!) and accompanying titles is really important, and a minefield for “aren’t we all created equal though” foreigners. Many of you who watch Japanese media may recognize the trope where two people become closer (as friends, or romantically) and start to call each other by their first names instead of last names. It’s like in old novels like Jane Austen’s books where using someone’s “Christian name” would be improper, because they should be addressed as “Miss Bennett.”

                So yes it’s an artificial, culturally-dependent boundary, but like uniforms, addressing teachers a certain way is part of how students learn how to behave at school. Have you talked to the principal about why this rule is in place (since you only mentioned explaining why you’re uncomfortable)? What is the principal trying to teach the children by setting this rule?

            2. Lucy*

              A church friend of mine was once my husband’s teacher. If I talk about “Sally” he looks blank – I have to remember to refer to her as “Mrs Smith”.

              I knew her for three or four years before she put two and two together and yelped “wait, you’re Husband’s wife?!”

          2. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

            Well, as someone who went to a (minor) English public school AND Oxbridge, I can assure you we didn’t always call our teachers or tutors Mr/Mrs Lastname! We had our fair share of ‘call me Mrs S’ or ‘call me Simon’ as well as Mr Smiths and Mrs Jones’.

            (At university, certainly not – first names almost all of the time, with the exception of a couple of hard-to-pronounce folks who asked to be called ‘Dr Pop’ or whatever)

            1. UKDancer*

              UK state school and Russell group university and I had the same experience. Mostly Mr X at school with a few first names.

              At university first names for everyone including the chair of the school. Mind you we all called the university chancellor by a diminutive because his first name was too hard. I don’t think UK universities are that formal.

        2. Quoth the Raven*

          The way you put it makes a lot of sense!

          Spanish (and other languages) also have formal/informal pronouns and their corresponding verbal inflexions; not that you necessarily need to use the formal ones to establish authority, but with older students they are used more commonly.

          (Former first through third grade teacher myself, and I do agree that breaking the norms can be particularly problematic with younger students)

    3. Becky*

      I had a chemistry teacher in high school whose last name was Roberts. Robert often gets shortened to Bob so everyone for years had called her Dr. Bob. It was a little more informal and helpful for rapport but still didn’t cross lines for establishing authority.

      I had an art teacher in middles school whose name was Ms. Arzoomanian, which she told everyone to shorten to Ms. Arzoo. Then she got married one summer and her last name changed to Gogokavitch (I am 100% sure I spelled that wrong) and told everyone to caller Ms. G.

    4. just a random teacher*

      I’ve worked in both “first name schools” and “last name schools” since several of my jobs have been in alternative schools and first names for teachers are more common there. (This is a question I always ask the principal when I take a new job, but I generally wait until after hiring rather than during the interview process since it doesn’t impact whether I’ll take the position.) Every principal, as soon as they understand what I am asking, has an immediate answer even though it’s not always the same answer. I find it kind of fascinating that the “first name schools” are just as “of course we do it this way” as the “last name schools”.

      Since how students refer to teachers is one of those “school culture” things, I wouldn’t suggest pushing back on it as a newer teacher. I came out of an alternative school that used first names as a student myself, and I remember it being an immediate “not one of us” flag if a substitute teacher used a last name with us (which, in retrospect, it was the office’s job to warn them about and I have no idea why this wasn’t routinely part of the sub information).

      It’s generally best for individual teachers not to stick out too much beyond the unavoidable. This creates extra hassle for the office as parents argue that their students should or should not be in your particular class rather than the other grade-whatever class based on their perceptions of how you and other-teacher are different and will thus be a better or worse placement for their kid. Some of that is just part of life in education, but trying to keep the differences less obvious and the classes as similar as possible is one of the strategies schools use to cut down on these sorts of requests. In general, it’s better to “be part of the awesome Grade 4 Team!” than it is to “try to be the best Grade 4 teacher ever!” in most building cultures, and part of that is trying to blend in with your fellow teachers. (This is hard when your fellow teachers are Doing It Wrong. That’s another thread.)

      However, I personally don’t enjoy the “game” where students are supposed to not even know that I have a first name, so I use my full name on things like my email signature, syllabus, and other communications like that rather than trying to hide it from students. With parents, I generally introduce myself as Firstname Lastname, and with students as Ms. Lastname. Most parents will then call me Firstname to me directly and Ms. Lastname when they’re talking to their students about me in my presence. The distinction isn’t that teachers somehow only have last names at work, like we’re spies with codenames or something, it’s that the way students are supposed to address us is by using the last name, so I try to treat my first name as information that isn’t secret but isn’t part of how they address me, if that makes sense. (I work with middle and high school students, so I’m not sure how that subtlety translates to younger grades if that’s your age group.)

      1. D'Arcy*

        I do think it’s a bit unusual in this case, where the same school apparently goes with first names for support staff but last names for classroom teachers. I’ve never before seen a school that didn’t just use the same name convention for all adults.

        1. just a random teacher*

          I’ve been in several schools that do this – classified staff (aides/clerical/custodial/etc.) are either FirstName or Ms./Mr. FirstName, licensed staff (teachers/admin/counselors) are Ms./Mr. LastName. I don’t like this, but it’s reasonably common where I am and can be a way of distinguishing who is and isn’t a “teacher”, which can have to do with Who Is In Change Of What and may (or may not) make it easier for students to navigate the school hierarchy. Where I live, there are certain things that only licensed staff can do, so flagging who is and isn’t licensed is somewhat important, although of course the decisions about which staff members do which tasks is not generally made by the students, so I don’t know how important it is for them to understand the various roles of the adults in that way.

          (I also seem to be the only person using Ms. rather than Miss or Mrs. in my building, but that’s another issue and I’ve never had a principal tell me I have to go by either Miss or Mrs. rather than Ms. at least.)

      2. rs*

        My (high) school is definitely a “call teachers by last name school” with students, but when we as teachers are talking amongst each other without students present, we generally use first names (also with administrators – our principal is fine with being addressed by first name by adults, though he uses his last name with students). I’m not “hiding” my first name from students by any means – for example, my full name appears on my school e-mail and my syllabi – but I do have expectations that students will address me by last name, and I will correct them if they don’t.
        This does cause me to be a little hyper-aware – when I’m talking to or about another teacher but there are students present, I’ll switch back to last names. Not all of my colleagues do this, though, and it always brushes me as a little weird to be addressed by first name in front of students, but it’s not enough for me to make a big deal out of.
        Part of that hyper awareness is wanting as a male teacher to be very clear in drawing boundaries between faculty and students, given that in K-12 teaching today even an unfounded accusation of impropriety with a student could potentially cripple or end a teaching career. I don’t want to speak for all teachers or all male teachers in this regard, but at least for myself I do appreciate it when my colleagues are consistent in helping me maintain these boundaries.

    5. Ms. Guacamole*

      Coming here to agree as a current high school teacher. Both schools where I have worked it is considered deeply disrespectful to call a teacher by their first name (we had this issue last year with a new teacher who the students hated—that’s one way they showed him that they didn’t respect him).

      As most everyone is saying, I suspect your principal is just trying to emphasize that going by your first name is very much against the norm in your school/district. I also bristled against this when I first started, coming from teaching college where I always have students call me by my first name. But I have since come to learn that, at least in high school, some students really do need that verbal signifier of authority. Not all, but it works for some.

      Note: my last name isn’t actually guacamole, but I wish it was.

      1. Properlike*

        Yes! I teach college, go by Mrs Properlike or Mrs P, and when a student wants to “put me in my place” they start calling me by my first name.

        LW, as others have stated, you’re helping these students understand social norms and expectations. I promise they don’t need to call you by your first name to establish rapport and an appropriate connection. But it confuses them when a person in position of authority doesn’t go by the “rules” and makes them question (inwardly or overtly) if all the other school rules are optional. I’ve taught all grade levels, and even in college, students’ who’ve had teachers more interested in being friend than following rules requires a lot of retraining on classroom norms, and that creates problems (no, you can’t use your cell phone. Yes, you have to be on time. I don’t care that Other Teacher did it that way, this is policy…)

    6. Amcb13*

      Yeah, as others have said, name conventions tend to be a fairly locked-in component of school culture. That said, once you’re there for a while, students will find ways of signaling their comfort or discomfort with you (I’ve had students who call me Lastname as opposed to Mrs. Lastname because we had good rapport…and I’ve had to correct students for calling other teachers Lastname in a way that was clearly disrespectful.) I do often go by Mrs. Lastinitial, especially when signing emails, and some students call me that while others use my full last name. I don’t find that it correlates with much except student preference. Really, students will respond to how you treat them far more than what you ask them to call you. Show them that you respect them by asking them about themselves and being genuinely curious, by doing your best to incorporate their needs into your day-to-day operations, and by showing them that when you ask them to do something you have a reason for it. They’ll respond to that no matter what they call you.

    7. Cascadia*

      Yup – teacher here! I was at first uncomfortable with being called Ms. lastname – but then I worked at a school where it was policy for every teacher to go by their lastname. I just got used to it over time. I really don’t care what students call me, but this is a “know your school culture” thing. I’ve been called all varieties of things over the years – Ms. last name, Ms. first name, first name – depending on the organization. My recommendation: This is not an issue where you need to rock the boat with your prinicipal in a new job – just go with the school culture. Save your work capitol to spend on something that will have a more direct impact on your life.

      1. Mrs. Krabappel*

        Agree! I tell my high school students to call me Mrs. Krabappel or Mrs. K whichever they prefer. Most years it’s 50/50.

      2. CM*

        This is what I would suggest, too. I have family issues that make me uncomfortable being called by my last name, and I get that there are other reasons people might feel the same way.

        If it’s a really big problem, since you’re new to the school, it might also work to ask if you can just be called by a different last name (mother’s maiden name or something you lie and say is your mother’s maiden name, for example).

    8. Goya de la Mancha*

      The only teachers who went by their first names at our school still had Ms/Mrs/Mr in the front. Most of the ones who did were the ones will more difficult last names or if they were involved in some type of Special Ed program. Then it was out of ease for everyone involved.

      1. Mia*

        Yeah, I was gonna bring this up. I used to teach early elementary and my last name was just way too difficult for most kids that age to pronounce. It was a lot easier to go by Ms. Mia than Ms. Lengthy Middle Eastern Last Name, but the “Ms.” was always there.

    9. Jennifer*

      Yes! Going with Ms. J (or whatever) will give her the cool teacher cred without breaking the rules.

      1. Mrs. Frizzle*

        I’ve been teaching for 27 years and now work with peers I once taught, and they STILL can’t call me by my first name although I have warmly asked them to. The norms at each institution need to dictate naming conventions and our school (yeah, I’ve been at the same school for 90% of my career) has Mr./Ms. Lastname as a requirement, although our principal for the past couple of years wants kids to call him by his first name and the resulting chaos was predicted by everyone who had been around for a while.

    10. The Very Worst Wolf*

      Agreed with Ms. LastInitial as an option. You might also ask the principal about her comfort with the kids calling you Ms. FirstName. As Allison stated, this is about consistent expectations for the students, and Ms. FillintheBlank might be sufficient!

  4. Pam*

    The real issue to me is that LW 1 is in HR. Personal relationships with other employees and venting about other staff is a definite problem.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends on her role. If she’s doing, say, benefits or scheduling, that’s different than if she’s doing, say, employee mediation. We don’t have enough info about her role or what she said to know, but given that her manager wasn’t terribly concerned, I’d suspect it wasn’t egregious.

      1. valentine*

        I wouldn’t do it at all and hope HR is ready to read their writings in court at any time. If I’m about to report Smithy for something, then learn his payroll pal gripes to him about our colleagues, for all I know, they’re doing that within the HR team, so I’ll be reluctant to act.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, of course she shouldn’t do it at all, and it sounds like she’s clear on that now. But her manager is far better positioned than any of us to know the details and judge how problematic it was, which could be anything from very mild to a disaster. The manager’s reaction, which is the best thing we have to go on (other than just baseless speculation), indicates it’s toward the milder end.

        2. Avasarala*

          I think it’s helpful to realize that no matter what her individual role in HR, she may be held to a higher standard by non-HR as far as gossiping/complaining about others. OP, what would you think if you heard the CEO was “bored lol” or complaining about “annoying people”? It’s not a great look, right? Of course no one is perfect, but if you’re in these “face of the company” kind of roles, sometimes you need to be extra careful about what people catch you slipping up on.

          1. Jadelyn*

            This. The problem isn’t that she did or didn’t share truly confidential information. It’s an optics issue. Rightly or wrongly – because as Alison notes, someone working in recruiting and onboarding won’t know the same details about folks as someone working in employee relations or other more employee-contact-heavy areas – people outside of HR don’t tend to distinguish between subtypes of HR people. I’m an HRIS Analyst. I do systems work and data analysis. The only time I know about performance issues someone’s having is if the generalist mentions it to me, or if I have to enter a demotion in the system. But to regular staff, they don’t look at me and see “HR Systems Person, probably has no idea I’m on PIP”, they just look at me and see “HR”.

            So while the OP might not have shared anything confidential, might not even have been in a position to share anything confidential, someone in HR having a gossipy/vent-y relationship with someone outside of HR is going to look bad to other staff.

            1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

              Agreed on all counts. I’ve had to have conversations with staff about this sort of thing that, in any other office wouldn’t be an issue but because we are HR is so much touchier. It sounds like that’s what the manager did, the OP learned a valuable lesson, and based on her reaction knows it can’t happen again. OP – the best way to move forward is to hold your head high and above reproach going forward!

              It also sounds like this employee may have been taking advantage of you given your being new and being in HR, which may have also concerned your manager. :(

        3. OP1*

          Hi! OP here – I didn’t complain about any co workers saying that I didn’t like them, or had problems anybody. I vented about a night out with co workers where one of them got a little too drunk, which was pretty public information seeing as there were other co workers there. I didn’t say anything confidential or mean spirited!

    2. SunnyD*

      Enh, we all do that in one way or another, because we’re human. And many of us learn early on in our career NOT to do it in writing on work systems!

      Though too many people still wrongly expect privacy, which isn’t a thing on your work equipment and messaging systems.

      LW has learned a good lesson. (And really, that wasn’t all that bad at all, compared to what it could have been!)

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        True, but people in HR are (and should be) held to a higher standard. I need to be able to go to them and share confidential information, and if I know that Jane is venting to others in the company about my co-workers, how do I know she’s not sharing that confidential information I’m discussing with her? It doesn’t sound like OP did anything egregious, but it might make me less likely to trust that I could go to HR in the future.

        1. Yorick*

          I read venting about coworkers as expressing annoyance with other HR staff, like “Jane slurps her soup” or “Bob kept interrupting everyone during the staff meeting.” I don’t think that can really be connected to sharing confidential information that she comes across in her HR work.

          1. Jennifer*

            Yeah that’s the vibe I got too. “If she doesn’t stop chewing so loudly I’m going to lose it!!” That sort of thing. Not really confidential.

            1. SunnyD*

              Me too. And for some reason I assumed the venting was about HR coworkers, not the other associates they all support.

              “Argh why does Janice always get snippy when I ask her to pull her benefits report, you know, like her job? I’m the one who looks bad to our associates, and it’s really crappy of her.”


              “Oh god, why can’t these aholes learn how to file their maternity leave claims right, sometimes I just want to…”

          2. Jadelyn*

            In this instance that’s all it was, yes. But it’s more of an optics issue than about what was actually shared. If there’s a perception – right or wrong – that Jane in HR vents about work to someone outside of HR, that’s going to affect people’s willingness to talk to HR about other things. It doesn’t have to be true to cause a perception issue that can wreck what trust a workforce has in their HR folks.

            FWIW, I think all of us in HR probably do this at least once, early on in our first HR job. I know I did. I was lucky and never got caught at it like OP did, but this is definitely a “there but for the grace of Whoever go I” thing for some of us.

        2. Sunflower*

          Venting and breaching confidentially are wildly different things. I trust since the manager didn’t do anything- my guess is the manager told her as more of a ‘heads up, I can see this’ as opposed to a reprimand- that anything said didn’t breach any ethical lines.

