I overheard leadership criticizing me, can I ban an employee from my home bathroom, and more

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

1. I overheard senior leadership talking negatively about me

I work for a small company (less than 20 people). I’ve been with them for two years and my work has consistently received wide acclaim from our largest client. However, last week I overheard leadership talking negatively about me. As a result, I’m thinking about leaving the company.

This happened at our annual company meeting. After a presentation, I stayed in the room to chat with a director about an upcoming project. Two key leaders also remained in the room. With the way our chairs were positioned, they must not have noticed I was in there, because the next thing I heard was that I’m “certainly not leadership material.” This was shocking to hear and frustrating. Now that I’ve heard it, I can’t unhear it. (And I’m 100% certain of what I heard and that it was about me.) I did make it clear to the two leaders who were talking about me that I was in the room before I left (I politely said goodbye as I left), so they at least knew after the fact.

Our company struggles with maintaining a good feedback culture. There are limited opportunities for advancement and I’ve been told consistently by my boss that “there just aren’t any positions at the moment for me to be promoted, but when the time comes they’ll let me know.” I’ve been told that it’s not a performance issue, but an issue of a position being available. Do I confront my boss about the conversation I mistakenly overheard? Am I justified in looking for other opportunities outside of the company?

“Confront” is too strong, but it’s certainly reasonable to talk with your boss. You could explain what you heard and say, “If there are concerns about my leadership potential, that’s something I’d want to be in the loop on so I can work on improving in whatever the weaknesses are, or at least have accurate information about the likelihood of me advancing here. I’m dismayed that I haven’t been given this feedback before, even when I’ve directly asked about how I can advance.” From there, see if you can get any more details about what the concerns are. If your boss claims not to have any idea, point out that it’s important to your career that you know and ask her to find out.

Totally aside from that … yes, looking outside your company makes sense. You don’t need this as justification to do that, but it’s definitely a signal that it would be smart to.

2. Can I ban my employee from using the bathroom in my house?

My husband and I run a company out of our home. Most operations take place in an outbuilding on our property next to our house. Our techs frequently have to stop by and pick up parts or vans before they leave for jobs. Sometimes they have to leave for jobs very early in the morning (5-6 am). One employee in particular stops by several mornings a week to pick up a van. All he has to do it go into the office, grab the keys, and leave.

The problem is that he constantly comes into the house to use the bathroom. He’s not quiet about it (despite being asked several times to not stomp/slam the door/etc.) and it wakes my husband and I up. This is happening multiple times per week, every time he picks up the van.

Technically the bathroom he’s using is the “employee bathroom” during the day, but it’s inside the house. There’s no problem with employees using it during business hours, but I don’t know if I can legally bar him from entering the house to use the bathroom during the early hours of the morning.

This has been brought up at meetings a few times but he doesn’t seem to get the message. At this point, I just want to lock the doors and not let him in. Am I allowed to bar an employee from using the “company bathroom” at 5 am?

You’d need to consult with a lawyer about whether or not you can legally do that — it’s going to depend on OSHA interpretations and whether your house is really considered a work site at 5 am while your family is asleep.

But on an ethical level, I’d say talk to the guy and find out if there’s a medical reason that using a bathroom before he heads to your house won’t solve the issue. If there’s not, I’d tell him the house is off-limits before 8 am (or whatever time is reasonable for your context). If a lawyer tells you that’s not possible, then it might be worth considering installing a porta-potty by the outbuilding. I know that’s not ideal to have next to your house, but I’d take that over being loudly woken up at 5 am every morning.

Updated to say: I got this one wrong! Thank you to the commenters who corrected me. Your home is functioning as his work site, and so you do need to give him access to a bathroom. If his work hours start at 5 am, his bathroom access needs to start then too. As many commenters have suggested, it might be worth looking into building a bathroom in or or near the outbuilding, or figuring out if there’s a way to better soundproof the parts of the house he’s using.

3. My friend wants to email our whole department two weeks after she was fired

Recently a friend of mine was fired from our department, “the X department.” She and I reported to different managers and worked on slightly different things and with small internal teams.

It’s been a couple weeks now and it’s started to settle with her a bit more, and I honestly think that she’s happier not being here anymore. But this morning she messaged me and another colleague that she plans on emailing the entire X department, most of whom she has never worked with. She has already reached out to the Y team which she worked with directly and the Z team, so I’m not sure why she wants to reach out to the entire department since she’s barely worked with them (and many of them may not even know who she is) but she said it’s since she never had a chance to say goodbye.

My colleague and I both think that this is a weird, bad idea. I don’t think that she should send this communication, but I don’t know how to tell her not to do it, especially since she’s in a kind of fragile state right now. I’m wondering if I even should tell her not too. She’s already been fired, she’s never going to attempt to work for this company again, is there any real harm in letting her send it?

Eh, if she’s really just going to say something like “it was great working with you, here’s my contact info,” that’s not a big deal. It might look a little strange, depending on the backstory of why she was fired, but not “destroy her reputation” levels of strange. At most, it might look like she’s having trouble moving on.

Of course, if the message is different than that — like if it has any hint of “I was wronged” — that’s different. That would get her talked about and probably impact her reputation, and it would be a kindness to try to talk her out of that if you can.

4. Can I add a note to my personnel file?

I had a colleague make a formal complaint against me and now I have a document in my file for bullying/harassment. I feel like this is an overreaction to a single conversation where I was frustrated and spoke in admittedly harsh and dismissive tones, but that is not really the point. I would like for the file to also reflect that I have apologized of my own free will and because I recognized the error, I have listened to a few webinars on emotional intelligence and conflict resolution, and I am working with a therapist to react more appropriately when frustrated. Is there any way to provide an addendum that demonstrates that this is not an ongoing problem or that I have made strides to address the issue so it does not become one? That is a pretty harsh claim and I would like my side represented somehow, I just don’t know how best to go about it.

Probably! Try writing it up (keep it as short and simple as possible) and sending it to HR with a note that says, “I understand Jane’s complaint has been added to my file. I’d like to make sure it’s on record that I took the complaint seriously, apologized, and am pursuing several formal avenues to ensure I don’t repeat the mistake. Would it be possible to add the attached addendum to my file as well?”

5. How can I get better at using my coworker’s correct pronouns?

I just learned that a contractor in my office has asked to be referred to using they/their/them rather than she/hers/her. Although it is 2019, this is the first person I personally know who is using they/their/them and because they previously used she/hers/her, I find myself unconsciously using the wrong pronouns. Every time I use the wrong pronoun, I feel I’m being disrespectful and I would like to correct this. Any suggestions from you or the AAM commentariat on how to train myself to use their preferred pronouns?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 770 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    We already have quote a lot of different threads about the question on pronouns, so I’m consolidating them all under this umbrella header. Please reply this thread if you want to comment on that question.

    Also, note that the LW isn’t asking what to do if she messes up — she’s asking how to train herself to get it right in the first place. Input on that is particularly welcomed.

    1. sleepwakehope*

      OP5, what I do is I just practice a lot on my own out loud using the correct pronouns. A lot of times in the car or while I am walking the dog, usually (“This is Alex, they were telling me about the project XYZ.”) . I also would practice with my husband at home maybe tell a couple more detailed stories about work than normal (“Today I was working with Alex on this, and they told me a funny story…”). What helps me most is saying them out loud.

      1. Working in J-land*

        From talking to my trans/nb friends: when you make mistakes, try not to make it about you or derail the conversation by over-apologizing. “Her work–sorry, their work has been very good.” Correcting others by quickly restating their statement with the right pronouns is also another way to make sure everyone is on the same page and taking some of the pronoun-correcting load off your coworker.

        1. phira*

          Yes, this. Correct yourself in the moment and move on, and correct other people if they are using the wrong pronouns. That’s really it.

        2. Sam.*

          I think correcting yourself quickly and focusing on the correct pronoun instead of lingering over the incorrect one is also important from the perspective of training yourself to use the right pronoun in the first place.

          I had a colleague who was not very conscientious about using a client’s they/them pronouns when out of their presence – if he messed up, he was pretty lazy about catching and correcting himself. Of course, that meant he wasn’t reinforcing the habit of using the right pronouns and it led to easily avoidable mistakes (and increased the burden on our team to monitor what he said and correct him proactively). The more practice you get saying it correctly, the more naturally it will come.

        3. Mimi Me*

          Yep! My daughter has a friend who has decided to fully change pronouns and name. It’s taken some time but I’m happy to say that I’m almost always using the correct pronoun now and in those moments I slip up, it’s a quick correct mid-sentence and then move on.

        4. sacados*

          Yes, this! Also one other thing that I actually just saw someone posting about on facebook the other day actually, and it made a lot of sense to me —
          First of all, cut yourself some slack. In general people understand that others are not going to get a pronoun change correct 100% of the time right off the bat. They will recognize if you are making a good faith effort and be understanding of slip-ups so don’t beat yourself up too badly.

          And secondly, and what was more interesting to me is — the person posting about this said that if you do make a mistake and someone corrects you, say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry.” Because the “sorry” will often make the other person feel like they have to respond with “It’s okay” or “It’s no big deal” even when they may not feel that way.
          I thought that was really interesting, and it’s not something I would have thought of otherwise!

      2. Marika*

        I’m strongly seconding this, both from a ‘personal experience’ stance (I’ve had half a dozen friends and more than a dozen students transition – most of them during the school term when I was teaching them…and don’t get me started about changing school records half way through the term) and from a ‘English/Communications professor’ standpoint – I spend a lot of time training students on changing their language patterns to fit the business communications pattern of their workplaces.

        You need to get your brain used to the new pattern – and the easiest way to that is to engage multiple parts of your brain at the same time. So, speech + memory (telling stories), speech + action (carrying out a conversation – even if it’s a conversation with yourself – while doing things like walking the dog), writing + memory (try writing down a summary of an interaction with your colleague). It’s going to take time, and that’s ok. No one expects you to get it perfect the first time, and the longer you’ve known your colleague, the harder the switch will be – the student who transitioned two weeks into term was a much easier adjustment than the young woman who had been my husband’s mentee for almost a decade.

        ‘my pronouns’ also mentioned something that several people have told me – a quick correction with a ‘sorry’ or ‘whups, my mistake’ attached, goes over much better than a long dragged out apology. Basically, don’t make a big deal out of it – all that does is draw attention to the change and the whole point is to move past that change.

        Frankly, the fact that you’re trying puts you up a step – you’re doing your best and that matters.

        1. Quill*

          I have a few friends who are nb but not out at work / to various in person groups, so one thing that I’ve found very helpful is that when I’m referring to them in the groups that they’re out to, I’ll use their nickname (or writing pseudonym, whichever is appropriate,) exclusively and reserve their formal name for the situations they’re not out in.

          For an example “Jen was telling me about hir plans for National Novel Writing Month” to our peers, versus “Yes, random irl aquaintance, Jennifer’s gotten her national interruptors’ day flyer already. Please shoo.”

          Other than that – practice, practice, practice! Especially if you get into neopronouns (xe, zie… probably more I haven’t seen in the wild yet,) which your brain has even less practice with than “they.”

      3. ThatGirl*

        I agree. One of our friends’ siblings transitioned – we know the sibling casually and interact on social media. He actually didn’t change his name much, just took a more masculine spelling, which kind of made it easier but it took us a few weeks of saying “brother” and “him” out loud to use the right pronouns 100% of the time. We’ve got it now.

      4. Kay*

        Yes, this exactly. My best friend is transitioning to non-binary and as you can imagine with so many decades of history it’s hard to remember, so I do a lot of talking to myself and practicing with the correct pronouns. I also find ways to practice in conversations with other people: “Oh, a friend of mine loves that book, they said I should read it!”

        When I’m in the moment too and I have the opportunity I’m extra-firm about the pronouns and sort of “fix” them in my brain as I’m talking. Like I pay extra attention to the conversation and the way I’m talking and use it as a “hey, brain, this is the correct way now!”

        If you’ve ever had a coworker change their maiden name to a married name it’s a little bit similar in feel.

      5. Kaden Lee*

        Second’d, as a person that uses they/them. When I’m getting used to new pronouns for somebody, I tell myself stories about them (“this is Ashley, she likes dogs and she also likes shopping”)

    2. my pronouns, my pronouns, are he(/him)*

      #5 – correct yourself very quickly and firmly in the moment and keep going. :) eventually it’ll become a habit! i definitely can’t speak for all trans or nonbinary folks but for me “she said — sorry, he said” (in my case) is way easier to deal with than an involved apology.

      also keep an ear out for opportunities to correct others in the same way in your conversations with them which will help you remember better! polite and succinct. personally if i’m close to the person or talk with them frequently, i privately ask if/how they want others to handle corrections — some people might appreciate it but some people might prefer to just handle it privately themselves if they hear it come up (it’s very situational with me since i’m not 100% out so i always like to be asked)

    3. Manon*

      For LW 5: Every time you refer to the contractor as “she”, correct it. It doesn’t have to be a big apology, just “She was – I’m sorry, they were saying”. Making these corrections in your head will also help to reinforce it.

      1. cat lady*

        Definitely this! If you make a big apology out of it, it puts the burden on them to comfort you for misgendering them. A quick so sorry and then move on.

    4. copyslung*

      OP5: When a friend of mine switched to gender-neutral pronouns, I screwed up a few times. Then I told them that every time I screwed up going forward, I’d owe them a drink. Happy to report I’m not bankrupt. Obviously that won’t work in an office situation, but the sentiment should be the same. Show that you’re trying and be genuinely apologetic when you mess up. Call yourself out before they have a chance to (I promise you’ll realize what you’ve said immediately). Intention and effort go a LONG way, so I’m told.

      1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

        Friends of mine have a pronoun jar, like a swear jar. They put in a dollar for every pronoun slip-up. When the jar is full, they donate it to Lambda Legal.

        1. Quill*

          We had a misgender corrector squirt bottle as broke college students but had to discontinue it after tactically spraying anyone who misgendered our friend in the face became more fuss than he wanted to deal with. Also the RA wasn’t pleased about it.

            1. Quill*

              It lasted two days, because we were not well versed in, you know, being adults who thought about things before we did them.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            That’s hilarious. Is anything could encapsulate the college kid thing of “well-meaning, but not *quite* fully baked,” this would be it.

            1. Quill*

              It was a learning experience, that’s for sure. We did better for the next friend to start socially transitioning, and the one after that. :)

    5. Magpie*

      LW 5: don’t make a big deal out of it if you get it wrong. People understand that habits take time to relearn. Correct yourself and others in a swift, matter of fact way. “She said–sorry, they said–XXX”.

      A cute thing I saw on Twitter was someone’s dad pretending that the nonbinary person had a mouse in their pocket (and was thus two individuals), as a mental trick to make himself use ‘they’.

      1. MasterOfBears*

        The mouse trick is cute! But I think it should be used with the knowledge that there’s a (small, loud) strain of transphobes/gender absolutists who like to push the “they/them is for PLURALS ONLY” under the guise of “lol I’m such a grammar Nazi.”

        This doesn’t mean it’s a bad trick if it works for your brain! Just be aware if you mention it to an nb person it could raise some unpleasant associations.

        1. Nom the Plumage*

          It’s not just transphobes that have problems with the ”they,” though. I’m non-binary and I HATE being called ”they.” It makes me feel like Legion (for we are many). Yes, I still use ”they” for those who prefer it, and I never correct anyone who uses it on me, but I just want to offer a different perspective. Non-binaries can be insufferable grammar sticklers, too.

          There was a time that people were trying to get ”zhe” off the ground, but it didn’t stick. Alas.

          1. Yamikuronue*

            I’ve seen zie, zhe, ze, and ne, so there’s still momentum towards getting new pronouns used more widely.

            1. Gadget Hackwrench*

              I’m a xe/xem/xyr user myself! (the x is pronounced like a z.) There’s a fridge magnet on my cabinet over my head that says as much, but I don’t think people realize it’s a pronoun, so no one uses it and they all just call me “she” despite the fact that the magnet has been there for over 4 years and there’s a button on my winter coat that says the same.

              I’m too much of a coward to point it out to anyone though… I feel out of place enough being the only one in the department born without a Y Chromosome.

          2. Theo*

            Actually, the zhe (or more usually ze) is used fairly widely! It’s still a rarer pronoun set, and there’s a few variations — ze/hir is the older one, ze/zem/zir is a newer version — but it’s for sure well-launched. I’ve also heard ey/em/eirs, which has a nice ring to it. Just because something is low-flying doesn’t mean it’s not real.

            (I use they/them, with its historical basis as a singular pronoun, but everyone should use what works for them.)

            1. Seespotbitejane*

              Can you clarify how “hir” is pronounced? I’ve only ever seen it written and I’m inclined to pronounced like a cross between “her” and “here.”

              I’ve never seen ey/em/eirs before but I really like it. It sounds like you’re adopting a vague region accent just for a second.

              1. Jerusha*

                I’ve never known anyone whose pronoun it was, so if anyone has closer-hand experience I’d love to hear it, but I’ve always pronounced it in my head with the short “i” also found (at least in my speech) in “his” and “bit”

                1. Ky*

                  One of my partners uses sie/hir! Pronounced to rhyme with “see” and “here”.

                  I think zie/hir is a slightly more common set, but idk. Leslie Feinberg, author of the fairly well-known Stone Butch Blues, used zie/hir.

                  My partner’s roommate uses zhe/zhir, and I use they/them.

            2. Jennifer Thneed*

              Hey, I can remember when someone tried to get s/he going as a spoken pronoun. This woulda been the 70’s sometime, and it was to be pronounced as “sah-hee”.

              At the time I knew it was a lost cause and somewhat ridiculous, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain why I thought so. Now I do: spoken language and written language DO NOT correspond completely and shouldn’t be expected to. So s/he is fine in writing, but it’s essentially an abbreviation in the same way that Mrs is.

          3. Nic*

            Not to argue with your personal usage/dislike, but I’ve never understood why people who dislike singular “they” claim to be grammar sticklers. It’s not a neologism; it’s got a long and proud history that’s been in continuous usage for centuries and has never fallen out of use.

        2. merula*

          Singular ‘they’ goes back to Shakespeare and likely before. Insisting that ‘they’ is always plural is like insisting that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. It’s applying Latin rules to a Germanic language and that is the sort of English up with I will not put.

          If you’re going to be a grammar Nazi, at least be correct.

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          Since as a non-binary, I embody the masculine, neutral and feminine, I feel they is appropriate because I don’t adhere to any single gender. Yeah, I know, a weird outlook, but I’m trying to get outside of the gender binary, because “pick one” and perform it doesn’t fit me very well.

      2. Owl*

        I love this! My high school was really intense as far as grammar goes and they/them still sounds really jarring to me as a singular. I’m not saying this to be disrespectful, and don’t ever use it as an excuse to intentionally use the wrong pronouns for anyone; it’s just something that was drilled into me.

        Kind like the idea of everyone having a cute little familiar/Disney style animal side kick.

            1. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

              Yeah, this bothers me. It’s not that “they” as a singular is incorrect, it’s that a couple specific groups of pedants decided it was incorrect despite it’s common usage, and some of those pedants controlled style guides, were English teachers or professors, etc. It’s not that we’re changing the use of “they”, it’s that a whole lot of people were incorrectly taught that it’s wrong. I mean, heck, I was taught creationism in school. My first grade teacher taught us the “you only use 10% of your brain” thing despite that being 100% wrong. We teach wrong things to kids all the time!

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                Those are second person pronouns, though. We already use “you ” for everybody. The third person pronouns are the one we’re talking abiut here.

              2. Nic*

                Firstly, as Pomona Sprout says, those are second-person pronouns. Secondly, although they sound formal to modern ears (because we usually hear them in the contexts of the King James Bible, Shakespeare and Chaucer), they’re actually the informal second-person pronouns that you would use when speaking to friends/family – which is why they’ve just about survived to the modern era in a few regional English dialects.

          1. juliebulie*

            Agree. This is the flip side of the y’all situation, actually; if “they” is singular, then what’s the plural of the singular they if you need to distinguish between them? Theys?

            That’s why I like sie (or zie)/hir.

            Of course I’ll call someone “they” if that’s what they like, but dang, our language has been around long enough (and has enough useless words in it) that we should have a truly complete set of pronouns.

            1. iantrovert (they/them)*

              Not to digress, but playing devil’s advocate, ‘you’ is plural and ‘thou’ is singular, so if ‘you’ is used in the singular how can one tell which person a ‘you’ is referring to in a group?

              In point of fact, singular ‘they’ is recorded earlier than singular ‘you’–by several hundred years.

            2. SarahTheEntwife*

              I am sort of intellectually curious whether we’ll eventually get a new third person plural the way some dialects of English have developed second person plurals once “you” took over as both singular and plural. But meanwhile yeah, it leads to occasional ambiguity, just like if you’re trying to talk about two people who both use “he”. It’s usually really easy to figure out which “they” you mean from context.

          2. Timothy (TRiG)*

            Singular they is attested for hundreds of years as a pronoun for a person of unknown gender, or a placeholder person where you don’t know who the actual person will be or what gender they may have. However, its use as a pronoun for a person of known non-binary gender is new. And new pronouns are, genuinely, very difficult to learn. Pronouns are part of the “closed set” in English, in terms of how our brain parses language. Adding new elements to a closed set requires a lot of conscious effort.

            TRiG.

