should I warn a contact not to take a job at my awful company?

A reader writes:

A friend of a friend may be trying to join my small company. However, it’s a terrible place and several of us are trying to leave ASAP. If this were a friend I would definitely let her know. But this is an acquaintance. Do I say something?

I ran into this person, and she excitedly told me she was meeting with the boss Friday. She asked me how I liked the job and I couldn’t lie. I took a long pause, and then said there were parts I liked. I told her if she had more specific questions to ask, she has my email.

Shouldn’t my response be a huge red flag to her? I feel like I’m doing her a favor and she hasn’t asked me any more questions. I’m annoyed that I was honest with someone who may be too clueless to realize I’m trying to non-verbally tell her “Run the F away!” Or maybe she just thinks I’m a kook.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My coworker is constantly coughing and blowing her nose
  • Can I refuse to train people for the job I’d like to be doing?
  • Should my resume include a job I quit after a month?
  • I don’t want to talk about the details of my injury when I return to work
Posted in Uncategorized

{ 152 comments… read them below }

  1. Working Mom Having It All*

    YESSSS! WARN!!!!

    I’m currently going through the hiring process at a company that has a well known and somewhat controversial company culture. I’ve been putting out feelers to get the straight dope, which includes reaching out to acquaintances and friends of friends. Because this would be a big move for me, and I want to know going in if I’ll be miserable. Especially as I am fairly happy at my current job. I would want to know if the workplace was this toxic before accepting the job. I’d be really upset to find out that all the people I’m reaching out to about this are fudging to be polite.

    1. DaffyDuck*

      Be specific about the problems (you don’t need to name names) so those of us desperate to take anything can decide. “Must wear makeup, hose and heels every day even if you are not customer facing” vs. “Won’t shut down continuous mean comments about my weight” vs. “Manager micromanages every project” are very different things even tho all can be reasons for leaving.

    2. ..Kat..*

      But do it in person, not an email or other type of writing that sticks around and can be later used against you.

    3. charo*

      What you said seems enough for her to get a clue. You don’t know how desperate she is or how this might be good for her. You could tell your mutual friend and let her/him pass the word.

      I wouldn’t want to be quoted dissing the co.

  2. Bee*

    ER Nurse – is there some authority to whom you can report the safety issues?! You’ve probably already done it but, if not, I hope you do! Input aside, if there is something that is going to endanger people, an oversight body should be aware.

    1. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

      I’m going to second this. There is almost always today a reporting mechanism for safety issues in a hospital. However, this is an older letter, so it is possible that at the time the letter was written the reporting mechanism/system wasn’t in place yet.

    2. ..Kat..*

      Reporting can be long and complicated, require a lot of time and energy, and usually cannot be done confidentially. Which can exhaust the reporter, make them a pariah in their industry, and make it difficult to find other work. Being a reporter can ruin your life. And may not result in any meaningful change. I am not saying to not report unsafe conditions, but whistleblowers face a large burden for trying to make things better.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        100% this is you decide to warn her.

        When I was at ToxicJob, I would have been very worried about retaliation from my higher uppers if they heard that someone was speaking badly of them and the company. If they heard it was me specifically OR if the person just said “they heard X” and didn’t name names. The whole department or area the person was applying in likely would be treated poorly after that. So I probably would not have warned someone if I wasn’t 100% sure they would NOT tell management about the warning.

    1. Wife of Heracles*

      I did this once– warning a prospective applicant away from my terrible organization. The rampant sexism! The lack of meaningful support! The absent supervisors! Not getting paid on time! And did I mention the rampant sexism?

      She came anyway.

      That was super frustrating.

      1. DaffyDuck*

        At least she knew going in what the issues would be. Sometimes you are so desperate to get bills paid you will put up with just about anything. Hopefully, she found a better job and was able to move on.

      2. Mockingjay*

        I wrote into the open thread a few years ago about interviewing prospective hires at Very Toxic ExJob. I didn’t feel I could hire someone when the company might fold.

        On the one hand, the company had severe financial issues, the culture was reactive, employee morale was in the toilet, and I was looking desperately to get out. On the other hand, kind commentators pointed out that I was bringing my emotions to the situation and this job could be a lifeline for someone who was looking for a paycheck.

        People accept jobs for all kinds of reasons. Give them the info and they can decide. (BTW, ExToxicJob closed about 18 months after I left, so they managed to hang on for a while.)

        1. Working Mom Having It All*

          I think there’s a big difference between being the hiring manager actively interviewing people for an opening (it would not be kosher to openly warn anyone away from taking the job) vs. a social connection asked privately about potential issues. Also, I’m not sure I would warn someone that I thought the company might close soon, because who knows if that’s actually going to be the case, but I would warn someone that people never take vacation days, or the benefits are terrible, or a manager they would likely interact with is a sexual harrasser.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        You have to respect that people can do whatever they want with the information and warnings you give them!

        That’s part of free will and their choices. You can’t save everyone after all.

        Also I know enough women out there that are actually quite sexist themselves, so they don’t see it as an issue…no joke yeah I know. So I mean you warned them about reasonable and bad things but people take chances on that kind of stuff all the time. Life is a gamble after all.

      4. JSPA*

        Unless you know that she had other, better options, it’s possible that she did the calculation and came with open eyes because she needed the job that badly. Or maybe she hoped that her penchant for stealing paperclips (or whatever) would not be noticed nor punished.

      5. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I let a really toxic job (I left it too late, I had reached the pointwhere I was sitting in my car outside the office evey morning, feeling physically sick at the thought of going inside)
        A friend and former co-worker of mine told me she was thinkng of applying, and I advised her against it and told her why.

        She applied, and accepted the job anyway.
        I kind of understand why – jobs at her level of experience, in our field, were hard to come by, and she had a husband and small children so didn’t have a lot of flexibility in terms of where she was looking, I did feel better about it becuase I had warned her, and (as we were friends) I did also talk to her when she told me she’d tskrn the job, and gave her a few survival tips.