          1. Jadelyn*

            As I mentioned above, it doesn’t have to be actual unethical oversharing for the perception of it to chill people’s trust in HR. It’s still an issue, even if it was totally normal venting.

  5. JR*

    LW 5, are you saying you’re prioritizing the employee’s email so he knows which emails he has to read on vacation, so he can ignore the rest? Any chance you’re in California? If so, I wonder if that’s what is upsetting the HR rep. As I understand it, the California parental leave program (not just maternity) is a form of short-term disability, and so employees are barred from working during their leave – even checking email. Refusing to tell you when the employee comes back seems like a highly unproductive reaction, but could something like that be a factor?

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I actually wondered if HR is trying in an admittedly clunky way to support instructions that paternity leave is to be treated the same as maternity leave.

      1. Liane*

        Even with maternity leave, there’s still a tentative return date and it’s commonly given out.

        1. SunnyD*

          Right, I think they’re talking about the very strict US rules about new moms not working on maternity leave. I received very serious instructions about not checking or responding to email on matleave.

          I’m not sure how paternity leave rolls up under the Family Medical Leave Act (my husband’s was a company perk) but if it were under FMLA there would be similar rules I’d imagine.

          1. TiffanyAching*

            FMLA covers parental leave, generally, not maternity specifically, so a father is eligible for the same 12 weeks as a someone who actually birthed the child.

        2. Aquawoman*

          Right, I’m a manager with an employee on maternity leave and I know her (proposed) return date. It’s not fixed in stone and could be extended, but I at least know when she expects to return. It’s bananacrackers to think that I should not be allowed to know, and probably just a misinterpretation of privacy rules. And I would think this would be even more important with paternity leave, which tends to vary more in time frame (a couple weeks, a couple months, or a week at the beginning and four weeks at the end).

          1. Jadelyn*

            Yeah, I’m in HR – in California, no less! – and we do provide expected RTW dates for people out on leave. You can provide an expected date without sharing any details of why someone is out or what’s going on with them – a projected RTW date is by no means a privacy violation on any level. OP’s HR is being really weird about this.

      2. PretzelGirl*

        I wonder this too. I myself and several other women, weren’t sure when I would return to work. I always gave my boss a date, but asked if I could change my mind later. This was mostly bc of monetary reasons. I was lucky enough to get some paid maternity leave. I always wanted (aimed for) taking the full 12 weeks, but it wasn’t always feasible for me.

        I also wonder about the medical aspect. Perhaps something happened to the baby or his partner during delivery. Maybe is partner is facing some kind of post partum disorder.

        Another possibility is that maybe in the past, HR shared someone’s return from maternity/paternity leave and that person got very upset. Maybe HRs policy now is to not share anything.

        1. Kendra*

          This was my speculation, too; a lot of people, if they’ve been burned once by doing something, will go too far in the opposite direction when they’re trying to avoid doing it again. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if this HR person/department was going through something like that; it makes their actions a little more understandable, even if they’re still very frustrating for the OP to deal with.

    2. Sarah*

      Is it common for people to have to work on their leave (any type) while in the USA? At every job I have had I have never been expected to do work when on leave (but this is in Australia)

      1. JR*

        I think it depends on the type of role and type of employee. No, you shouldn’t have to, and with disability, you aren’t allowed to (since the whole idea is that you’re too sick/hurt to work). But if you’re ambitious, if you’re a manager, if you’re in client services, etc., it can be scary to let go! When I was on maternity leave, I told me team to contact me on my personal email if they needed anything, because I didn’t want to get sucked into my work email. But maybe they sent one quick question, one time? At most, maybe not at all.

      2. SunnyD*

        Yes and it sucks. It’s this ironic thing where you can’t really push back and draw a work-life balance until you’re more senior, but when you’re senior you’re often in roles where you can’t unplug.

        Though it’s ok to let little things slide – I put an auto-responder message that I’m away in email, then check my email a couple times a day on leave, to ID hot potatoes, and wait to reply when I get back. It’s not very restful though.

      3. snowglobe*

        If you are taking leave under FMLA, you are not allowed to be contacted about work at all. However, many managers are unaware of that.

      4. OP #5*

        I probably should have clarified about the “work” thing. Mostly, his “work” so far has been clarifying what he’s already done on certain projects and sending us links to access them, since he didn’t send us all that before he went on leave.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          While it might not seem like much it is still work. While the coworker should have done all that before he went on leave that is an issue to discuss for later. I would try and treat this as the employee being killed by a bus and he just stops coming into work one day without notice, what would be the procedures for allocating his work and obtaining status updates on what he has done.

          1. Sarah N*

            I guess so…I think this depends a lot on the person and the workplace. I was actually pretty happy to have the occasional email to deal with during my maternity leave, and did some work from home mostly because I was going stir crazy and needed to use my brain in my normal pre-baby way. My workplace never pressured me to do it, but I would have been miserable with some sort of system by which I was totally out of the loop and not allowed to keep up to date on what was happening! I completely agree that workplaces should not pressure people to do work when they are on leave, but I also think a zero-contact method is really bad for women in particular (given that they tend to take longer parental leaves on average), since they may legitimately want to stay involved — and even need it for their own mental health!

        2. Blunt Bunny*

          If they are conducting work they should be paid for it. Most of the leave is unpaid as I understand.

          Haven’t they put an out of office automatic replies saying when they are back in. I don’t understand why it is secretive didn’t the employee speak about when they might be returning to the team or have a leaving meal etc

          1. OP #5*

            All paternity leave at our job is paid. He didn’t put up anything automatic or tell us when he was leaving. It was really weird, I think, but I didn’t really get into it, just assumed he’d tell us the basic info like when he was leaving and coming back.

      5. Jules the 3rd*

        In the US, in a lot of mid-level or higher office roles, yes, employees may be asked to do something while on vacation or leave. It varies widely by industry, company, function. This should be part of the conversation when discussing company culture in a job interview – questions like, ‘do your employees take all their vacations?’ or ‘Are employees expected to be reachable by phone while on vacation?’ would be very normal.

        Some people even make a point of working on holidays, weekends or vacations in order to show how hard they’re working, but you really need to know your company – it can look bad if the person in your role before was effective and didn’t need to do that. Someone relatively new to my employer is doing that and I know it’s raising some eyebrows. It def seems like one of their prior toxic workplace learned behaviors that is lingering in our relatively non-toxic workplace.

        1. Working Mom Having It All*

          Parental leave is not “vacation”, and is not treated the same way as vacation, typically.

          One of our senior staff went on maternity leave earlier this year and was strictly no contact whatsoever. I think the extent of any contact anyone here had with her, at all, period, was to coordinate delivery of a baby gift.

          During this time, her temporary mat leave replacement ended up leaving the job early for complicated reasons, and even then, we went without someone in that role for the final month. I’m not sure she was even alerted that any of this happened. (Or if so it would have been in an informal offline context, not in a work capacity.)

      6. fhqwhgads*

        My experience is that this tends to be more of a “no you don’t have to/aren’t supposed to have to” Officially, and yet many employers ignore that/put pressure on to do so anyway. So what’s commonly happening is a bit different from the letter of the law…although the law also varies significantly state to state.

    3. MK*

      In any case I really don’t see why the OP feels they need to know how long their coworker will be on leave “to do their jobs”. Assume he won’t be back till you are told otherwise, don’t assign him work and don’t mark emails for him to read; even if working on leave is usual in your field, it sounds as if in his case, it won’t be happening, so plan accordingly.

      Also, a common problem with flat company structures is that “leaders” tend to emerge “organically” and it’s mot always appropriate. Maybe HR got the impression you and your coworker were assuming more authority than is necessary. Maybe your coworker did actually come across as behaving like a manager when she talked to them.

      1. Myrin*

        I tend to agree. I totally see why HR’s reaction came across as odd and maybe even slightly over-the-top, but I’m not getting why OP and her colleague can’t just treat this as if he were out indefinitely (which he technically is, what with your not knowing a specific end-date). I feel like we might be missing something about the structure at this workplace (even though OP kindly explained it in her letter!) because I’m not getting this part: “Asking how long we need to plan to not give our coworker assignments”.
        Unless work is assigned waaay in advance, you just… assign him work once he’s back. Seems pretty simple to me, so I get the feeling some information about processes and whatnot might be missing.

        1. doreen*

          Of course they can treat it as if he’s out indefinitely , and even if he planned to be out a particular amount of time that could change – but I’ve known people who took two weeks for paternity leave and others who have taken a year. This person is probably not taking a year-long leave, but planning for someone to be out 2 weeks can be very different than planning for them to be gone for three months.

          1. JessaB*

            This. Planning for someone being out a year might even require hiring a temp or moving work to another department. Most places can cover a week or two or possibly a month, but depending on what the work is, the longer it stretches out the more actual planning has to be done. It’s a bit outrageous to not at least say a month, 6 months, 3 months don’t hold us to it. And I cannot think of any reason to do with confidentiality or disability law or anything that would prohibit announcing a potential return date. You’re not saying why. You’re not even being definite on the date. Now I’m not an HR person, there might actually be reasons, but I just don’t see where it’s in the company interest.

            1. MK*

              It’s pretty clear that the people asking here are basically senior coworkers with some supervisory powers, not the ones who would have any authority to hire a temp or plan the long-term running of the department.

        2. Gumby*

          I have projects that are span 2 – 3 years. Our project plans absolutely have work assigned way in advance. Obviously the plans change many times during the execution. But if Fergus is the only person who makes widgets, and the project needs 10 widgets, I really do need to know how long he will be gone. Like 2 weeks might mean we can re-order the steps but the final end date is not in danger. But if he’s taking 3 months? I need to tell our customers, now, that we need a POP extension.

          (Widgets are complicated and there is no temp who can take his place.) (If Fergus were to win the lottery and skip out of our office singing and clutching the oversize check we would train Samantha on widget-making. But that is a 6 month process and Samantha is already overloaded so we’d like to avoid that right now if possible.)

      2. SunnyD*

        Really? When I went on maternity leave, I had a written plan – here’s my approx due date, how long I will be gone, impact to project flow. This is really odd that they’re acting like this standard thing is so off.

        I suspect something else is happening (spouse medical issues, fetal issues, mental health, etc) and they don’t have the managerial skills to talk about it, so they’re being weird and trying to shut down appropriate discussions as if they were inappropriate. It’s not you, it’s them.

        1. OP #5*

          All other paternity leave I’ve seen has gone like this – there’s been a plan in place, all work on various projects was turned over, and someone else was brought into the team (either temporarily or permanently, depending on views of how the project would continue after the scheduled leave) to cover. On the project I have with this person, we didn’t even know he was out until he sent us the “my baby’s here” email and we didn’t get a plan for who would take his assignments other than me and my coworker, who are both stretched beyond the limit right now on other projects.

          We’re totally supportive of him being stressed or if there’s medical issues, but we just … well, we can’t pick up all his work, and it seems there’s no one else stepping in (apparently, though we never got a firm answer), so we’re both trying to figure out how we’re going to juggle what is basically 1.5 jobs for both of us, and how long we’ll have to do it.

          1. Hallowflame*

            If there was no warning and no plan in place before he went on leave, it’s very possible this was not an uneventful, full-term pregnancy and birth. Your coworker may genuinely have no idea how long his paternity leave will need to last due to ongoing medical concerns, and HR may just have a clumsy way of conveying that they don’t have a return date and they can’t talk about why.

              1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

                He could be one of the families affected by the CHA fertility clinic scandal, too. For non-US readers, the fertility clinic mixed up embryos, which was discovered when a client gave birth to two babies whose race was different from the biological parents. The two babies themselves weren’t siblings, so two different sets of parents got an unexpected call to come take their baby home.

                1. SunnyD*

                  Oh my gosh. Oh no. That’s so awful.

                  Even worse, the woman who had carried and birthed twins ended up with no baby at all?!

          2. doodles*

            That’s a different issue, though. You and your co-worker have to cover for him and you can’t (don’t have the time, resources, etc.). Talk to your supervisor about *that* problem. Assume the worker on paternity leave is gone indefinitely and ask your supervisor how to address the problem that you (you and coworker) can’t cover both your own jobs and his. What work has to be shelved? does your supervisor need to spread the work around more? does your supervisor need to hire a temp person? and so on.

          3. Arctic*

            Yeah those circumstances definitely sound like the baby came unexpectadly and there may be medical issues.

            If so, He doesn’t know when he’ll be back. HR doesn’t know. Don’t push it

          4. Sarah N*

            Ahhhh, I’m guessing that the fact this was so out of line with other paternity leaves means the baby came very early, and may have some serious health issues as a result. I’m guessing that’s why HR doesn’t want to say anything. I would talk to whoever is senior to you and does handle hiring/shifting people around to different teams, and just talk about the workload issue/ask about getting someone’s hours shifted over to you temporarily to help cover the work/ask if there are parts of his job that can be dropped for now/etc.

          5. Una*

            From the circumstances, it seems pretty likely that there might be some medical issues (premature birth?) and they truly can’t predict how long the leave will be. If you can, it sounds like you should push for getting a temp to cover his work in the meantime. I don’t think it’s unusual for temp assignments to be somewhat nebulous in end date (at least in my experience as a temp, where my 3 day assignment turned into two months and could have gone permanent), so as long as you’re clear about that with the temp agency at the beginning, you could get someone who’ll cover whatever amount of time your coworker ends up being gone.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Seconding this – I did a lot of temping and the term was almost never the one they told me at the beginning. Short assignments turned to months or years long, and sometimes assignments were shorter than I had been told.

      3. Aquawoman*

        I’m sensitized to these issues at the moment because I’m understaffed and have someone on maternity leave and I’m really trying to be mindful of what I pile on my remaining reports and how. Assigning work when short-staffed means being mindful of your remaining employees, as well as trying not to foster resentment against the “missing” employee. With paternity leave, the timing can vary dramatically from a few weeks to a few months. My work involves things that obviously need to be done now and things that are starting now but won’t require much work from my staff for a couple months. I’m trying very hard to be mindful of this mix as I assign work pending some new hires in a couple months.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        I disagree on the “to do their jobs” part. Some of that assigning work probably need to happen well in advance. Having no idea of the timeline makes it very difficult to plan for coverage. So if they know they need two people assigned to the Blerns Project in September, but they don’t know if this colleague is likely to be back by then, they’re pulling from a smaller pool of current employees to put on that project – and subsequent projects. Or they’re getting vacation requests from other people and if this coworker will be back by then, those dates are fine, but if not, they’re not. And if colleague just suddenly appears one day, it may not be easy to slot him into things already in progress so then you’ve got people who’ve been overloaded covering, but him back with nothing to do because midstream handoffs are not always practical or worth it. It’s true the dates could always change so they need some flexibility in their planning, but if the coworker’s tentative return is the very common 12 weeks, they’d probably go about hedging their bets in one particular way, but if HR knows the tentative return is already expected to be much later – like six months, OP’d be scheduling everyone else in a very different way. It is reasonable for them to want to know what the probable timeline is, even if there’s not an exact date and it is subject to change.

    4. Paperdill*

      Can I just take up your use of the word “vacation”? This is parental leave, not a sunny holiday. I’m sorry if I’m misreading you, I really am, but I think it’s important the two things are not confused.

      1. Project Manager*

        I’m normally fully on board with nitpicking (which *I* call “being precise with language”), but given the rest of the comment talks specifically about how parental leave may differ from other types of leave, in this case, I think “vacation” was intended to be synonymous with “out of office”.

      2. SunnyD*

        Lots of people use vacation and leave interchangeably. It’s not a comment on how enjoyable that time is.

      3. OP #5*

        My use of “vacation” here was, as the below comments indicated, meant to show how we treat any other leave (as well as paternity leave). I’m definitely not calling paternity leave “vacation” since, well, babies aren’t (as you said) a sunny holiday. We do it for all leave when we can.