    6. Melody Pond*

      #5 – I’ve known at least one person who, in the time that I knew them, switched from using she/her pronouns to they/them pronouns. I messed it up a couple times in conversation with them, and just tried to correct myself in the moment, e.g., “I was just thinking about you to myself, going, ‘what’s she up to?’ I’ve been wondering –” and then as soon as I realized my mistake, cutting myself off and saying, “Sorry, I meant ‘what are they up to’!” And then continuing on with my original thought. And to be fair, sometimes it would be several minutes later in the conversation that I’d realize my mistake, in which case I’d still say something: “Oh, I just realized I used ‘she’ pronouns earlier, when I meant ‘they.’ Sorry!” The more I did this verbal self-correction, as much “in the moment” as possible, the better I got at using the friend’s correct pronouns.

    7. LS*

      look for opportunities to use gender neutral pronouns in reference to other people besides coworker. like a dog on the street, think to yourself “oh they’re so cute!” “they’ve got a scruffy face” “they’re wagging their tail at me!” Or other people tweeting or other people commenting on places like here! “oh they’ve got a point.” (it was interesting to realize that I used to unconsciously gender dogs (big dogs were boys and little dogs were girls))

      1. anothertroy*

        this is an especially good piece of advice – I actually AM a nongendered person who uses they/them pronouns and this has still been a cool and useful thing to do with my brain in terms of normalising it as a set of pronouns for myself and everyone else and, as mentioned above, revealing interesting (and not always great) gendered stuff lurking in my subconscious.

        speaking as a they/them person who mostly has trans or nb friends, many of whom I have known since before they came out and/or when they were going by different pronouns – we all also screw this up at times and it’s not inherently disrespectful to get it wrong in the moment. brains are weird filing cabinets and I’ll often find that when referring back to a time when someone I know used to identify as eg ‘she/her’, I’ll accidentally use those pronouns to refer to past-them even though I unthinkingly use the correct ones to refer to present-them. like the rest of this advice says, the best thing to do is correct yourself in the moment without making a big deal about it and eventually it will become the first rather than second association in your brain.

        also, thank you for wanting to use their correct pronouns! which already makes you a cool person who is doing okay in my book.

      2. Mae Fuller*

        When my sibling transitioned (30 years of habit to break!), I found that it felt much more natural for me to use singular “they” pronouns when I didn’t know the person involved, so I used that to practice.
        “There’s somebody at the door, I wonder what they want?” – “Sibling’s at the door, I wonder what they want?”
        “That person looks tired, I’ll offer them a cup of tea” – “Sibling looks tired, I’ll offer them a cup of tea.”

      3. Paperdill*

        Yes! This is great advice – it’s simply a matter of practise makes perfect.
        I have the privilege of being aunt to an awesome kid who is transgender. Seeing his journey has been very educational in terms of my own willy nilly gendering. Consequently, it is something I am very aware of when talking with my own young kids – when we talk about someone at the playground, in the shops, at day care etc., unless we know how they identify, I try to make a habit of just using “they/them/their”, and, I am pleased to say, it just comes naturally now. “Rupert, just wait a second for this person to have their turn first”, “Bogdon, does that bucket belong to them?”, “Hereford, why don’t you ask if they want to play with us?”.
        So, my advice is to just try and use gender neutral terms in every conversation you have (aside from where you know a person’s identity): “Thanks – your colleague what just checking their stocks”, “Can you ask if they have a vacancy at 12?”, “It’s for them”.

          1. Zephy*

            Presumably these example sentences are from the same alternate universe where every other office is staffed by either the dream-team of Jane Warbleworth, Fergus Smith, and Lucinda Jones; or else the entire cast of Game of Thrones.

          2. Paperdill*

            While, yes, I was using hypothetical names, I was using illustrations of talking to my own children, ie. I could have been talking about my own child named Hereford. In which case your comment, Turnip-face, was not the most polite as

      4. AMT*

        Great advice. I’m a trans guy who goes by he/him and even I had trouble internalizing they/them pronouns when they started getting popular for non-binary people. I started using them for unknown/hypothetical people (e.g. “Tell the new employee they can use the side door”) and it got a lot easier. I sometimes wonder if it’s easier for people who weren’t relentlessly taught that the singular “they” is incorrect. Sigh. English major problems.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I was also an English major. I think of it this way – English is a living language. It’s changing and adopting new words, usages, and shades of meaning all the time. Even when you don’t take regional variations into account, and when you do…yeah, it evolves faster than the flu virus.

          So the way I think about it is, singular “they” is another of those changes (or maybe more of a revival, since I’ve seen things pointing out that singular “they” has been used before).

          Or maybe think about it this way (as I’ve seen and thought was hilarious): English isn’t a language. It’s three languages in a trench coat pretending to be one. (Personally, I think it’s more than three, but the general point is sound.)

          1. unreliable narrator*

            Yes, this. Language should be descriptive rather than prescriptive. I was an English major, too, and agree with others here that trying to use “they” as often as possible to refer to people who exist in the abstract or for whom gender is not known (a la “tell the plumber they should use the side door”) is helpful in training my brain. February mispronounced Febyooary is absolutely a hill I will die on, though.

              1. LilySparrow*

                From the U in “use” and “schedule.”

                I’ve never heard any native English speakers in any region pronounce them as “ooze” and “shed-ool” or “sked-ool”

                1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

                  @Róisín – but you included the important j sound in your descriptions! That adds some of the y sound LilySparrow was referring to.

            1. Ico*

              Can you really fall back in the descriptive vs. prescriptive distinction, though, when consciously trying to use grammar that doesn’t feel natural? Some people here are in fact being very prescriptive about how singular they _should_ be used.

          2. Jerusha*

            The quote I’ve seen (I think the correct attribution is to James Nicoll), is this: “English doesn’t _borrow_ from other languages. English follows other languages into dark alleys, knocks them down, and goes through their pockets for loose grammar.”

        2. Nic*

          As a Brit, I’ve always found it odd when an American would tell me that singular “they” was wrong, because it never fell out of use over here and no-one ever tried to teach us arbitrary rules about not using it. It’s always been here!

      5. Joielle*

        This! I’ve started using they/them pronouns and gender neutral phrasing to talk about anyone whose pronouns I don’t know. “Oh, look at that person’s hat! I wonder where they got it.” After a while, it’s become so normalized that it almost feels rude to look at someone and make a snap judgment about their pronouns.

        1. Joielle*

          Oh, and also – intentionally using words like parent/sibling/spouse in place of mom/dad/sister/brother/wife/husband also helps make the brain switch. Feels awkward at first but once you get used to it, it’s really natural.

          1. Mama Bear*

            I have begun doing both of these and I think it helps reinforce the option in my head when speaking to or about someone whose pronouns I may not know.

        2. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

          Yes! I think there’s two facets to this; one is simply practicing will normalize it in your brain. But the other is a deliberate and conscious change in how you think about gender. We’re all socialized from birth, right now, to presume gender based on certain gendered traits. Remembering the preferred pronouns for specific people becomes much easier when we stop building “This person looks like a guy, so he’s a He” associations for everyone we meet automatically in the first place. Easier said than done, for sure, but happening slowly for most of us!

      6. Blushingflower*

        Yeah, I try hard to correct myself to “they” whenever I’m talking/thinking/writing about someone of an unknown gender, even if it seems obvious to me from their presentation, to help normalize it for myself and for other people around me.

        Everyone has great advice about practicing out loud in various contexts. I will add that if you find yourself ever thinking about this person, make sure you correct yourself if you use the wrong pronouns in thoughts too. E.g. if you are thinking “oh, I should call her” immediately make the correction to “oh, I should call them”. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but work on reinforcing a mental association between your idea of the person and their pronouns.

    8. Imaginary Number*

      My friend and teammate recently told us (last year) that they were now using they/them pronouns. They were my first friend to do so (I now actually have several) and it took a minute for me to catch on.

      Here’s what helped me the most: Think of a story/anecdote about you coworker or just something memorable about your coworker. It doesn’t have to be interesting. “Lee spilled their coffee today. They had a coffee stain on their sleeve for the rest of the afternoon.” Act like you’re describing this person or telling a family member the anecdote. Be careful to use they/them pronouns the entire time, even if you have to pause to do so. Repeat it until it the right pronouns come out naturally.

      If you slip up, apologize, correct, and move on. Don’t give an explanation for why you made the mistake. “Oops! Sorry, I meant they.” One thing my friend told me is it’s very uncomfortable when someone messes up their pronouns and then gushes out an endless apology because it puts pressure on them to stop it by saying “oh no, it’s really totally okay, I know you’re trying” which takes up a lot of mental energy when they have to do so over and over with each person who messes up.

    9. theothermadeline*

      I found that when I was in an environment where it was uncommon to see gender neutrality it was hard for me to apply it to one specific person because the rest of my speech habits continued to remain typically gendered.

      Once I moved to my grad program last fall where a heavy emphasis is placed on gender pronouns (most of us have preferred in our email signatures) and only using inclusive pronouns for group addresses (my favorites are: all, friends, y’all) I realized how quickly I was able to accustom myself to it.

      Try making a habit of being gender inclusive at all times unless addressing someone in a way that explicitly requires a gendered term. It may not stick, but trying to make the habit more general than specific to one person would make it far easier to be consistent with.

      As to stumbles, I second the posts above – acknowledge/quickly apologize, correct, move on.

      1. theothermadeline*

        In fact, I see a stumble here. In my first line I said neutrality and meant to say inclusivity. My apologies.

      2. Quill*

        I’ve seen some pretty glorious examples of non-gendered email salutations online, such as “Hello, trash can full of raccoons,” (iirc this was going out to a theater crew so, in my experience that’s both very accurate and also the sort of thing that catches on there.)

          1. Quill*

            I was crew in high school. Worse, I was HOUSE MANAGER by dint of being “the responsible one” out of our local trash can full of raccoons.

      3. LilySparrow*

        Ya’ll is a great word and I’m so happy it’s getting widespread use. When I grew up and moved away from home, I had to stop using it because people thought you were ignorant if you sounded colloquial.

    10. kehf*

      One of the things I did when my kiddo changed pronouns was to rehearse stories of their childhood with the new pronouns. For some reason I was finding that the pronouns in use when the story was formed were the ones that would come out when I told the story So if you have shared events in your past, it might be helpful to retell them to yourself with the correct pronouns.

      I also second the suggestion to find more places to use the they/them pronouns in your regular speech. That might help normalize their use.

    11. lazuli*

      As a therapist, I recommend to clients that for changing ANY habit, the first step is just noticing when you’re doing the thing you don’t want to do. So I know that the LW isn’t asking how to fix it when they mess up, but doing so is actually a great first step in training themselves to get it correct the first time! As others have said, once you correct yourself a bunch, you’ll get better at getting it right the first time, because you’ll have trained your brain to notice that “she” or “her” is wrong.

    12. Reliquary*

      I have several friends who use they/them pronouns, and practice is the key.

      But there is one “trick” I once read about that has always stayed with me. It was a little anecdote about a young person (let’s call them X) who had a good friend (Z) who began to use they/them pronouns, and X’s parent was struggling, at first, to accustom themselves to Z’s change in pronouns. All of a sudden, the parent was getting it right every time, so X asked them how they managed to move so suddenly from struggle to success.

      The parent confessed that they used a “trick.” Every time they thought of Z, they pictured them with a little pet mouse in their pocket. This helped the parent get over the stubborn residual associations they had between they/them pronouns and the plural.

      (And I hope my anecdote also demonstrates the use of they/them pronouns *every* time we don’t need to specify gender!)

      1. Avasarala*

        Oh wow, what a creative way to get over the “but that’s wrong grammar!” brain instinct.
        Like thinking of someone and their daemon from His Dark Materials.

        1. Rewe*

          In my native language we only have gender-neutral pronouns. Therefore we make a lot of mistakes with pronouns in English. I like the suggestion. LIke pp said, the association with plural in the brain is strong and feels weird to say. I also think that english language could come up with a gender neutral 3rd option like they have in a few languages. Like in swedish there is hon (she), han (he) and hen (gender neutral). I know the singular they has been around since forever but I associae it so strongly with plural that i’d prefere a new word :D

          1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

            I do not think this is the right place to attempt to educate nonbinary people about nonbinary pronouns in other languages (we know), suggest we develop other pronouns (we have, and many people use them), and tell us that our pronouns “feel weird” to you (that’s rude).

            1. Rewe*

              Gosh I wish there was a delete/edit button so I could take my comment away. It was not meant to be rude. I’m happy to use whatever pronouns people prefere. My intention is not to educate anyone about anything. The mouse suggestion was a good tip since the association in the brain is they->plural. I was trying to say this by weird. Not that the word itself or people identifying with it is weird. It was really poor word to use. Since in my language we don’t have similar pronouns the language teachers always took extra time with the pronouns so the plural in strongly in there. But naturally, this is me needing to change.

              As for the pointing out other languages and their additional pronouns. It wasn’t an educational moment and propably stating the obvious to everyone. It was just a social commentary on the appreciation of language developing. Also just appreciating that it’s very convinient even when unaware of gender (let’s say an info email etc.). All the poeple that I know that identify as non-binary are from languages where additional pronouns is used. They/them is also language development which is something I didn’t appreciate, but I need to.

              Now this turned out to me more of an explanation which tend to make things worse. So again I apologise for being offensive.

              1. Dr*

                I think you are making a lot of important points here, Rewe, that could be helpful for OP. Bringing in the singular they is going to be very challenging for a lot of people because of how ingrained pronoun use is. I know a lot of people who have studied English as a second/ third etc. language. People who are learning English from a language that does not use gendered and numbered pronouns very often have a particularly hard time learning them in English, so it is a major point of emphasis. My partner is fluent in English but still accidentally “misgenders” people because of the complexity of English pronoun usage. (Ideally, we would give language learners and people with language related learning challenges a break here). To get back to OP’s question: getting your brain to accept they as singular is very different than merely switching he/she. Study and practice it like you would a language you were trying to learn—flash cards, conversation, re-writing sentences to use the target word, etc.

              2. juliebulie*

                I don’t understand why you were accused of trying to “educate nonbinary people.” You described the experience of referring to nonbinary people in different languages. This seems to me a comment made in good faith.

                You shouldn’t have to apologize for expressing the desire do things in a respectful and helpful way (which is the opposite of being rude). I especially don’t think you should have to apologize to someone who bit your head off for doing so (that’s rude)!

              3. Jng*

                Rewe you have nothing to apologize for. People who are offended by your comment are looking for a reason to be offended.

            2. JSPA*

              It’s a fine place to explain that when someone who’s not 100% reliably English fluent makes a pronoun error, there’s a really significant chance that they’re making it not on the basis of your perceived gender, but because they regularly slip into a different use of grammatical gender.

              In many languages, the gender of the possessive article accords with the grammatical gender of the object, not the perceived gender of the person whose object it is.

              Q: Is that John [male person’s] knife [gramatically feminine object]?
              A: Yes, that is [feminine posessive article] knife.

              In English, this can and sometimes does come out as,

              Q: is that John’s knife?
              A: yes, that’s her knife.

              It would be the same for Kyle [ID’s as male] Robert [ID’s as male] Ahn [ID’s as fluid] Jean [we don’t know, they never told us] Lacy [ID’s as female] or anyone else; it’s not a “person gender error.” Intersectionally-speaking, requiring everyone you interact with at work to be English mother tongue (or fluent enough as to make no difference) is similarly problematic to intentional misgendering (which this isn’t).

              It falls under the general rule, “Having been bullied is never a license to bully back.”

              1. Jaybeetee*

                As a native English speaker, I actually find “they/them” to be easier to use than trying to incorporate some of the newer pronouns, such as “zie” or “eir”. Particularly when reading, I can easily accommodate “they” as a gender-neutral singular, but reading an entire sentence/paragraph/more of “Zie did zir taxes last night” is a bit more laborious. I do think as society in general gets used to the fact that NB/trans people exist and deserve to be referred to correctly, our language will standardize and adapt. We’re just still in that transition period right now where it’s not gestalt to a lot of people.

                I do get curious about how this works in other languages sometimes – for example, in French, where everything and everyone is gendered and multiple words change depending on gender, AFAIK there is no gender-neutral pronoun. If you don’t know a person’s gender, you default to “il”, which is masculine. There is “on”, but that tends to be used more to refer to groups (and the surrounding vocab is still masculine). Even “it” has several variations based on gender, singular/plural, etc. I wonder how they’re approaching this question?

                1. Avasarala*

                  Same. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on how to conjugate or spell the newer pronouns, and many have “alien-sounding” consonants like Z and X that sound like I’m not describing a human. It makes me more uncomfortable than using “they/them.”

                  I’m also curious how Spanish and other languages where gender-neutral=male handle this.

            3. Anna*

              Rewe wasn’t telling you your pronouns were weird. Please remember that commenters are for the most part engaging in friendly discussion.

            4. Linguist*

              That is a very uncharitable reading of Rewe’s comment. If I read yours equally uncharitably, I would say that you were out looking for something to be offended by.

          2. Alton*

            I think the tricky thing is that there’s no solution that will be easy for everyone.

            Non-binary/gender-neutral pronouns have been introduced in English, such as xe/hir. But these pronouns are unfamiliar to most people and therefore aren’t necessarily any more natural for native speakers. I think they/them is emerging as the most common choice because it’s a pronoun set that already exists in English and is already used as a singular pronoun in some contexts (for example, when talking about a hypothetical or unknown person).

    13. tamarack and fireweed*

      Getting TO “they/them” is IME one of the easier transition. The OP can practice using they/them more generally for people whose gender is irrelevant to the conversation. Once it’s become natural it should be easier to refer to this particular person by they/them pronouns.

      As for making mistakes, it happens. I have had trans friends in online spaces for over 20 years and thought I was completely conversant with pronoun changes… and then a friend of mine came out as trans, and I found myself on the back foot! I thought of my friend as a (fellow) lesbian, and had to acknowledge that there were important conversations my friend had not shared with me and I had to completely re-learn who he is. And it took me a while to make the mental switch, long enough that my partner commented on it. And that’s on me.

      (Also, when you get it wrong, just correct yourself and move on. If you apologize, do it once you’ve gotten over the hump and mastered the correct pronouns. Don’t make the apology about yourself, or about getting absolution for the misstep, or about hearing “it’s ok”. Just say, privately, “BTW, I’m really sorry it took me a few weeks to switch to your pronouns. It’s quite embarrassing – I never thought I’d get it wrong so often. I hope I have it down now.” And don’t let them go down into a reassurance session. )

      1. Simone's Mic Drop*

        Seconding the they/them advice! I’m in the habit of using they/them for my students unless I know their preferred pronouns. It took less than a week for me to get used to it, and I feel like it really simplifies the start of the school year. As a bonus, I’m modeling the use of singular “they” for other people who may learn to use it as well.

      2. Anax*

        We all have a shorthand for gender, which we use to guess the gender of strangers, and to remember the gender of acquaintances. Unless you’re paying very close attention, you’re not thinking “Bob, who is a woman and uses she/her pronouns, remember that conversation about trans issues? Yes, here’s all the discussion of transition processes and politics…”

        It’s not a problem that we use shorthand, but the folks I’ve known who consistently mix up my pronouns use shorthand which doesn’t match my identity.

        For instance, my friend P focuses a lot on voices; I’m a man with an unusually feminine voice, so they still sometimes mix up my pronouns when they aren’t paying attention, despite the best of intentions. Feminine voice = woman = she/her.

        (P, do not panic if you read this, I still think it’s entertaining and am not offended.)

        Another friend, S, is an older woman who likes to be a mentor to young women; she thinks a lot about solidarity between women and shared experiences, so when she’s feeling particularly “mentorly”, and especially when she’s teaching sewing classes, she’s more likely to mix up my pronouns.

        In contrast, I have online friends who’ve had very little trouble – and I suspect that’s partially because their shorthand for gender IS the pronoun word itself, as it is for me. “Bob, who uses she/her pronouns” is a woman, because she uses “she”.

        All of which is to say… If your shorthand is failing you for a particular trans person, I wonder if deliberately changing your shorthand might help. This might involve focusing more on the pronoun itself, but it might also work to focus on a particular trait your friend has, like his broad shoulders, facial hair, or deep voice.

        [Person wearing a dress] OR [person wearing feminine makeup] OR [person with a feminine voice] = woman? = she/her?

        Even if it’s not a perfect heuristic, adding another parameter can help your brain slow down and think before you speak, or get the change hammered into your head.

    14. Kella*

      OP5, as others have said, practice is the most important thing. Practice at times outside of work! I find it very helpful to remember that the reason it’s tough to remember the new pronoun is that your brain developed a neural pathway with the pronoun “she” and reinforced it a bunch. Now you’re making a brand new baby neural pathway that’s not as strong, so your brain defaults to the “she” pathway cause it’s literally the path of least resistance

      But, the way to make a neural pathway strong is by using it a lot! Every time you practice, you are physically making altering the structure of your brain in such a way that it will be easier for you to say the correct pronoun in the future.