  3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Yes, warn them! Save any and all people that you know even casually from a place that’s so bad that you’re all trying to escape it.

  4. Sharikacat*

    For #3, I’m reminded of a similar letter somewhere on this blog where someone expressed irritation at having to train their bosses. Some of that advice might still apply here- the training for the higher position is more for the company-specific way of doing things rather than the overall skills for the position itself, which is something the LW would be equipped to teach.

    1. Mrs. Fletcher*

      My view on training my bosses/peers has always been, if everyone does it exactly the way I do it, then by default I’m doing it right. Thus any flaws in my work become the benchmark.

    2. Alphabet Pony*

      It did also sound like they hadn’t applied – was there ever an update or answer to that?

  5. fposte*

    Whoa, I’d forgotten lawnmower OP. Ouch. I hope that’s been a minimal stumbling block for them.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I kind of gasped. And I think “I don’t want to talk about it” is perfect — because really what could be much more dramatic than what happened!?
      And I hope OP didn’t take flack for an accident — even with safety precautions they happen.

    2. SezU*

      Someone at work recently had a horrific, truly freak accident that resulted them in losing the end of a finger. It was clear from the start they didn’t want to talk about it, so we had enough sense to drop it immediately.

      1. No Green No Haze*

        we had enough sense to drop it immediately.

        How many letters would NOT be written to AAM if more people could do this? 60%?

    3. Other Meredith*

      When I was in college and worked on the school grounds crew, there was a story about a former employee called Fingerless Steve. He was called that because he only had 9 fingers after accidentally shooting one off with a shotgun (and because our boss’s name was Steve). To my surprise, after I’d been there a couple of months, Fingerless Steve got hired back, and now he only had 8 fingers! He had accidentally cut another one off with circular saw. I left that job after another couple of months, but last I heard, Fingerless Steve had quit because he had at least partially severed yet another finger while trying to unclog a running lawnmower. I’m not sure if that last part is true, but it feels true.

      1. OhNo*

        Apparently Fingerless Steve lost one digit, thought, “Eh, this isn’t so bad” and became quite careless with the others.

        I know that’s probably not true, but I can’t help but marvel at his ability to lose fingers. Most people make it through life without losing even one, and there is he overachieving!

      2. Zombeyonce*

        It’s because of this that even people as clumsy as I am have a higher-than-average number of fingers. I’ll continue to be proud of that fact as I nurse a bruise on my shoulder, a cut on my foot, and a bump on my elbow.

      3. Aggretsuko*

        I had a driving instructor who was short on fingers. I always wondered if it was because of his students.

  6. Jamie*

    OP#1 – you don’t mention if your acquaintance is currently working but if so it’s especially important to warn them before they leave another job for a hot mess.

    Warn anyway, but personally if I were out of work I would probably take it anyway, but would appreciate a heads up just the same.

    OP #2 – I know your pain, truly. I pray each day for an end to allergy season due to how severe they are for the person with whom I share an office but believe it or not it’s gotten easier over time. (Tbf they don’t leave tissues about and do wash their hands so for me it’s just about noise, but I’m still shocked I’ve developed a kind of tolerance for it.)

    1. Velo Ciperaptor*

      I feel like a gross person, but…. does everybody always go to the bathroom every time they need to blow their nose? Every single time? I do use hand sanitizer and I have disinfecting wipes at my desk. But the bathroom is half a floor away, and in allergy season, that would be a lot of trips……
      Am I being super gross?

      1. WellRed*

        Hell no, but I will step away on occassion to do so; same if I have a coughing jag. Also, at some point, it’s probably just residual cough and snuffles, not a level 4 infection risk.

      2. Jamie*

        Not at all, Idk about other cultures but I’ve never known people to leave their desks or whatever to blow their noses (although if people are eating it’s nice to leave the immediate vicinity.)

        For me personally, nose blowing doesn’t even bother me. It’s the specific horking sound when people are doing that deep sniffle and not blowing their nose that makes me gag.

        Funny thing with my office mate the noises bothered me a lot more before we started kind of joking about it. They sneeze literally 20-50 times a day and I was saying bless you and they were saying thank you each time and finally I took advice from here and when he apologized I told him no worries, but from now on he gets one “God bless you” to cover the daily allotment of sneezes.

        And he promised to pretend he doesn’t notice when I jump as he sneezes because having my hyper startle reflex pointed out annoys me.

        Just acknowledging the elephant sneezing in the room made it much less annoying – although the snuffle horking thing is still cringey for me they now do it less as they are free to blow to their hearts content without trying to be quiet.

        1. lilsheba*

          “For me personally, nose blowing doesn’t even bother me. It’s the specific horking sound when people are doing that deep sniffle and not blowing their nose that makes me gag.”

          THIS!!!! This is the nastiest thing ever and when I am forced to be near someone who does it constantly I just want to shoot them.

      3. SarahKay*

        If you’re being super gross then so am I. Also, my desk is mine – we don’t share much in the way of physical paper; it’s all electronic – so while my keyboard and chair may be germy from nose-blowing while I’m there, no-one has to sit there but me.
        If I’m horribly congested and know the nose-blowing is going to be particularly wet-sounding I’ll try and step away somewhere fewer people will hear me, but otherwise if I had to go to the bathroom every time I blow my nose once a cold is gone and it’s just the remaining snuffles, I’d get no work done.

      4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Nope, although a germaphobe may disagree. I throw away tissues once I’ve used them, and use hand sanitizer after blowing my nose, but if people expect someone to stay home for the duration of a cold, they’re being unrealistic.

      5. Liz*

        No. I too suffer from allergies and asthma, so am not at all contagious. But i sneeze, cough and blow my nose multiple times a day. Even with taking meds for it, i still am not cough or sneeze etc free. i try and be considerate of my co-workers but sometimes i just can’t help it and there’s nothing i can do to make it all go away.