    5. Natalie*

      This is apparently typical for the LW’s company, though:

      we’re in a field where having to work in emergency situations despite being on leave is fairly common

      Whether or not the company is legally correct, if this is a change from the usual set up it kind of warrants an explanation.

    6. 2 Cents*

      I wonder if this is the first person to be out for parental leave of any kind in a while in that office. I say that bc I was the first in 5+years to use maternity leave, plus NYS enacted paid parental leave on top of that. Our glorified Hr person had immense difficulty figuring out what needed to happen. I know it’s not easy, but I could see her defaulting to a strange take like this.

      1. SunnyD*

        My husband too. He was hassled by coworkers for taking paternity leave (with those whip sounds and digs at his masculinity), and HR was so utterly clueless. He had to find the policy himself, and then fight through the whole process. It was clear he was the only man to take paternity leave in years.

        1. PhyllisB*

          Sunny D, same with my husband. He worked in the auto industry and paternity leave was still a new thing when our oldest was born. You should have heard all the comments when he took time (I can’t remember if he took one or two weeks.) He refused to take any leave when the other two were born. But we had enough family around that it was all right, and when he got home he more than did his part.

  6. Fortitude Jones*

    OP #5: There’s probably something FMLA/ADA related (a serious health issue) going on with your coworker, his wife, or the baby and HR doesn’t want to share that info with you, not even a return date, due to said issue and possibly being overly cautious about what they reveal about it. I remember when one of my coworkers went out on FMLA leave for cancer treatment and was then hospitalized, our former manager (who was her current manager at the time) contacted HR and demanded to know when she was coming back to the office since “it’s not fair she gets to be out when me and the rest of the team are still here.” (Yes, according to another colleague who overhead this phone call, she did in fact say this.)

    HR told her the only thing she needed to know was that coworker would still be out on leave, and HR would notify manager as soon as they were notified coworker would be back. I don’t know why they didn’t just say, “We don’t know, but as you’re aware, she’s on FMLA leave and her 12 weeks isn’t up yet, so don’t worry about it” or whatever, but they didn’t. I imagine it’s that overly cautious thing again – some workplaces are really sensitive about the possibility of being sued.

    1. Liane*

      I don’t see the problem of giving out just a tentative date. With my second baby, I had to go on leave for most of my third trimester as a precaution (had preeclampsia my first pregnancy). Everyone in my department was told, “Liane should be back the usual 12 weeks after the birth, which will be around (date) .”

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        The problem could be that OP wants to assign him work from the moment he’s back, and if they say “we think he’ll be back on October 1st” and he’s not for whatever reason, it could cause problems if they’ve been banking on him being around. So better to treat it as unknown, and have someone in the office who’s not immediately 100% busy, who can be allocated to projects that need more help, than have to try to do a project with one less person than they thought they’d have.

        1. Beatrice*

          This. He’s out for an undetermined amount of time and it’s his team’s and manager’s jobs to find ways to function without him, whatever that looks like for their situation. They need to embrace it and work with it and get over the return date.

          The FMLA end date may not even be relevant – my company typically does not terminate employees in good standing when FMLA is up. I had an employee whose medical needs required two major surgeries in a year – she was out for 15 weeks total, and HR said they’d give her at least 24 if she needed it. (She’s awesome, being without her sucked, and I’m glad she was able to get her medical needs taken care of and still come back to work.)

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        I don’t see the problem either, but like I said, some people learn about a rule or law and go a little far with making sure it’s enforced/followed for fear of being sued. It’s like all of the workplaces today that say current employees can’t give references for departed employees, and all reference requests need to go through HR so they can only confirm start and end dates and job titles.

      3. WellRed*

        Yeah, it’s very odd not to have at least a vague idea when someone comes back from patenteral leave, but with men, it’s super variable (and, IME) still sadly uncommon. I think HR is misapplying HIPAA or something here.

        1. Samwise*

          It is not odd. There are all sorts of reasons why someone doesn’t know when they will be back on leave (the commentariat has supplied a bunch of speculation, and there are other possibilities). I’ve been that person on indefinite leave (and FMLA, which was nobody’s damn business except my manager’s and HR’s). Fortunately my manager handled it well: Samwise is on indefinite leave, so we are putting her XYZ projects on hold and reassigning her ABC responsibilities. People who had issues with taking over A, B, or C could discuss it with my manager.

          The problem is not HR. The problem is LW’s manager, or perhaps LW has not yet spoken with their manager.

          1. LCL*

            The problem is HR. One of HR’s duties in this is to provide an estimated return date, or if the leave is indefinite say so. The manager did the right thing by asking HR. HR didn’t do their job and got weirdly defensive instead. I’m sure HR’s reaction came from a good place and they wanted to do right by the employee, but they also have to do right by the rest of their employees. Saying the new father’s leave is indefinite is part of their job, and doesn’t hurt the new father in any way or violate confidentiality.

      4. snowglobe*

        HR might not have a tentative date, if there are health issues with the baby or mother. I’m guessing HR doesn’t think they can share that there may be health issues involved, and they therefore can’t explain why they don’t have a specific date.

      5. PVR*

        But if there is an issue with the baby’s health, this could vary so widely that no one really knows. It could be that it is a serious enough health issue that there are a lot of unknowns, especially if say, the baby was born extremely prematurely. With premature births, there are a lot of touch and go moments and things can seem quite stable and become critical quickly, so I’m not sure an estimated length of time really would make sense in that situation—especially if sadly, there is any question that the baby might not live. In that situation, if HR has told people 6 months and the coworker is back early, that will prompt all kinds of painful questions. Or even if HR tells people 6 months, that may invite all kinds of why questions—why 6 months instead of 6 weeks—that HR does not feel is appropriate to share. I sincerely hope that HR is just being strange, but this reads to me as a fairly serious health condition/complication that HR does not want to share.

      6. doodles*

        Because the person out on leave may not have a tentative date. If they don’t know when they are likely come back, they can’t say.

        1. woolworths*

          I work for a law firm and the HR/benefits policy is to tell managers how long leave has been approved for and when it is extended, but we aren’t supposed to tell staff the expected return date. Some individuals will share that info with colleagues, but if they don’t everyone is in the dark and just has to work around it.

      7. Tom & Johnny*

        Because of planning purposes. If the manager hears, “We hope he’ll be back around November 15” she may not hear the “hope” and only hear “November 15.”

        If she starts planning workload and departmental projects based on the absent worker’s presence around that date, it can throw wrenches in everything. An angry manager getting upset with HR “because you told me November 15” when they told her “we hope” is likely what they’re trying to avoid.

    2. LapisLazuli*

      So FMLA covers parental bonding without the need for a serious health condition of the coworker, his spouse, or the child. It also requires confidentiality from the employer. The release of this information is on a “need-to-know” basis and often times supervisors are not provided with it if there is a direct manager that oversees the entire team. Generally, HR is not allowed to disclose the information and the employee cannot be expected or requested to perform work while on leave. Some states, like California, have their own policies and plans that build on this. California in particular can have a very different take on how laws are interpreted because they are home to the 9th Circuit Court, which is very employee friendly.

    3. stampysmom*

      When I went on cancer leave my manager explicitly told me that he was not allowed to contact me to see how I was doing in case it was construed as him pressuring me back to work nor was he allowed to ask co-workers. He said he wanted me to know that he did in fact care and wish me well but he wanted to ensure I understood why he wasn’t going to reach out. I had known him for 13 years in various working relationships. I’m glad he was clear about it because it would have been odd. He’d also lost his mom 3 months earlier to cancer so he took my news a bit harder. Anyway I bypassed that by asking coworkers (have them on FB so they saw the updates) to tell him directly I was doing really well. I should mention as well that not only losing his mom, we both have sons with some special challenges and he was really worried for me so I went out of my way to make sure he knew all was well as I recovered.

  7. Recovering Educator*

    OP 4: I suspect that your boss is going to be most concerned with what goes on in front of students and parents. It would be unusual for this to be applied in a staff meeting or the teacher’s lounge.

    Your principal may be attempting to use the “formalizing” effect of the to emphasize your authority, either with students, your parents, or even your coworkers (depending on your existing relationships with classroom support staff).

    It sounds like you’ve got experience, but policies are often made for those that don’t. It can be hard for a 24-year old 1st year teacher to establish authority over paraprofessionals who may be much older and more experienced, especially if they’ve previously worked as peers. Being a classroom teacher can be a strange hybrid role sitting somewhere between an individual contributor and management, as you often have elevated responsibility – both for those in your care and supervising your classroom.

    1. SunnyD*

      It’s simpler than that.

      Bosses get to set that kind of rule for consistency. It sounds like LW is really confused about the lines of authority, and thinks that having a preference tops the principal’s right to make decisions about the school. This is one of those ‘ok boss’ situations, not a discussion point.

      It’s ok not to agree with a manager’s decision, while also complying. It’s not ok to keep nagging your manager after they made a call.

      1. Jamey*

        I get where she’s coming from though. Not saying that it’s not his call in this scenario, but in other industries your manager would not be able to dictate what people call you.

        1. SunnyD*

          I find this to be a very surprising statement. I’ve worked in, oh, 6ish industries, at a whole slew of companies, and I can’t imagine not complying if my manager told me how to refer to myself professionally. (Not my actual name, but title/name format.) I’d find it super WEIRD in many contexts, and I might brush up my resume, but I find it fascinating that this could be a no-go area. Would you be willing to share some industries you know of like this?

        2. Observer*

          Aside from what SunnyD said, this is just a really bad take for any teacher. It often does take time for people switching into a new industry to adjust to the norms of the new industry, but it’s not appropriate to say “well this is a problematic way to operate, because it’s different in other industries.” And the OP is not even coming from another industry.

  8. Observer*

    #$ – If the only way you can develop a strong rapport or a good relationship with your students is to use the first name, then you are doing something wrong. If you’re a good teacher you know that – which is to say that if you try to make that argument with your principal, you’re not going to look good.

    As a parent, if I heard that my kid’s teacher specifically told them to to use First name rather than Mr / Ms Lastname, I’d tell them to do what the teacher wants. But I would be very concerned. While I was always grateful to good teachers, I didn’t find that teachers who tried to be buddies with the students actually were the really good teachers. And “Call me Firstname” generally presents as “I want to be buddies” or as “I’m not comfortable being the adult with authority in the room.” That’s not great for actually being an effective teacher.

    1. JR*

      I agree that the teacher should follow the norms in the school, but this is super cultural. I grew up in San Francisco, and in our social circles and also at my elementary school, all the adults went by first name, and it didn’t inhibit their ability to establish authority at all. Now I live elsewhere in California and the teachers are our local schools go by Mr./Ms. Last Name, but socially all the adults go by first name to children. It isn’t a buddy thing, it’s just the cultural norm here. Based on that experience, I, like LW, would definitely be a little uncomfortable going by my last name, but that doesn’t match the norms at the school, so I think it’s on her to acclimate.

      1. SunnyD*

        It really is cultural. I live in the northeast US, after growing up in rural and city South. Things are SO different. It’s really challenged a lot of those assumptions about how things work. Like this – oh of course you use a teacher’s title and last name for respect and authority; but… it turns out that teachers who use first name don’t seem to have any problem with authority, and read respect from the interactions.

        A lot of us have ideas about How Things Work and assume mistakenly that they’re universal when they’re often very local unwritten rules. (And that’s before even crossing country and language differences!)

      2. AnonForThis*

        I completely agree. I went to preschool in the Midwest and my teachers were all Miss Last name, then we moved to San Francisco and all my teachers in elementary school (a progressive private school) went by their first name. When I went to middle school and high school (private Catholic schools) the teachers went by Ms./Mr. Last name (excepts for the nuns and priests). In all cases my perspective on the teachers authority was the same, even though it required adapting to new expectations.

      3. Filosofickle*

        I’ve had a couple of Bay Area K-8 schools as clients that fit this. The last one made it super clear that their philosophy includes first names for everyone all the way up to the Head of School. That’s part of their culture — and in some ways it’s a strict hierarchy they want to avoid. They want the children to feel like a full part of the education, comfortable approaching teachers and bringing their own points of view to the classroom. Yet there isn’t any lack of authority in their classes. This isn’t for everyone, but it works great for them. The families love it.

    2. Lucy*

      I encountered a teacher like this in high school. The students mocked him behind his back for it – he was known as “call-me-Fergus” when if he’d just gone with the flow and been Mr Smith nobody would have thought anything of it.

      Agree that is cultural – he had come from a school where first names were the norm, and apparently struggled to adapt.

    3. WS*

      Whereas the one teacher at my high school who went with Mr Lastname was considered to be trying to assert his (lack of) authority! I think our opposing experiences highlight the issue for the LW – they should stick with whatever is the norm for the school.

    4. Lonely Aussie*

      I feel like if you have to go by Mrs/Mr Lastname to command respect then you must be doing something wrong. While I feel like this is probably something that OP 4 is going to have cede to the principle on this, there are plenty of places where the use of a first name by teachers doesn’t diminish respect for them.

      1. Observer*

        That’s true to some extent, but NOT as much as the reverse. Formalities DO affect relationships although a good teacher should most definitely be able to assert authority even when the norm is to go by first name only. If I heard a teacher claim that THE reason they couldn’t maintain control was because teachers go by their first name, I’d probably advise them to leave teaching.

        My point really wasn’t whether the OP should need a to use the last name in order to assert authority though, or whether first name vs last name makes much of a difference in general. My point was that their claim that they NEED to go by first name because that’s the key to having a good relationship with students doesn’t really make them look good.

        1. Paulina*

          Additionally, there’s some problematic implications aboutthe other, last-name-using, teachers. If OP4, using Firstname, is doing it to try to establish a better relationship with the kids, does that then mean that their colleague Ms. Lastname will be viewed by the kids as more distant, with a worse relationship with the kids?

          I can see how the transition is a problem, though. Going from Firstname as a support person to Ms. Lastname (or Ms. Lastinit if you really don’t like being called by your last name) can be seen as unfriendly by any current kids who have to make the transition. Especially since it can be very hard to change what you call someone. But that’s a short-term issue.

    5. Bagpuss*

      I don’tr think that going by a first name is automatically a bad sign – I thin kti is hugely dependent on the scholl culture and the individual teacher – some teachers will have no toruble at all retaining their authority and maitaining appropriate discuipline while also allowing an informal approach with names, others struggle to do those things even with more formal terminology.

      Although I agree that if a teacher is trying but failing to build a good relationship and they resrort to using first names solely for that purpose, it could be a symptom, rather than the cause, of those problems.

      LW, I think you ned to stick with the cultural norm for the school where you are working – you might be able to speak to your pricipal to ask about being known instead as “Ms Jane” or ” Ms D” if “Ms Doe” makes you uncomfortable and “Jane” isn’t acceptable to the school.

      1. Observer*

        I agree that judging a teacher solely on whether they use first name or not is generally a bad idea. My concern is WHY the teacher is using first name. And when it’s because that’s what they “need” in order to build a relationship with the kids, my experience has been pretty bad.

        Of course if this were a school where everyone goes by first name, I’d react differently. But in a school where that is NOT the norm – as is the case here – you have to wonder why. And the first thing that comes to mind is “teacher trying to hard to be friends”. Which, to be honest, is how the OP comes off.

    6. Phoenix Programmer*

      You can put the projector away now ha ha.

      For serious though, the op stated that using the first name builds rapport faster not that it’s the only way they build rapport.

      Also in a lot of situations, diffusing the tension of authority figure to just another respectable adult can go a long way in building trust.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Small kids are supposed to be in reach of an authority figure who will protect them, to whom they can appeal when they feel scared.

        “I don’t want them to feel I’m some sort of authority figure!” would really worry me in the teacher of a young child.

        1. SunnyD*

          And “I hear your instruction as the principal but I don’t want to follow it” would worry me as her manager!

        2. RandomU...*

          Agree with this. Teachers are an authority figure, by the very nature of the position. Muddying those waters is terrible and confusing for the kids.

          Authority should not equal bad.