      This youtube video has a cute song about practicing pronouns, including a few phrases to use to practice!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Hb30PE1xgo

    15. Marzipan*

      One thing that’s tricky about pronouns is that we tend not to have much need to use them while we’re actually talking to the person they apply to, because in that context we’re mostly talking to ‘you’ rather than about ‘them’. Something I’ve noticed is that, where someone’s pronouns have changed, a lot of awkward misgendering conversations therefore tend to ensue when they aren’t actually in the room. I do think it’s particularly important to stay on the ball at this point – gently, not in a way where you’re slapping down colleagues/yourself if a mistake is made, not making some big drama of it, but to make sure you’re staying on track all the time.

      I guess what I’m saying is, I think sometimes people tend to fall more easily into that mode of ‘this is far too complicated and my brain can’t possibly deal with it’ at those times. (Certainly this is what I have observed when colleagues are speaking about clients whose pronouns have changed.) If everyone is doing it around you, it may reinforce that idea for you that this is something difficult. And since the person whose pronouns are being applied isn’t present, I think there can be a tendency at those times for some people to feel that it’s not as important anyway. (LW, I know you don’t think this – you’re being mortified about slip-ups happening inside your own brain!) So I think that keeping up that practice of gently keeping things on track, whatever the context, is important and will be helpful to you.

      1. Emma*

        Yes, this – it can be easy to slip back into using incorrect pronouns, or constructing sentences in such a way that pronouns aren’t used, when you’re talking about someone to a third party, because you don’t want to wind up trying to explain the person’s pronouns to someone else. But it’s a bad habit that makes you more likely to slip up in other contexts, as well as being disrespectful towards the person you’re talking about. And especially in a work setting, if anyone does question another person’s pronouns and you don’t feel able to manage a substantial conversation about it, you’ve got the absolute protection of being able to say “this is work, so I don’t think it’s any of my business, do you?”

        1. LilySparrow*

          Is restructuring the sentences disrespectful? It seems to me that making that mental effort could help someone remember that it’s new.

          Or maybe it depends on the motivation – trying to avoid screwing up, vs trying to avoid the topic.

    16. TeraBat*

      I had a friend go through this. They had a feminine name that could be shortened to a non-binary nickname. While they didn’t necessarily mind being called by their full name, they were also happy to go by the nickname. I trained myself to use their pronouns by referring to them by the nickname, rather than the feminine name. I know workplace norms differ, and I have no idea what your coworker goes by, but I’m just throwing it out there as a possible solution.

      1. in a fog*

        This was a helpful technique for me as well. In conversation, when I knew I was coming up to a pronoun, I would just substitute the name instead, i.e. “Blair and I met in college” vs. “she and I met in college.” As a result, I was saying their name A LOT and would feel silly for doing so, but at least it was correct. Any self-consciousness I had about it just sped up the process.

      2. Corrvin*

        I’m glad this worked for you and your co-worker, but I don’t think it’s a good generalization to run with. I’d almost rather someone screw up my pronouns an extra 50 times than change my name instead!

        That said– I wish people would stop apologizing all the time. My pronouns are not SORRY-they/SORRY-them. If I’m not even present when I’m being discussed, and Alex (who knows me) is talking to Billie (who doesn’t know me), Billie may or may not be familiar with the idea of a person preferring they/them pronouns. If Alex’s discussion about me is peppered with the wrong pronoun followed by oops! sorry! gosh! oh no! gee! I swan! and then correcting themselves, Billie may decide that it’s better to avoid discussing me rather than take the risk of SUCH an egregious social error (it must be terrible because look how much Alex is apologizing).

        It’s easy to say “fine, I don’t want to hang out with Billie if Billie doesn’t want to hang out with me” but I don’t get to only hang out with people who are pre-determined to be chill. I get to look for work, and network with colleagues, and interact with clients and members of the public, and that means that I get to be kind of an ambassador for people like me– which I can’t do if someone is making a bad first impression on my behalf. When people are constantly apologetic about pronoun errors when I’m not even present, it makes me look ridiculously controlling, and that’s hurting me way more than just being non-binary and queer.

        1. Jerusha*

          Corrvin,

          I wish I could find your statement about your pronouns less funny, because that would probably mean it didn’t hit quite so close to the mark! Although, of course, if I did meet someone whose chosen pronouns were SORRY-they/SORRY-them, I hope I’d be able to address and speak of them correctly.

      3. Lora*

        Yeah, I do this a lot when I’m having a brain fart. I feel like it’s less obviously being weird and calling too much attention to the point when I say, smoothly and normally, “Alex is getting coffee at the moment, is there something I can help you with” instead of awkwardly stumbling through “sh- nuh…th-they, sorry, are getting a coffee at the moment”. I feel like if I’m tired and my brain is barely forming English words at all, it’s going to be Making Things Uncomfortable and kinda rude-ish to be obviously struggling to say it, rather than just using their actual name. Like it’s better to keep the awkwardness for imaginary discussions in the shower, and try to be No Big Deal in front of other people, you know?

    17. Axa*

      In addition to rehearsing using “they/them” for this specific person, you might also find it useful to read and watch media with characters who use those pronouns, to help your brain acclimate to them. I’m a teacher and this helped me when I first had to change pronouns with a student years ago.

    18. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      I’ve used they/them pronouns for several years, and a thing I’ve noticed is that the people who really understand the concept of “nonbinary person” are much better at using the right pronouns for me, because they look at me and see a nonbinary person and then use the right pronoun for the person they see. That’s how gendered language use (and a lot of cultural stuff around gender) works on a subconscious level—we see people, we categorize them, and we speak to them and behave toward them in ways that match the category we’ve put them in. When someone who doesn’t have a “nonbinary person” category sees me—even someone who knows me quite well and is intellectually aware that I’m nonbinary—they’ll categorize me wrong in their head, and then they’ll slip up on pronouns, group me together with people of the gender they think I am, forget that I need an ungendered bathroom, refer to me by gendered parent words when my child is mentioned, and so on. Pronoun use is an important part of respecting your nonbinary colleague, but it’s not the whole of it. You need to see them. You need to make an additional box in your head that says “nonbinary person”, and when you look at your colleague you need to put them in that box. Then you can use the language and behaviors that follow on from being fully aware that you are interacting with a nonbinary person.

      The advice upthread about practicing is good, but rote memorization only takes you so far, and if you don’t see the colleague often or don’t practice often, you will revert to the old pronouns very quickly. Getting in the habit of using gender-neutral language for strangers is good, because you already have a category box for “person whose gender I don’t know” (e.g., when someone sends an anecdote to AAM, you don’t know what gender they are) and expanding your use of it will help you get out of the habit of looking at someone and automatically putting them in the “male person” or “female person” category. But nonbinary identities are not the same as an absence of information, and your colleague’s gender identity is not an unknown for you. So you do need to build that “nonbinary person” category in your head and practice putting them in there.

      (If you get to know a nonbinary person well enough to learn what flavor of nonbinary they are, or if you start hanging around with multiple nonbinary people, you will need more specific categories. For example, I’m genderqueer, and in some cases it’s not appropriate to treat me the same way one would treat an agender person. But male + female + nonbinary will do for most purposes.)

      In order to deep-down believe that there are more than two gender categories, all of which are equally real and valid, I encourage you to quietly research the personal stories of nonbinary people. There are so many ways to be nonbinary! Click around on gender dot wikia dot org, read our social media, watch our transition videos, listen to our podcasts, read our books; don’t comment or ask questions, just absorb the knowledge that we are real people and this is a real thing, and start to get a sense of the shape of that thing.

      You will also have to develop a lexicon of gender-appropriate behaviors, not just language, for nonbinary people and people whose genders you don’t know. Part of what’s so uncomfortable when you first encounter nonbinary people is that you run into all the ways you unconsciously treat people differently based on perceived gender. The best option in most cases is to lean toward inclusivity, as it benefits binary-gendered people as well. Instead of inviting women to knitting nights and men to golfing days, invite everyone to both, and Chad will knit you a sweater while Sally gives you putting tips. Send a company-wide email saying “We’re going to order loose and fitted company t-shirts from S to 4X, please let me know which you’d like” rather than assuming you know who will want “men’s” or “women’s” shirts. Hold doors for everyone. Pay everyone fairly! But don’t let inclusivity and generality erase the specific realness of nonbinary identities.

      You were taught for a long time that we don’t exist. Retraining your brain is going to take work. But if you put in that work, it will help a ton with treating your colleague respectfully. Once you internalize that your company is a company where at least three genders of people work, you’ll become aware of places where your workplace habits assume only two genders, and you’ll fix them and help your colleague (and other nonbinary colleagues) be more comfortable. Nonbinary people go through life braced for constant, constant misgendering and microaggressions. The absence of those things is tangible, and so wonderful when we encounter it. Even a small inclusive gesture could make your colleague’s day.

      Incidentally, it’s rude to disclose the pronouns previously used by a trans person. Some people want that history erased, some don’t, but either way it’s not your information to share, especially in a situation like this where it’s absolutely irrelevant. We don’t need to know where your colleague started out to help you meet them where they are.

      (Allison, would you please consider redacting the old pronouns from item #5?)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        This is a really interesting response, thank you for the detail.

        I agree that when we use gendered pronouns it is actually shorthand for “person I recognise as being in this category” – especially when we don’t formally know their pronouns. We mentally place a person in a category based on e.g. a behaviour or presentation or name because our brains demand shorthand, even though our categorisation may be faulty.

        Your example (e.g., when someone sends an anecdote to AAM, you don’t know what gender they are) interested me because the AAM protocol is to assume “she” until/unless told otherwise, but we often have situations where commenters assume a gender based on the circumstances (e.g. an intern who refuses to make coffee is referred to as “he”). This is somewhere we as a community are still developing, and maybe we again as a community should default to “they” rather than “she”, even given the historical intent of using “she”.

        There’s an idea floating around which I largely subscribe to, that we mark English for gender far more often than we need to, and as well as gender identity factors this also promotes sexism far younger than we had previously thought. So, for example, if a daycare worker always uses the words “boy” or “girl” instead of “child” then they are bringing the child’s gender into the conversation unnecessarily, and encouraging children to see and stereotype difference. When you need to group children for an activity, maybe separate them by shirt colour. When you need to point out an individual, say “the child on the swing” rather than “that girl in the pretty dress”. Use “spouse” or “parent” instead of “husband” or “mother”. It’s fascinating how difficult this is at first, and how unnatural it sounds to those used to specifying gender, but I think it’s part of the same deep linguistic programming which we can undo. Generation Alpha can be better at this, if our generation makes the conscious effort now!

        1. Joielle*

          Yes! I totally understand and support the reasoning behind the use of default “she” on this site, but I agree that it sometimes leads to everyone making assumptions about gender-related dynamics that may or may not be present. If it were up to me, I think I’d switch to default “they” unless the letter writer used other pronouns in the letter.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          People here are welcome to default to any pronouns they like when gender is unknown! I’ve never intended for my own habit to become the convention in the comment section. I do it because I like to undo some the history of the male default (and because research shows when people picture a default manager, they picture a man — and people have told me after reading a lot of AAM, they start picturing a woman, and I think there’s value to that). But people can default to they, or to their own pronouns, or whatever they like. There’s no site rule on this.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I couldn’t summon the word “convention” when I posted earlier, which is why I put “protocol”. I think your motives are good, so it’s interesting that a different well-meaning idea is in conflict with it.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              I guess there are times when I think it’s important to subvert an entrenched stereotype (that is, use “she” for an unknown president or archbishop or police chief) and times when it’s more important to keep gender out of it (unspecified driver, voter, intern, bank clerk).

        3. deesse877*

          Your description of the need to internalize the existence of genders beyond the binary completely matches my sense of my own (ongoing!) learning process w/r/t pronouns. An important contribution, thanks.

      2. BethDH*

        This is so revealing to me about my difficulties the first time I had a friend tell me they were going to start using they/them pronouns. I found it unexpectedly unsettling beyond just a language-patterns thing and realized that I not only hadn’t made real space in my brain for “they” as a unique identity (rather than “other” or “unspecified” — I was comfortable with that) but also that I had huge assumptions about what I shared or didn’t share with people of the same pronoun-preference.
        For the OP, I bring this up because I found it helpful to consciously think about “they” in reference to specific individual people I saw/talked to (or yes, dogs), but I actually didn’t find it useful to use it more as a generic pronoun in writing or speaking about people I didn’t know.

      3. Tegan*

        This is a fantastic and thorough and thoughtful response, thank you so much for taking the time and effort to write it. Moving people to the non-binary category in my mind is an excellent way to think about that concept and make it not just about pronouns, but about them as people in general.

      4. Vax is my disaster bicon*

        YES! I’m nonbinary and use they/them pronouns, and I have found that the people who most effectively use my pronouns are those who have made an effort to see me without binary gender filters for interpreting information. Similarly, I have an easier time using other people’s pronouns correctly when I take the time to mentally sort them appropriately. To be successful, you really have to build that third box.

      5. Alexander Graham Yell*

        There are so many great things in here, thank you Director!

        On your point about creating a mental picture of “they” not as a person whose gender is unknown but a person whose gender is non-binary, may I recommend books by non-binary authors/with non-binary characters for my fellow cis friends who are having to change thought patterns?

        Sarah Gailey is my personal favourite – their book River of Teeth is just a straight-up fun romp (imagine a US in the late 1800s that has become overrun with hippos that were imported to be bred for meat) with a non-binary lead character who is suave and brave and kicks a lot of butt. As somebody who has never struggled with my own gender, being presented with a character that is non-binary from the very beginning of the story and knowing nothing about them beyond what is written really helped create/cement that category in my head.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          My queendom for an edit button – I’d like to change “having to change their thought patterns” to “getting to change their thought patterns”.

      6. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        For me, trying to get people’s pronouns right is a mix of rote practice and changing your worldview, in that the one informs the other. When I was first learning about trans people (as a teenager on an LGBTQ+ online forum), I had to be very careful when speaking about another forum member, because I initially didn’t even know the correct pronouns for trans men and trans women, let alone nonbinary people. The written aspect of the forum really helped because it meant I had the time to think about how I was responding, look at how other people used pronouns, and copy them. And over time, I got better and better at it, because forcing myself to learn pronouns by rote also created that section in my brain that Director of Alpaca Exams is talking about. I went from “wait, does ‘trans man’ mean that I use ‘him’ or ‘her’?” to “a trans man uses he/him pronouns, so I should call this person ‘him'” to “a trans man is a man.” It might sound like a fine line, but it’s essentially going from a fairly shallow “this person CLAIMS to be named X and have X pronouns but REALLY their real name is Y and their pronouns should be Y, but I call them X to make them feel better” to a deeper, “their name really is X and their pronouns really are X.”

        My point is, use the time that you practice using the correct pronouns to also practice thinking of this colleague as a nonbinary person. You’re not just using the pronouns as a favor to them, you’re doing it for the same reason you call any other person by their proper pronouns and call them by their names.

      7. boxfish*

        Wonderful comment. I’m NB and use they/them and it’s extremely affirming when someone gets the hang of it and consistently gets my pronouns right, partly because that hardly ever happens, but largely because it feels like they’ve actually accepted in their mind that I’m not ‘a girl who uses weird pronouns’ but ‘a non-binary person who uses they/them’.

      8. Michael*

        “Pronoun use is an important part of respecting your nonbinary colleague, but it’s not the whole of it. You need to see them. You need to make an additional box in your head that says “nonbinary person”, and when you look at your colleague you need to put them in that box.”

        I am an early-in-transition trans guy (meaning most people look at me and read me as female/assume I am a butch lesbian) and was really hoping to see something like this after reading through the comments for a while. I don’t mean to sound like I don’t appreciate the well-meaning people in my life who are making an effort to get my pronouns right, but I am having a hard time lately every time one of these people accidentally misgenders me because of exactly this–if they actually saw me as a man they wouldn’t slip up. No one meets some big burly lumberjack dude and “accidentally” says “she.” Misgendering someone may not be on purpose, you really may be trying, but it’s not some neutral “oh I’m just not used to your new/married name” type thing either. It’s not actually an accident in that sense.

        It can feel worse than being misgendered by strangers at this point, to be honest, because it makes me feel like my friends/family are just being polite and humoring me. But I don’t want to be “that person” who jumps down the throat of someone who is genuinely trying. I also don’t want everyone to know how hard this is right now because I don’t want it to be a big deal to them, you know? Like the polite fiction that “it’s okay, I appreciate you trying, don’t make a big deal out of it” is socially necessary but not always reflective of how I feel.

        Basically it feels like I don’t have a right to tell people “you need to try to SEE me a certain way.” But it is kind of a relief to see someone make this point. Because yeah, if you really want to get it right, you are going to have to work on actually seeing the person differently.

      9. Avasarala*

        Such a great comment! I definitely want to work on strengthening that “box” in my head. We all make unconscious snap decisions when seeing other people and it’s a good opportunity to retrain that.

    19. Beth*

      OP5: Practice! Not with the person–you know you’re likely to mess it up at first, no need to expose them to that part of the process. Talk to yourself in the mirror. Have pretend conversations about this person (nothing bad, just casual office chatter) where you play both sides and make sure to use their pronouns repeatedly. Look up a couple celebrities or TV show characters or other famous people that use they/them and have conversations about them–like, gossip the way we all do about media figures, and make sure you’re consistently referring to them as ‘they’ throughout. Using these pronouns, both in general and for this specific person, will feel more natural and automatic the more you do it. Practicing out loud is the quickest way to get it to click, in my experience.

      Side suggestion, which you didn’t ask for and maybe don’t need but which I think can be useful for a lot of people: You’re correct that using the wrong pronouns is disrespectful, especially if you’ve been reminded a couple times. But when it does happen, don’t make a huge deal out of it! Just quickly correct yourself (e.g. “She–sorry, they–had a really insightful comment in today’s meeting”) and make a mental note to practice more. Over-apologizing can easily turn into a ‘please reassure me that I’m still a good person’ situation without the apologizer necessarily meaning it to, and no one needs that.

    20. AngelZash*

      LW 5: I have been thee and completely understand. Unfortunately, the best thing to do is just consciously make an effort to remember the current pronouns, and apologize if you make a mistake. The person will probably understand if you make a mistake (we’re all human and retraining can be hard!) if you are making a visible effort to be respectful and use the proper requested pronouns. Eventually, you’ll get used to it and it’ll all become smoother.

      That’s my thoughts on it anyway, and my experience when a good friend changed his pronouns from female to male. I still sometimes mess up in my thoughts though! And I correct myself in them immediately as well. :)Good luck! To you and them!

    21. Xandria*

      Thank you for making the effort.

      Something I don’t think I saw mentioned, you can attach the pronouns to your coworkers name. So when you think about them think [Janethey/them] until it gets more solidified. It’s just a way for the reminder to be there.

      Also you can talk to your coworker, find out what they need. Do so in a respectful way that lets them be in charge of the conversation. Opening with ‘can I ask you a question about pronouns and gender?’ Or ‘would there be a good time to talk about how I can help you feel safe in your transition at work?’, and be prepared for the no answer, your coworker might not have the bandwidth for that emotional labor. But you can ask, and there are a lot of ways offices can really impact non-binary people. Do you have gendered bathrooms? Do all your company emails/posted policies/meetings open ‘ladies & gentleman’. Getting involved & advocating for gender neutrality in your work will help re-wire your brain to think about pronouns differently.

      Also, eliminate ‘preferred’ from your lexicon, they/them are the pronouns your coworker requires, there’s no preferred about it. I prefer no mushrooms on my pizza. I require no poison on my pizza. This of it like an allergy that way.

      1. OP5*

        Xandria, thanks for your advice. Thinking Jane/they/them is really helpful as is your point that this is what they require.

      2. JSPA*

        Your pronouns may be life blood vs poison to you, and I fully accept that this is so. Mine are not, to me. As well as a gender spectrum, there’s a spectrum of “how much do you care about gender.” Presumably, someone who’s transitioning is pretty high on the “how much do you care” spectrum.

        Back before transition was in the common consciousness, teachers sometimes used to do writing assignments based on the thought experiment, “imagine you woke up and you were the opposite gender. What would you do?” The majority of men [using the binary historically, here] told to imagine themselves waking up female wrote about their panic and rushing to a doctor to see if he [ditto] could do something. There were also “have lesbian sex” versions, but not a lot of “I could be me in the world in a different body” stories. The majority of women [again, ditto] described exploring their bodies; what it was like to walk shirtless; what it was like to walk alone at night without fear; being in a crowd without being groped. But in each case, there were some for whom gender and self were intricately linked (either happily, or dysphorically) and others whose identity and gender were nowhere near as linked.

        Hidden in the exercise–beyond the surface lesson of how people walk the surface of the planet differently, based on perceived gender–is a secondary lesson about not extrapolating from one’s own experience of gender (the primary, or the irrelevancy) towards other people.

        In particular, someone who’s uses “they” might be using “they” based on a core identity, but there’s also a pretty solid non-zero chance that they are using it to reflect a belief in downplaying gender, gender identity and gender presentation. “My identity is Sammy / Jordan / Kai, and I usually use “they” but he or she are also fine” is also a thing.

        1. JSPA*

          “primacy” not “primary.” spectrum from “Primacy of gender to irrelevancy of gender” in one’s identity.

        2. tired anon*

          Oh wow, thank you for this comment. I’m in the midst of figuring out my gender identity (with non-binary being the best I can describe it for now) and I’m definitely in the “she/her, but also they/them” camp because it’s more downplaying gender than saying “they” is reflective of my gender. I hadn’t thought about it like that, but you really described it. Oh gosh.