      6. epi*

        No, you’re not being gross.

        It’s polite to leave if you sense that what’s coming might be especially loud/icky/productive, but it’s not always possible. And if you have active allergies or congestion it’s just not practical. Not everything that’s gross is possible to shield everyone from 100% of the time! FWIW there is a Miss Manners question out there about this issue too, and she agrees– even at mealtimes. Make reasonable efforts to keep it to yourself, and that’s it.

        I see tons of complaining on this site about “gross” behavior like sniffling that other people may not even be able to control. That’s… Not a typical reaction to being around people with upper respiratory infections or allergies. People who remain grossed out need to take responsibility for their own health and their own feelings. Step up the hand hygiene, especially before and after touching anyone else’s things– not just the coworker’s. Without being that person or that person’s doctor, no one can know if someone else taking every reasonable step to be quieter/cleaner/less leaky, or how much effort and discomfort is involved in getting them as presentable as they are. Shaming people who already don’t feel good is, to put it lightly, not really the public health approved approach.

      7. Peachkins*

        I’ll go ahead and add to those being gross too, I guess. I can’t imagine going to the restroom every time I need to blow my nose, although I do try not to do anything too loud while at my desk. I do have hand sanitizer next to me, and I do throw away my tissues as I use them, so at least there’s that.

      8. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

        does everybody always go to the bathroom every time they need to blow their nose?

        I don’t. I’ve always thought this was a pretty immature thing to do. You know, the kind of thing you do when you’re in middle school and are super self-conscious about everything. Adults should just blow their nose when they need to and then throw the tissue away. It’s not that big a deal.

        1. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

          I just read some of the other responses, and I agree that if you are going to be particularly loud then it’s polite to step out, just like you would for a protracted coughing fit. Otherwise, nah. Just blow your nose at your desk.

      9. Lucy*

        Not if it was a quick “must not sniff” blow – and I’m pausing to honour the coworker who is blowing rather than sniffing – but if I was really snotty and wanted to have a lengthy “clear out all these dratted cold-plugged pipes so I can breathe for more than two minutes” session I would absolutely excuse myself rather than snort and trumpet all over a shared workspace.

    2. Venus*

      OP2: The fact that this person goes to the washroom in order to get a tissue (maybe not every time, but at least occasionally) should make it easy for you to have a conversation with them. “The noise is distracting me from my work, and I appreciate that you can’t leave your desk every time, but if you happen to be at the washroom for tissues then could you please save me at least the occasional distraction? I would greatly appreciate it”.

      I also know a guy who dealt with this same situation (guy would go to the washroom to get a tissue and then return) and he yelled at the coworker, using swear words, and after that not a word was said but the nose-blower made his noises in the washroom from that day forward. Not the right solution, but oddly relevant and effective. It was a work discussion about things that push us over the edge, and how saying something sooner than later can be better for our mental health.

      1. Observer*

        How does the OP know that CW is not actually blowing their nose in the bathroom as well?

        1. Zombeyonce*

          Yeah, this is what I was thinking. When I have a bad cold I’ll go to the bathroom to blow my nose when it’s really bad, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually stopped running. I often need to continue to blow it (albeit less forcefully) when I’m back at my desk, otherwise I’d be in the bathroom 80% of the day.

    3. Clisby*

      Believe me, the sneezer/cougher is praying for relief even more. I’ve had both – the bad cold that lingers for 3-4 weeks, or the allergies that (until Claritin) could be controlled only by drugs that made me so sleepy I could hardly work. (Fortunately, by that point I had a private office.) Going to the bathroom to blow my nose? I’d be heading out every 10-15 minutes.

      One more reason to just be a decent employer and give people private offices.

    4. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

      To be fair there is also a major difference between allergies and a cold/flu. I sort of got the impression that the LW with the coughing/sneezing/tissues everywhere office sharer was at least somewhat worried about spreading germs.
      Allergies are annoying for all, but at least they aren’t potentially contagious.

  7. learnedthehardway*

    You HAVE already warned the person about the company. You do need to protect yourself here. You can’t go slagging your current employer to acquaintances, and be totally confident that it won’t get back to your manager.

    Your lack of an enthusiastic reaction and your circumspect description of what you like and don’t like SHOULD be enough for the person to realize that you have reservations.

    Believe me, I was in the same position once as your acquaintance, and I would have appreciated a more direct “Oh hell no” response from someone about joining a particular group. But I also understood that they were in a difficult position and couldn’t be that direct. (Sadly, I didn’t pick up on the warning, but that was on me.)

    1. Mike C.*

      Where did the OP warn anyone? I’ve read the letter several times both here and on the other site and absolutely no warning was given.

      1. Jamie*

        I took a long pause, and then said there were parts I liked.,

        I think this is what they mean. I would take that as a warning because of the pause and deliberate caution, but most people aren’t nearly as paranoid as I am so wouldn’t see lack of enthusiastic affirmation as a warning.

        Kind of like, “What do you think of Steve?” if the reply is a long pause followed by “I like his shoes and the fact that I don’t think he’s ever actively murdered anyone.” most people would take it as a warning, not just a less than ringing endorsement.

          1. Liane*

            Not a warning, agreed. At best, it’s similar to what I’ve read Alison describe as an “Oh, please, ask me more about this” tone used when giving references, for example when the company policy (formal or informal) is to not give anything beyond title and dates unless it’s specifically asked for. Like OP was hoping her acquaintance would ask, “Why the hesitation–what’s up with that?” or “It sounds like there’s some things you really don’t like as well–so spill.”

        1. Observer*

          It’s not a warning. Also when you specify totally inconsequential things as the only things you like about someone or say that the best thing you can say about someone is that he’s not a murderer, that’s very different from a general “there are things that I like”, since those things could be pretty good and no one has any way to know.