      2. Observer*

        A good teacher can build rapport quite quickly without needing to resort to first names. Really and truly. And children, especially young ones, NEED someone who actually IS an authority figure, not just one who is “another respectable adult”. And sometimes teachers NEED to *exert authority*. Pretending that you don’t have authority makes that far more difficult to do effectively.

        I’d be EXTREMELY worried about someone who was essentially refusing to acknowledge their authority (and by extension their responsibility.)

        PS As with employment, the best way to build trust is to BE TRUSTWORTHY, regardless of what your students call you.

        My father used to talk about on teacher he had, who the kids kind of rolled their eyes a bit. He was far more formal than the other teachers and the kids though it was funny and a bit silly. But at the same time they TOTALLY respected and TRUSTED him. Why? Because he actually showed that he was trustworthy. He was actually respectful of the kids, knew his stuff cold, was firm but fair, and never lost his cool.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I think folks are pushing back on your second paragraph, in which you assert that ‘Call me FirstName’ reads as being uncomfortable with being the authority in the classroom. That’s the part which varies by region and by school.

          1. Observer*

            Except that the OP is pretty clear that it is NOT the norm in their school, and that they want to be called by their first name to be friendly with the students.

            And the sub-thread we’re in is actually someone explicitly stating being an authority figure is an impediment to trust and implying that teachers SHOULD diffuse their authority to be “just another respectable adult”.

    7. Alanna of Trebond*

      It seems like there might be a chicken-or-egg mixup going on here on the LW’s part. Virtually all the teachers I had, K-12, were Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms. Lastname. The only exception were two teachers in highschool, one of whose upper level students called him Lastname to his face (we called them all Lastname behind their backs), and the other who went (invariably) by a cheeky, teacher-ish nickname (like “Prof”) that she told us to use.

      They were two of the best teachers I’ve ever had, but the unorthodox names worked BECAUSE they were so effective and respected, not the other way around. They were both really, really tough and demanding, and had amazing control of their classrooms, and their reputations preceded them, so what we called them was almost beside the point. (And we didn’t call them what their peers called them. Lastname and Nickname were their teacher aliases, not what they went by in their non-work life.)

  9. Late to the game*

    I’ve worked in early childhood settings (actual classroom, policy work, teaching teachers, etc) and as a result I call all teachers “Teacher First Name” as has been the trend in my country for the educators of smalls. My preteen was horrified when I addressed her teacher as such!

    Unless it is a school with a particular ethos (say Quaker or some sort of unschooling-school?) I can see why all teachers use the same level of formality with their title. If anything, I’d be lobbying for support people (like educational assistants and tutors) to be called by a title as well. They’re often called “Helper First Name” in my area. Not a teacher, but still important.

    1. Avasarala*

      Good point, I’ve noticed this as well. In my experience often aides, parent helpers, and specialists there just for one student are called by their first name. If that’s the case for OP, students might be confused about OP’s role and if she is a “regular teacher” or not. Especially very young students might get confused why every other teacher is Mr/Ms but only OP is Firstname.

    2. LITJess*

      My high school had some teachers who went by first name and some that went by last night, and I learned the hard way which the notoriously strict Chemistry teacher preferred. Honestly, I appreciate the principal’s desire for consistency. It’s nice to just know where you stand and what’s expected in such a small but important social interaction.

  10. chillininmyofficeyo*

    #3 – The same thing happens to over-qualified candidates. They want to make sure you’re a good fit and won’t be bored / using the job as a stop-gap. It’s not patronizing.

    #4 – That’s annoying, but you just need to suck it up. I’m very surprised at the commenters who are so shocked at the first name thing, it’s very normal where I am. I don’t think that one or the other really makes any difference to the kids, but if your boss has strong feelings about it, you just need to deal with it unfortunately.

    How authoritative, respected and approachable you are as a teacher can be influenced by many things, but your name is pretty much at the bottom of that list.

  11. Agent J*

    OP#5: Another thing to consider—HR might not know when Coworker is coming back but to try to estimate or speculate would involve divulging personal (perhaps, health) information. It’s a weird way to address the issue but I’ve seen companies vaguely address someone being gone for months with no real timeline of when they’ll return…in those cases, I assume it’s something medical and/or serious.

    1. Avasarala*

      Oh good point. Even the fact that they don’t know the date could be something too sensitive to divulge.

  12. Blarg*

    For people who employ young people: please consider that your difficult teenage employee who calls out or whose mom shows up has a challenging home situation. My mother used my jobs and school activities as a cudgel, randomly changing the rules of when I was allowed to work or refusing to drive me on Sunday when the bus didn’t run. She’d show up an hour before closing and declare I had to leave. I lost out on leadership roles at school because my home situation made me unreliable, and had to quit several jobs by force. Not all overbearing parents are coddling their kids. Sometimes it is a sign of an abusive, manipulative, controlling home life. That doesn’t mean you should ignore unacceptable situations, but maybe consider compassion when handling them.

    1. Chriama*

      What kind of warning signs should people look out for when dealing with a situation like yours? From the outside, a kid whose parent refused to drive them could be suffering control/abuse or maybe they didn’t tell their parents their schedule until 20 minutes before they needed to be dropped off for their shift, and their parent was too busy to give last minute rides.

      I’m super sympathetic to your situation, but other than getting significantly involved in your home life I’m not sure how another adult could have intervened in a way that allowed you to keep those jobs/leadership positions.

      As soemone who has experienced this, what would have been helpful for you at the time? And looking back as an adult, what unique indicators could an outside observer use to determine what was happening?

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, I’m not quite sure what actionable steps there are for an employer if a controlling parent is the problem, but the situation looks exactly identical to flakiness from the outside. Because either way, the thing the manager has to do is kindly state the expectations for the position and evaluate whether the employee is meeting them consistently enough for the business’s needs. It’s not like generally it would be ok for the manager to yell and scream at the employee as long as it was just flakiness. Either way, the manager needs to both be kind and also look out for whether the business arrangement is working out.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Not OP, but I can take a stab at this one. My parents were unpredictable.
        No one thing stands alone, it takes a number of things to begin to recognize the actual problem.
        Look for things that don’t match.
        The kid is enthusiastic, can’t wait to dig in then suddenly the kid has to leave/can’t come in etc.
        OR the kid is enthusiastic but routinely unprepared, for example, not wearing the proper shoes or clothing does not meet requirements.
        If anything costs any money the kid cannot participate or does not show up at all.
        If the kid has to go for training or whatever and suddenly cannot get there, typically at the last minute.

        I was the type of kid who kept hoping against all hope that my parent would pull themselves together, the way this manifested is that I would never, ever say anything negative about that parent. I kept thinking that if I stayed positive the situation would turn around. (It only got worse.) So if you tried talking to me about it, the conversation would go no where. I would say things like I lost my sneakers. [Reality , I out grew them and I did not have new ones.] Or I’d say that my jeans were in the laundry. [They probably were and I had not done them yet because when I did laundry it was hours of screaming. And I did not feel like going through that right at the moment.] If I missed a training, I would tell you that I forgot. [Reality, parent was not up to taking me that day.]
        I got so I was pretty good at thinking fast on my feet. I was aware on some level that I looked like an idiot to other people. Looking back on it, I have to believe that I showed a sense of defeat and/or lack of self-confidence. I actually lacked confidence in the world around me. People who lectured me on getting self-confidence just got an eye roll from me because they way underestimated the situation.

        I think simple things would have worked:
        “Oh look, my kid/niece/neighbor had these sneaks they don’t need. I washed them. We can keep them here for you to use while you are here.”
        “You know Sam/Jane/Sue live in your neighborhood, maybe you can carpool with them. Let’s ask.”
        These types of ideas work if the parent is fairly disconnected from what the kid is actually doing. It never would dawn on my parents that I had sneaks I kept on site. If I had a ride they would be relieved not to drive me.
        But these ideas might not work in different settings. These might help if the parent is just passive or disconnected.

        1. SunnyD*

          I’m so sorry your parents were abusive. You didn’t deserve that; no kid does. Thank you for sharing your experience to help us.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Thanks. We have choices, even when we think we don’t. I know for a fact that others have had it far, far worse than me. And I chose to believe that events in my childhood helped me become a resourceful adult, a creative thinker and I think I have a tad bit higher awareness of when another person might be facing a hidden issue. I do think that I speak more candidly about things than I would if my life had been different.

            Ironically, sadly, sometimes people teach us what Not To Do, by living it. We watch them, we see how poorly they make out with their choices and we chose different paths. I was a kid who would not do well with lecturing. But actually seeing what could go wrong was a big wake up call for me.

        2. Lora*

          Yes! Carpools with neighbor parents, teachers and hand me downs were a lifesaver for me.

          Also scholarships, which are available for many boarding schools and even some summer camps – my mother jumped at basically any opportunity to get me out of her hair, if it was free.

          Mostly, it helped when something was presented in a way that was flattering to her. If she was told that allowing me to do something would make her look good by proxy, I would be allowed to do the thing IF I arranged my own carpool, IF I arranged everything necessary for myself so she personally didn’t have to lift a finger to actually do anything. Otherwise, something would be declared a stupid waste of time and unworthy of her continued permission. As soon as she had to do even the simplest thing like signing a permission slip for something, it set off her radar that maybe I was doing something that she should find a reason why I wasn’t allowed to do it, because it might lead to further expectations of her involvement. For example, if I wanted to do school chorus and needed permission slips signed to travel to events, she wouldn’t approve that because it would be multiple permission slips and also the other parents would notice when she didn’t show up to performances and then she’d get crap from them about being a bad mother. So I wasn’t allowed to do that. But when I was enrolled in theater class it was okay for me to do theater events because she only had to sign the one permission slip approving all the theater things for the whole year, and nobody would scold her much for missing performances when we had them every week – other parents missed the weekly things too. Things had to be sort of pitched to her as offering her some benefit without her actual involvement.

        3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It’s normal for kids and those in abusive relationships to lie like this and try to “protect” their loved one in the end. You take the blame because you don’t want to cast it on your parents who are failing. Both because you’re trying to be positive and hope they change but also because it’s easier than telling the truth. Especially as a kid, you’re trained that if your parents are viewed as “bad” enough, you will just end up in the foster care system and that’s worse than parents who are neglecting you in the ways you’ve mentioned!

          This is why I never expect anyone to tell me about their parents or their partner’s abuse. I can sense it on my own having my experience with it. So a kid who says “oh i lost my sneakers” would get an automatic response of “oh darn it, what size do you need, we’ll find some for you!”

          I had this happen with a no-teenaged employee who was working up through financial issues. If someone mentions they don’t have access to PPE on their own, we will go ahead and buy it for them and gradually deduct the charges in as an affordable way as possible [$20 a paycheck with the signed agreement that if they quit on us before they’re paid off, then of course we’ll have to deduct it all from that last check, kind of thing].

          I’ve also bailed people out and picked them up for work when things go sideways as well. Most of the time it’s worth it, even if they don’t stay around very long, I’m not going to write people off so quickly in general, everyone gets a fair shake.

          1. SunnyD*

            I’m so glad you’re out there quietly helping those in a tight spot and giving dignity to those with little.

            Kinda misty-eyed over here.

        4. Blarg*

          Yes, you summed it up well! The enthusiasm thing, especially. A kid who seems more stressed about leaving school/work than being there. I consciously remember, even while in high school, thinking how much better school would be if I never had to go home. If home were the sanctuary from a stressful day of teenage-ing, rather than making it worse.

          I’d add a kid who seems “parentified,” responsible for taking care of their household or caregivers, especially emotionally. “14 going on 40.”

          A kid who appears embarrassed by or ashamed of their parents’ behavior.

          When their patterns of missing work or events aren’t part of natural consequences — “I had to quit the play because I’m failing biology” vs “my mom said I couldn’t come to rehearsal anymore.”

          Extreme responses to common mistakes, being overly apologetic or fearful or trying to quit.

          And just went things don’t match or add up. If you coach a team, is dad always at Sam’s practices and games, but Tom is often picked up late? Is the kid diligent in their work at work, doing well in school, but also often no-shows?

          Also as people have said here — in addition to not wanting to “air the dirty laundry,” kids may literally not know that their situation isn’t normal or ok, so they don’t even realize they could or should speak up. (It took til I got to college to realize that the punishments we got weren’t “normal” spankings…).

      3. Not So NewReader*

        One clue more in case you are still reading.

        Nail-biting. I read of a study that said, a nail biting habit CAN be (not always) attributed to a person’s lack of confidence that their mother will take care of them. Not everyone, not all the time.

        My nails were short-short-short. I always bit my nails. When I moved out of the house I just suddenly stopped. Cold hard stop. It was like I “forgot” to bite my nails. I could not figure that out, until years later I read about this study. Then it made sense.

        A couple of teachers spoke to me about my nail biting. Of course, that did not do anything because the actual problem was not my nail biting. But years later I thought of them and I wondered if they knew that I had a poor relationship with my mother.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Are you one of my old lifeguards? I had several with issues like this.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Honestly I rarely assume a meddlesome parent is a loving “worried” coddling adult and jump right to “oh, this kid has manipulative and demanding parents, yikes!”

      Same with spouses who pull weird moves like calling an employer for anything short of a phone in if someone is puking violently, you know.

      “Sheltered” is rarely done by those who are stable and adjusted individuals.

      I say this as someone who was close to many abused children while having the picture perfect parents. Many who haven’t seen abuse in some way struggle to notice.

    4. Jennifer*

      Good points. There is only so much a young person can do in a situation like that. It’s not always the kid’s fault.

  13. Dahlia*

    LW4: Could “Miss Jane” be a compromise that would work for everyone? Especially, perhaps, if you have a last name that’s a bit more difficult for a very small person to pronounce? (I’m not entirely sure I could say my own last name until I was 7 or so, lol, because of my speech impediment.)

    1. Talvi*

      I definitely had a few elementary school teachers with tricky last names who went this route. And a couple with a not-so-tricky last name who just preferred to be Mme. [First Name].

      1. valentine*

        Could “Miss Jane” be a compromise that would work for everyone? Especially, perhaps, if you have a last name that’s a bit more difficult for a very small person to pronounce?
        The demographics could make this look kyricist. The principal is right to have a single standard for all teachers.

        1. Valancy Snaith*

          What does kyricist mean? Google didn’t turn up anything useful for me and I’m struggling to figure this out.

          1. Miss Eliza Tudor*

            I think this was a reference to the word “kyriarchy,” which is similar to patriarchy, but incorporates a bunch of different systems of oppression.

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      I’d strongly object to the idea of changing processes because of someone’s “difficult to pronounce” name. all sorts of badness lies in that direction.

      Just teach them how to say it. And if little kids mispronounce words…. well, that happens.

    3. SunnyD*

      If the convention is Ms/Mr Lastname, I’d stick with the convention. Alterations – for other people who haven’t already pushed so hard against their manager – might be last name initials or short versions of the last name (Ms H instead of Ms Hyssop-Wrenczyski or Ms Hiz or Ms HizWren).

    4. Mrs. LongPolishName*

      I have a very difficult to pronounce/spell Polish last name, and I have found that my students have a MUCH easier time pronouncing it than their parents! The convention in our school is “Mr./Mrs./Ms. Lastname,” but some of my parents feel much more comfortable calling me “Mrs. L” because they are terrified of mispronouncing my name, and I’m comfortable with that. I would prefer “Ms.” to “Mrs.” because I think the continued use of “Mrs.” is a little silly and sexist, but because it is the norm in my school to use “Mrs.” when applicable, I continue to use it.

      In my school culture, a student calling a teacher by their first name would be a power play, and I have one student that tries this from time to time and has been told explicitly to stop.

      1. pleaset*

        ” I have found that my students have a MUCH easier time pronouncing it than their parents!”

        Yup – this does not surprise me at all.

    5. pleaset*

      I’d like to think that kids are more flexible on saying names since they’re mentally more plastic. In any case, it’s not good to start “teaching” that hard-to-pronounce names are a problem to be dealt with. It’s a key life lesson (that is too often not learned): deal with diverse names as best you can, don’t avoid them.