          1. Ginger Baker*

            I call myself gender atheist for this reason. I totally get and respect that gender is important to other people! But personally…it’s just not for me. As far as I am concerned, literally every characteristic, trait, style, fashion and mannerism I have is part of “woman” because I do it and I am a woman, ipso facto, it’s part of “how women are”. But my older kid feels strongly that some things are “feminine” and some things are “masculine” and they are both, and that’s a perfectly fine approach to take even if I don’t feel personally drawn to the same view.

          2. smoke tree*

            You might find the book “Gender Failure” by Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote interesting. It describes the authors’ personal experiences with a similar process.

          3. Mary Richards*

            I have a business acquaintance like this. They use they/them pronouns, but don’t object to being “she,” either, because they truly believe that gender is just a construct.

          4. JSPA*

            In my youth, reared on “free to be you and me,” I went with the reasoning, “if I assume I’m female, and therefore define all of my traits as female traits (even if a lot of them run counter to female traits as traditionally defined), that’s a fine sort of female to be.” And…that’s equally internally consistent.

            I suspect I could as easily have done that with “male” (mentally speaking; the practicalities would have been more complex).

            Whether that was an act of gender nonconformism or gender agnosticism–who knows?

          5. Avasarala*

            I have heard terms like “grey gender” or “agender” to describe this. Fascinating how many ways gender can interact with one’s sense of self.

        3. Xandria*

          While this is a very good point, the OP shouldn’t assume that their coworker pronouns aren’t life blood. To me being misgendered is a punch in the gut, and when that happens 72 times on a good day, (Why did I count? it’s such a depressing number), having people assume it is life blood is an easier place. If your pronouns aren’t you life blood you won’t have an ill effect to someone using they/them, and someone who does tie them to identity in that manner will be greatly benefited. My pronouns are life blood to me, because gender isn’t. I have no gender, I don’t understand what gender is, and I can’t comprehend how people know they are a girl or a boy or even genderfuild. And to be able to exist in that is the only way I am.

          We all experience gender differently, but if the default can be one where people don’t get hurt why not use that?

          Also my experience, and while its of course not universal (see above), it is they only thing I’ve seen, is that people who say “they, but she is fine.” mean, “They, my pronouns are they/them, but I know that our relationship will be easier if I give you the easy out of having she as an option.”.

          1. JSPA*

            That’s a good point.

            Plus, people who use something other than a standard pronoun (even variably, themselves) are likely to appreciate that usage by others, as it’s a mark that their happiness matters to the speaker.

            That said…if a stranger sees me from the back and uses “sir,” that’s completely understandable. Ditto if they see me from the front, and use “ma’am.” Having them recoil and gibber apologetically when I turn around in either direction–or quickly ask my pronouns–is actually weirder than just, I dunno, pointing me to the kitty litter, or telling me when the turnip greens will come in. I’m looking to them for information, not affirmation.

      3. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

        My partner uses they/them pronouns; I’m getting my mom used to those pronouns by going “and then they (partner’s name) went to the store.”

    22. anon5789*

      OP it’s hard! Our brains are funny things and are wired to attribute gender automatically so it’s hard to overcome that. I work with a couple of people going by gender neutral pronouns and they say that as long as people try they get that it can be hard and they may slip up.

      I would say a part of it is being super strict. Don’t let yourself even think ‘she’ at any point, don’t let yourself use she without correcting with other colleagues and CORRECT OTHERS if they do it!!! I have a couple of colleagues who just don’t bother using they and after having a convo with them and hearing she 10x I’m way more likely to slip up myself – so promote a full office approach!

    23. OP5*

      OP5 here! Thanks to everyone for their advice so far (it’s only 7 am in my time zone). The AAM commenters have come through again and I have been doing what many of you suggested – quickly correcting myself in the moment and practicing in my head. A quick update for everyone: We learned a couple of days ago that the contractor accepted a permanent (non-contract) job and is leaving. This is a great opportunity but we are sorry to lose them. Before we knew this, my coworker who worked most closely with them, had asked how or if they wanted us to let people know their preferences. They were pleased to be asked and said they preferred to tell people one on one. Apparently most people at their company don’t know their preferences even though it’s in their online bio on their company’s website. I’m sure that I will meet some one else who also prefers to use they/them/their so although I’ll no longer be working with our contractor I still appreciate all the advice here on AAM.

    24. JSPA*

      On top of all the individual strategies…

      This may be a bridge too far in some places and spaces, but I’ve noticed few-to-no drawbacks in using “they” more broadly / more frequently, and I’ve quietly taken to doing that. Along the lines of using “Latinx” or other “can be used for a nonbinary person, but can also be used for “a person, gender not particularly relevant here.”

      Specifically in situations where “they” always been informally grammatically-permissible, I default to it, more and more. It’s not so much a revolutionary act as a childhood conversational default that I gave up only under academic pressure, and have happily reclaimed as useful in the modern era. But at the same time (owning the choice): for most situations, gender is less relevant than language makes us believe.

      Some people may feel strongly about she/her or he/him. This is fine. For people who are transitioning because they have strong feelings about gender, I realize part of the respect is to use the gendered pronoun (but even then, “I was using ‘they’ as a gender inclusive term” is going to be a lot less upsetting and triggering than being “misgendered on the binary”). And the vast majority of people are cis (whether by express intent or by default). If they want additional reaffirmation of their birth gender from the person asking what “they” want on their sandwich, or the person asking if someone remembers what “they” said about the projected date for the software update in the meeting last Tuesday, then….it strikes me as fine that He or She might need to ask for those pronouns be used.

      Most people will respond with “Hummus” or “Roast Beef” or “before Christmas.” (It’s the modern version of, “…just don’t call me late for dinner.”)

      Not, “why did you use ‘they’ for Thomas, who uses he/him pronouns” or “my pronouns are She/Her.”

      1. blackcat*

        Yes, I’ve been trying to do this too, except where it will cause extra confusion about who is who.

      2. Holy Moley Artichokey*

        I might actually be careful about doing this– using “they” can sometimes trigger dysphoria for binary trans people. (For further reading, try the whole recent mess surrounding ContraPoints.)

        1. Anax*

          Oh god, what an exhausting mess.

          Holy, is it fair to tl;dr with the following, for those interested?

          ContraPoints is a trans woman and liberal Youtuber who talks about politics and gender stuff a lot.

          Many trans folks want to “pass” – e.g., to be seen as [their gender], without being visibly trans. Unless they won the genetic lottery, this generally involves a lot of effort – makeup, retraining mannerisms and vocal tone, hormones, and surgery are all pretty common.

          Other trans folks cannot or do not want to “pass”, for a variety of reasons including “bad luck on the genetic draw”, “can’t afford or don’t want expensive surgery”, or “don’t fit into binary male/female beauty standards and gender stereotypes”. The last is particularly common among nonbinary folks, for obvious reasons, but also includes folks like butch lesbians, intersex folks, folks from non-majority cultures, folks with visible disabilities, and… so on.

          Folks who want to pass often want the right pronouns to be used automatically, without a discussion of identity and transness – which means expecting others to assume their pronouns. They may be uncomfortable when asked about their pronouns, because it can imply that they’re different and their transness is visible, leading to dysphoria or concerns about being treated differently.

          Folks who cannot or do not want to pass often want others to ask what their preferred pronouns are, and to accept their self-identification regardless of any assumptions. They may be uncomfortable when pronouns are assumed, because people often guess wrong, because the idea of assuming others’ gender feels problematic, or because having to correct assumptions means they are singled out as different and visibly trans.

          This is obviously not really reconcilable! Some folks are going to be uncomfortable with either model. It’s a whole Thing, and it’s partially generational because non-binary-identified folks are becoming more visible in society. ContraPoints is pretty solidly on the “wants to pass” side, and has expressed discomfort with having the “pronoun request” model used for her, because it makes her feel othered.

          Some trans folks who want to pass also are frustrated by folks who don’t seem to “try” to pass. They put in a lot of effort so that others will assume the correct pronouns for them – so if someone does not put in that effort, of COURSE people will make the wrong assumptions! Simple cause and effect!

          This, of course, conflicts with the non-passing folks, who don’t want pronouns to be assumed at all, and who may feel this extra effort to be performatively feminine/masculine is problematic because it reinforces stereotypes about what it means to be feminine/masculine.

          Again, ContraPoints is on the wants-to-pass side, and has expressed a bit of the above discomfort, which is kinda problematic and old-school. But it’s also a reaction to dysphoria and the denigration of performative femininity among trans women and…

          It’s all complicated and there’s no perfect solution, conflicting access needs suck, and it’s all very emotionally charged and there’s a lot of yelling.

          (Full disclosure, I’m a non-passing, gender-nonconforming trans dude, so I’m definitely on the pronoun-request side here.)

          1. Anonbinary*

            Brilliant summary, thank you! Saved me from having to write it.

            Just to illustrate how it’s a complicated issue: I’m a non-passing, NB/GNC trans dude-leaning person, and I’m uncomfortable when people request my pronouns. I haven’t been able to get comfortable with ‘they’ in reference to myself despite significant effort–it continues to feel just as wrong as he or she. (My gender isn’t male or female, but it’s also not indeterminate or unknown, nor is there any ambiguity of the number of people I am.) If I’m asked, acquaintances get “I’ll accept anything respectful, no ‘it’, no gendered honorifics” and closer people get “I really prefer use of third-person pronouns is minimized in reference to me, reword so you don’t need a pronoun at all or use my name instead, to the degree that you can manage unobtrusively.” My spouse does really well, of course –they’re very motivated by affection– and surprisingly also my boss, although she’s not generally that kind of detail-oriented; she really makes an effort. Reading my performance reviews is a special kind of enjoyable, even the parts that note needs for improvement.

            I want to hat-tip also Anax and BookBadger Attorney at Claw, upthread, whose comments on the importance and effectiveness of not merely practicing a specific new usage in as many ways and circumstances as possible, but also shifting one’s worldview so that the the new usage is inclusively normalized in a new worldview. One that can include people who use “they” or neopronouns as well as he or she, can include people who prefer to be asked as well as people who prefer not to be asked (a compromise that may partly satisfy both: offer your own pronouns if you are willing, to normalize pronoun-disclosure as something even cis or passing binary people do), and can include people for whom getting it right is extremely important and people for whom it’s not a big deal as long as no one’s going out of their way to be obnoxious.

            And hat-tip to Timothy/ TRiG, who rightly points out that this valuable effort is actually a break from historical precedent despite the glib “but Chaucer! Shakespeare!” ( I have read Chaucer in the Middle English, thanks; I know what he wrote) and may well require more effort than some other, seemingly similar changes –not because someone’s choosing to be priggish, but because of the way brains encode language, bolstered by centuries of accumulated cultural baggage.

        2. JSPA*

          well, sure, especially if it’s done in a way that’s individualized, and pointed (referring only to someone who’s trans as “they”–indeed so rude!)

          But if used generally…

          Sorrow and trauma can come from discussing a happy pregnancy, if someone has miscarried. Or mentioning a happy relationship, when someone is breaking up horribly, or has never had a relationship and craves one, or has anxieties about being aromantic.

          Insisting that everyone needs to see the world in binary and refer to it in those terms isn’t a neutral, harmless act, anymore than pretending that nobody has ever had a baby or a happy relationship.

          Just like a person is not being pregnant “at” someone, or being happy in love “at” someone…encouraging less awareness of irrelevant gender binaries WITH REGARD TO THE WORKPLACE (a specific area where gender isn’t even supposed to be taken into account, right???) is not a challenge to anyone’s happy place on that spectrum. It’s like not assuming either the presence or absence of a religious or national identity, AT WORK, because it’s not supposed to be relevant, AT WORK–which totally does not mean looking down on on people who have and express stronger or weaker variants of those identities.

      3. Anon Librarian*

        I’ve been doing that for a long time. I think that we, as a society, focus too much on putting people into narrow gender categories. Also, gender identity can be fluid and you don’t always know how someone IDs right away.

        So, more than twenty years ago, I started referring to people in gender-neutral ways as often as it made sense and was possible. “That person over there,” instead of, “That man over there,” for example. So mostly for strangers and people I didn’t know very well. There’s obviously a line where, when you know how someone identifies, you want to respect that and refer to them correctly. But I would use “they” for strangers. “A person came to check the electrical meter and accidentally left their gloves behind.”

        Twenty years ago, living in an area with a traditionalist kind of culture, I think this stood out as odd and caused some misunderstandings. But it’s accurate. You can’t tell what someone’s gender identity is by looking at them and, in most situations, why should it matter?

        Anyway, I don’t think there should be rules about this, but if you introduce more gender-neutral ways of describing and referring to people in general, maybe it would become easier to use “they” for the non-binary person/people who you know? I think it’s something to experiment with. To each their own, as I would say.

    25. PugLife*

      Talk to yourself, out loud, about your colleague. When you’re making dinner: “This is Cam. They work in accounting.” When you’re driving home: “Hey, did you see what Cam did? I really like the idea they added to the discussion.” Have talks with yourself where you practice using they’re pronouns when they are not around. And do the same thing for your internal monologue — correct your internal monologue every time it slips up.

      As a they/them person myself who has a number of they/them friends, some of whom used different pronouns before I met them, this has worked for me.

    26. Mookie*

      What I’ve done over the years is to try to mentally replicate in public what I always do in non meat-space, virtual, text, and phone interactions, which is to default to “they” until my interlocutors or explicitly identify their pronouns or circumstantially reveal them, or where there is an alternative default pronoun (at AAM, that would be she/her). The world then consists of people whose pronouns I know and of strangers who are automatically they/them. It eventually becomes very easy and instinctual not to presume alignment, and no more onerous than ridding oneself of heteronormative assumptions.

      The caveat here, of course, is that while this practice helps with ‘remembering’ they/them as valid and totally benign, there is an important distinction between they/them as a person’s own pronouns (as in the LW’s colleague’s case) and a they/them that functions as a mental placeholder for strangers until you learn their pronouns. It’s never okay to misgender or force a they/them on all people because it’s ‘too much work’ to remember.

    27. Troutwaxer*

      My own strategy is to append a “Miss,” “Missus,” or “Mister” to the name of the person who is transitioning. So “Steve” who is transitioning and is now “Stephanie” becomes “Miss Stephanie.” The first time in any day I see Stephanie in any given day I say “Hello Miss Stephanie” and that seems to help. (I also have a friend who’s name lent itself well to a truly terrible pun as they changed genders, and that helped – fortunately the pun was non-prejudicial.)

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        That won’t work with someone who prefers “they”, though. In fact, it might be insulting to someone who is nonbinary or gender-fluid.

        1. Phoenix*

          The nonbinary/gender-neutral honorific I’ve seen most commonly is “Mx”, pronounced “mix” – it could potentially still work, if you used that honorific! (Again, as Troutwaxer said, probably do this in your head more than actually out loud.)

      2. Theo*

        oh no please don’t do this ;.; A, it erases any nonbinary folks in your midst, and B, not everyone who changes their pronoun uses what you think is the “correct” honorific to match it. There are she/her people who use Mister. There are he/him people who use Miss. There are nonbinary people who use Mrs. Also, I guarantee Stephanie can tell you’re doing this because you are otherwise struggling to remember she’s a woman (even if that’s not your intent). C, some people just don’t want to be called by their title! It can be either too formal, or too casual, or too Generationally Weird. To me from a coworker being called Mx. Theo would be patronizing and belittling and I would dread the first time they spoke to me every day — and that IS my correct title.

        Do it in your head if you gotta. But you might want to try decoupling your language from someone’s presentation. Just practice using their names and their pronouns. Internalize them as the gender they are and the swap becomes easy. If my gramma can do it, so can you!

        1. JSPA*

          The number of grandkids your grandma has to keep track of is (probably) smaller than the various people who work at or regularly come through an average office ; )

      3. Anax*

        I assume you know this, but just in case, wanted to flag…

        Using “Miss” this way might feel patronizing in some contexts, particularly since “Miss + FirstName” is the traditional way to refer to a child. (As opposed to “Miss + Surname”, which has historically been used for adults, or “Ms.”, which has been used more commonly in recent years.)

        Of course, traditional etiquette has loosened, and I can imagine many trans folks would appreciate verbally having their gender affirmed every day! But… you might want to use this with caution, out loud.

        (It would definitely make me uncomfortable, personally, because I’m AFAB and tend to look younger than I am, so I’m a little sensitive to being read as a child. “And how are you today, little mister? :)” … it would be so easy for such a thing to come off as the playful, exaggerated “respect” given to a child!)

    28. Madame Tussaud*

      One of my daughter’s friends recently came out as non-binary, and requested that we all start using they/them/their instead of she/her. I was explaining this to my 75 year old mother so that she could do the same when she saw them. She was very confused at first, but I was very proud that by the end of the conversation she understood, and is on board. This is new for many of us, but I think the suggestions above are very helpful!

      1. saintarctica*

        One more suggestion that I haven’t seen in this thread unless I missed it…
        It’s ok to practice in front of the nb person if you do it thoughtfully!
        In my experience, I tend to get pronouns wrong when I’m not thinking about what I’m saying and a pronoun gets slipped into the sentence without me noticing. But instead I can purposely plan a sentence in which I use the correct pronoun in front of the nb person. When people do this for me it feels great – because I use they/them pronouns and 90% of the time people get it wrong. Which means that almost always, I hear the wrong pronoun. So when people purposefully practice in front of me, I get to hear them get it right. If there are people in my life who consistently get it wrong, I ask them to try this strategy: for every time you get the pronoun wrong, try to get it write at least 5 times in the next 5 minutes. It can be awkward to create a bunch of sentences about me, in front of me, just to use the right pronoun, but I don’t mind the awkwardness at all because a) it shows me you actually do want to use the right pronoun for me and b) I get to hear the correct pronoun more often and it counteracts how many times I hear the wrong one.

    29. Holy Moley Artichokey*

      I now have a friend who’s nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, and I’ve been training myself to use they/them by watching a lot of YouTube vlogs by nonbinary people. I know from past experience that things like this feel unfamiliar at first, but after a certain amount of time it just switches to normal, so I’m trying to get the habituation period out of the way with the YouTubers (who I don’t communicate with) to save my friend (who I do interact with) from as many of my learning curve mistakes as possible.

    30. Notasecurityguard*

      I found that if I just keep correcting myself even if they’re not around that did the trick eventually. Also it’s been my experience with most people that if you immediately correct yourself they’re fine with it

    31. Erika*

      My partner identifies as non-binary, and it took a little doing to get used to they/them pronouns for me, despite being a lefty sort. The best thing I can advise is to work on the concept more than the individual instance. Find media that contains a non-binary character (I recommend One Day at a Time on Netflix), read threads on places like Reddit written by non-binary individuals, and generally normalize the concept. If you bundle that with reinforcement like other people have mentioned (repeating it to yourself at various times) and slowing down when you speak to/about them, you should catch on. It’s amazing how much of our language is gendered – I find myself talking about “people” more than “men and women,” which was something I didn’t realize I did before.

      And remember not to beat yourself up. You’re making an effort, and that’s a really, really good place to start.

      1. Theo*

        The Doubleclicks have some gender-focused songs (Wrong About Gender specifically uses they/them about the other person in the song) and there is in fact a song by some other group called They/Them/Theirs, if you want to get some music-based practice in :D

    32. Buttercup*

      I have a few friends who use they/them, and for a while when they first told me, I was pretty bad about using them, and I felt similarly disrespectful. I went out and got a Build-A-Bear and decided that this particular bear used they/them pronouns, and practiced using them for the bear to get my brain used to it. It really helped me break the habit of using my friends’ previous pronouns.

    33. kittymommy*

      Not sure if this is quite what the LW is looking for, but I have found that with the couple of people I know (admittedly just peripherally) that I seemed to have an easier time with this than others because I have always used the they/their/them pronouns more often than gendered pronouns. Since I incorporate the gender neutral language for everyone it has made mistakes less likely.

    34. Leila*

      It’s honestly just going to take practice, LW! My tactic has always been that when I catch myself using the wrong pronouns, I restart my sentence and use the correct pronouns. Do this whether they’re there or not (like if you’re talking to a spouse about them and you say ‘she’ by accident, fix it then and there)! With time, you’ll get it right the first time and using the wrong pronouns is going to sound weird and wrong to you.

      Good luck!

    35. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      When I was messing up one of my friend’s pronouns, what helped me was that, for other reasons, I started needing to refer to them in a messaging software a lot. Being able to *see* when I messed up, rather than thinking “oh no, did I make mistakes earlier?!” and also being able to see my progress (“Did I mess that up–no, I got it right the first time, yay!”) as well as having the ability to instantly and concretely edit my messages to fix it (that takes a few more steps than just “oops, I mean ‘they'”), plus just the frequent practice, all really helped.

    36. Daring Greatly*

      I have found that often when folks are getting someone’s pronouns wrong, it’s because in their head, they’re still using incorrect pronouns. So even though you’re making a great effort to say they/them/their out loud, you might still be thinking she/her/hers. Think of them at all times as they/them/their and it will start coming out that way as well!

      1. Mary Richards*

        This is what happened to me when a lifelong friend’s sibling came out as non-binary. I had known this person for as long as I could remember and really struggled to get past thinking of them as the gender they’d been before. In that case, I really had to retrain myself to think beyond gender, and it was actually a huge learning experience.