          1. Jamie*

            I wasn’t very clear – I agree most people would not see that as a warning.

            I would because I’m nervous enough about toxic workplaces I’d take anything less then enthusiastic praise to be a warning…but then I’d have been prompted to ask more specific questions.

        2. Oryx*

          I’d read that as more cautionary, but not a full out warning. Proceed at your own risk v. abandon hope all ye who enter here.

          1. Allonge*

            Hehe, English is not my first language and I am from Europe and that is a pretty strong warning to me :)

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        Not enthusiastically encouraging someone to apply should be taken as a warning about how they shouldn’t apply. (Whether the warning is ABOUT your workplace or FOR your workplace is another matter.)

          1. Antilles*

            And even if you did consider it a warning, it’s not remotely on That’s not really a warning for the level of insanity that OP is talking about though.
            “Parts I liked, email me and we can chat” isn’t a ringing endorsement, but it’s worlds different from OP’s actual message of “This is a place so terrible that the entire staff is trying to quit. Run away! Run the bleep away now!”

            1. RabbitRabbit*

              Blanket response to the responses –

              I strongly encourage plenty of people to apply where I work – unless I don’t want them working there, which is what I meant about where the warning is directed.

              A long pause followed by “well, there are parts I liked…” especially with the right tone of voice and expressions is a giant, waving red flag in my book. There was no “yes” or “depends on what role” or anything in that response.

              I didn’t like the “e-mail me” part of LW’s response, though. Don’t put it in writing; that could bite the LW in the rear if the other person is vindictive/careless later for some reason.

              1. Cardio Queen*

                You are free to assume that anything less than throwing a parade is a red flag, but it doesn’t make it true, reasonable or smart to act that way. And it’s poor advice to give to others, who have to operate in a world where people are often less than 100% enthusiastic for perfectly ordinary, non-red-flaggy reasons.

              2. Antilles*

                I guess I personally just wouldn’t take it that same way. If you paused and then said “well, there are parts I liked…”, that doesn’t sound like a screaming waving red flag. I would have some reservations about it and would definitely push you for more information…but I wouldn’t jump straight to assuming that it’s a place so toxic that the entire staff is frantically trying to find a lifeboat.

              3. Blue Horizon*

                I would absolutely take this as at least a potential warning. What it says to me is:

                – I am trying to think of something positive to say about the company
                – I had to try pretty hard (the long pause)
                – I am not at liberty to say more under the current circumstances
                – I am willing to have a frank conversation with you about it with certain safeguards in place, and here is how to contact me if you’d like to set that up.

                A factor that would argue for it not being a warning is if you were perfectly free to say “Run the F away” if you chose, but didn’t. So it’s ambiguous (and I think that the responses on this thread demonstrate that).

                1. Avasarala*

                  Same, that’s what I would take from it. But I think enough people have shown here that they need it spelled out for them, so OP should be more explicit.

        1. JackJack*

          That’s… a super weird take. People can be less than enthusiastic for all sort of reasons. It’s not a flashing red siren!

          1. Lance*

            Basically this. Some people aren’t enthusiastic about their workplace/job, but like it well enough, and may recommend it. Some people (like me) just aren’t enthusiastic in general. I personally wouldn’t even so much as take it as a flag if someone wasn’t being actively enthusiastic, and as for the oh-so-subtle ‘warning’ LW put forth… well, some of us aren’t so good at reading the unspoken ‘but’ at the end.

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Nope, no warning was given. If someone asks, you need to provide examples of both good and bad things about the company and work environment so the other person can make an informed decision. Pausing and saying there are things you like is not a warning – it might work for someone who already works there, as they’re part of the environment and may understand your subtle implication, but not in this case.

          1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            Not to everyone, and not getting the “hint” does not make the other person clueless. And she’s a friend of a friend, so she may not know OP well enough to understand what she was trying to say in not saying anything.

          2. JSPA*

            It’s a hint about something, but that something could be anything from, “the job sucks” to “I don’t want you as competition” to “there’s drama happening right now, but I don’t want to mention it because it’s not typical” to “I am job searching but don’t want anyone to know” to “the FBI is about to close us down and nobody’s to know about it” to “the boss has appalling BO but if it didn’t bother you in the interview, bless you, I’m not going to mention it” to “the computer system is terrible and I’ve been fighting it all day and can’t look past that right now” to “I just broke up with the stockroom manager and every day is fresh hell for that very personal reason.”

      4. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, that whole “I’m annoyed that I was honest with someone who may be too clueless to realize I’m trying to non-verbally tell her…” thing was a bit much. Like… what part of that was an actual warning? The pause? Was it an honest pause? Did you add an honest eyebrow raise? Maybe an honest non-verbal thought released into the universe? Was there an interpretive dance?

        Seriously, warn or don’t warn, but don’t act like the other person’s clueless just because they couldn’t interpret your complete lack of warning as a warning.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      Co-signing all of this. I’d directly warn the acquaintance only if I could be sure she wouldn’t reveal her source, intentionally or inadvertently, for any concerns she mentions during the interview process.

      This could be as subtle as “I’ve heard from current employees that the work-life balance is not great. Can you comment?” and the hiring manager figures out, even if she asks directly “who said that?” and the acquaintance refuses to answer, that due to mutual friend the source must have been OP.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Unfortunately, I also agree. I wouldn’t trust an acquaintance enough to warn them super explicitly.

        I always think about my time at ToxicJob for these kinds of letters… and there 110% would have been repercussions for me if I warned someone about ToxicCompany and it got back to any of my higher ups there. Unless you have a new job offer you plan to take in hand, you should consider if there could be any repercussions here.