      1. Avasarala*

        I think the students also get more opportunities to practice, and have more incentive to get it right. They see the teacher and their name every day, whereas the parents see the teacher a few times a year at most.

  14. professor*

    regarding OP4: this is also a very gendered and racialized issue. White men are seen as n authority whatever they are called. As a woman, I would never let my students use my first name in the classroom! When you’re not the image of the average professor, this really matters. I teach college, so I tell them to call me first name when they graduate (or if we work closely- there is a history of treating students you do research with as colleagues).

    1. chillininmyofficeyo*

      I think calling this a gendered and racialised issue is a reeaaaal sttttrrreeeeeeettttchhh. OP is an elementary school teacher. The kids will see her as an authority, even if she’s called magic rainbow sprinkle puff. She’s their teacher.

      1. SunnyD*

        This feels super naive, honestly. I’m white, straight, and cis and even I know that race and gender is a constant subtle underminer… but only because when people who daily fight hidden bias speak up, I listen and try to learn.

        1. Avasarala*

          Let’s not virtue signal here–I think it’s fair to question how much of an impact racism and sexism will have on how young elementary students treat their teacher. Most teachers of this age group are women and still treated like authorities by their students. Professor is clearly dealing with older students that have grown enough to have stronger implicit bias.

    2. Asenath*

      It’s not necessarily gendered, not in a school. Oh, sure, there’s a belief around that men have an easier time establishing their authority then women, but not all men do – I saw one driven out of the classroom due to inability to establish his authority, and knew others who quit the profession (not merely a specific job) over it. And some women teachers are extremely good at classroom control. I think the use of formal address for teachers can help establish a bit of distance and an image of authority, but also which way naming goes is part of the culture of that particular school. With both of those factors in play, OP will probably need to get used to the prevailing culture in her school. This is particularly true if she previously went by her first name while working in a support capacity in the same school – the school might use different levels of formality for different positions, and she wants to be seen as a teacher, not a support worker. One of the signs of that in her school is apparently in the way she is addressed.

      1. SunnyD*

        Really? The trend for men in female dominated industries is that they are paid more, rise to leadership, and are perceived as more competent. For example, teachers are 90% female, but that 10% of men make up 50% of principals!

        1. Asenath*

          I merely pointed out that men in teaching do not automatically have a free ride when it comes to being an authority in the classroom. I would add, though, that gender disparities in teaching, while they exist, vary enormously depending on the ages of the students. This person appears to be teaching in an elementary school, and in many places, schools at that level are dominated by female teachers and administrators.

    3. Bagpuss*

      I think that is about how other people address you, rather thanhow you chose to be addressed, though.

      If students call your male collegue “Mr Smith” but default to “Joan” when they speak to you, that is a problem if you haveven’t invited it.
      Simialrly, if they default to “Dr Smith” for him and “Ms Smith” for you without refercen to your actual qualifications / title, then again, that’s a problem.

      However, if they address him as John and you as Joan, that’s simpy the culture of the wrokplace.

      In a school setting, I would only se it as a gendered or racialized issue of there are similar problems – e.g. if they defualt to assuming that a POC member of staff is ateaching assistant not a qualified teacher, and address them differntly than they woul a teacher as a result, for instnace.

    4. Environmental Compliance*

      As a woman in the sciences who also taught at the college level…. I never, ever went by my last name. I always went by my first name. There was never an authority image issue – my students knew they had rules and that I enforced them. However, the handful of teaching position people (TA/LA/professor/etc) who *insisted* on being Mr./Ms. LastName were seen as very unapproachable, no matter their gender or race. It was not the norm at all to go by Mr./Ms. LastName.

      Just by metrics – I had some of the best attended & best scoring sections out of the several hundred person cohort in that class level…and the least safety incidents. My students respected me and policed themselves.

      Perhaps this is just the way you phrased it, and not necessarily your intent, but calling this as a racial/gendered issue is a bit off topic to the issue that the OP is facing. If it’s not the norm to do in their school, it’s not the norm, and the OP needs to adjust accordingly, especially the younger the class they are teaching. And presenting this as a “woman professor” norm is….a stretch.

      (And to be honest – at all the colleges/universities I studied at and then taught at… was pretty rare for any of the professors to *not* just go by their first name or a nickname. The ones that insisted on “Professor Whoever” or especially “Dr Whoever” often did not last long as teachers, even if they were kept on as researchers. This was true for both the tiny private college and the giant public university. Probably region/field dependent, but again, back to presenting using last names as norms. )

    5. blackcat*

      I mean, it *can* be at the college level. I have definitely encountered students who call my male colleagues Dr. Last and call me First (or, the dreaded Mrs. Last), and I correct them firmly.

      I’ve actually talked with people who set a uniform Dr. LastName OR Firstname rule in their department as part of an effort to make sure women and POC are treated with the same markers of respect as the white dudes. I think this is good, in generally.

      But these concerns are much less salient at the elementary level, and I don’t think it’s something LW4 needs to worry about.

    6. Adjunct Gal*

      My teacher spouse is non-binary, so has been thinking a lot about this issue as honorifics are horrorifically gendered and is not a fan of Mx. (how to pronouce without being weird?) So my spouse wants just to be on a first name basis with students. Not sure how that will fly next year, but we’ll see.

      1. SunnyD*

        And the sir/ma’am is a big issue for trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer folks. Especially in sir/ma’am cultures, where that’s just a mandatory way of showing respect. Daniel Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe at Slate had a post lately about that.

      2. Dahlia*

        How about “Captain” or “Your Honour” or something slightly silly but also a title? Is there anything that would fly along those lines? Depending on the grade, kids can get a kick out of those things while still being respectful.

        Not actually a teacher, but in my old job, I also just got “Teacher” a lot from really little kids.

  15. Rexish*

    OP #5 i do find this a bit odd. Even if they don’t know the return date there are a lot of ways to say say that without telling anything. When someone is off for a longer period of time we are told “they are unavailabe for now” and then we know what we have to handle and not expect to see them for months and the manager that knows the truth (how long, if they are ever coming back, if return date is unknown etc.) will inform if we just buy more time with clients or if we take their cases. I would work on the assumption that he is not coming back and distribue his tasks to someone else. When he does come back then go from there.

    1. Willis*

      It sounds like the OP does know “they are unavailable for now,” and is assigning work and directly emails accordingly. I get that it may be helpful to have a sense of when you’d expect someone back, but if HR doesn’t know or doesn’t tell you, it seems pretty simple – don’t assign them work or send emails until you get word that they’re back. I agree with you – It may be odd not to know, but it also doesn’t seem like necessary information.

      1. Rexish*

        Yes, OP does know its’s for now, but I was thinking more about the HR response. I could be reading to all wrong, but “you’re not entitled for this information” could have been said “unfortunately we cannot share the information, he will be unavailable for now” type of way. To me that coming from HR would really tell me that it’s not likely going to be next 2 weeks and give the extra confidence to redistribute the tasks. Now it sounds like all they have is “gone for a bit” (which is vaguer than for now in my opinion) said by the employee and nobody really giving instructions.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It sounds like the distinction you’re talking about is HR indicating “it is known, but you, OP, are not allowed to know” vs “assume he’ll be out indefinitely and plan accordingly”. In the former it’s more like HR is intentionally withholding what would be useful for planning, but the latter it’s more clear than there is no definite info to be had and thus they can’t plan otherwise. I am just guessing but I suspect the truth of OP’s situation is more like the latter, but unfortunately HR used wording that implies the former. So really the whole thing might just be HR communicating in an unnecessarily adversarial way.

  16. T3k*

    #3: I’ve been in this position as well (tried to make it in an art field, realized it sucked and stressed me out too much when trying to turn a hobby into a business so decided to keep career and hobby separate) and have used variations of Alison’s suggestion to reassure interviewers I’m perfectly ok doing a non-creative job and it works pretty well. I wasn’t quite as eloquent as Alison’s response, but I recall being almost comical going “oh no! I don’t want to do X anymore, I had thought of Y (related field in the industry they asked me about) but realized I prefer jobs that allow me to focus on A, B, and C instead.”

    1. T. Boone Pickens*

      I have a friend that was in a similar situation to LW#3 and I still chuckle about her answer. “I loved working in the arts but I also you know love to eat and have a roof over my head so here we are.”

    2. Powerpants*

      I too am a creative – a musician who works a desk job. It has been important for me to find jobs that value my creative side work, because sometimes I do have to take off for it. I was really surprised when my work allowed me to take two weeks off during a busy time to pursue composing and performing with an out of state dance company. Many jobs actually do want their employees to have fulfilling lives outside of work, because pursuing our passions makes us happier. It’s called work-life balance. My creative experience makes me really good at change, time management, working with others. In an interview, I think I would focus on the positives of having this in my life, so I would know that I was entering into a positive atmosphere.

    3. Working Mom Having It All*

      I’ve also used a variation on Alison’s response, in fact I did this in a job interview yesterday, where it seemed clear they had the same concerns. For the bulk of my career, I was in a more creative-track part of our industry, and even now I do comedy in my free time (which could theoretically leave to getting some kind of “big break” and leaving the position, but isn’t something I’m focused on right now). This is not an entry level job, a day job, or a job where it would be fine if I peaced out after a couple months to follow my dreams. So I have a stock response about being in a place in my life where I’m focusing more on stability and not looking for a creative role, and while it would be exciting if I were to sell a TV pilot and be whisked off to a life as a professional screenwriter, it’s not part of any planned trajectory for me at this stage.

    4. LunaLena*

      Seconded! I’m a graphic designer who draws and sometimes even sells art in my spare time, and I’ve often been asked if my big dream is to become a full-time freelance graphic designer or artist. I often explain that I like having a 8-5 office job, especially since it comes with a stable income and benefits.

      I’ve been asked if I’m okay with non-creative roles in interviews before too, and I just explain that, while I love to draw, I’ve found that it’s best for me to keep it separate from what I do for a living. I like to draw so that I can draw the things I want to draw, not what other people want me to draw – and if people happen to like it and pay me for it, great, but it’s not my main objective. And I also like to draw to relax, so if I make a mistake, I can just shrug, learn from it, and move on. When people pay me to draw, there’s the added pressure of having to ensure the artwork is professional, and while I’m okay with that occasionally, doing it constantly would suck all the fun out of it and make it stressful.

      I’ve also said in interviews that I actually enjoy non-creative roles, because it means I’ll still have creative energy when I get home for my personal art. It seems to go over well (it worked for two of my previous jobs) and it’s absolutely true – my personal art output was significantly larger when I worked in jobs didn’t require my creative skills very much.

    5. Aerin*

      Interviewing for tech jobs with a degree in screenwriting was just so much fun… Had so many interviewers asking “Oh, why aren’t you using your degree?” ::jumps out window::

      Then there was the one job who asked, “So what happens when you sell a screenplay?” After thanking him for the “when,” I explained that no one really works full-time writing movies. Even Oscar winners teach, or produce, or write books, or lecture, or some combination of all of them. So it would probably be a lot of phone calls on my lunch break and maybe a few days off work. I got that job and still work there. (Mainly because it gives me plenty of downtime to write!)

  17. Mark Roth*

    At my school, our full names are printed on all the kids’ schedules. My first name also shows up on the smartboard every morning as I log in under my school account, which uses my full name.

    I still go by my last name. And I am considered to be somewhat informal because I won’t always correct kids, especially older, former students, who call me by just my last name and forget the Mr.

    That’s just how school works.

  18. Kitty*

    LW5 – in some countries, with more generous parental leave policies (eg in Europe) it’s illegal to ask parents how long they’re planning to take off for parental leave. There’s a minimum and a maximum time but the actual period taken could be anywhere between 8 weeks and 18 months (for the partner who birthed the baby, I appreciate it would be less for the non-childbearing partner).

    1. Koala dreams*

      I am also in Europe and in my country it would be weird to not know how long a coworker plans to stay on parental leave. Especially for longer leave periods, since then it’s common to hire a replacement for that time and you need to know for how many months you are hiring them. Also, it’s possible to take parental leave part time, for example working a couple of days every week. Coworkers might not know all the details, but managers would need to know.
      Well, that’s why I read this site, I learn something new every day.

    2. MK*

      Also in Europe and people take parental lwave fir a set amount of time. That can and occasionally does get extended or cut short if the worker decides to stay away longer/return at a different time, but it is never indefinite to begin with. And I know of no country where it is illegal to ask when someone is coming back; what is illegal is to hassle them to come back sooner.

    3. londonedit*

      I’m in the UK where the vast majority of people take 9-12 months’ maternity leave – I don’t have children myself, so parents can feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that while it is illegal for an employer to ask a staff member on maternity leave when they’re planning to return, you do have to give some indication of the amount of time you’re planning to take (because, as Koala Dreams says, the norm is to hire someone on a maternity cover contract to do the job) and I believe you have to give your employer a minimum amount of notice of when you’re planning to return. You absolutely would not work while on maternity leave, though you do have up to 10 paid ‘keeping in touch’ days that you can use, so you’re allowed to come and visit work a few times during your leave – most people bring the baby into the office once or twice, maybe have a catch-up meeting with their boss, or maybe sit in on a meeting about a new project that they’ll be working on when they come back.

      1. londonedit*

        Hmm, having looked it up it seems maybe I’m wrong on the employer not being allowed to ask when someone is coming back, but I’ve heard a lot of people say that so it seems to be a common assumption! Anyway there are tons of legal protections around maternity leave here.

        1. Alica*

          I believe that in the UK the law is that the employer can ask, but the employee doesn’t have to answer.

      2. Bagpuss*

        It may depend on *whn* you ask.

        IIRC, when you tell your employer the date you want your mat. leave to start, they are then required to confirm to you your return date – if you want to take less than the 52 week statuatory entitlement you have to tell them when you want to return, and I think have to give 8 weeks notice to change their return date.

        It’s legal to ask when they plan to retrn, but it would illegal to pressure someone to return or to tell them (or imply) thaat they will be at a disdvantage if they don’t do so – I would guess that people’s belief that you can’t ask stems from employers being concerned that asking might be perceived as putting pressure on.
        The ruls about waht job you return to are also slightly ifferent if someone returns after 26 weeks or after a longer period, so that’s another reason why it might be relevant to ask.

        Maternity pay covers 39 weeks but is lower than normal pay for most peopl (It’s 90% of normal pay for 6 weeks, then 90% of normal pay or £148 per week, whichever is lower, after that)

        Men get 2 weeks paid paternity leave

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        You generally give an idea, but can change your mind at any time (1 month’s notice I believe of a change of return date).

        But it’s been a few years! I took about 9 months with mine…. basically when statutory maternity pay ended, I had to go back!

      4. (Former) HR Expat*

        No, the employer can ask, but they can’t try to convince the employee to change their plans. We would always talk to the employee when they gave us their MATB1 and see if they had thought about what they wanted for their mat leave. And spoke to them often to see if their plans changed before baby was born.

    4. ContemporaryIssued*

      Also in Europe and it is not illegal to ask, and often people get either hired to substitute somebody during parental leave or they figure out a sub within the company.

      The only unknown is whether this person will truly come back. A lot of people take the time to job hunt for a better position and come back, only to put in their two weeks. By then, if you have a hired sub, they might be made a permanent employee.

      1. Asenath*

        This is more or less the case in Canada, which also has longer parental leaves. Not everyone takes the full amount, but parents give some idea of how long they’re planning to be off. They can, of course, stay off longer (if they previously said that they’d take less than they’re entitled to) and it is unusual, but not unknown, for parents to give notice while on leave, and not come back at all. I think that’s what many people hired for short-term replacement jobs are hoping for, since as ContemporaryIssued says, they’d have a good chance of getting the job permanently.

        It would be really odd for the people re-organizing the work not to know that Kim is planning to be off until DATE, even if they also know Kim might change that date.