    37. Hamiltonian*

      My oldest child started used they/them about two years ago. At first, it was *really* hard for me not to call them what I’d been saying all their life. But what worked for me was simply time, practice, and, above all, not resenting, second-guessing or feeling at all personally affected by the change. It’s their life, and if they needed to change their name, I’d have to extend the same courtesy.

    38. Database Developer Dude*

      I’m just happy the LW *wants* to use the correct pronouns and name (I’m assuming, though it’s not explicitly said in the letter, that the LW’s coworker has come out as nonbinary or transgender)….. too many people just don’t give a rip and like to claim “freedom of speech” to deadname folks, and I call b.s. on that.

    39. anonaccountant*

      Slightly different topic, but what replaces Sir or Ma’am as gender neutral? This thread got me thinking about it and I have never really thought about Sir or Ma’am before. I use them primarily when I’m somewhere in person and need to get a specific person’s attention- like, “Sir, the line’s moved and you’re up” or something. Or on the phone? I don’t talk on the phone much, but I hear it fairly frequently. What’s a nonbinary-friendly suggestion?

      1. anonaccountant*

        I suppose ‘excuse me’ would work in some contexts, but not others, like on the phone. “Hey” just feels a bit rude in person. I’m going to be flipping through my mental Rolodex all morning to try and think of a formal replacement.

      2. Theo*

        “Excuse me”, as suggested above, is what I’d like to hear as a nonbinary person. Put yourself in their line of sight and get their attention, then say whatever you need to. Trust me; we notice when someone doesn’t gender us in these situations. It’s really nice.

      3. LilySparrow*

        Which leads to the question, what will they do when the military recognizes nb members? Or when an nb person makes the Honours List and cannot correctly be designated as Sir X or Dame Y? Not joking – there is some real opportunity for thought leadership.

        Individual and grassroots social change has to affect official protocols at some point. Upside: representation & recognition. Downside: having things codified and standardized means less individual customization.

        1. Mary Richards*

          I am curious about this, too! If someone who is non-binary, say, gets one of the Queen’s honors or, I don’t know, inherits a title, what will we call them? I look forward to finding out.

      4. SarahTheEntwife*

        There really isn’t a good one, alas. “Friend” tends to sound snarky unless you’re actually Quaker.

      5. Beth*

        Even as a cis woman, I’d rather someone say “excuse me” than call me either “Miss” or “Ma’am”. I know there are areas where the latter are in common daily use, but they all make me uncomfortable. There are so many assumptions built into them! Neither is neutral! Let’s just skip them entirely and dodge the whole issue.

      6. JSPA*

        If someone follows a brisk, “next!” with something generally kindly (“nice to have you here,” “I hope today finds you well,” etc) few people will take umbrage.

        I’ve heard, “next in line, in the gators shirt and sunglasses, come on down!” or “customer in the snazzy beret, you’re next!” (note: do not do this if the distinctive clothing item is booty shorts.)

        You can also say, “who’s my next lucky customer?” and let them figure it out.

    40. theletter*

      practice in front of the mirror, the correction will stick in your mind faster than you expect.

      Another helpful practice is to start introduce yourself with your own preferred pronouns. This will make it easier for other people to identify their preferences, if they’d like, and clear up any confusion and potential misgenderings that may occur among new people.

    41. Jin*

      A lot of solid pronoun-specific advice has already been given, so I won’t repeat it. However, pronouns aren’t the only way to help create a trans-friendly environment!

      Practice and get used to eliminating gendered terms in your vocabulary. I work in a very woman-friendly office, which is wonderful but has presented problems for me as a NB individual. I think part of it is wanting to claim everyone’s (good and competent!) work as “Boss Lady Girl Power”, which I can understand even if it’s misguided.

      Practice phrases like “esteemed guests” in place of “ladies and gentlemen” and “folks/people/friends” instead of “guys/ladies”. Also, “y’all” is your friend ;)

      1. Ginger Baker*

        Y’all and folks are my faaaaaaavvvve, but also for emails at work, someone recently mentioned that they use “Team – ” a lot and I love that so dropping it here.

    42. drpuma*

      If you can update the person’s entry in your computer’s work email, or if you have this person in your cell phone and communicate regularly that way, you could add their pronouns to their name in their contact. That way “Morgan” becomes “Morgan they/them,” and you get a reminder every time you see their name until it becomes automatic in your brain.

    43. Practice Pronouns*

      Sorry! I didn’t see this before I commented.

      Practice-have conversations with yourself out loud about the person and use the correct pronouns.

      It’s really practice. replace the old habit with a new one.

    44. Lauren*

      Legit, just use their name every time.

      Eventually, you’ll hear others say ‘they’ a lot and it will come naturally.

      But until then, focus on – ‘Jamie did / Jamie will / when I was chatting with Jamie / Jamie and I / I concur with Jamie”

    45. GlassAlwaysEmpty*

      OP5– arghhhh, curse our formed habits. While this doesn’t help with the pronouns exactly, along with sleepwakehope’s suggestion of practicing out loud, maybe for the time being just use their name in referencing them? It might come off a bit formal but maybe after a while of not using she/hers/her, your brain could easier transition to using they/their/them?

    46. Beth*

      Practice. Talk to yourself about them — silently, that is, mentally. As in, “There’s Jan. I wonder when they’re having lunch. Does Jan like science fiction, or do they like detective stories? I should ask them if they’ve read Jasper Fforde.” If you can, talk to friends about them, or discuss it with your spouse/partner. Compose mental emails to tag the thought process to the work environment: “Jan will be handling this project, so please ask them if they need anything. Their work on the last one was great.”

      The thing is that the pronouns feel massively awkward when you start, no matter how good your intentions are. The more you use them, the less weird it will feel — even when you’ve just been using them mentally. Eventually, the newness will wear off, the awkwardness will diminish, and you’ll wonder why it ever seemed difficult.

    47. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

      I have a friend who made a similar pronoun transition. Something that has helped me is to start referring to other things (both out loud and in my head) using they/them/their pronouns — dogs, my plants which I anthropomorphize, people’s partners, anyone presenting as gender neutral that I encounter around town. The good news is that since anyone can be a they/them/theirs, it can apply to anyone! Normalizing it in my own use of language has made it easier to think of my friend more naturally as they/them/theirs.

      1. Joielle*

        Yes! And not to nitpick, but they/them can be for anyone presenting as anything, really. (I’m sure you know this but mostly a reminder for anyone reading this thread!)

        A ceramics artist in my city recently started making mugs that say “femmes can be thems too” and they’re selling them as fast as they can make them :)

    48. Kate*

      I’d like to point out that it is VERY bad form for LW5 to have told us the coworker’s previous pronouns. That’s close to a form of deadnaming. This is a moment to practice right here. It’s tough and confusing, but practice will solve all your problems <3

      1. JSPA*

        Even when there’s no way to connect the situation with any actual human being?

        Sure, we could talk about everyone in the abstract.

        In theory, tools for remembering to use “they/them” for someone you used to think of as he/him, vs someone you used to think of as “she/her,” could be identical. But for some people, they may not be. You may not like to think of people “remembering that so-and-so is does not ID as binary male” (*as opposed to remembering that they do ID as…whatever they identify as). But we (luckily) are not clairvoyant and we do not get to police the steps people use to get to the point where polite words come out of their mouths.

        After all, gender awareness exists in a social context of gendered expression. (Not saying they’re identical, only that they play off each other.)

        For the last few decades, men have had a narrower range of gender presentation options than women. Remembering that someone “no longer ID’s binary male / but also not binary female” by using some internal visual trick or cue is more likely to be successful than remembering “no longer ID’s binary female / but also not binary male.”

        (As someone who for decades has remembered one of my cousins first and foremost as “not [another cousin]”–it’s a darn fine thing that none of our internal mental gyrations are made manifest and opened up for judgement.)

        Actually, for all we know, and for all OP knows, coworker could have been assigned male at birth, then transitioned to female presentation and pronouns, then opted for they/them. So this isn’t dead-gendering or dead-naming. Especially as there’s literally zilch to identify the coworker.

    49. inoffensive nickname*

      I agree that practice is the way. Are you comfortable enough with the contractor to say, “Hey, I completely respect your decision. This is going to be a learning experience for me, so I hope you can bear with me if I get it wrong. I promise I’ll be trying to get it right.”? I have a colleague who’s currently transitioning to male, and I was able to have this conversation with him. He was thrilled that I’m willing to use his chosen pronouns and name without judgment and said he understands there’s a learning curve and everyone is going to get it wrong every once in a while. I’ve screwed up a couple of times, and corrected myself immediately, and I think I was more embarrassed than he was. The other trick I’ve tried to use in my own head is to think of him as a person, instead of a woman. Gender neutral may be trickier for actual pronoun usage, because it’s not something most of us grew up with when it comes to people, but I’ve found that respect goes a long way. If you do get it wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Just a quick, “Sorry,” with a touch of embarrassment thrown in, then move on. Reinforce their pronoun and correct others who misuse the chosen pronouns. It will sink in with practice and diligence.

    50. MT*

      I had a quick scan but just wanted to add two points:
      -I try to use they when ever I don’t know or it is unnecessary, to get into the habit.
      -I just read a post about this and it raised a good point that if the person corrects you, you should not always consider saying ‘sorry’ but rather ‘thank you’. Sorry implies that the other person needs to accept what you did whereas thank you acknowledges the feedback and that you will do better.

      There will be times sorry is needed but don’t let that be the automatic response. Take personal responsibility. I found this to be an enlighten way to look at it.

    51. LilySparrow*

      The main difficulty with changing habits is that they are unconscious, while change is conscious. Heading off a mistake before it happens requires a level of awareness that is hard to maintain over time, especially when you need your attention to be on your work.

      I have had some success in training myself with small habits at work or school by wearing a rubber band around my wrist. It’s just slightly annoying enough that I am aware it’s there (like the cliche of tying a string around your finger). It’s unobtrusive and doesn’t look out of place in an office environment. If anyone does ask why it’s there, you can just say “I’m trying to remember something for later.” That avoids making a big deal of it in front of others.

      When the new habit is established, you can dispense with it. Or use it to remember something else.

    52. chitheatergirl*

      I suggest finding YouTubers who are NB or use they/them pronouns. It gives you exposure without the possibility of messing up. Goes along with the whole “representation matters” idea; if you see it all the time, then it becomes normal and using the proper pronouns won’t feel as big a hurdle.

    53. Ginger Baker*

      Same advice as sleepwakehope, but cannot be overstated: Practice out loud! When my oldest child changed to they/them pronouns, my sister and I made a point of talking about them on our own time as much as we could, so we could just keep practicing outside of Kid 1’s hearing until it became second nature. That transition absolutely went faster and smoother because of our fairly deliberate practice and I super recommend it to everyone.

    54. GS*

      When a close friend of mine started using different pronouns, me and another close friend of theirs got together, drank some gin, and deliberately talked about how wonderful they were all night to practice just with each other. It didn’t get us perfect, but it helped. Do you have any coworkers you could go out for lunch with and practice together with?

    55. Margaery Tyrell*

      OP5: hello, I have had a nb coworker for the past year or so, and even I still mess up on occasion. If they’re understanding, they’ll get it – just don’t make a big deal, apologize/correct yourself as low-key as possible, and move on. As you adjust (it’s new to your lexicon, I get it), here are things I’d suggest in the adjustment period.

      * Use their name. “I was talking to Sam about XYZ email, and Sam was saying…”
      * It helps to actively train yourself when talking about them with other coworkers, where the situation might feel less fraught.
      * In writing, this is easiest! I know it’s tough if you use a direct/instant message system to catch yourself right away, but try to actively remember and do a glance over your messages/emails before sending.
      * +100 to everyone who basically summed up: if you misgender in the moment, just correct yourself and move on. That’s it!

      You’re being thoughtful and you’re trying, and that’s already the most important step to take. Good luck!

    56. Nonbinarian*

      Hi! As an out nb professional, would it be possible to put the question and a few of the well worded, solid answers in a separate post? I’d LOVE to be able to link this to coworkers and bring it to our EDI committee. There are three of us at this company and we still get misgendered despite, I assume, best intentions and VERY LARGE pronoun buttons.

    57. Ack02554*

      I had an internship at a LGBTQ+ youth organization and there were multiple people who went by they/them and I found it was easiest to use their name, but I also notcied that eventually I started defaulting to using they/them for most people when I was there.

    58. Kiwiii*

      I haven’t read the thread, but as an LGBT individual with lots of they/them friends, it’s easiest to think of how you speak about someone when you don’t know their gender – I know framing it like that was how I got better at it. Ex. “Someone left their bag, I hope they come back for it.” or “There’s a customer on the phone,” “What do they want?”

      If someone corrects you, thank them for correcting you instead of apologizing every time. Don’t get stuck in explaining yourself or overapologizing, because it makes it about you and draws more attention to the flub than is needed. And if you need to practice out loud, do that!

    59. KitKat100000*

      I experienced this a few years ago with a friend! My recommendation would be to start by referring to that person by their name (as opposed to he or she) and then slowly start using they/them/their. Grammar-crazed Americans might find it feels weird at first, but your coworkers feelings are most important. Showing the effort means a lot!!

    60. Shoes On My Cat*

      OP #5: I empathize with you! What I have found helps is reading blogs that tend to do this, including the commenters, because then the verbiage is more natural and current. Captain Awkward is especially good for this, and you also might check out Scarleteen and other LBGT friendly blogs as they will be most likely to have normalized this (It happens a lot on Captain Awkward For the LW to include their preferred gender identity-and the community to respond in kind.) It gets easier to read and speak with practice! Especially if you can find blogs that are interesting to you aside from the pronoun usage, then you are entertained while absorbing How They/Their/Them Is Done

    61. Sovereign HR*

      My sister has taught multiple students who have transitioned.

      Years 1-3 was one pronoun.

      Year 4 was the opposite pronoun or they/them.

      The student would correct her.

      She would say: “Yes, of course. My apologies. *Correct pronoun said*

      You wouldn’t want to get Tim’s name wrong by consistently calling him John. It would also be rude to say: “Well, you look like Tim!” You make it a point to get John’s name correct because…well, that’s his name. That’s it.

      My sister’s ex was named John. Her new husband’s name is Don. There was never any bad intentions when I got the name wrong, but I had to make it a point to get it right….and fast.

    62. Genderless Alien*

      OP5 – I also use they/them pronouns, and it’s really encouraging that you’ve written this letter in the first place! It’s pretty easy to tell when someone is struggling with my pronouns but earnestly trying to get them right versus using the wrong pronouns maliciously. So as long as you fall into the former camp, don’t beat yourself up too hard, and know that you will get it with practice. And when in doubt, just use your coworkers name!

    63. busybee*

      For getting used to using someone’s new pronouns, I’ve found that this tool helps! http://www.pronouns.failedslacker.com
      You can input the person’s name and pronouns, then read an excerpt from a popular story (like Alice in Wonderland) with the name and pronouns. Helps to get accustomed to seeing and using it. I recommend it to my family and friends because I use some pretty obnoxious pronouns myself (fae/faer/faerself) that people don’t often encounter.

    64. B*

      Re: Singular they/their/them pronouns. This is already a thing that we commonly use in the English language. You don’t say “somebody forgot his or her umbrella under the table,” you say “somebody forgot their umbrella under the table”. I highly recommend checking out the podcast Just Between Us – specifically, an episode from a few weeks ago with linguist Amanda Montell. She talks about this quite a lot. Put in that perspective, I think it makes it easier to adjust your perspective of using singular they – paired with, as another comment said, practicing on your own time.

    65. SirIndy*

      As a trans person, I have been asked this so many times in a short period of time, and I don’t have an answer. All I can say is kudos for having the respect to ask the question. Being misgendered is not a great feeling, but I do notice the effort and appreciate the respect when people stop themselves and correct the usage of pronouns.

    66. Kristin*

      Have conversations in your own head in which you refer to them as “they/them.” It will become more natural that way.

    67. Theydies & Gentlethems*

      Lots of great resources out there. As many have already mentioned, practice helps. Also, for the love of cheese please don’t apologize and talk about how hard it is for you to get right. As someone who is nonbinary, I just want to be referred to with they/them pronouns and not be called a lady ever and I don’t want to have to make someone else feel better after making me feel bad when they know better. I make exceptions for family and long-term connections, but I also wish they’d get on board one of these days.

      This book is a quick and easy intro to they/them pronouns and I highly recommend it — https://archiebongiovanni.com/A-Quick-And-Easy-Guide-To-They-Them-Pronouns

    68. Librarian Ish*

      Adding to the many comments. As a nonbinary person, one thing I’ve found I appreciate is when people aren’t thinking about it as “just a pronoun”, but instead are actively learning about what a nonbinary gender means. The way I tell folks is “I use they/them pronouns because nothing else fits. It’s more important to me that you see me as nonbinary than it is to use any particular pronoun. That said, when messing up means you always use feminine pronouns, that tells me you aren’t seeing me as nonbinary.”

      ^my own personal experience of course!

    1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Yes – it really wasn’t clear how directly this is being addressed. I think it’s fair to revisit it every time it happens. “John, you woke us up at 5am again this morning. We’ve talked about this before. You need to be quiet if you are going to come into our home so early in the morning. Can you tell me why you are having trouble with that?” Put him on the spot every time. Make it a performance issue. Let him know he is not doing his job well if he is intruding on your family every morning.

      1. Katren*

        “Can you tell me why you are having trouble with that?” Sounds pretty condescending! I think just telling him directly that he needs to be quiet or stop coming in is enough.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Agreed. Eliminate that last sentence. John just needs to be told directly what he’s doing and that it needs to stop.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          The final sentence is an Alison standard structure. Usually though, I see her use it in a positive direction to get buy-in from a person on an instruction/correction. ‘Can you do [aka commit to] that?”
          It’s only appropriate in a manager to employee context. Or come to think of it, parent to child.

          1. CheeryO*

            Alison is the queen of tone and can pull off a lot of scripts that would make other people sound passive-aggressive at best. I agree that that last sentence is too much.

            1. Clorinda*

              It’s not too much on Thursday at 5:05 am when you’ve been woken at that hour unnecessarily four days running. In fact, it’s pretty mild.

              1. Name Required*

                Acting mad and being passive aggressive at your employee for using the only provided bathroom at their place of work is too much, yes. 5am is his work time, and their home is his place of business. If they don’t want people using their home as a place of business at 5am, they need to stop scheduling people to work at 5am.

                1. Play a doctor on TV*

                  Honestly, I think they need to reframe this as a noise issue. I’m thinking if it were in an office next to a conference room in an old building and door slamming/stomping was coming through. Or someone loudly talking in a call center. I would take “can you use the bathroom” off the table and instead say “there are people sleeping upstairs and sound travels easily, you need to be mindful and try to be quiet during XYZ times.” Not being quiet at 5am knowing people are sleeping and it disturbs them is actually extremely rude and insubordinate if they know its an issue.

                  Now the other thing is are they actually being loud and slamming the doors and stomping or would any bathroom sounds, specifically toilets flushing, wake people up? If there’s nothing the employee could do and even a level 100 ninja would wake people up with a toilet flush, then its on the company to provide an outdoor/work building toilet.

                2. A*

                  Exactly. I don’t understand how the OP doesn’t see this is a situation of their own making. If you are running a company on the same property as where you live – and choose to have the only bathrooms available to employees be in your house – tough luck, you gotta suck it up.

                  Most of the scripts I’m seeing in the comments are blowing my mind because they seem so out of line given that this employee is just….using the restroom at his job. Like everyone else that works. I think it would be absurd for OP to speak to them about anything beyond the initial request to try and keep it down. Even pushing the volume issue crosses the line in my mind – would any of us be ok with our boss telling us to keep it down when we head to the office restroom? I know I wouldn’t be.

        3. QCI*

          The context/situation matters. If there’s an actual problem that management can/should be made aware of this sentence would be ok. If it’s a behavior issue it will come across as condescending or a personal attack.

        4. Jennifer*

          Some of this is a matter of perspective. I’ve been told that I’m loud when I get up in the morning when I’m trying my best to be quiet. He may not think he’s slamming the door or walking all that loudly. The OP may be more sensitive to noise than he is. The bottom line is he has the right to use the bathroom at his work site.

            1. A*

              It doesn’t matter that he’s just picking up keys – that is his work site. I’m having trouble believing that everyone would be completely ok with their boss telling them to keep it down when heading to the office restroom. The OP is the decider on where there is bathroom access, not the employee. If the house bathroom is the only option, tough luck. Employee has a right to use it, and so long as they aren’t punch walls along the way, shouldn’t have to walk on egg shells in order to do so.

              1. Jennifer*

                Exactly. I work in a more traditional office setting but your work site is your work site. If I had to stop at the office to pick up something at 5 am before going to an offsite location, I’d be pretty annoyed if my boss told me I wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom while I was there because it was before 8 am. I’m there performing a work function.

              2. JSPA*

                As a customer, I also expect bathroom access at (say) the car dealership. But if I do an early drop off or a late pickup, I expect the place to be locked tight, and to use a key drop or lock box.

                If I pick up a coworker for a work trip, I don’t expect to use their bathroom, either. Plenty of people don’t have absolute, constant access to a bathroom at work. Reasonable has never automatically implied either of those things.