        In my case, even if Acquaintance didn’t reveal her source of information, it was also very likely that ToxicCompnay would have rained hell on everyone in the department she applied for as punishment for someone talking behind their back :/

    3. Working Mom Having It All*

      “It has its moments! Reach out if you have specific questions,” is not a warning. Being direct also would not be “slagging”, it would be telling the truth. No company has a right for others not to know how horribly they treat their workers.

      I mean, OP should be honest and fair, and stick to the facts. Also, if there’s any element of Bitch Eating Crackers there due to bad blood and ongoing drama, it would be good for OP to sort out the difference between “Karen in Accounting is IMPOSSIBLE and we are all leaving because she is the WORRRSSSSSTTTT” and “Several of us are worried that something isn’t right in the accounting department, possibly including gross mismanagement that doesn’t bode well for anyone at the company.”

      But, yes, warn, and no, “There’s good and bad just like any company” isn’t a warning, and telling the truth isn’t inappropriate badmouthing. You can explain the situation without being all “Awwwwww HELL NO” dramatic about it.

      If the company doesn’t want employees jumping ship en masse and warning others not to work there, they should fix whatever the problem here is, not retaliate against workers for protecting their interests.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        “No company has a right for others not to know how horribly they treat their workers.”

        Can we make this a mandatory public service announcement in all business-related media, please?

    4. JediSquirrel*

      I disagree. Some may interpret this as reluctance about them, rather than about the company. It’s best to be clear and direct with them. You can speak to them privately, in confidence (and make that part clear).

      I would be pissed as hell, both at myself and my acquaintance, if I missed their hint and made myself miserable as a result. They are asking for data, so please give it to them.

    5. Bee*

      Nah, “it has its moments” could absolutely be read as a personal issue. I’ve gone through phases where I couldn’t give a ringing endorsement of my job/company/industry, but it was because I was burned out and frustrated, not because any of them were wildly horrible and to be avoided at all costs. And often the things that were so frustrating to me had been totally fine for the first three years, so a new person shouldn’t have necessarily taken that as a red flag anyway. I just needed a change! A lack of enthusiasm isn’t the same as a warning.

    6. Observer*

      Actually, not the OP most definitely did NOT warn the person. “There are parts I like. You can email me.” Is totally NOT a warning. In fact, it could easily be taken to mean “it’s ok, but not great.”

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Or just taken to mean “I’m one of those people who hate talking and I don’t feel like having a conversation with you.”

    7. MassMatt*

      That you yourself did not pick up on the very oblique signal you are describing as a warning indicates this is not a good way to communicate. Stop with the charades, people!

    8. hbc*

      I think there’s a lot of room between making people read into pauses and exposing yourself by dumping on the company. “I wouldn’t want what I would say getting back to anyone there.” Or “You don’t want to rely on me, check glassdoor” if they have horrible reviews. Or “I’m really not the best person to talk to about that right now.”

  8. TurquoiseCow*

    RE: #2, I suffered from allergies for a long time before I found a medication that works. I was the coworker who was constantly sneezing and blowing my nose. Coworkers joked about it sometimes, but I’m sure I annoyed them. But (and here’s the key), it wasn’t something I could control. It’s not something your coworker can control. Telling her, or having your manager tell her, that her coughing is annoying is just going to make her feel worse.

    Asking if she can put her tissues in the garbage is reasonable, since that’s something she can control. But she can’t make herself stop coughing, and unless your company has a really awesome sick leave policy, she’s not going to take off work when she’s getting over a cold. So get some headphones or something if you have to.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Not too long ago I got a nasty respiratory “virus.” By virus, I mean I went to the doctor and the doctor said, “It’s a virus, we can’t treat you until you’ve been sick for twelve weeks because that’s how long it takes to kick a virus.”

      People followed me around complaining that I was sick, that I should stay home, and that I should go to the doctor. I can’t take 12 weeks off work or I’ll be broke and/or terminated. The doctor already sent me packing. What else should I do?

      Around week 8 I got much sicker, qualified for antibiotics, went back and got some, and was better in a few days.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        I’ve had sick coworkers who came in every day looking miserable and refused to see a doctor, so I totally get nagging someone to get that cough looked at. But if the doctor said just to wait it out, then, *shrug* what can you do?

  9. Apt Nickname*

    I’m coming off a cold, and I have to say that if I had to go into the bathroom every time I needed to blow my nose I wouldn’t get any work done. Yes, I took a sick day and rested over the day off on the 4th, but if I stayed home the entire time I was congested I’d have been out for two weeks. I use hand sanitizer and dispose of the tissues, but I do need to breath. Also, what about allergies?

    1. Clisby*

      Same. I seem to have outgrown it, but when I was younger at least twice a year I’d get a cold that dragged out for weeks. I couldn’t possibly have taken sick leave for the entire time.

    2. DJ*

      I’m wondering if the coworker has allergies or something too. I have very minor asthma plus seasonal allergies. Ever since I was a kid this has meant that when I get sick I end up with a lingering cough and sometimes the sniffles for a while afterwards. Coughing is the worst. It can take a lot out of you and it makes it hard to sleep so you’re even more exhausted, plus for me, I end up with a constant tightness in my chest and feeling like I can’t breathe. I make a point of using hand sanitizer when needed, but I’d also be surprised if she’s contagious after a month and a half.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My seasonal allergies are kicking my butt so hard this year. I would laugh and ignore anyone who even hinted that I should go to the bathroom to blow my nose. Granted I don’t do it dramatically or anything, some people blow their nose like they’re playing a trumpet [Looking at you, dad].

  10. MassMatt*

    Yes, warn. Use actual WORDS, not pauses, looks, or eye rolls. Honestly sometimes people revert to some kind of hidden code rather than talk about something unpleasant. We have language, let’s use it versus charades or pantomime.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes. I think OP was being *really* indirect – the only hints I can see are a pause, and the words “some parts of it are good.” I get why she may not have wanted to say more, but at the same time, I can certainly see why the acquaintance didn’t pick up on those hints. She may have gathered that the job wasn’t perfect, but it’s a fair leap from there to “Run the F away.”