        1. iglwif*

          That mostly tracks with my experience in Canada, too. You have to hire a replacement for someone who’s on maternity/parental leave, and it’s much easier to do that when you can post the job as a 12-month contract, for instance; IME people typically say up front how much leave they’re planning to take, but with the understanding that if something happens, they might end up taking more (e.g., baby has health problems and needs one-on-one care longer than a year) or coming back sooner (e.g., spouse lost their job and is going to stay home with the baby for a while instead). You don’t *have* to tell HR or your manager or your colleagues how long you intend to be off, and they can’t make you, but almost everybody does.

          The only place my experience differs from yours is that I’ve known quite a few instances of people giving notice while on mat leave, or coming back only part-time, or coming back very briefly and then giving notice. That may be because I worked for a company that didn’t top up, so people were literally getting nothing but EI while on leave; companies that do top up often have an agreement that in exchange for the top-up they’re paying you, you’re committing to coming back to work for a certain period of time after your leave, and we didn’t have anything like that. It may also be because I worked for a place that didn’t pay well and was in a very inconvenient location.

    5. Rexish*

      I’m in europe. Obviousl every country is different. I tried to look for my companies maternity leave application but I would have had to sign in and actually start the application. But I don’t believe that you are not allowed to ask. Couldn’t find any facts though. The maternity, parental, care etc. leaves can be anything from 3months to 3 years. It’s kind of revelvant for someone in the company to know approximately. I think that you apply for certain ammount and then extend it if necessary. Teh employer cannot say no for extension.
      Maternity leave coverage is the most common way for yong people to start tehier career. I was initially for 12 months and then it got extended cause she decided to stay for another year.

      1. londonedit*

        That’s interesting – maternity cover definitely isn’t a usual route into a first job in my industry (because the employer wants someone who’s able to come in and do the job at the same level as the person who’s taking leave, and – typically these days – people are a good few years into their careers before they have children). But it’s definitely a niche that a few people have successfully carved for themselves – I know quite a few experienced editors who have made careers out of doing one 12-month maternity cover after another. It gives them a lot of flexibility (certainly in my experience if you’re on a maternity cover contract then you have the same rights and benefits as a permanent employee) and it means they never get bored with a job!

        1. Rexish*

          Contracting is not as much of a thing as it is in the UK. We have a high unemployment rate so people aspire to have permanent jobs since there is no guarantee of the next one. Also the pay for a fixed term employee is not better, so there is no daily rate. The pay is usuallly less since you don’t have the exprerience bonus and such. Therefore it’s not attractive to make a career out of short contracts and younger people with less experience are more willing/have to take the risks for not having permanent employment. In my experience maternityleave substitutes tend to stay in the company since usually within 3 years someone leaves and they have a new permanenet employee ready. Also, since firing is almost impossible this way employer can test new workforce easily.

          Obviously this depends on the postition and industry and so on. When the director of the company was on maternity leave they didn’t hire a 22 yo fresh gradute without experince to manage 100 employees. If it’s a senior position then they will hire someone appropriate. I think majority of jobs is something that someone without much experience can learn to do so this is the medium how they get their foot to the door.

          1. londonedit*

            I’m not sure about other industries but in mine a maternity cover – while a short/fixed-term role – isn’t a contracting role as such. You’re employed and paid like an ordinary permanent employee – so no higher daily rate, just a normal fixed salary that you agree before you start, as you would with a permanent job – and you get the same holiday/sick pay etc (though pro-rated to account for the time you’re there). You’re even enrolled in the pension scheme and whatnot. You treat the job you’re doing as if it’s your own – the only difference is that everyone knows you’re only there until the person on leave returns.

            1. Rexish*

              oh, cool. Myt boyfriend does contracting in London and is quite often a maternity leave or long-term sick elave substitute so I kinda calculated 1+1=3 :)

              We have the same that all employees, even fix term have all the same benefits. I think the main difference here is that the unemployment rate is high so you really cannot trust that you will find the next job. Therefore it is not attractive career choise. Expect for jobs like nurses and doctors that can quite easily find work. Well, of course people do this but it’s not mainstream due to really high risks.

              1. londonedit*

                Yeah, when I was freelancing (doing editing work from home on a totally self-employed basis) friends who don’t know the publishing industry would say ‘Ooh, contracting eh? You must be earning some good money!’ Actually, no, because in publishing a freelancer isn’t paid like a contractor would be in other industries – you’re usually paid a fixed amount for one job (a copy-edit or a proofread for a particular book), or you’re given an hourly rate for that job.

                1. doreen*

                  Maybe I’m having a senior moment- but how would a contractor be paid in other industries if not either a per- job or per-hour rate?

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        UK… it’s always been detailed in freely available handbook what policy is wherever I’ve worked.

        1. (Former) HR Expat*

          Or look at the ACAS website. Most companies I know in the UK model their policies after ACAS.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            yep. you’ll get the minimum of 6 weeks @90% wages and then 33 weeks @ smp… anything more companies are usually more than happy to emphasise!

      3. iglwif*

        Maternity leave coverage is the most common way for yong people to start tehier career. I was initially for 12 months and then it got extended cause she decided to stay for another year.

        That’s true in Canada, too — very common. Maternity & parental leave here is long enough that a mat leave contract is a real job where you’re there long enough to get fully trained and do real work in whatever your industry is and have a reference for future job searches, and there’s always the chance that the person won’t come back from their leave or that another job will open up and now that they know you and your work, you might get hired for that.

    6. quirkypants*

      In Canada I’ve been told by HR that we’re not allowed to ask. There are rules about the amount of notice to start the leave and notice for returning but I don’t believe you can ask more than that.

      It is common for people to give you a sense before they leave but not required.

    7. Akcipitrokulo*

      It does occur though that even if you tell HR or your manager… that doesn’t give them permission to tell a third party.

  19. Delta Delta*

    #5 – this is strange to me. It’s entirely possible to alert coworkers about roughly how long Fergus will be out without revealing sensitive information (or, even Fergus could say something). It’s hard for a team to plan projects without knowing when he’ll be available. It’ll also look weird to outside clients/customers/whatever if they call looking for him, are told he’s out, but nobody knows when he’ll be back. Kind of makes the organization look, well, disorganized.

    1. Arctic*

      1) HR may have a policy to only discuss leave issues with management or 2) the leave may actually be open ended for personal reasons.

      I don’t think HR is in the wrong here.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        HR could have given a better direction, though. Not “You’re not allowed to ask that!” but “Due to the nature of paternity leave, you should not assign Fergus any work until he physically returns.”

        1. Arctic*

          But that’s not the only issue. They want to know when he’ll be back. HR shouldn’t be answering that. Especially if the baby is having medical issues and his leave is not set in stone.

    2. I AM a lawyer.*

      I think it’s a case of HR having a misunderstanding of what information is confidential. I find that to be pretty common. For example, HR often thinks HIPAA applies to the workplace when it almost never does.

  20. AnonNurse*

    #4 – I don’t think this is something you can really push back on. This is a standard that your school (and most schools) expect, which is pretty normal. It adds a level of respect to differentiate between teacher and friends, which is often needed with younger people.

    I completely understand the inclination though. I work part-time in higher education and the school I work for requires students to address instructors by Ms/Miss/Mrs/Mr. This is due to the adult dynamic that sometimes occurs in which it’s hard to properly grade/give feedback when the relationship starts to feel more friendly instead of instructor/student. It took a bit to get used to hearing my name used so formally but now it doesn’t seem odd at all.

  21. AnonNursealt*

    #5 – that really is weird. In my department we’ve had multiple people off for maternity leaves in the last few years. Each time we were told the approximate date they would be returning. It wasn’t private or confidential, simply information as to how long they planned to use their FMLA. I wonder if the person responding just has a misguided view of confidentiality of medical leave or something. But yes, that is weird and you weren’t wrong for asking.

  22. Washi*

    For OP #3, I think it could help to add a line about why exactly you’re not targeting a career in the arts. Maybe something like “life after college opened my eyes to some of the drawbacks to arts administration (or whatever you were trying to get into), particularly the lack of stability. Some people can handle that, but I realized that I’m not one of them! Actually, getting to use my organizational skills (0r whatever) in an administrative role and getting to build my skills at a larger company while still pursuing my hobbies on the side would be the perfect setup for me.”

    As Alison said specially if you’re applying to admin assistant type roles, the worry is more that you’ll get bored than that, gasp, you’re looking for stable employment. As long as you also sound thoughtful about why the particular job would be a good fit for you, I think most people would be sympathetic to “actually, I realized that a career in the arts isn’t for me.”

    1. Angelinha*

      Also, think about whether there’s anything you’re saying or writing in your cover letter that suggests you *were* initially looking for an arts career. They might just be picking up on it because you went to art school, but make sure you’re not mentioning up front that you’re applying to the job specifically because you’ve decided not to pursue an arts career.

    2. Reba*

      A more positive way to frame it would be something like,

      “Yes, I really enjoyed my days in hula hoop school, and now I find that I’m happiest as a hula artist when I do it purely for fun! I hoop for several hours on weekends and go to the occasional Flow Fair, and I’m glad to have a ‘day job’ that lets me do that.”

      I realize this is like almost exactly like what OP said… But the point I’m trying to make is that you make it sound like a positive, deliberate choice, not a fallback or that you’ve washed out of the theater because you couldn’t hack it, or whatever.

      Good luck OP! I genuinely believe that working out of the arts, while making it a bit more challenging to stay connected, can be really healthy for your art–it allows it to be purely for your enjoyment and expression, rather than something you have to make saleable, make for clients, etc. When I graduated with a BFA lo these several years ago, I actually stopped producing for a while, the enjoyment was gone. I find it better now, even if I only make work infrequently, than I did when I was producing for classes or for my first couple of art related jobs.

      1. Jerk Store*

        I like this better, Washi’s wording could be seen as an acknowledgement that a non-arts job is the LW’s second choice (which it it is, but it doesn’t need to be pointed out).

        1. Washi*

          I think it could go either way and I like Reba’s script as a lighter approach. But what I think the OP would hopefully convey is that the non-arts job isn’t actually a second choice, but a new first choice based on the information she has about the field now.

          I majored in a totally different field that the one I’m currently in, and by the time I was looking for jobs, I was very certain I did not want to pursue my major as a career. For me, my current field wasn’t a second choice, it was a first choice because I genuinely wasn’t interested in my major anymore. It’s a little unclear from the letter whether that’s strictly true for the OP, but I think that framing might be a bit more convincing for employers.

    3. Pommette!*

      I like your script, and think that the last sentence is particularly important. You want to convince prospective employers that you’ll be an interested and engaged employee.

      I’m trying to make a similar switch (my field isn’t the arts, but it’s a similarly precarious creative “passion” field). When “won’t you miss it and be eternally unfulfilled” questions come up in interviews, I explain, like the OP does, that I’ve found non-work ways of pursuing my passion. But I always finish with a couple of sentences outlining what excites me about the field I’m trying to break into. Something along the lines of “I’ve had to do X and Y tasks as part of my work, and it helped me realize that I really enjoy the kind of problem solving involved in Z field.” I want prospective employers to understand that while I’m leaving my field for pragmatic (mercenary!) reasons, I’m trying to get into their field because it’s genuinely interesting to me.

      (Take that advice with a grain of salt – I’m still looking, after all). Good luck, OP!

      1. Tigoskah*

        Oh, this framing really helped me! I could have posted the first paragraph of OP3’s letter, and was coming to the comments to ask if I should address this in my cover letter (along the lines of the “remove any doubt they may have of you as a candidate” advice Alison gives). Seeing a few people say not to bring it up confused me, but I LOVE the idea of making sure to emphasize what you enjoyed about your previous pursuits that would translate to the new pursuit. I can definitely see how that’s better than just saying, “I’m moving on.” Thank you for sharing!

        (And good luck on your search! I’m about to move in the hope of actually getting some responses, so I feel your pain!)

    4. MagicUnicorn*

      They could also emphasize that the challenge of troubleshooting software problems/successfully scheduling busy calendars/finding more efficient ways to manage work order requests/whatever is something they find professionally fulfills that creative urge. It doesn’t necessarily need to be compartmentalized away as just a weekend hobby, it can instead be applied beneficially to the job.

    5. Working Mom Having It All*

      This can be tough, though, if OP #3 ever decides to pivot back towards the arts, or if she continues doing arts related stuff in her free time and it comes up at work a lot. It’s great if she really and truly has decided NEVER to pursue anything related to her college major, but if that answer would be fudging in order to get a foot in the door, it could be a bad look later on.

      It seems completely ordinary, at least in my field and my city, for people to be more truthful in talking about where their priorities are right now/the near future, rather than having to pretend that they are a uniquely poor fit for something they used to be quite passionate about. Like… what happens in a year when OP finds a new position at an arts organization, and it looks awkward as hell considering how much she insisted that she would never ever ever in any way consider doing anything in the arts ever again, because she hates it now and would be very bad at doing that for a job. Better to just say “I’m focusing on something that offers a bit more stability, even if it isn’t creative work, and I feel like I would be able to bring x and y skills to this position.” Most employers aren’t looking for complete renunciation of any enjoyment of all other interests. You just need to make it clear that you’re not going to leave the minute you sell your first painting.

  23. Llellayena*

    Op 1: I was very clearly informed at my job that Slack was NOT private and anything we type there could eventually be read by the partners of the company. In our case, any correspondence related to a project could get pulled for reference in a lawsuit, which would include the “private” slack channel where you called the client a raging a-hole. (I think there might have been an incident like that as we got a second strong reminder a couple of months ago) In general, slack is like quick email; provided by the company to facilitate work communication, therefore they can look at it at any time.

    1. SunnyD*

      As an aside, if you ever want to call anyone you work with or for names (which… maybe don’t):

      ***Do it verbally.*** In person is best, but if not at least do it on their cell, not the work digital phone.

      Or if you really MUST write it, text their private cell phone, but without specific details, and a nickname if possible. “Pookie is making me crazy” not “Jeff Dean is making me crazy”.

      You don’t want rash things you said biting you in the butt.

  24. Roscoe*

    #4 . I am a former teacher, and I agree with your principal . Having one teacher go by their first name when literally EVERY OTHER teacher goes by Mr. or Ms. Last Name is bad for many reasons. I honestly don’t understand why you are so uncomfortable with this, its a very normal thing in a school. This seems like one of those things you are pushing back on just because. Also, to me it seems like you are trying very hard to be the “cool” teacher. The one who isn’t like everyone else and sees the kids as peers and not beneath them, yada yada yada. But really, it is kind of undermining everyone else.

    I taught 8th graders, and often they would just call me by my last name. Not Mr. Lastname, just Lastname. Maybe that can work for you if you are really uncomfortable with the Mr./Ms

  25. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    OP #1, There are three things I think you should do. First, you say your boss was kind about it, so you should trust that she is a kind person and is not thinking about it or holding it against you. Second, you should not give her a reason to think about it, so don’t bring it up again with another apology. If she truly is a kind and fair boss, your first apology should be enough. Third, most important and most obvious, demonstrate that you learned your lesson by never doing it, or anything remotely like it again; keep all your online communication at work strictly professional. In the end, actions speak louder than words. In time, with no reminders and no recurrences, your boss will likely forget all about it, and your feeling of embarrassment will fade away.

    1. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

      A couple other phrases that apply here are “learn to take ‘yes’ for an answer”, and also “don’t sell past the close”.

    2. Ticker103*

      I agree with this. I’d also add, as someone who did an embarrassing thing at work last year in front of my boss, that I apologized seriously and sincerely to her right after it happened, and then at my end of year review, I brought it up (not in writing, but during our review conversation) as something that I learned from and will never do again. She was glad that I’d acknowledged the misstep even though by that point she was also laughing it off. The embarrassment you feel will fade, but you won’t forget the lesson- I definitely have not!

    3. Jake Jortles*

      OP#1 As a boss who saw a departing employee’s Skype chats badmouthing me with another of my direct reports, who still works here, I can tell you that it is no longer present in my mind very often when I deal with her. In my case, it felt too awkward to say “I know you dislike me.” I did let her know that IT gave me access to the other person’s email when they left, hinted that that seems to be company policy and work communications channels are never really private, and beyond that…. never let on to her that I’d seen the conversations. It lowered my opinion of her as a person but not as a professional because I never saw it reflected in how she interacted with me directly, and she’s always done good work. I know that we all sometimes don’t like our bosses and need to complain to a friend. I’m sure your boss will soon stop thinking so much about this in their interactions with you as long as you remain pleasant and professional – what they care about is whether you’re great at your job.