            2. JSPA*

              Get a lock box, deadbolt the door, and warn him that he’ll be picking up the key from the lock box “before business hours,” and to plan accordingly.

              That presumes, somewhat, that there’s a coffeeshop or open fast food, or he’s got a short drive to the house. Otherwise, if he’s someone whose processes take a certain amount of time after breakfast, as is true for many people, you’re asking him to get up far earlier, to use the bathroom at home. An easy option might be to suggest he start the day 5 or 10 or 20 minutes later (whatever you can accommodate) so as to give him “a little more time to get ready at home in the morning,” as he “won’t have the option of stopping in at the office.” Surely he’ll figure it out.

      2. pleaset*

        “Can you tell me why you are having trouble with that?””

        Hahaha – that’s kinda obnoxious.

        1. londonedit*

          I agree. That sort of language is something I’ve seen suggested here a few times – the ‘Do you think you can do that?’ ‘Can you tell me why you’re having trouble doing that?’ sort of thing – and, as a British English speaker, there is just no way I could ever say those things without it coming across as massively condescending and sarcastic.

          1. EPLawyer*

            “Can you do that?” is positive and is asking about future action. “Can you tell me why you are having trouble with that?” is condescending and will immediately put the person on the defensive. The first is what Alison suggests, the second is not. They are not equivalent and should not be used interchangeably.

            You want the behavior to change, not an explantion of why they aren’t doing it.

              1. Artemesia*

                By the time it comes to that, you are talking to a 3 year old. When correcting someone as a manager, this kind of phrase is not usually in the first conversation but if they haven’t corrected the behavior than getting an affirmative commitment going forward is important.

                1. juliebulie*

                  Right, and it’s been “brought up before at meetings.” Depending on exactly what they said and how they said it, they might actually be at the 3-yo stage.

                  But if “bringing it up” before was too vague, then I agree that this sentence doesn’t belong.

              2. J*

                Oh my gosh, yes. I know that language is recommended a lot here, both by Allison and commenters, but it makes me want to scream. It’s the way my sister talks to my nephew. He’s four. “Can you do that?” would 100% make me resent you for acting like I’m a child. “I need you to do X” might sting, because who likes to be reprimanded, but it respects that we’re both adults. Formulating it as a question is a guaranteed way for your subordinate/coworker/grown-@ss human to either rebel out of resentment or comply while inwardly seething. Even if it elicits the behavior you desire, it is damaging your relationship. I don’t think my reading is rare.

        2. AngstyAdmin*

          To be fair, it’s also kinda obnoxious that he keeps making noise and waking them up at the crack of dawn.

      3. skunklet*

        going to the bathroom is now a performance issue? um, no. it’s a Quality of Life issue; frankly, I empathize with both sides, but as a morning pee-er, I empathize with John MORE – he COULD be peeing outside.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Or, hear me out — he could pee at home. Or he could pee without slamming doors. Both of those things are possible. I have done these things.

          1. skunklet*

            yes, he could pee at home and also have to pee by the time he gets there- I certainly do. between my alarm at 615(ish) and noon, I pee 5 times, easily.

            1. Artemesia*

              It probably isn’t about peeing. One morning of door slamming after mentioning it once would mean a new plan for his pit stops would need to be instituted.

          2. A*

            What the heck?? I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. This isn’t about what employee could do to prevent having to use the restroom when he is at WORK on his JOB SITE. Why on earth should an employee be expected to go out of their way to pre-plan to avoid using the restroom at work, especially when the OP is the decider on where the bathroom access is? Obviously slamming doors isn’t great, but we have no way of knowing if he is truly ‘slamming’ them, or if he’s just not walking on egg shells (which he shouldn’t have to) and the noise is exaggerated due to how quiet it is otherwise, or the OP’s house layout.

        2. Lance*

          The problem isn’t the usage of the bathroom, specifically; the problem is he’s making a din early in the morning and waking people up, and continues to do so even after being asked to stop. So yes, that is a performance issue; the bathroom just happens to be involved in it.

          1. skunklet*

            we don’t know how much of a ‘din’ it is, other than it’s a ‘din’ to the OP. regardless, it’s an untenable situation created by the OP and needs to be solved without not providing a place to go to the bathroom. either don’t let him start before you’re ready for him to use the bathroom and up, or give him a different bathroom to use.

          2. A*

            First off, there is no way to tell from the letter if he is truly ‘slamming’ them, or if he’s just not walking on egg shells (which he shouldn’t have to) and the noise is exaggerated due to how quiet it is otherwise, or the OP’s house layout. Regardless, he has every right to use the restroom at his jobsite, during his working hours. OP is the decider on where the bathroom access is, and this is a downside of their choice. If unable to suck it up, it’s time to build/install a different restroom – not time for employee to have to decide between holding it in or risk crossing the invisible line of ‘too noisy’ while tiptoeing to the facilities.

            1. Quake Johnson*

              I think we should trust OPs word about what constitutes slamming a door in their own home.

      4. tangerineRose*

        The LW said “He’s not quiet about it (despite being asked several times to not stomp/slam the door/etc.) and it wakes my husband and I up.”

        Sounds to me like this should be addressed like any other performance problem.

    2. Half-Caf Latte*

      Yes, I picked up on the

      This has been brought up at meetings a few times but he doesn’t seem to get the message

      This has been discussed thoroughly on this site already, but general announcements at meetings lead to non-problematic, conscientious employees worrying that the message is directed at them, while the problem person remains oblivious.

      So – as a general management strategy, OP2 should look at whether they need to change how this sort of feedback is given. In this instance however? I’d change the setup and remedy the issue – bathroom in the outbuilding, or let John take the van home at night. I think saying “you can’t pee because it wakes us up” is just … crummy.

    3. Once in Botswana*

      I think it’s a security issue! Not about John necessarily, but why is your house unlocked all night? Or why does John have a key to come and go as he pleases?

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Yes, this. I’m sure all your workers are fabulous and trustworthy, but I wouldn’t risk giving them that sort of access to my home, my personal belongings, and my sleeping minor child.

      2. HalloweenCat*

        If you read OP#2’s comments further down thread, he is also just hanging out at their house at 4-5 in the morning because he couldn’t sleep. I think it might be a security issue ABOUT John. That’s strange behavior.

        1. A*

          Whoa. That’s 100% a different situation than described in the letter and OP did a disservice by not including that (I’m assuming Allison didn’t edit that out since it’s pretty crucial info).

          Definitely can’t block bathroom access, and I think it’s absurd to have rules about ‘restroom volume’…. but OP can definitely address the hanging out. That’s easy – no employees allowed onsite after/before hours. Why is this such a difficult problem for them to address?

        2. tangerineRose*

          “he is also just hanging out at their house at 4-5 in the morning because he couldn’t sleep. ” That’s odd and concerning.

      3. SarahTheEntwife*

        If he needs to get access to the van keys, he either needs a house key or they need to let him in at 5 in the morning, which presumably the LW doesn’t want to do. I guess they could set up an external lockbox for the work keys, but depending on the property layout there might not really be a good place to put it.

        1. JSPA*

          I honestly can’t imagine a property where, with a shovel and some postset cement, or a couple of non-removable screws on the side of the building, or a u-lock around a tree, or a spare mailbox with a lock on it, or a realtor’s style lockbox on the door, you can’t secure a key somewhere.

        2. Marie*

          We installed a keypad entry for convenience (and it’s been incredibly convenient – so many use cases). OP could do that. We got a low tech version, but I bet she could find a programmable one that didn’t operate between certain hours. I wonder if Shlage has an API?

    4. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

      Thanks everyone! After posting and reading some of the initial comments, I realized it isn’t about the bathroom. Alison did not edit my original letter. I was trying to come up with solutions to get him to stop coming in the house, but that would mean he could not use the bathroom, hence the question, Can I ban an employee from the bathroom? The real issue is that he shows up anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours early.
      He doesn’t clock in (done from a phone app). He just lurks here. We have had to tell him he cannot be in the office (he was sitting at people’s desks attempting to guess their computer passwords, has gone through the filing cabinets, desks, etc), he cannot sit on the sofa in the wee hours of the morning to wait for work to start, he cannot sit at the dining room table in the wee hours of the morning while waiting for work to start (after the sofa talk, but because we didn’t say dining room), he cannot sit on the patio outside of the bedroom in wee hours of the morning while waiting for work to start. So now, he *uses* the bathroom for 20-45 minutes while waiting for work to start. We’ve talked to him about the noise, so now he is literally creeping, exaggerated tip toeing, then losing his balance and making noise. This week husband was away, working, dog wanted out of the bedroom (I hadn’t heard him come in, the dog knows him, so doesn’t bark, it was 5:26 am, he was an hour earlier than expected), I opened the bedroom door to a 6’4 man tiptoeing through the living room 8 feet away. And now, since I was awake, he wanted to have a conversation. Another day this week, he came in to use the bathroom at 8 pm. Apparently, he was drowsy driving home, so pulled over to take a nap and that’s why he was so late. The way the house is situated, I cannot see the driveway unless I walk outside, so I had no idea he had not returned. Absolutely, don’t drive while drowsy, but a text to let me know you are on your way in would be great.

        1. Half-Caf Latte*

          So that was flip, but honestly?! I’ve had employees/students like this. It’s always exhausting. Zero ability to translate – no sofa also means no dining table, no patio, no basement.

          Why do you keep this person in your employ?

          Going through desks, trying to guess passwords is such a violation. If I were one of the employees whose stuff was gone through and you said “well we let John know not to in the future”, Internally id be like cool- next time he can go through your jewelry and underwear, I’m gonna look for an office where that isn’t tolerated.

      1. dinoweeds*

        I’m with Half Caf on this one. This guy has ZERO respect for boundaries and is trying to guess passwords?! This is a Very Big Deal.

      2. Kat in VA*

        Oh hell no, this changes things. Using your house as a crash pad? My LT would have a field day if I came into work at 0430 (three hours early for me)!

        And guessing passwords? The exaggerated rules-lawyering (WULL YOU DIDN’T SAY I COULDN’T SIT IN THE *DINING ROOM*)

        This guy is a pain in the ass and honestly, sounds like a bit of a creep. Maybe best to just get rid of him altogether since he seems entirely determined to be in your house when you clearly don’t want him there. Any regular person would be mortified to discover that they’d been infringing upon and upsetting someone by being in their house unwanted, but this dude seems to revel in it.

        Something is very, very off here.

      3. K*

        OP, your decisions about your personal safety/comfort level are your own. Since you can’t see employees arriving from inside your house, a secure access system would be ideal; a video doorbell/door camera would at least alert you when someone arrives at late hours.

        But please, please alert all of your employees to change their passwords and require that they do so (in case he did guess a password). This goes double for any logins to customer information. The Something Wrong Here siren is sounding loud and clear.

      4. Jules the 3rd*

        You do need to keep him out of your living space outside of work hours, but if you aren’t scared of him enough to have already fired him, there’s probably a reason for that. So trust your gut on whether to continue employing him, not the advice of random strangers who have never met him. If you know anyone who’s a particularly good assessor of personalities, try to introduce them if you want a second opinion.

        He’s waking up and he’s bored / not able to stay at his place, so he’s taking the next step, coming to yours. Either blanket ban him / don’t give him an incentive to come, or give him a specific place to go that’s ok, like a seating space near the outbuilding.

        You don’t say what his attitude is on being corrected – is he angry? confused? sly? That should factor into your employment decision.

        Honestly, and not to internet diagnose, but I have a cousin who would do something like this. Super kind and sweet, but super literal. (and yes, there’s a diagnosis behind that and no we don’t need to get into it). Trust your gut, define and hold your boundaries, consider helping him with a comfortable alternative.

        1. K*

          “trust your gut on whether to continue employing him, not the advice of random strangers who have never met him…”

          The perspectives of random strangers who haven’t met him may be very useful, if OP2’s view is influenced by Employee’s status as a relative or an important customer’s friend or an ‘otherwise good worker.’

      5. Perpal*

        I’m… honestly curious, why is this guy still working for you? This sounds like a fire him and change the locks and passwords situation. Has he said why he’s hanging out at your house so much??? (this might change a little if we’re talking about a teenager, IDK, might still be figuring out how life works – still doesn’t explain the rules lawyering but might explain why he doesn’t have anywhere else to go in a way that might be temporary? )

        1. No Bathroom For You! Op2*

          He is 30. With a wife and a home. At this point, we would very much prefer he leave the company on his own accord.

          1. Perpal*

            This is even weirder, why does he lounge at your house rather than his wife and his home @-@ I appreciate you are bending over backwards to be nice to this guy but he will survive and find a way without this job. At the very least, no more house or van.

          2. Que Syrah Syrah*

            Hi OP. I mean…yes, that’s what everyone would prefer, ideally, but sometimes that’s just not possible. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions that you wish you didn’t have to; part of owning a business is knowing that you might have to terminate an employee’s job if needed. It’s not really something you can opt out of; it’s part of the job.

            It sounds like this is an “address it like any other performance issue” situation that Alison talks a lot about here. You sit down with him and tell him that going forward, the house is off-limits except to use the bathroom (or completely off-limits if you want, as long as another bathroom is available, or a porta potty) and that he cannot stay in or enter the house for any other reason. If he doesn’t oblige, you tell him that failure to adhere to these rules will jeopardize his job with you. If he still doesn’t oblige, final warning, then after that, gone. Progressive discipline done fairly and transparently.

            I know it’s not the ideal/what you want, but it’s what’s needed here, and you’re absolutely within your rights to do so.

      6. Quake Johnson*

        What??? This is an entirely different letter now, OP.

        He’s gotta go, and in general I would STRONGLY advise you try and find a way to run your business that doesn’t let people access your home whenever they feel like it.

      7. JSPA*

        If you’re too big a softie to fire him, lock him out–heck, lock him out of the entire property until it’s time for him to clock in–and let him either quit or find another place to hang out.

        1. JSPA*

          If you’re scared of retaliation, blame it on “insurance.” If you’re so scared that even that, is scary…gift of fear, restraining order, dunno…

          Dabbing a little bit of concealer on the huge bruise that’s this bruiser, in your life, is not the right answer.

      8. EventPlannerGal*

        Dude.

        Is there some compelling reason why you can’t or won’t fire him? Because this is not normal or acceptable, at all. He’s creeping around your house! At 5am! Trying to access other people’s computers and your cabinets!

        When someone is behaving this badly you can’t address it by legislating each individual variation of what he might do. You can’t be like “no not the living room”, “no not the patio”, “no not the bathroom”. You need to address the actual root issue, which is MAJOR boundary-crossing and using a workplace/your home as a crash-pad at all hours.

      9. Anonymouse for this*

        I can’t tell from your responses – is he coming to the house more when your husband is away? Because that would be disturbing in addition to all the boundaries he’s already blown through.

  2. valentine*

    OP3: I would send her the image of the cat’s paw on a typing hand, kindly tell her she needs to stop, and ban work talk for at least three months.

    1. sunshyne84*

      Yes, if anyone wants to connect with her they will find her online. Or if people ask OP about her, maybe they can pass her info along with her permission.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I’d be more direct; I’d say, “I am worried about what damage you might do to your reputation. I know it was hard on you, the way it ended, so I’m very sympathetic, But this kind of thing is probably going to start gossip and it could mean that the whole thing gets talked about so much more than it would. I want to look out for you, so I thought I needed to say that it could hurt you.”

    3. OP3*

      Haha I’ve actually thought about just banning her from work talk! I know that she’s going to be happier not being here, and I feel like her constant need to ask about what’s happening/her desire to send this message is just preventing her from moving on

  3. Artemesia*

    We recently had another letter where someone was told they weren’t advancing because they didn’t have a BA when the fact was that they weren’t advancing because management didn’t think they were any good. I think when management says you are not ‘leadership material’ it is very hard to change that frame even when it is very much not the case. They have obviously avoided and equivocated. They don’t want to advance you but are pretending it is a matter of slots to move you in to. I would have the conversation Alison suggested but would also start a very thorough search for a new job — don’t breathe a word of it and it may take a while, but you are unlikely to advance where you are and you might well be able to move forward elsewhere.

    1. Dan*

      If I had to guess, “not a performance issue” is a euphemism for “soft skills issues we don’t want to try and coach you on.” Performance issues are likely objective things that can be measured, or some other sort of objective standard — something that can honestly be expressed as “do/achieve X and we would be willing to promote you.”

      I used to work with a guy who was very smart but a complete ass. As an individual contributor, he was fine to have on a team. But he wasn’t “leadership material” and I don’t blame management if they never felt like having a direct conversation with him about that. Sometimes it’s easier to let people move on and find the right fit than it is to try and “fix” them.

      1. Avasarala*

        I don’t know if it’s soft skills, but it definitely seems like it’s something they don’t think OP can change. “Leadership material” sounds like an assessment of character, of personal quality, as opposed to skills or training (as in “not ready to lead yet” or something). And your boss saying it’s hard to move up, positions aren’t available, etc. sounds like that gentle deception–“You can’t possibly do anything about this, so there’s no reason to tell you what to improve, because there’s no way you can improve at X.” Like they’re trying not to get OP’s hopes up by giving them something to work on.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          The thing is, it’s not necessarily something that OP is doing wrong – it could be a culture fit, and that could be nothing to do with them at all (in some workplaces, a woman or a person of colour will never be seen as ‘leadership material’ as the bosses have an un/conscious bias that a leader is a straight white man by default)

          1. Avasarala*

            Sure.
            Not saying that is definitely in play here. Could be because OP is really good at their job but they struggle to explain their ideas without sounding condescending. OP could be great with that client, but has a reputation internally as rude to people beneath them, or aggressively positive, or constantly throwing a pity party. OP could struggle with confrontation or seeing big picture. OP could be outside their prejudiced demographics or seem not “committed enough” to the cause.

            Either way I think it’s something they think OP can’t change.

          2. Lonely Aussie*

            Could even be that the OP is behaving like the straight white dudes but is being pinged because it’s say “assertive” when they do it but “pushy/rude” when the OP does due to gender/race.

          3. Anonymous Penguin*

            Yep, the president of the bank I used to work at announced one time that he “didn’t see anyone currently working there as being leadership potential.” What he meant was that all of our lower level employees were women who didn’t have rich/influential parents. When a guy did start working (in our mailroom) he went out of his way to assure him that he’d have a VP slot as soon as he graduated college.

            1. Linzava*

              I hope you put it on glass door, businesses like that would benifit from women choosing not to work there, the president would have a hiring problem so fast.

          4. Massmatt*

            It would not surprise me at all to find that there is a gender aspect to this.

            OP this must feel awful, and have the conversation with your boss, but seriously try to see the positive here: You could have spent another 2 years at this job with no potential for advancement and no idea why.

            This is a tough message to hear and a terrible way to hear it but it’s better to hear it than waste more time on a dead end job.

            Good luck finding a place that values your skill set and gives you a better opportunity.

          5. Blunt Bunny*

            I understand your point but I think it would be better say unlikely rather than never. It can make people feel like there’s no point in trying. For example politics, there are high amounts of sexism and people from the most privileged backgrounds are over represented in most companies (only real exception I would say is Iceland) however there are women and other minorities that are getting elected despite this and should continue to put themselves forward.

          6. Emily K*

            Bingo. I got that vibe very strongly. “Leadership material” is always going to be about personality or personal characteristics, or else they would have specifically said, “She doesn’t have the right skills,” or “She doesn’t have enough experience” – all things focused on specific obstacles that could be changeable. The vague concept of “X material” implies an unchangeable state core to someone’s personality, what they’re “made of” on a fundamental level. Sometimes it means a legitimate personality issue like, “Steve isn’t leadership material because he’s abrasive and rude to his colleagues and he’ll probably always be that way,” but often it means, “Steve isn’t leadership material because he’s black and he’ll always be that way,” or “Sarah isn’t leadership material because she’s a woman and she’ll always be that way.”

            1. Koala Walla*

              While such sexism/racism is possible, it does the OP a disservice to simply think that all “non leadership material” comments is simply due to their race or gender, because it robs them of any incentive to reflect on their own shortcomings. Leaders need to convey trust, openness, confidence and positivism and embrace the big picture. It’s possible that the presentation was riddled with self-doubt or negativity. It could even be disorganized slides, rambling speaking style, lack of charisma/conviction, staring at her notes, or any of a hundred things. The manager probably deflected real constructive criticism with “there aren’t any spots open”. This means actual constructive feedback won’t happen, and if she simply leaves for another company by declaring the old company are racist/sexist, the actual problems will still be there. Its a bad management move to not give this feedback, but sadly a common one.

        2. Librarian1*

          That’s so frustrating though. A lot of things that people see as inherent and unchangeable personal qualities actually can be changed if the person gets the right feedback.

      2. spock*

        > I don’t blame management if they never felt like having a direct conversation with him about that.

        Hm, I kinda do blame them actually! If he really was talented but just kinda rude (as opposed to a hateful bigot or something) and actually had an interest in management then it seems pretty uncool for his superiors to just never tell him what the problem is because it’s easier. Also, I don’t enjoy working with complete asses even if they are ICs and not management so it’s a kindness to everyone on the team to actually raise that with him.

        1. Snorkmaiden*

          So do I. It is literally part of their job.