  11. TPS Cover Sheet*

    Well, I just got 14 pages of termination agreement I need to have a lawyer sign (the company will pay for it!), and I am interviewing tomorrow.

    Red flags:
    a) Company is private with 1 stock of £1.
    b) Parent company is from the left side of the pond so I’ve read here a lot of how stuff works which makes my socks twirl…
    c) The hiring is through an agency so if I go work I’ll basically be a contractor through the agency = with zero job security, ref point b)
    d) Their Glassdoor reviews are… uhhhooohh, even with a pound of salt uuhhooohh…

    And I’m tomorrow going there all bright-eyed and eager. At my age one needs to be humble if I get a pie to eat… So even if someone gave me a blunt headsup, I’d appreciate it, but I have bills to pay.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      on point 2… from other side of pond aquiring firms have to play by rules from this side. talk to lawyer.

      1. TPS Cover Sheet*

        Yes they do, but if they use an agency as the employer who pays your salary, then you are an ”agency temp”… a bit like a contractor except the agency does the umbrella stuff and I am not rotating it through my own LTD. Which means you can get a call in the morning and you are off the contract. Has happened to me before…

      1. TPS Cover Sheet*

        Yeah, I’m getting severance. Its all pompous legalese ”without prejudice”… I was expecting a ”voluntary redundancy” (and a bit nicer payout), but I think the big corporate shenanigans require it done this way.

    2. Lucy*

      Hope things go well today, and that the lawyer approves the termination agreement.

      I think the blunt heads-up is useful even if you do proceed with your application and take the job, because it might warn you against getting involved in shenanigans, or trusting the word of individuals over the black-and-white of your contract or the handbook; and it would warn you not to shut down your job hunting altogether. The chief benefit of being an agency contractor is that if you want to make a sharp exit you can say it was a temporary contract, and no blame is assumed on either side.

      I am also keeping my fingers crossed that the worst of the Glassdoor reviews speak to the experiences of direct employees and that the agency layer will protect you from those “features”. That can definitely be a Thing (e.g. overtime culture where a salaried employee ends up staying effectively unpaid until midnight but the contractor either bills every second or leaves promptly on time).

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      I’m really sorry to hear about your termination agreement. And I looove “makes my socks twirl”!!

  12. Mannheim Steamroller*


    Some companies have a stated policy of always hiring outsiders for certain titles and not promoting from within. You might have to work elsewhere for a while and then return to get that job.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I confess to having a huge skepticism about promoting from within; I’ve seen people bring in great ideas from outside and regard it as cross-pollination, and I’ve seen people develop and maintain some bad habits from being at only one place.

      I’ve also moved around a lot and believe that it made me better at my job. If I were ever the company owner, that would probably be one of the strikes against me, that I didn’t really like to promote from within very often.

      I’ve done it, of course, and I’ve seen it work well–but I’ve also been in situations where I thought it really would be best to have some fresh perspective and experience.

    2. TPS Cover Sheet*

      Yeah, I worked in a company there were always guys going for other companies and then coming back. We called it the ”payrise tour”. You left for better pay and then hot hired back with better pay, but staying in the same team you had no hope of promotions or payrises beyond the pittance that was inflation bound.

      There were also guys that ragequit, but the company was buying out smaller companies left right and centre, so a couple months go and we see the guy in the cafeteria… we got bought… he ragequits again and six months go… he’s back in the cafeteria looking really like he booked into Hotel California…

  13. Close Bracket*

    I explicitly warned somebody once, and I actually regret it. At the time, I thought it was fair to warn them about all the institutional difficulties I was having. In retrospect, other people are not me, and while the difficulties were institutional, other people would have an easier time dealing with them or might even thrive. So, if I were in the same situation today, I would give a much more guarded answer. Just my experience.

    1. Pippa*

      I can see what you mean. I have a colleague who quite liked a supervisor’s notorious cowardice because it made him easier to manipulate. She didn’t like it in all circumstances, but on balance she found it useful. I, on the other hand, prefer to work with people who are honest and straightforward. Workplaces with lots of scheming are demoralizing for me and apparently invigorating for others.

    2. Mike C.*

      This doesn’t make any sense to me. They know they are different from you and presumably understand that your experience is your own and not always a predictor.

      1. Close Bracket*

        “They know they are different from you”

        Boy if everybody knew that their experiences being them were not universal, we’d see a lot fewer letters to AAM.

  14. Ella*

    #2 I know it’s distracting to hear coughs and nose blowing all the time, but the good news is if it’s been over a month since she got sick, your co-worker most likely isn’t contagious at this point. So while Kleenex on the desk is gross (and it’d be perfectly polite to ask her to make sure they get thrown away promptly) you’re probably not actually working in a den of germs at this point. Just distracting noises.

    1. cncx*

      yeah i have a coworker like that, any cold he gets and he’s Mr. Snuffleupagus for two months. Distracting but more aggravating for him than for me

  15. Bilateralrope*

    For #2, I take some comfort from thinking that if my coworker has something I could catch, I’ve probably caught it from someone else before my coworker shows symptoms. Especially anything airborne.

    Still, loud nose blowing is distracting and I cant see any good reason to keep used tissues anywhere but thrown away.

  16. Brandy*

    #1 I once warned someone about a job at my workplace. I had put in my two week notice already. Highly toxic workplace. She went that day to my boss and told him what I said. I was called into the office and fired. So now unless its someone Im very close to, I dont warn anyone of anything at work. I done know where their loyalties lie.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      that would be my main concern – especially if I hadn’t already found a new position

    2. tangerineRose*

      The someone who told your boss – she sounds like she would fit right in at a toxic workplace. Sorry this happened to you.