      1. OP#1*

        Thank you! I feel a bit better. When I say “venting” I was describing a situation in which my co worker publicly did some pretty lewd behavior which was in front of other co workers. I do love my boss and didn’t badmouth her in any way! However, lesson learned 1000%.

  26. Nobby Nobbs*

    OP 5, this problem could have been avoided entirely if your company was savvy enough to avoid hiring men of child-siring age! Nothing good comes of forcing diversity in the workplace like this. /s

  27. Argh!*

    Re: #3

    Asking the obvious here: what are you saying about your previous jobs? If you use those automated systems where you have to enter each job and the reason why you left, what reason are you giving?

    In your interviews, are you also being asked “why do you want *this* job?” (It’s a fairly standard question) You can prepare for that question in a way that will prevent the artsy question from coming up. One positive spin might be “I’m interested in a position where I have a lot of interaction with people, because I love helping people and being part of a team. Being an artist is too isolating, and after leaving the community of fellow art majors in college, I realize without that stimulation of being around interesting people I wasn’t as interested in art anymore.”

    Good luck and please update us later!

    1. Creatively fulfilled LW*

      Hi, here’s a little update since you asked: I actually got a job offer yesterday morning! Right around the same time Alison emailed me to let me know she would be posting my question so it has all become moot but I still appreciate the thoughtful responses.

      I think what was so frustrating for me with the whole thing though was that I HATED the job I was doing and it left me too worn out to turn the TV on when I got home let alone pull out my hobby materials. As I mentioned the schedule was unpredictable so I was unable to go to arts events on weekends or sign up for classes and the salary was not really enough for food and rent let alone food and rent and art supplies. So it was frustrating hearing people imply that I was getting creative fulfillment in that job just by virtue of it being at an arts organization when really I was not.

      I hope my next search 1. Wont happen for a looooong time and 2. I won’t get this question any more because I’ll have a solid stay at a non arts organization under my belt

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        Congrats on the job!

        A lot of people really don’t know anything about how jobs in the arts work, or how being an artist works, and make a lot of assumptions about PASSION and CREATIVE FULFILLMENT and THE LIFE OF AN ARTIST. Which might be why you were getting that question phrased in such an odd way. There’s this sort of myth in the culture, which some people take way to seriously, that there are people with an Artistic Temperament, who simply cannot do anything else with their life aside from being an artist full time, no matter the sacrifices involved, and then there’s everyone else. It’s part of why jobs in the arts can be so miserable, and it’s also why people outside the arts look at creative folks as a potential flight risk. Like the minute you buy a food that isn’t cuppa noodle, you’ll have an existential crisis about being a Sell-Out, which will lead to you quitting. Or something? Either way, it’s all very silly, and I’m glad you won’t have to deal with this mentality as much going forward.

  28. stephistication1*

    L5 I am thinking HR would tell the employees manager. Then the manager could let impacted coworkers know. I’ve never seen HR give insight into stuff like that to coworkers.

  29. Alphabet Pony*

    #3 I would stop saying so much about your hobbies and explain that you’re not looking for a creative job. Because that’s what they’re really asking.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t think she was saying much about her hobbies? I interpreted the letter as she has a degree in Creative Thing and so they’re asking her about it, and her response is then that she does it as a hobby now, ie is no longer looking for a career in that.
      Like for example, if she has a BFA in Theatre, they may be assuming she’s an actor and concerned she’s doing this as a day job and is going to frequently call out in order to go on auditions – or ask for periodic schedule changes to accomodate being in a show – or that she’ll just straight up leave as soon as she books an acting gig. They’re asking because of the degree and any acting jobs that might be on the resume. (I’m not saying #3 actually is an actor or that’s her degree, but this type of scenario would easily lead to those types of questions and concerns before she says a word in an interview.)

  30. blackcat*

    #4: You gotta do what the school tells you, because it’s part of the culture of the school.
    (I know Alison said not to describe what we called our teachers, but I think this is relevant because it put me in a similar position to OP)

    I went to a school where we called teachers by their first names. There were clearly a few teachers that were uncomfortable with this and went by a nick name. And then there was the guy who was hired my senior year and was David #4, and so we called him LastName (not Mr. LastName, just LastName). Too many of us had Dave in math and David B for history and then there was David D for art, and sorry, dude, you were David D #2 and that wasn’t gonna work. We also had two teachers with the same first/last combo, so the one who was hired second went by her middle name.

    Anyways, this background meant that when *I* went into teaching, I would have been much more comfortable going by my first name. But, unlike the laid back West Coast private school I went to, I was now at Fancy Pantsy East Coast Prep School. So I was Ms. LastName for my time there, though I told my students that the moment they graduated, they were to call me FirstName. It wasn’t my preference, but it was the culture of the school.

    Now, as a college instructor, I actually prefer Dr. LastName even though it’s mixed what people do in my department. I’m not on the tenure track, and I’m one of only two women in the department (and the youngest woman by 3 decades). It’s particularly important for me to have those external markers of authority and respect. If my department was strongly FirstName (which happens at the college level), I would go with it, but it wouldn’t be my preference any more.

    tl;dr, if there is a strong culture around what you should be called, it’s not up to you. It’s not about you, really. It’s about the relationship the school wants teachers to have with their students. You get some freedom within that, but perhaps less than you’d like. That’s the nature of teaching at institutions.

  31. CupcakeCounter*

    I get asked all the time why I don’t quit my desk job and start my own business. The answer I always give is “I love making cupcakes – its great stress relief for me. If I have to do it day in and day out it is no longer my fun, stress relieving hobby. Its a job and then it will suck all the fun out of it. Plus if that is my sole income, I can’t give you any for free anymore.”
    the last line usually shuts them up real quick.

  32. Buttons*

    At my work, Skype messenger logs your chats and puts them into a folder in Outlook which clearly means that if someone of authority contacted IT they would be able to see it. Also, people can be crazy, someone can easily screenshot, or copy and paste a conversation and send it on. Just don’t do it.

  33. blink14*

    OP #2 – I worked as a camp counselor from age 13 – 20, both at a private camp and my final year at a camp run through my local school district (ultimately funded by the state). I was a counselor-in-training, or a CIT, ages 13-14 at a private camp. Our situation was different, the CIT program was actually paid for by your parent, and you worked a half day with your assigned group, and had a half day of camp activities with the CIT group. Obviously given that parents were paying for this, there was more involvement. My parents stepped in on a few occasions during that time period for me, mostly having to do with scheduling, as I missed a week or two both of those summers for family vacations and therefore my parents weren’t paying for the program those weeks.

    From ages 15-19 I worked at that same private camp, moving up in the ranks. We had no breaks and were paid less than minimum wage. My parents negotiated two items for me while I was underage, and those items remained part of my “contract” once I hit the legal work age in my state (I think at the time it was 16). Those items were transportation – I was a bus counselor, and including hot lunch as part of my contract.

    There was one incident the summer I was 16, and it had to do with another counselor assigned to my group. This counselor was older but had cognitive and processing delays that unfortunately made it dangerous for him to be around young children – he could not process emergency situations or understand safety rules well enough. He never should have been assigned to our group to begin with, as we had the youngest age group at the camp. We ended up having a terrifying situation where he disappeared with a camper, and given that the camp property is huge and is situated in a state park, filled with dense woods, lakes, waterfalls, and cliffs, it was a major emergency. Once we found him and the camper (for some reason he went back to the other side of the camp, which was a good 15 minute walk away) I snapped and screamed at him. I was so upset when I got home, my parents got involved, as did the camper’s father (who was also a counselor at the camp), and our counselor was reassigned to an older group.

  34. Arctic*

    LW #5 are you sure there isn’t a medical issue with the baby? There could be very good reasons why he doesn’t have an end date and doesn’t want to discuss it

    1. Squeeble*

      That could be, but with so little information, it could be anything. Even hearing “he’ll be gone for an indefinite amount of time” could be helpful to the employee’s supervisors in terms of managing work, but they’re getting nothing to work with.

      1. Oilpress*

        Exactly. And it’s weird because as an employee, you still want to keep a good relationship with your employer rather than make their life as difficult as possible.

  35. Adjuncts Anonymous*

    One nice thing about teaching adults at a CC: I can explicitly tell my students to call me what they want. “You can call Adjuncts, you can call me Ms. Adjuncts, you can call me Ms. Anonymous, or you can call me Teacher. Do what is most comfortable for you.”

    1. Blossom*

      … But that in itself can be quite uncomfortable for the students. I don’t “want” to call anyone a particular name, I just want to know what to call them. And I’d rather know implicitly, based on the conventions of that context, rather than having to think about how to adress each teacher and what it might mean.

      1. Blossom*

        Especially if some students are calling you “Enid” and I’m calling you “Mrs Smith”. Then I have to worry about whether I’ve actually gone too formal and seem weird. Same if the situation reversed. It just makes an issue out of what should be a non-issue.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I do some adjunct work, as well. The students are so earnest – they always want to call me Professor Delta or Dr. Delta. I just tell them to call me Delta (the first name Delta, not the last name Delta; they are actually not the same although it would be funny if they were). Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But I think there’s a big difference between higher ed students and elementary students. And there’s no rule from the school about what I should be called.

  36. Phony Genius*

    For #5, could it be argued that maternity/paternity leave is actually a form of disclosing a medical situation, and that HIPAA could apply? That is, could a company have a policy that an employee is only said to be on “leave,” with no reference to maternity/paternity? If so, I wonder if that was the case here, and HR thinks that even knowing that the leave is paternity-related is too much info. (I realize that all of this is a stretch, but this site has taught us all that there’s always a company with rules stricter than we can imagine.)

  37. Museum Nerd*

    LW3- I’m an artist with a day job in an unrelated field, and i love it. Employers often expressed the same concerns to me when I was first making the switch from working in the art field full time, to working an office job. And I was honest with them that working a studio manager and dealing with other people’s creative problems burnt me out, and I had no creative energy left over for making my own work. I went on to further say that working a job unrelated to my artistic endeavors was incredibly healthy for me, as I looked forward to the change of pace between my day job, and my artistic practice. I also emphasized that I loved the routine of a 9-5, and would also talk up how coming from a creative background would be an asset. Its a strategy that has worked well for me thus far.

  38. This Old House*

    OP #5: Have you looked up your company’s parental leave guidelines? I’m in a union job, which I know is a whole ‘nother animal, but our contract says how far in advance we need to provide notice that we’re returning from leave – and it’s something like 2 weeks. So while yes, I did try to give my supervisor a general idea of when I’d be back, I didn’t actually need to, and no one was supposed to ask me for my return date because I only needed to give minimal notice of when I’d be back. Personally, I thought that was terrible for workflow and planning reasons, but what’s in the contract rules.

  39. Soda Stream*

    Re: #5, I thought when someone is out on FMLA, the company COULD NOT contact them about work, with the exception of HR. Is this not the case?

    Regardless, OP 5, I think folks are right that you take this to your supervisors and ask for help AND raise the point of building up SOPs and project tracking, file organization, cross-training, etc. Honestly, any employee could win the lottery/get hit by bus and not be available anymore and everyone else will be left picking up the pieces. It’s something we’re working on in my office right now so that people CAN take actual vacations and not worry about work (we also handle emergency “situations” and it’s really stressful to be on vacation but feel like you have to check in constantly in case something comes up.)

    1. fposte*

      Courts have ruled that a few de minimis conversations are acceptable. I think employers not unreasonably veer toward the blanket “Just leave them the hell alone” rather than trying to parse the weight of the particular conversations.

      1. RandomU...*

        My company just suspends network and phone access.

        I feel like this is a little heavy handed… but I can understand why they do it. Of course it just takes the “Hi just checking in hope everything is going well with the baby/your recovery/your whatever” texts or calls to personal phones and email.

        Understandable to avoid the problems by managers who would show up at chemo appointments and other crazy behavior. But it sucks when you are dealing with rational and boundary conscious managers, coworkers, and employees.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, we’ve done okay without that kind of barrier. Just passing along info about a meeting that should go on their calendar for when they get back, or even just asking where the Veeblefetzer file might be, but maybe 3 emails total for the twelve weeks and none requiring any genuine action.

    2. SunnyD*

      My company was really strict about thus. I think some reasonable ‘oh I kept all those files on this drive’ is fine, but not actually doing work. A lot of companies don’t know or care about the laws though. Not exactly like American workers have strong labor protections, or good recourse for retaliation.

  40. I'm A Little Teapot*

    #4 – I’m not a teacher. I have a good friend who IS a teacher, and earlier this year she invited me to a community function her school puts on as a fundraiser. There were, obviously, a lot of students and parents there as well. I spent the time addressing her as Ms. LastName when kids were around, and FirstName when it was just us. You don’t do it for you, you do it for the kids who need that kind of consistency.

    You’ll adjust. You’ll even catch yourself calling other teachers by the title + lastname because it’s just habit. In my view, it’s an amusing hallmark of being a teacher.

  41. Humble Schoolmarm*

    OP 4
    I think you really do have to go with the school culture here. It’s really hard for school-aged kids to grasp that rules, expectations, behaviour and names can and should shift based on the setting. This means that if you aren’t consistent with the other staff, you’re setting your colleagues up for a very long round of “But why do I have to call you Ms. Schoolmarm when I can just call her Jane?” (this sounds like an easy answer, but the honest response, because I like to be Ms Schoolmarm, but she prefers Jane and we should call people the names they prefer, is really unsatisfying to a lot of kids).
    This doesn’t mean you can’t push back on this and other aspects of school culture, but I would encourage you to push back around other staff (maybe your principal (and you) can live with a bit of a compromise like Ms Last initial or even Ms First initial?) and present a united front to the students whenever possible. Obviously, there are exceptions to this, but I don’t think this is that kind of hill.

    1. Mrs. H. Kenway*

      Ms./Mrs. Lastinitial is what I was thinking. That might be a good compromise. “Mrs. K” is formal enough to keep distance between teacher and student, but casual enough to indicate a friendlier, closer formality–a respectful friendliness that recognizes age and position, rather than just “we’re all equal buddies here,” friendliness.

      In many British schools teachers are just known as “Miss” or “Sir,” which might also work, if the Principal doesn’t feel it’s too different from convention? My daughters had a few teachers who were “Miss,” and they called them that even to us: “I asked Miss about it, and she said X,” that sort of thing.

  42. Rexish*

    #2. I was on an online forum where a parent was outraged that their childs coach is directly in contact with their child. If I recall correctly the child was 14ish. A lot of people were agreeing that it is innapropriate and the coach should always contact the parents. Inspired by this, I looked for more information and I’ve noticed that in some places all safeguarding rules have become very strict, what I consider normal has been changed into free range parenting, there are laws (if not laws then strong suggestions) when children are allowed to do what independently. I don’t think it’s just some being helicopter parents, I think it’s society telling that parents need to be invoved in everything.
    I know job is different from a hobby but I do think at that age there are similarities. There is this odd thing that we don’t allow our children to learn indepencence and then suddenly expect it. I don’t have other advice for the OP except that use this as a teaching opportunity for kids and parents.

    1. TootsNYC*

      so much this–the messages society sends to parents has changed so drastically.

      But even 22 or so years ago, when my own kids were little, I saw the foundations of helicopter parenting being laid–when my kids’ teachers asked ME to do something about them talking at nap time in k-garten, or scolding ME for signing off on the wrong formatting of his spelling words, as if that was MY responsibility.
      A friend of mine whose kid was a little older told me that she used to have to argue with his teachers, and would say, “it’s not MY homework.”

      Then there was the “your kid’s success is all your responsibility” pressure I saw then as well.