          If you can’t tell someone you don’t feel they are cut out for x role, then you have no business being in a position of authority over them.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Yep. And I’ve seen cases where the issue is hairstyle or clothing choices because it had never been stated that managers should dress differently than the general office dress code. (Think casual software development stereotypes, but the boss really can’t see someone in a polo shirt as a manager. And has no imagination to think they would upgrade wardrobe if that’s what a promotion takes.)

          1. Troutwaxer*

            I think it’s worth wearing a suit sometimes just so your manager can see how you look when dressed as “management.”

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Side benefit if you’re a highly regarded performer, it might make them stop to think what they’d do about your workload if you left for another company. And that could be good for your next raise cycle.

            2. A*

              Agreed! Added bonus of not tipping off when job hunting, too (/getting to avoid the mad scramble of hiding a suit and changing in a car etc.)!

          2. Oh No She Di'int*

            I certainly don’t know the specific case you’re referring to, so forgive me if the following comments are not applicable.

            BUT it’s also often the case that many people on any given team are both interested in and capable of being managers. Some people, however, additionally signal this interest and capability by behaving in a way that is consonant with the role they wish to fill. That is, they “look like” or “act like” a manager, even before they are one. Sometimes when making choices about who to promote, one is faced with a collection of capable candidates, one or two of whom which have put forth that special effort to make it easy for you (and–importantly–others around them) to see them in a role of increase responsibility and authority. It can hardly be a surprise that such people are favored, all other things being equal.

          3. Oh So Anon*

            There’s also a school of thought that being a good manager requires the ability to read the room, to recognize and follow implicit norms when it’s advantageous. I don’t love the ableist implications of that perspective, but I also don’t totally disagree with it either.

      3. moql*

        Yes, definitely. I work with someone who is great with technical skills, better at keeping tabs on weird details and contractors who are trying to slide under the radar than any of our “real” project managers, takes tons of initiative things that that would otherwise drop through the cracks, is fantastic with difficult customers, etc. I could go on and on about how great they are. But, they are a brash, “tell it like it is” personality and have actively complained about treating shareholders with kid gloves. This is not a problem at all for their current position, but unacceptable for a manager, where managing those relationships is critical to ensuring continued finding. They’ve been told they need to work on this, but don’t seem to hear it, and instead insists that management won’t consider them for promotion because they don’t have a degree. At this point, management has just started telling them that nothing will open up for at least a few years unless someone leaves. I could easily see a situation where management does not want to spend effort and hours of arguments to coach the letter writer to where they would need to be with soft skills when it is such a core part of their personality.

        1. moql*

          I should add, though, that this person is very well compensated, about on par with what our managers make, and they have made an effort to reward them in ways other field workers would not be considered for, such as extra flexibility to manage their workload, brand new upgraded work truck, etc .

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          Huh, I’d just tell him, “you’re a great worker, and you do great where you are, but you’re an asshole, and we can’t make our other employees report to an asshole.”

          1. moql*

            But they’re not an asshole! They are widely beloved among all employees within the company, and any customers they come into contact with, who in our area appreciate how straightforward they are. Our stakeholders are just very sensitive and need to be flattered and treated delicately, and this person has vocally objected to the way stakeholders are handled, and stated that they would do it differently if they were in charge.

            M: You’re great, we love what you’re doing, can you be more gentle when telling Important Person that his plan is stupid and won’t work?
            E: No, his plan is stupid and won’t work.

            My coworker just doesn’t hear the feedback, and it would take way too much emotional labor to get through to them.

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              I don’t feel like the employee is bearing the brunt of emotional labor here. Leaders have to be diplomatic for sure (and maybe that kind of framing would get across better than “gentle”), but stakeholders are generally experienced businesspeople and it doesn’t benefit anyone for interactions with them to be full of flattery and light on honesty.

              Fwiw, I’m saying this as a person who would never be coloquially referred to as “telling it like it is.”

              1. Dan*

                “it doesn’t benefit anyone for interactions with them to be full of flattery and light on honesty.”

                There’s the ideal world and then there’s the real world. While I wholeheartedly agree with you, not everybody does. And while *most* people should be able to handle the “truth”, many people can’t. If an org has a VIP client that has to be treated with kid gloves, then the org has a VIP client who has to get treated with kid gloves, unless the top dog wants to dump the client.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  Add to that, you can be honest without being harsh or dismissive.

                  You don’t have to resort to meaningless flattery to handle someone politely or even with kid gloves.

              2. moql*

                I think this very much depends on who your stakeholders are and where you are located. Ours are a mix of nonprofits whose mission could very easily lie at cross purposes with ours if our goals are not carefully aligned and businesspeople who are very used to their word being listened to as word of god. It is more about reading the room and communicating in the best way for the particular stakeholder and this employee does not on principal like the idea of modulating their communication style.

                And I’m very much not a “tell it like I see it” person either! From me it comes off as insincere and our customers would think I’m speaking down to them, even though they love it when it comes to my coworker.

        3. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

          Sometimes I wonder why “managers” aren’t just treated as different roles rather than a next step on the ladder. Because in the end of the day, not all good employees are good managers, but in a lot of companies, becoming manager is the only opportunity provided for advancement, so a lot of high performing employees get upset when they see they’re not advancing.

          1. A*

            Agreed! Especially given that there are fields where the individuals not on the management track end up making more than the managers due to focusing on specialized skillsets instead.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        “Not a performance issue” can also mean “the CFO has personally taken against you and while you won’t get fired since your work is sound, he will block any attempt to promote you so long as you’re here.”

        1. AKchic*

          This.
          And while everyone absolutely loves you, and they don’t necessarily want to lose you; they aren’t willing to fight against that one higher-up who will continually block you, nor will they do you the favor of telling you because doing so would risk them losing you.
          It’s selfish of the company, but it’s their prerogative because they are literally doing what’s best for the company. However, if they were good people, they’d tell you, or stand up to the person harboring petty resentments.

      5. MissDisplaced*

        I agree that it’s best to start looking for a higher level position elsewhere.

        It’s possible OP is doing absolutely nothing “wrong” and this company just doesn’t promote from within. I’ve seen that play out so many times, from the hiring of expensive outside agencies and consultants to the hiring of managers: some companies just think the “magic” will only come from outside the organization.
        It sucks they take this attitude, but it’s very common and it tells you all you need to know. Get what you can get from working there and move onward and upward!

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

        Right, it could be appearance or personal presentation and they don’t want to open themselves up to possible liability by saying anything: clothes, hairstyle, facial hair, visible tattoos or piercings, speaking voice (too fast, too slow, saying “um” or “like” a lot), slouching, putting hands in pockets or folding arms, not making eye contact…

        We had a development officer for a while that just always looked like he just woke up from a nap and sounded flustered even if he wasn’t. His hair could always use a comb, his tie was loose and askew, his dress shirt was slightly untucked or wrinkled, and unfortunately he had an exaggerated “blink” that got more and more pronounced the longer he spoke (don’t know if it was a facial tic, habit, or dry eyes). He spoke really fast and loud and I guess as a result his voice sort of cracked often (like going through puberty, but he was WELL past puberty). Even though he met all of his targets, he was constantly being passed over for higher positions or big projects and he finally left.

      7. NW Mossy*

        This is right what my mind went to as well, although I’d suggest that “don’t know how to try and coach you” is also very much in play. It’s particularly challenging when the feedback is hard to articulate in a way that’s clear and actionable for the person receiving it, which is more likely when the gap is in behavior, not results.

        Just this week I was chatting with another manager (Lucinda) about one of her directs (Jane) who really struggles with communicating clearly. Jane’s well-known for her stream-of-consciousness style and she knows that it’s a barrier, but it’s really hard for Lucinda to put together the right words that will help Jane understand how she can separate the way she thinks from the way she talks/writes.

        It’s sort of like that old adage about obscenity and knowing it when you see it – we all know there’s a problem there, but translating that observation into meaningful feedback a person can use is its own kind of challenge. Lucinda’s a lot more up to the task than most leaders I’ve known, but she’s got a tough one there.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          Ugh, this is my life right now, albeit with a peer I delegate to rather than a direct report. Translating what we need to see change into actionable feedback that resonates with the way my colleague thinks AND AND AND doesn’t dissuade them from contributing to the team is very challenging.

          What is even more challenging about this is that many people over the years (peers, subordinates, possibly managers, who knows) have had these issues with this person and have similarly struggled to communicate the issue to them so they’ve gotten the idea that whatever they’re doing can’t really be that much of a problem. Except that it kind of is.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      This letter definitely made me think of soft no’s. While this is a terrible place for indirect communication and soft no’s, some companies nevertheless are uncomfortable with the idea of blunt rejection and the higher jobs will be “busy washing their hair Friday night” until you pick up the clue and stop asking.

      OP, I would absolutely be looking outside this company. I don’t think they’re going to give you any straight feedback on what it would take to improve.

      Also, one of my favorite updates was from a guy who had butted heads with management, who took Alison’s advice to go work for different management. And suddenly he could get promoted. Which would not have happened had he stayed at his first company, no matter how righty mcright about how right he was he objectively was.

    3. WellRed*

      I kind of expected Alison to suggest the OP ask themselves if there is something to think about here.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Well, yes, certainly. But I think most are taking the tack that OP #1 hasn’t done anything ‘wrong’ as it was stated her work has won wide acclaim within the company.

        So, either they’re a company that a) does not give honest feedback or mentoring, or b) they’re a company that doesn’t really promote from within (or promote certain types of people). Or, it could be also that they just don’t think OP#1 is management material YET.

        IDK, but I’d be looking to move on, maybe not immediately, but soon. It’s really difficult to change that perception in an organization’s culture. Most companies will not be inclined to tell you they can’t see you moving up, as long as you’re performing your job, they like to see you stay there.

        1. Artemesia*

          Or they think OP is great at what they do but doesn’t have the personality, tact, soft skills, gender, color or articulateness to manage — or they just don’t like them. You can be valued at what you do but not be ‘leadership material.’

        2. Dan*

          OP actually said the work gets “acclaim” from the client. That’s a bit different than “wide acclaim within the company.” What I can’t tell from the OP’s writing is just how important the client’s feedback is with respect to the OP’s overall standing in the company. Where I work, if the client hates you, you either get a different client or you get pulled from a client facing role (getting outright fired is rare). If the client loves you, that’s only half the battle in the overall scheme of things.

    4. RC Rascal*

      Upper management could have gotten the idea she’s not leadership material from her boss. This is the kind of thing I could see a sleazy boss doing to a young talented employee because he wants to keep her in his team, or is just professionally jealous. Most of what upper management thinks of you Is driven by what your boss tells them. No rule that boss has to tell the truth.

    5. NoviceManagerGuy*

      One thing that comes up with people that I work with is technical high performers who take a can’t-be-bothered attitude towards administrative stuff. Their performance is strong in their role from one perspective but unless they’re told it’s a problem, they don’t realize that the annoying administrative stuff is important for leadership roles.

      1. moql*

        Yes, exactly! And even when told they need to get better at the administrative stuff, because they don’t value it they don’t see it as something to work on all that hard.

    6. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      And, of course, “not leadership material” is sometimes code for “wrong gender/race/age/sexuality to advance into our ranks”.

    7. Public Sector Manager*

      I have some amazing employees, who are excellent at what they do, and they honestly don’t have leadership material. Being the world’s best teapot designer doesn’t mean you’ll be the world’s best teapot designer manager.

      I think the OP should first sit down with their boss and have the discussion about performance deficiencies. Maybe the boss sucks at giving feedback. Maybe the OP doesn’t respond well to feedback and there are deficiencies the OP chooses to ignore. Once that discussion has been had, then OP should decide about whether to stay or go.

      1. Artemesia*

        One of the reasons most managers are not very good is that they were promoted for things other than management potential. Being a great producer doesn’t make you a great manager and promoting one often gives you someone who continues to micromanage or perform production instead of managing appropriately. It is a separate set of skills and requires a different set of personality characteristics and social skills. Too many organizations don’t realize this and don’t make sure there is good management training when promoting upward. I watched my engineer father struggle with this when he became a supervisor (at least his company provided management training to people making this transition.)

  4. Dan*

    #1

    I sense a bit of a chip on your shoulder, as if what you heard couldn’t possibly be true. What, specifically, was it about the conversation that makes you want to look elsewhere? What, specifically, would you want out of a conversation with your boss on the matter? The reality is, keeping clients happy is only part of the deal. There are other things you have to do to keep your bosses happy, but what they are in your role, I couldn’t say.

    AAM gets a letter every now and then from someone who inadvertently becomes privy to critical feedback. They’re usually not happy about it, and want to know what they can/should “do” about it, as if somehow a line was crossed. The way I figure it, while nobody *likes* to get critical feedback, be happy you got it. You need to know where you stand, and clearly your company isn’t on the level with you. You say your company struggles with “maintaining a good feedback culture.” Let me ask you this: How defensive do you get when critical feedback is offered? Most of the time, “thanks for letting me know, I’ll work on that” is an appropriate response.

    That said, if you think it’s time to move on, it’s time to move on. If “moving up” (whatever that means in a small company) is important to you, you’ve got your answer, no matter what the underlying reason. If you don’t feel you can stick around in your current role, then yeah, go hang out your shingle.

    Finally, I’ve had a variety of different jobs in a few different fields, and if there’s one thing I can say they all have in common, it’s that they all suck when it comes to promotions and what not. Few places do them well, and almost everybody hates it. I’m not saying that’s a reason to stay put at your current job, but the reality is that most people will grumble about the process no matter where you go.

    1. Fikly*

      While I agree in that I’ve seen this before, I think the LW’s concern here is that what they overheard is in direct contrast to the feedback they’ve been given.

      I would be concerned too!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        ^+100, and I would add, since I’m getting a feeling that one of the things Dan’s comment is telling OP is “OP, you are really not leadership material, you won’t be leadership material no matter where you go, so might as well not leave”, that I would not necessarily trust the judgment of the leaders who cannot even tell someone repeatedly asking for a promotion the truth, which is “you will never get promoted at our company”; and are instead giving her the runaround about there being no open position, and a promotion coming to OP the moment a position opens. Just because they said something, does not mean it really is so. Maybe their perception of what leadership material should be is off.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Leadership material = “not our type dearie” Or they are like Tom, really good where they are, never going to be promoted, but don’t want to lose them. Until OP tries for a promotion, a subordinate gets it and then it becomes clear this is the slot they see for OP forever. But they can’t imagine OP leaving their awesome wonderful company. Until she does.

          If feedback is a problem, it’s time to move on. you found out how they really are. Believe them.

        2. Lora*

          I didn’t get that sense – more that, in order to be promoted significantly (vs going from Llama Groomer I to Llama Groomer II) you usually DO have to leave the company. Which is what I’ve seen a lot of too – and as EPLawyer said, it may well be because in that company you aren’t Their Type: you aren’t in the Old Boys Club, aren’t the right shade of Caucasian, don’t have a summer home on Nantucket or what have you.

          It’s frustrating because it’s feedback but it’s not actionable, beyond “brush up your resume”. Instead of just saying to OP, “you need to get projects that are more visible to senior management instead of these important but taken-for-granted type things like database maintenance” or “your public speaking skills need work, join Toastmasters” or “we need you to be able to travel more or relocate for a couple of years” (all legit reasons I have seen people be Not Leadership Material) or even “Look, in order to be Leadership Material you need to join the Bushwood Country Club and suck up to Judge Smales because he makes all the big decisions here at Three Letter Corporation,” they just mealy-mouth excuses and wait for OP to get frustrated enough to bail. It’s dishonest and the point that immediately leaps to mind is, “if these dingbats think THEY are such great leaders, how come they don’t have the spinal fortitude to tell me honestly what I need to do? Where do THEY get off thinking they could lead a bunch of 8-year-olds to a candy factory when they can’t do anything as simple as tell me the truth?!?” But, OP, now you know how these people are, so. Do what you gotta do.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            It’s dishonest and the point that immediately leaps to mind is, “if these dingbats think THEY are such great leaders, how come they don’t have the spinal fortitude to tell me honestly what I need to do? Where do THEY get off thinking they could lead a bunch of 8-year-olds to a candy factory when they can’t do anything as simple as tell me the truth?!?”

            +1000!

          2. EPLawyer*

            Lora, I love you. If they don’t have enough backbone to even be honest in feedback, what makes them think they can evaluate leadership material in any meaningful way.

        3. Dan*

          Just to be clear, I wrote this: “If you don’t feel you can stick around in your current role, then yeah, go hang out your shingle.” Which is a colloquialism for “leave if you feel you must.”

          That said, I did caution OP that promotions and what not are on average the most contentious thing I’ve at all of my jobs. It may be *easier* to get promoted outside OP’s current org, but it likely won’t be *easy*.

          Sometimes, when people write in with questions along the lines of, “Should I be mad about/quit over X?” the implied question is, “If I quit, how likely will this be a problem somewhere else?” That’s a little bit what I see here, and the rationale for my post. If OP feels she can’t get what she wants out of her career at CurrentJob, it is time to move on. However, that doesn’t mean the things that were problems for OP at CurrentJob won’t be problems SomewhereElse.

          1. TootsNYC*

            . It may be *easier* to get promoted outside OP’s current org, but it likely won’t be *easy*.

            I challenge this–I think it will be easier to get a higher ranking job at a new company than it will be to get promoted there.

            That’s the “promotion.”

            Now, whether there is room for growth in the new company, or whether the OP can earn a promotion in the new company? That’s hard to tell.

          2. Wintermute*

            In my field in-house promotions are fairly rare, but someone leaving a job after three years with a set of shiny new acronyms for their resume and a certification or two and moving up the chain that way.

            In fact, at one job, several people left, worked a few years someplace else, then came back to the company three or four levels on the org chart above where they were, because we didn’t have any entry-level specialist slots, only room for senior roles in that department they wanted to be in, and five years experience and certifications from a vendor classified them as senior.

            It’s shortsighted on the part of the company in some cases, in others they save on the cost of having around entry-level trainees they don’t need, but it may be harder to move to another company laterally and then move up, but comparatively easy to get a new job that’s a level up from where you were.

            Caveat to this is moving into management, that is really tough because, as we so often see here, management is tough! and it takes a lot of skills that you can only develop by managing people, so unless your work has “foreman” or “lead worker” type positions that are designed as a management pipeline, good luck getting the experience to prove you can do the job.

      2. Massmatt*

        Right, the issue here (and in many of the letters we see) is that the employee is only inadvertently or accidentally hearing the feedback. If you’re asking for feedback and hearing “you’re great!” then of course it’s jarring to hear the “real reason”.

        It’s bad management.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          When I worked for the Accounting firm, the Tax Department was headed up by Fergus, who was a Manager, not a Partner. Apparently the TPTB had decided that Manager was as far as Fergus was going to go. But this was never conveyed to Fergus, who continued to hope that, with diligence and hard work, he could be invited to be Partner someday.

          Then Zack was hired as a partner for the Tax Department, and became Fergus’s boss. Add that Zack was a decade younger than Fergus, just to rub salt in the wound.

        2. Artemesia*

          yeah it is bad management and those managers are like most managers bad at it partly because they got promoted for being good at things other than management.

        3. Dan*

          That’s for sure.

          But in OP’s case, she says she gets good feedback from the client. She says nothing about the feedback from her boss other than “there isn’t an available position.” And what she overheard was “wasn’t leadership material.” Which to me isn’t quite as contradictory as it may appear from first reading. At my job, good client feedback (or bad client feedback for that matter) only gets you so far. What we have no idea about here is what soft constructive feedback OP’s manager has offered that OP wasn’t able to process. I say this, because “there isn’t an available position” is literally true, but can be a way of avoiding a difficult conversation.

      3. Artemesia*

        You are a fabulous widget tranmogrifier does NOT suggest you would be a terrific manager. Great feedback on productive skill functioning is not actually encouragement to be promoted to manager. The reason most managers are poor at managing is that they got promoted for excellence at something else or personal connections not because they showed talent as a manager.

      4. Dan*

        OP’s good feedback was given by the client, which is only part of an overall feedback picture. What we don’t know is what other sorts of feedback may have been offered to OP in the past from her own management. There’s just enough in the OP’s letter to suggest that she may need to think very critically about how she processes feedback.

    2. Beth*

      I think it’s pretty clear what’s making OP1 want to look elsewhere! First, they want a position with room to move up, and this overheard conversation pretty much confirmed that this isn’t going to happen at their current company. That’s reason in and of itself; even if the higher-ups have good reason that OP wouldn’t be a fit for their structure, it’s clear that OP’s goals won’t be served here. And second, this actively contradicts feedback they’ve been given in the past, which makes it hard to trust that the feedback they’re getting here is accurate. That’s also reason to be concerned and consider moving elsewhere; if you’re not getting full and accurate feedback, it’s very hard to improve.

      OP can certainly ask for more detail and see if there’s room for them to change minds, but moving on is a really legitimate thing to be considering in light of those two concerns.

    3. Patty Mayonnaise*

      This wasn’t really “critical feedback” like you would receive in a performance review – it was an offhanded comment that seems to reflect on LW’s personality/character moreso than her work product, it wasn’t specific or actionable, and it wasn’t even meant for her to hear. When she has asked for critical feedback in a performance review, it was essentially brushed aside by saying it’s a matter of open slots – she had no opportunity to respond to feedback at all, positively or negatively. It’s not surprising that LW was taken aback by this situation and I don’t think we can judge how she responds to feedback in general by it.