  17. Another nurse here*

    ER nurse, another nurse here. You can leave it off but you may have to disclose it after you get an offer when they’re doing a background check/credentialing especially if you become an NP.

  18. Observer*

    #1 – If this is your usual communications style, you should really rethink it. You are pretty much expecting people to read your mind and getting annoyed when they don’t.

    There is no way that your response should have been taken as a red flag. In fact what you describe would translate to a lot of people as “the job’s not great, but it has some good stuff, too.” Not red flag territory.

    Also, not picking up on vague non-verbal clues is not “clueless”. No one is in your head. And unless they are very, very familiar with your communications patters and you are very consistent, a “long pause” (itself a relative term) just doens’t communicate anything.

  19. Observer*

    #2 – Your nurse is being weird. Just because something is “common sense” that’s not a reason to be clear with someone. Same for your supervisor. But that only works for the tissues. That’s just gross and if she’s not using her common sense, then someone should TELL her “you need to throw that in the trash”. Of course that assumes that there is actually a trash receptacle nearby. If not, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

    As for the actual sneezing an blowing? She’s not putting you at risk – at this point she’s almost certainly not contagious anymore (even if she was when she first got sick).

    If you’re ready to quit over this, you should really consider finding a job where you can work from home or in isolation because people are going to make noises of all sorts. There really is nothing you can do about that.

  20. Rory*

    OP #1:

    I’ve been on both sides of this and yes, absolutely warn. I know in two of the three cases I was in, just a very simple “no, run” was good enough to convince me and the other person to avoid like the plague.

    The position I was warned away from has failed to keep anyone for longer than 9 months in the last 5 odd years.

  21. SezU*

    I once took a job that (of all people!) the temp agency actually warned me had its challenges. I guess they just wanted me to be prepared?? IDK, but I took it and the challenging CEO and I got along great. So there you go!

    1. Jamie*

      This is a great point. I took a job where the hiring manager actually used the words “this will be a nightmare for you” about the job and went OTT on telling me every horrible thing about the job because he wanted me to know what I was getting into.

      I took it because I needed the job but it wasn’t that bad. At all. I did end up leaving soon for reasons completely unrelated to the job. It’s the only time I ever felt guilty quitting.

  22. RJ the Newbie*

    I’ve found myself in this position as the company I was with for six months prior to my present employer has had the same job opening available for the past year (my old one retitled). Several contacts of mine have sent me messages asking about the company, why I left etc. and I have been as gracious as possible while still being honest. It was the worst place I have worked at in my entire career.

  23. SoHappyItsThursday*

    OP #2, your letter reminded me of something I’ve always felt badly about. Many years ago, (more than 30!) I worked in an open office area with about 6 staff members. One of those 6 developed an illnesses and a cough that would not go away, and it was persistent, and loud, and annoying. I don’t recall anyone saying anything to her directly, but it was so long lasting and annoying that several of us snarked about it on the regular.

    Until this 27 year old co-worker with a new baby was diagnosed with lung cancer with 6 months to live. Yeah. We all felt like shit for our complaining, for sure.

    Not to minimize your annoyance, but just pointing out that being the sick person is a whole lot worse — sometimes horribly so — than having to hear it.

  24. Arctic*

    Requiring people to go to the bathroom every time they have to blow their nose seems way over the top to me.

  25. 4Sina*

    I struggle with chronic bronchitis, and believe me, the constant coughing fits (like, need to get up in the middle of the meeting constant), the loud unwrapping of cough drops, the sound of me hitting my inhaler probably isn’t great! But I have had to make peace with the fact that I will probably get like this after every viral cold, and I feel fortunate that my coworkers understand that it’s a drain on my own productivity and a pain for me to deal with. I know I would appreciate a helpful heads-up if there’s anything I could do for my coworkers.

  26. WKRP*

    TL/DR – Be mindful of what you say, it may help your acquaintance or hurt you. So be sure that the words you use don’t bite you.

    A friend’s girlfriend was applying for a job working for an old boss of mine, so he asked me to talk with her about what to expect. My former boss was a micromanager to the extreme, not empathetic, and difficult to work for. But, I was guarded, as I still worked in the industry and my boss was well-respected. I told her that she was difficult to work for and a micromanager, but that I learned a lot while at the company. The girlfriend felt she could handle a micromanager, as she had done in past positions. I didn’t push back with specifics. She accepted the position and quit 6 months later.

    I later learned that my boss was no longer a fan of mine. I’m not sure if it’s because I left or because my friend’s girlfriend told her what I said early on in the relationship. But, I remain guarded about saying too much because, well… the game of telephone is real. (Fortunately, I no longer work in the industry, so it’s not really an issue)

    1. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      HA! Small world–I was going to say the same thing. I would give facts, and make sure that you are OK with whatever you said being carried back to the people you say it about. Absolutely warn, but with that in mind. You may not know what a friend of a friend will do with the information provided.

      Story time–I warned a friend of a friend about a job (I didn’t know her as well as I thought because of what followed) and she took my warnings and ran into the interview anyway, talking about how she could “fix” the things I talked about. Small enough area and specific enough examples they knew it was me.

      …yeah… I can burn my own bridges, thanks. Again, luckily, I wasn’t ever planning on going back.

  27. Lauren*

    I just had a rollover car accident and totaled my car. I made the news. Anyway, I’m fine – but I definitely have several of those pushy co-workers who won’t stop berating you for innocuous questions like ‘what does the client scope include?’, which would be followed by ‘omg you were in all these meetings, weren’t you paying attention. I can’t believe this if you had questions, you should have asked then.” Real scenario and for the record she neer did detail it at all, I ended up threatening to quit without notice because of that one. I definitely didn’t need her asking about my accident. Even if I told her how the accident happened, she would still follow up with ‘but how? what really happened? but tell me again where the car was? draw me a diagram, I’m not understanding how this happened and you aren’t dead.”