      1. Nope, not today*

        I have a 10 year old and had to really work with her on this last year – she had a really large project that she worked on over two months and really really struggled with. She would be upset and stressed and crying at home, but would *not* talk to her teacher. I refused to get involved – I helped her by giving project advice on how to do what needed to be done, how to plan each step, and told her if she still was hitting a wall then she needed to go to her teacher for advice. Either the teacher could give better guidance or she could perhaps clarify what needed to be done – as I hadn’t assigned the project I didn’t know enough to help the way she needed. This went on for over a month… about a week before the due date she finally spoke to the teacher, who said she had more than enough info already and put her at ease and from then on we were fine. But I felt really strongly that this sort of situation will come up SO often during life and she needed to learn to advocate for herself, particularly when it is her responsibility and her work. All of which is to say, I don’t think she’d have learned any of that if I had stepped in and had the conversation for her…

    2. SunnyD*

      I was a free range kid, and was sexually assaulted by strangers while wandering around. (Which is statistically less likely, usually it’s family members or trusted adults.) My parents didn’t know what to do, so they did nothing, and I got no support.

      There’s this big shift we’re all making, away from the ‘ignoring/coverup child sexual abuse’ model, toward an aware/responsive model. It recognizes that predators are often in trusted positions and seem very trustworthy. Which is so positive for kids like me… But also comes with some baggage of suspicion and encouraging parents to be much more involved later.

      Nothing is perfect, and I’m not sure we’re at the right spot yet on this pendulum. But I am glad that more people talk about pedophiles, and have education and resources and tools.

      1. SunnyD*

        Uh, this is relevant to a parent being concerned that a coach is talking privately to a young teenager, without them knowing. I’m giving a different framing why they’re concerned – I’d guess they weren’t thinking ‘my little baby isn’t old enough to talk for herself!’ (when a 14 y/o is probably showing the dinosaur-era parent how to use new tech) but ‘oh crap is this adult grooming my kid?’

        It’s true that can lead to less freedom and independence, but, well, decades of being messed up isn’t something to sneeze at either. It’s a struggle to find a good balance.

        1. doreen*

          I’d agree that some of the parents , in some circumstances are thinking ‘oh crap is this adult grooming my kid?’ but I know from experience some of them don’t believe a coach should ever contact the kids at all , not even to tell a 16 year old that this afternoon’s practice is cancelled. IMO, that’s going a bit to far.

          1. Clisby*

            Nothing wrong with a coach telling a 16-year-old that practice is cancelled, but why wouldn’t the coach also be contacting the parents? My kid played soccer for 10 years, and coaches had better sense than to just contact players. Not to protect themselves from accusations of grooming, but because parents generally are more responsible than 16-year-olds.

        2. just a random teacher*

          Part of the problem is also that kids are future adults. You can’t just look at “what is the best set of policies to keep a 14 year old safe right now?” but need to look at “what is the best set of policies to help this 14 year old grow the skills they need to be a safe 18 year old adult in four years time?”

          It’s something that’s impossible to get perfectly right, and there can be terrible consequences for getting it wrong either way, really. Done well, teen-focused summer work and volunteer work opportunities can be a good way to build some of those future adult skills in a scaffolded way, but not every teen program thinks about that explicitly, and not all parents think about their teenagers as future adults as opposed to recent children. (They’re both!)

  43. peachie*

    I get you, LW3. I’m a Theater Person who has been working full time in not-theater for a while (though I still do a limited amount of professional theater work at the same time). I sometimes worry about it because I do plan to go back to working in the theater at some point, though almost certainly with a part-time something for money reasons (this is not something I share with employers). The thing is, I know I’m a reliable employee who’s going to work hard; in the past 5-6 years, I’ve had two back-to-back jobs, and I’ve stayed at both for a pretty long time. I’m not going to up and quit on a whim. I think it’s a matter of making sure the employer understands that.

    My degrees — theater and history — do often come up in interviews, especially when they’re for roles that generally hire folks with technical or science degrees. The question is usually along the lines of “How on earth did you get from point A to here?”. I’m not sure how well this works for the jobs you’re interviewing for, but I usually respond with something like “It’s true that I have a creative background and consider myself a creative person, but I find that this type of work IS creative — that’s what draws me to it.” It helps that (at least in my current job) this is true — while what I do isn’t my passion, I do like it, and I think the reason I like it is that it does involve creative thinking and problem-solving.

  44. Beth*

    #2: I would expect the parents of 14 year olds to be much more involved than the parents of 18 year olds, sometimes because the kid needs the help, but also sometimes because the parent isn’t ready to let go of their responsibility for their kid just yet. (Which is legit and understandable when their child is a minor and legally their responsibility, in a way that it isn’t when their child is actually an adult.)

    That doesn’t mean you can’t have any guidelines for how involved the kid should be. You can say that applications need to be submitted by the kid, for example. But if a parent calls to let you know their kid is sick and won’t be in today, instead of the employee contacting you directly–well, they are still at an age where a parent needs to make those calls for them for school, so that wouldn’t be surprising to me. And if the parent of a kid who’s applied checks in with HR about, say, your policies for how many hours a 14 year old might be expected to work, or what kinds of tasks they’re allowed to do…that would read to me as just a side effect of hiring minors, that their parents would want to make sure it’s a safe and well-organized place for their kid to be.

    1. SunnyD*

      14 year olds have brains that are still underbaked; have no professional experience to draw from; and veer wildly between child, adult, and raging demon from hell. Parents should be involved – as lightly as possible, but young teens are not adults.

      1. Avasarala*

        Ugh. I remember being a young teen and being described like this, as if I was some inbetween larva stage, too old to be cute and too young to be treated respectfully.

  45. Yikes*

    My first job out of law school was doing what’s called “document review.” In that particular instance, our client was suing an enormous multi-national business. We requested to be provided with all of their internal emails related to X. They responded with what is known as a “document dump,” “snowing” us with discovery so that basically it becomes a needle in a haystack situation. This is super common, even though it’s supposed to not be allowed. Some poor schlub has to actually read every email in order to determine which are actually relevant. That schlub was me.

    The experience was instructive because it drove home for me that there is zero privacy on company-controlled methods of communication. There was an entire soap opera playing out in those emails between two employees who were having an affair. It had nothing to do with the lawsuit, but as part of my job I had to read them all, along with thousands of other emails. I was right there with them from the beginning, in the aftermath at their first rendezvous on a work trip, all the way to the panicked exchange when they each found out their emails were likely to be included in the discovery response and not only sent to us, but maybe also reviewed by someone in or representing their employer.

    In short, my advice is to adhere to the old adage “dance like nobody’s watching, email like it will be read back at a deposition.”

  46. TootsNYC*

    all activities related to applying for the job or actually doing the job (like scheduling) need to come from the kids themselves.

    This so much!

    The line I’d use is, “It does none of us any good to hire someone who doesn’t really want to be there. So it’s important that we know your child truly wants this job, and the only way to show that to us is for them to be the one to chase it. Certainly it would be appropriate for you to serve as your child’s adviser or coach.”

    If they’ve indicated a little too much of their own emotional involvement, I might even add, “But let me also say that we are counting on you–for the welfare of the campers in our care–to not pressure them into something they don’t want to do.”

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      “It does none of us any good to hire someone who doesn’t really want to be there…”

      So much this. In our office, we can almost guarantee that if a parent is doing all the leg work and the youth is of driving age, they won’t be showing up for their shifts.

    2. SunnyD*

      That’s the perfect balance. “Certainly it would be appropriate for you to serve as your child’s adviser or coach.” That’s a thing of beauty. Parents DO need to be involved, but not, like, TOO involved.

  47. Brett*

    #2 Rexish referenced this above, but make sure you know the law and administrative rules in your state on contacting minors outside of class. Schools (both K-12 and post-secondary) often have laws specific to them that requiring parental involvement in all contacts, even for employment. It may be okay for a minor employee to text you a day off request, but you might have to cc their parents or replying by a means other than text message when responding to the request.

    And if you are post-secondary, NCAA/NAIA rules on contacting a high school student (even for something like setting up a work schedule) are such an unbelievable labyrinth that you need a compliance officer to navigate them. (Though, generally, if the high school student is an athlete at all, they cannot work for any camp at an NCAA school unless they already signed a written commitment to the school.)

  48. Former Teacher*

    LW4: If your personal reasons are centered around your particular last name, would it be possible to use something like Ms. Middle Name? Using a different name with a prefix would keep the same level of formality.

    1. Blossom*

      Or a different surname that you have a connection to? Hard to advise without knowing the personal context, but perhaps a maiden name or your mother’s maiden name, something like that? I don’t think that Ms Middlename has the same level of formality, because it’s still a given name instead of a surname (unless your middle name actually does come from a surname).

      1. Former Teacher*

        I think it depends on the name! People can have all kinds of last names, including traditional given names (James, Grace, Allen, etc.). If the middle name is Jennifer though, it might be less of an option. Mother’s maiden name is good alternative.

  49. Gotta be anonymous for this*

    We had a situation like LW1 at my work place not long ago. Employees “A” and “B” were having an ongoing conflict. And to deal with the frustration surrounding that conflict, “A” started venting about it with two of their friends in other departments, using her company email. “C” and “D” fully participated in “A”s gripe sessions, and they also said some pretty terrible and hurtful things about “B” in their company email.

    The conflict reached the point that “B” made a report of workplace bullying to HR. As part of their investigation, they pulled all of “A”s emails, and they found those conversations with “C” and “D.” All three of them lost their jobs over it.

    Moral of the story: if you’re going to vent about your problems with your coworkers, don’t use any communication system controlled by your employer.

  50. kris*

    OP#3 – I’m in a similar position but got my BFA in 2010 so it’s been a little longer and I was already working in my current (non-art related) field all through college. I still get that kind of question. They want to be reassured that you’re not going to be constantly searching for a job in a creative field. Or they want to know if you see any parallels – my education technically is completely unrelated to my current field, but the way I think has led me to excel at creative problem solving, coming up with projects for process/performance improvement, etc. but that’s been more in recent years rather than in entry-level positions. I think that asking how you plan to pursue your creative interests during your free time is also a good sign that they’re interested in making sure you’re going to have enough work/life balance to not be at risk of burning out quickly. My current boss asked it and wanted to hear a lot about my interests and goals both creatively and in my current field and he turned out to be an awesome boss. In the past, I’ve had jobs that wore me out so much I didn’t have the energy to do creative stuff on my own time. I didn’t last long in those.

    OP#4 – I love my last name but I hate being addressed with a gendered prefix. It just makes me super uncomfortable. Maybe you could go by just your last name without the gendered prefix? I think that’s still a little more approachable for students to use, yet not as casual as a first name.

  51. RoadsLady*

    #2 My camp counselor career began in college, but we had plenty of staff on the teen age.

    Most were cool. For some reason we had a rough and tumble reputation, so most kids applied with that realization and all kids and parents were cool with it. And while we were of course willing to consider parent requests, too much worrying and fussing from parents proved to be a bad sign.

  52. literal desk fan*

    For #3: I have a degree in graphic design, which is a little more structured than other fine arts, but I’ve found that I’m still doing creative things even in my full time office job, and some of the skills I learned in school, such as being able to give and take constructive criticism, has been a huge advantage in the professional world. Others have suggested emphasizing what you like about the job you’re applying for, which is excellent advice, but if there’s a way to tie in your creative experience to the job (for example, I’ve found that having to do all those thumbnails for my graphic design projects in school really cemented a habit of coming up with and evaluating different solutions to a problem to find the best one, and that has helped a lot in the process improvement work I’ve done), that might be something you want to include as well.

  53. Working Mom Having It All*

    My parents definitely applied for me, or had enough oversight over my application that I’ve since forgotten applying on my own, when I was a volunteer day camp counselor/CIT-esque position as a young teenager. I may have had to fill out some paperwork on my own (but with help from parents as needed), but when I did this it was definitely framed to me as “would you like to be a junior counselor at X Camp that we already send your younger siblings to, we have already approached this with management and they are open to having you if you want to do it” rather than me finding out that a local day camp was looking for junior counselors and taking the initiative to apply on my own without parental help. I don’t recall being unusual in this regard, at that age.

    It really wasn’t till I was 16+ that it seemed to be expected that one would approach a summer job or volunteer job search the same way that an adult would, with little to no parental input.

  54. Quinoa*

    OP #3, as someone who spent a large part of her life working a day job to support her artistic goals, I can tell you this question is one of those things you can expect to be asked as long as you’re also an artist. There is a widely-held cultural assumption that artist’s are lazy or flakey or incapable of being held to professional standards, even though for all of the artists I personally know, the opposite is true.

    One thing I have found helpful when faced with that question is to answer as you have, and then to list the very useful qualities my creative pursuits have helped me develop, such as time management, problem solving skills, project management skills, the ability to collaborate, meet deadlines and juggle priorities. It’s an opportunity to help showcase related skills that would also make you a valuable employee.

  55. NomdePlumage*

    LW #3: I am someone who is very dedicated to her 9-5 desk job, but also sells art on the side (gotta hustle!). What I told my hiring manager is that I like variety and couldn’t really see myself as a full-time artist because I needed a job that would also engage my analytical side—followed by pointing out which parts of the job I was looking forward to. It’s not a complete lie; I’m terrified of my passion becoming a job that I get burnt out on.

    I think reassuring them that you know how to balance your time and also exhibiting excitement for the desk job really helps.

  56. NB*

    OP #2
    My fourteen year old was a CIT this summer–the unpaid variety where she’s basically a camper who helps the younger kids. Unfortunately, her counselor didn’t come to work a few times, and she was left in charge of the young ones. She rose to the challenge, but I’m still a little miffed that I wasn’t more informed.

    I also have a sixteen year old in the workforce. She’s been at her grocery store job for a little over a year now and has received two raises already! Although she’s doing well, she’s still a little afraid of her bosses. So she frets and frets whenever she needs to discuss something with them. A few months ago, she needed to correct an error on her schedule. She understood that her parents wouldn’t make the call for her, but we did coach her through it. We helped her craft what she would say, and we practiced it with her–dad pretended to be the boss and she called him on the phone to discuss the problem. Then we sat with her while she made the call for real. It was easy. Her boss is nice, so she really didn’t need to worry. But she’s young and eager to please, so a little encouragement was needed.

    1. Blarg*

      The first situation sounds problematic on many levels. I really hope your 14 year old was not solely responsible for younger kids, like, at all.

      The second sounds like A+ parenting. Nice work!

    2. WellRed*

      Why should your daughter’s work have informed you of this? And what would you have done had you been informed ( by daughter or otherwise)?

  57. Batgirl*

    So I work in a school where only certain members of the pastoral staff go by first names and it really helps make the different adults’ roles clear to kids. Going by title-surname in the classroom is what a lot of kids are used to and it can actually make them uncomfortable to have that disrupted. Other issues are they can misunderstand your role.
    You may have to correct them a few times in the beginning but every time you do, you’re simply saying you have a different role now and that it’s classroom time.
    It also doesn’t have to be a stuffy power move (you still get to determine your style of teaching) or a huge change for them. It’s probably going to be a bigger change for you; they’re used to it.

  58. The way Moira Rose says baby*

    LW #1 — It sounds like you’ve learned your lesson and will be more careful moving forward. Good for you! I had to learn this lesson, too, but it was much more painful in my case. I was fired on the spot for almost exactly this kind of behavior, with no warning, no apologies, and no second chances, even though I’d just had an excellent performance review less than a month before. It was, and remains, one of the most painful experiences of my life.

    It’s so hard when friendships overlap into work — you talk about personal things, you talk about work projects, you send memes and pictures — and sometimes it feels inevitable that all of those things mix together in your chats during the day. It can be hard to separate yourself from that and remember that you’re at work and anything you write can be read by someone later–especially when/if you’re under stress at your job, in a difficult office, or stuck in a tough work culture where venting about work is how you made your friends in the first place!

    Mostly, I think it’s the luck of the draw, where some people get caught doing this and most don’t. But better to be one of those “rise above it” employees than “that girl who used to work here.”

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