    So I told only 2 people and went back to work too soon, because I didn’t want short-term disability kicking in and alerting everyone. If I had any hope that HR wouldn’t squeal, I would have faked a vacation that was long planned. People are nosy and awful, and she will be the reason many people quit including me eventually. No one wants to be around her. We all just stopped speaking in her meetings and don’t bother to ask any questions so that we don’t get berated.

  28. Jennifer*

    Just tell her. It may be that she’s in a place where she just needs a stopgap job and won’t care. I warned my friend in a similar situation. She needed the work and the experience and toughed it out. You never know.

  29. Blue Eagle*

    Injury: I felt the same way with a broken bone injury. People at work asked what happened and my response was “stupid fall”. Some people asked where it happened and my response was “oh, you know, stupid fall”. A couple of clueless dolts followed up by asking about specific details and my response was “oh, just a stupid fall, the doctor says it will be heal fine”.
    Just because someone asks you a question, there is no requirement that you answer it. And rather than say “it’s a long story” or “I’d rather not talk about it” (which always makes people wonder what the real story is), just obfuscate and answer a different question. “Oh, you know, sometimes things don’t go the way you think they will”, etc, etc.
    Good luck to you!

  30. Fergus*

    Sometimes the best heads-up is when you are given bad info by the future boss, the future co-worker, or even the recruiter knowing you didn’t just dodge a bullet you dodge many bullets. Sometimes the best prayers are the one’s not answered

  31. MommyMD*

    Calling her clueless and taking offense she didn’t turn tail and run is a little mean. She may not have any problems with this employer or may decide she can live with them. OPs experience is hers but may not generalize to everyone.

  32. Aggretsuko*

    Here’s an ethical dilemma for you: what if your workplace is awful, BUT you are desperate to get more staff in there to take some of the load off yourself? What would you do?

    1. WellRed*

      You mean besides job searching? If someone directly asked me, I would maybe stay neutral, like OP did unless it’s a friend, then tell them the truth. The thing is, a bad place to work will NOT be solved just because you’ve spread the load and misery over more employees. It just means there is a larger number of miserable employees.

    2. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      Personal friends? I’d still warn.

      Friends of friends? If I’d see them regularly, I’d still warn.

      Random strangers? Nope.

      Random strangers that ask oddly specific questions? I’d give them concrete responses to the specific questions.

      Glassdoor? Once I’m out.

      I’d be working to get out of it so I’d feel crappy if someone I knew ended up in a situation that was pretty sure would work out poorly for them (thus the close friend part). Also less obligation to help carry or distribute the load, because I’d be out of f*s to give about the work.

  33. nora*

    A person I consider a mentor knew my last job was terrible and toxic and just very very bad, but she felt like she couldn’t say anything when she found out I was interviewing. She later apologized profusely, especially after the company “lost” my last paycheck and I had to threaten legal action to get paid. My mentor heavily implied that it wasn’t an accident. I understand where she was coming from politically but I wish she had warned me.

    Always warn, kids. Always.

  34. Parenthesis Dude*

    The thing is that just because a situation is toxic for one person doesn’t mean it will be toxic for everyone. When I took my current job, I was told that the manager is very difficult, unreasonable and yells at employees. I’ve been working with this manager for a year and a half and the manager has been very easy to work with and very effective.

    It seems to me like the previous employees simply weren’t able to complete simple tasks, and took negative feedback as unreasonable criticism. Which just goes to show that sometimes what seems like a difficult work environment may not end up being that way for someone else.

  35. chillininmyofficeyo*

    This is why being passive-aggressive is usually useless.

    Don’t take an exaggerated pause and say “there are parts I liked” and then feel annoyed they might not have understood. Say “Honestly, I personally wouldn’t work there again because blah blah”. Then they know what your actual opinion is, what the actual problem was in your eyes, and can make an informed decision.

  36. designbot*

    I’m a little late here, but I wanted to ask about a piece of advice I often see Alison give, which is to formally apply for a job in a company you already work for. This feels so much like a “know the culture” situation to me—at my office I can’t imagine doing that. Is this something that’s done at huge companies, where there’s an intranet and internal transfers and such?

    1. Massmatt*

      How do people get promoted where you work? Or how do they fill jobs? Does a manager just at tell someone “you’re the new widget supervisor”? If they do, how do they know they even want to be the widget supervisor? What if there are multiple people that want the job? Whether there’s an intranet and job posting or not, even in small and informal workplaces they generally expect some sort of expression interest from an internal candidate, at least in my experience.

      Maybe it is cultural—how DO people get hired or promoted where you work?

  37. Selphie Trabia*

    At one point, I was the coworker who was coughing and blowing her nose. I was constantly feeling sick.

    My boss ended up advising me to seek a second opinion from another doctor (my regular one not being particularly helpful), and I’m glad I did, as it turned out that all the choking and coughing was from undiagnosed asthma. Basically, if I had carried on, I would eventually have reached a point of no return. Thankfully, all better now!

    1. Observer*

      Getting a second opinion was a good move, and it’s not a bad piece of advice when something is not improving. But, that’s a far cry from getting annoyed at someone or expecting them to “just stop” or take off till they are better. Also, you weren’t contagious.

      1. Selphie Trabia*

        That’s true, but it did sound terribly like I was contagious.

        Telling people to stop sneezing or wheezing is kind of like trying to stop the tide. But I thought that maybe showing concern about the coworker’s health might help.

  38. Paperdill*

    OP5: I’m so sorry about your injury. I can only imagine how traumatic that must have been and I can totally empathize how daunting it is thinking about going back to work and have Int to face people.
    I just wanted to make one comment about following Alison’s excellent answer: I, personally, wouldn’t advise the phrase “Oh, it’s too gruesome too talk about”. It sounds far to “interesting” and will no doubt invite further questioning.

Comments are closed.