      1. Dan*

        She never actually she said she asked for critical feedback in a performance review; she doesn’t refer to her performance reviews at all. All she said was that she’s been consistently told that there aren’t positions open for advancement.

        1. Patty Mayonnaise*

          Ok. My point is that people will respond to feedback differently when it’s expected (during a performance evaluation, for example) than when it’s completely unexpected (like when it’s said behind their back and they happen to overhear it). I think it’s unfair to judge LW for being a tiny bit taken aback in her situation (though I don’t necessarily think she was from the letter), especially considering the feedback didn’t mesh with any previous feedback given. She might respond really positively to critical feedback under most circumstances; I don’t think we can tell if she can or not from the letter.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I disagree about the chip on her shoulder. She overheard upper management being honest about her, when clearly they’re feedback has been misleading. How can you possibly forget about that? Regardless of the reason, OP probably isn’t going to get a promotion at her current job so she needs to start the process of moving on, but pretending she didn’t hear what she heard isn’t going to solve anything either. She should at least have a conversation with her boss and see if they have any real feedback for her to improve.

    5. Senor Montoya*

      What makes OP want to look elsewhere is that her current leadership aren’t going to promote her because they don’t think she’s capable of leading. If I want to move up, of course I am going to now look for a place where I can do that. Clearly it’s not happening here.

      I did not get any defensiveness from the OP’s letter. They sound hurt, as who wouldn’t be, but didn’t sound defensive. If a boss says, Senor Montoya is not leadership material, and I want to be a leader, for sure I am looking elsewhere. Why stay?

    6. Delta Delta*

      I read this a little differently. OP, from her own perspective, was doing well in her job and seemed to be satisfactory to clients. She was told there wasn’t a position. It also sounds like the culture of the business is one where feedback isn’t common (OP calls it “good feedback culture” which I read to mean they aren’t good at giving feedback).

      So OP is doing what she thinks is the right thing, isn’t told otherwise, and then overhears her superiors talking about how she doesn’t measure up. How does she know she doesn’t measure up if they don’t tell her? It would be one thing if the feedback came during a review, but this seems to be more like they were talking about her when they thought she wasn’t there. This is all what feels icky about it.

      Maybe OP does have a chip on her shoulder but maybe she also feels blindsided to find out things are different than she thought. This might be enough to go elsewhere.

      1. Allypopx*

        This is my read too. It sounds like maybe her direct boss is happy with her but the higher ups aren’t impressed? That’s a career-track killer, and I’d be really disheartened too. Maybe I wouldn’t immediately jump to job hunting without having a conversation first, but it would be on my mind.

    7. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

      Unless they alluded to specific, concrete aspects of her performance, “not leadership material” is a very vague assessment and probably very much contingent on whether or not they like the OP personally. Taking OP at her word, she is well-regarded by their biggest revenue stream, which counts for something. But as others have pointed out, even if they did have legitimate concerns about her performance, they should tell her directly. The OP should definitely look for opportunities elsewhere because she’s probably not going to advance at her current place.

    8. Mis Behaven*

      A chip on the LW’s shoulder because they were upset that her supervisor’s were bad-mouthing them behind their back/in front of them?! I got NO vibe that they did not think it was possibly true.

    9. RC Rascal*

      Here’s what I want to know: Why do the leaders in this company think it’s OK to casually discuss employee potential in a large open room, after a presentation, where who knows who can overhear? This is not appropriate behavior for leadership. These kinds of conversations should take place behind closed doors. That act alone speaks volumes about the culture and values at this company.

  5. Lauren*

    OP5, just to add to the advice others have given to practice out loud: practice in your own head. I find that in my own head is where I make the most mistakes, because if I’m thinking about someone whose pronouns have changed I’m not consciously thinking about using their correct pronouns. Correcting yourself even in your own head helps realign your thinking.

    What’s important in the moment if you catch yourself is a) apologize, and b) don’t make a huge deal out of it. If someone else corrects you, thank them for the reminder and don’t fall over yourself apologizing. And do help other people in your office remember. I hope that your office culture is such that everyone is adjusting and being respectful of the change, but that certainly hasn’t always been my experience, and it’s worth being “that guy” to make it clear that carelessly misgendering them isn’t acceptable.

  6. Ellen N.*

    OP #2

    I always use the bathroom before I get in my car. I would be so upset about not being permitted to use the bathroom at my workplace that I would look for a different job.

    Perhaps you could mitigate the noise. You could install Hydraulic Auto Door-Closers on the doors he uses and runner rugs on the path he uses.

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yeah. While it sounds like the employee could be more considerate, the general impression I’m getting is that the way the premises are set up doesn’t really work for the business (any more).

      Whether it’s legal or not to shut the employee out is neither here nor there, really: there needs to be an employee washroom that the employees feel entitled to use in the context of their job duties (including just before they go on the clock or just after they clock off).

      1. Avasarala*

        there needs to be an employee washroom that the employees feel entitled to use in the context of their job duties (including just before they go on the clock or just after they clock off)

        Exactly. I understand the frustration but if they can’t use the bathroom in the house, where are they supposed to go? If you’re making them come to “the office” at 5 am it seems cruel to not let them use the bathroom since there isn’t one in “the office.”

        1. ssnc*

          especially depending on how long their drive to/from the office is, plus they may not have another place to go after they get the van

          1. Marlene*

            Exactly. My commute to work is an hour. I use the bathroom before and after my drive. (Yes, the coffee I sip on the way in is part of the reason, but you bet if I had to be there at 5 am I’d have had some.)

        2. Jax*

          And there are all these news stories about Amazon drivers simply not having any designated place (or any scheduled time) to use a restroom.

          1. TootsNYC*

            or being penalized because it took them some time, so they didn’t make their numbers.

            And guys can whiz against a tree or even in a bottle, but women often can’t, so they get penalized where men don’t.

            That was the big takeaway for me from that essay written by the cable employee on Huff Post (“I Was a Cable Guy. I Saw the Worst of America”)

            My numbers were always lower. Numbers were based mostly on how many jobs we completed a day. On paper, the way we were rated, I was a terrible employee. That I was a damn good tech didn’t matter. The points were what mattered. The points, I’m realizing now, were why I spent the better part of 10 years thinking about bathrooms.

            The guys could piss in apartment taprooms, any slightly wooded area, against a wall with their van doors open for cover, in Gatorade bottles they collected in their vans. I didn’t have those options. And most customers, I wouldn’t ask. If I had to pee, I had to drive to a 7-Eleven or McDonald’s or grocery store, not all of which have public bathrooms. I knew every clean bathroom in the county. I knew the bathrooms with a single stall because the way I look, public bathrooms aren’t always safe for me either. But they don’t plant a 7-Eleven between the McMansions of Great Falls. One bathroom break and I was already behind.

        3. Chili*

          Yeah, I feel like LW insinuated that because the employee is only on the premises for a short period of time to get a vehicle, they shouldn’t need to use the bathroom there. But if the job is traveling around to make repairs or deliveries or whatever, the employee probably wants to use the bathroom right before they go out on the job because they probably can’t or shouldn’t use bathrooms at all sites. I know a lot of repair people are told not to use clients’ bathrooms unless the client extends the offer.

          Perhaps this employee is truly a boar and is actively stomping and slamming and creating a racket, but I would guess that they are probably trying to keep it down but are setup for failure. It’s 5 am and the bosses are asleep, so it’s dark, which makes it hard to navigate and can cause accidental bumping and dropping and noise. I’m guessing the house is a an average house, so doors and floors creak, the toilet makes a loud noise, etc.

          I’m very surprised Alison would suggest not allowing the employee to use the bathroom during their working hours. It sounds to me like the bosses have designed an unideal work setup and they should be the ones to remedy that.

          1. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

            I was also surprised! The fact that 5am isn’t considered within “business hours” is no excuse, as you have employees you expect to arrive and be ready to work at 5am! You have to let them use the bathroom! This shouldn’t even be a discussion; if the current bathroom situation isn’t working, that’s on management to fix, not on the employee!

        4. WellRed*

          If they have to get started at 5am, let them take the van the night before. Also, install a damn bathroom.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            There can be insurance reasons to garage the van in one particular place — an approved locking garage for one.
            But so many homes have tiny half-bath additions I’d be budgeting for that. One toilet & sink right at the door nearest the outbuilding, with a key box in it. No hallway to walk down.

            1. Clorinda*

              Absolutely! It’s well past time for these people to separate their living space from their working space. The bathroom aside, who would want employees or coworkers wandering around their actual house at 5 am? Install the facilities where they are needed and lock the doors leading to personal home areas.

              1. TootsNYC*

                get a composting toilet, or an RV toilet, or something.

                I think it would be OK if the OP made an arrangement with the nearby gas station, perhaps.

                Or, tell him to be quieter.

                1. A*

                  I’m fairly certain they’d run into legal issues if they blocked bathroom access on-site and the only option was at an off-site gas station. I know there are certain exceptions in the case of extreme building/construction limitations (conservation land concerns etc.) but I’d be shocked if OP’s situation fell under those exceptions.

          2. Sharkie*

            They might not be able to. Lots of local jurisdictions have zoning laws prohibiting multiple dwellings -a building that has electricity and running water- on a single plot of land.

            1. Sharkie*

              and yes it is silly when a detached garage is considered a dwelling because it has electricity and a garden hose spigot on the side so you have to move the hose hook up 5 feet over to the main house or tear down the garage. *glares in local laws”

            2. Elizabeth West*

              But they have an office in the outbuilding, which I assume already has electricity. So wouldn’t that already be halfway there? Also, if they’re permitted to operate a business out of that building, wouldn’t OSHA require a bathroom? The one in the house may satisfy that, but if it’s really a problem to have people traipsing in and out, they might just have to bite the bullet and install a half-bath in the outbuilding.

              (I know nothing about zoning laws)

              1. Fiddlesticks*

                As a city planner, I’m going to guess that the OP is running a “home based business” which generally means that if you have, say, a construction or landscaping company, you are allowed to conduct the administrative functions from your house BUT you cannot have these employees or contractors working at your house. Therefore, a bathroom in the house to serve the owners/occupants is fine since they are the only ones who are supposed to be there anyway. The guys who come to pick up vehicles? Sorry, but I really disagree with Alison and other commenters on this one, and I have 30+ years of experience (plus time spent on legal cases) to back up this one: the house IS NOT these employees’ place of work. Their job site/place of work is wherever they are being sent to perform their assigned tasks. No, it’s not fair and it’s not nice to say “it’s your problem to figure out where you pee” but that is what ALL home-based contractor-type businesses I’ve ever worked with legally do, unless their employees are family, and I’ve never heard of a single one getting their business license yanked or getting dinged by OSHA for a violation.

                1. tamarack and fireweed*

                  I don’t doubt that you’re correct about the definition about “employees’ place of work”, but I still think that even if it isn’t a legal requirement, it’s still expected that people can use bathrooms. (Also, in the absence of an available bathroom, as someone else posted, women in these occupations have it extra hard.)

                  The people I know who run home-based contracting businesses are usually in the situation that at least one of the home owners is the main contractor, hiring others on a permanent or as-needed basis. It’s easier to do a quick bathroom stop if your boss is running your crew and can say “Shhh, Ophelia’s still in bed – please keep it quiet, ok?” in person. Once you have a business of the size that the employees drop in and out without the home owner’s involvement, you can be expected to do a little bit of remodelling and put a half-bath in a place that’s reserved for business use, and placed well away from the owner’s bedrooms.

                2. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

                  Thanks! This is not his worksite. Our local laws permit up to 3 non related employees on premises. We can also have employees meet and take a work vehicle as long as we follow local parking rules.

      2. atma*

        Yes yes yes, this! If you have a business wherein you require employees you need to factor in their needs. Going to the toilet is such a basic need. If it bothers you to have them come in your house you need to outfit their work area with a separate bathroom. Yes, this is definitely something I would consider leaving over.

      3. On Fire*

        Would it not be an option for the employee to drive the van home the night before? That way he could leave straight from his home instead of having to take extra time to go by the office. (Unless he’s having to clock in, but the letter simply said grab the keys and leave.) That’s what I do when I’m traveling for work — I bring the vehicle home the previous night, and then switch vehicles at the end of the day.

        1. 'Tis Me*

          That might affect the insurance policy potentially? Over here at least they often ask where they’ll be kept overnight and e.g. parked on the street outside a private residence vs. in a securely locked commercial garage would be a higher risk. Would the owner be happy going through their insurance if somebody took the wing mirror off going past late at night? Also if the insurance covers work use only and the typical commute to work isn’t included in that (not quite sure how that works?) that could again cause issues.

          These things probably aren’t insurmountable but would be worth looking into. If a policy change would be needed and would have to apply to several vehicles/other drivers would then want the same option so it would need to apply to all vehicles, they might decide it makes more sense to get a bathroom extension added to the garage instead.

        2. Chili*

          It may not be an option if the employee doesn’t have anywhere to park a van or can’t leave their personal vehicle overnight at the business.
          Additionally, this also may just move the problem to a different time. Employees traipsing through the house at 6 or 7pm may not wake anyone up, but it may disrupt dinner, tv-time, etc.

        3. TootsNYC*

          if it’s a truck, he may not be able to park it in his drive, and probably not on the street. LOTS of municipalities do not allow commercial vehicles to park on the streets overnight, and lots of HOAs don’t allow commercial vehicles to be visible in the drive overnight (and it may not fit in his garage, or he may not want to leave his own vehicle outside).

          It’s a way to prevent a neighborhood from becoming overrun with commercial vehicles.

          And if he doesn’t own his own house, but lives in an apartment, there may not be room for it.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Sounds to me like the owners have supplies at their house, not the business. If there’s a budget for an offsite storage unit, that’s another possible way to break the cycle.

    2. Snorkmaiden*

      Some people are also just more sensitive to noise. It’s possible he doesn’t think he’s being loud.

        1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

          Why on earth should the OP have to sleep in earplugs because John can’t walk without stomping or close a door without slamming it?! It’s 5am. He needs to be quiet, whisper quiet, or keep out.

          1. Ethyl*

            Well, because it isn’t solely their home, it’s also a workplace (not a great idea in the first place imo but what’s done is done).

          2. pleaset*

            “He needs to be quiet, whisper quiet, or keep out.”
            At work? Not in hotel or hospital or maybe a library? Nah.

            1. Mobuy*

              It’s work, but it’s also a home. Let’s not pretend that it’s like going into a McDonald’s at 5 am.

              1. pleaset*

                “Let’s not pretend that it’s like going into a McDonald’s at 5 am.”
                Thanks for the straw man.

                Quiet maybe. Whisper quiet? No way.

              2. TootsNYC*

                even going into McDonald’s at 5am, he doesn’t need to stomp or bang doors.

                It’s not unreasonable to insist that he walk quietly and close doors slowly.

                1. tangerineRose*

                  “It’s not unreasonable to insist that he walk quietly and close doors slowly.” Yeah, this!

          3. Corrvin*

            I don’t think it’s fair to both think that 5 AM is so early that you’re obligated to be quiet, and also think that it’s a reasonable hour to expect someone to show up for work. If quiet is required at that time, work should start later.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              +100 – my alarm is actually set to sometime around 5. And, if I miss it, my next-door neighbor leaves for work at 5:45. He parks in his driveway that all three bedrooms in my house are facing. He slams the door on his way out, starts the car, and leaves. In winter, he also idles the car for about 30 minutes. Sometimes with the lights on, the radio on, and the door open (which of course makes his car beep). While I could absolutely do without that last piece (that he’d been talked about in the past, and said he wasn’t going to change a thing), not gonna lie, I appreciate the inadvertent 5:45 wake-up call.

              Not to mention, if OP’s employee is required to come pick up his van (i.e, start work) at 5, then the time he has to get up for work is way earlier. I’d have a hard time telling someone in the same breath that they have to be up for work at 3:30 or 4 in order to report to work at my house at 5, and that they also cannot use my bathroom at 5, because that’s too early.

              1. Name Required*

                “I’d have a hard time telling someone in the same breath that they have to be up for work at 3:30 or 4 in order to report to work at my house at 5, and that they also cannot use my bathroom at 5, because that’s too early.”

                Yes, it’s incredibly fascinating how OP is complaining about being woken up at 5am by her employee, who she is requiring to be at work at 5am.

            2. Joielle*

              Yeah. I’d be pretty irritated if I had to be at work at 5, AND the bosses were still sleeping at that time and couldn’t be disturbed.

              1. facepalm*

                Right? And does the OP think the employee enjoys coming into a private home where his boss is sleeping to use the toilet?

              2. sunny-dee*

                Except presumably they’re working different hours than he is. If they’re working from, say, 7am to 6pm and he’s off at 3pm, they’re both working hard, just different schedules. It doesn’t give him carte blanche to be rude just to make some classist point.

                1. Joielle*

                  I know, but you have to admit the optics are bad. The boss gets to dictate the employee’s start time AND is now trying to dictate where he can pee? When the boss is the one who’s making him come in at 5 am in the first place? I get how that might feel like one bridge too far.

                  I really doubt the guy is being loud on purpose, but even if he is, the solution is to build a bathroom in the adjacent building or accept that someone’s going to make noise at 5 am. No amount of chastising is going to solve the problem, and it’ll just breed resentment.

                2. Ellen N.*

                  It’s not a given that the employee is being rude. Some people are so noise sensitive that any walking except tip-toeing barefoot is stomping to them. Also, I doubt the employee is intentionally slamming doors.

                3. biobotb*

                  But if they’re going to run a business out of their home, they also can’t demand absolute quiet from the employees who use the premises at the hours the owners demand they be there.

            3. Artemesia*

              Well that is just silly. Not everyone has to be on the same schedule. But I suspect the guy resents that THEY get to sleep while HE is WORKING and so takes some pleasure in waking them up every morning. They need to solve it with the porta potty, a half bath in the garage or other means that keep people out of their home at 5 am.

              1. tangerineRose*

                If he’s deliberately being noisy to wake them, he needs to be fired or at least given a warning to stop if he wants to keep his job.

          4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I don’t think OP said he was talking loudly. I mean, who’s there to talk to?

            And I agree with the comment above that said the stomping is probably due to work boots.

            If OP’s house has a spring door, that might lead to the door loudly slamming (I have one, and forget to hold it so it doesn’t close loudly on its own 9 times out of 10).

          5. A*

            What? I feel like there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation if that’s your reaction. OP is the employer, and the decider of where the bathroom is. They have chosen to provide no other option. Employee isn’t doing anything wrong, and shouldn’t have to walk on egg shells to use the restroom at his job site during his work hours.

            How ridiculous.

          6. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            I’m with you on this one. Yes, it’s his job but it’s also–and firstly–his employer’s HOME where people live and sleep. He doesn’t get the run of their home and he needs to get it that he’s making too much noise.

            1. Bathroom Warrior*

              OP2 reminds me of a roommate I once had. She complained I made too much noise getting ready in the morning and she could not sleep. I tried my very best to be very quiet, but I am half blind (literally only one eye works) and in the dark I only have 50/50 odds of not walking into things (so I started crawling to avoid the bumping sounds). She the. complained I made too much noise being inside my room at night, bceause I am fidgety and I sat on my bed to work, I decided she had a point. So I started working away from home so as not to disturb her. Then she complained that my coming home later upset her and made it hard to sleep. Also the sound of another roommate using the toilet (the literal act of stuff hitting water) upset her. At that point I realized something, the issue was she did not like having other humans in her space. It did not matter how little noise you made or what you did, it was going to always be “stomping, slamming doors, and yelling” to her, because she did not want us there. So having come to the conclusion that she could not and would never be pleased I gave up and used my bed and half of the room as I saw fit. She continued to complain and I started respond “It sounds really hard on you that we all have to live in tight quarters”, but did nothing else. She complained less after a few weeks.

    3. MistOrMister*

      A ban on using the bathroom would bother me as well! Even if legally its ok to do and say, hey you have to go to the McDonalds up the road before whatever time, that really is not going to make thw employees feel good. Someone who has to get up probably at 3 or 4 to get ready for the day and get to the house to get their van by 5 being told that, you now can’t use the bathroom in the house any more because the owner needs their beauty sleep….well, it comes off as kind of a dick move.

      I would love to know if any other employees,are using the bathroom that early. I can’t tell from the letter if they do and are more quiet or if it’s only this one guy who does this. If it’s only the one guy, it is possible that pretty much anyone coming in at 5 am would wake them. Also, given that they’re taking delivery vans, I’m thinking maybe these people tend to wear work boots. Depending on how heavy the footwear is, this guy might NOT be stomping, it might just be that he’s clonking because of the shoes. And then, some people are just heavy walkers no matter what. A runner carpet seems like it would do a lot to motigate the noise. Hadn’t heard of hydraulic doors before, but I assume they’re like my slow-closing toilet lid (that thing is awesome except I forget it’s not the norm so I don’t lower other lids slowly and end up slamming them accidentally. D’oh!) and would be a great suggestion. Hopefully OP will do what they can to mitigate noise or at least provide another bathroom rather than banning access to their before a certain time. Although I will say I would be much less happy with a porta potty. Those things are foul most of the time.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, if my front door opens at 5 a.m., you bet I’m going to wake up, not matter how quiet the person coming in is being. I think the OP’s options are to accept that she will be woken up when he comes in to the bathroom, or give him another bathroom to use. If he’s deliberately slamming doors, that’s one thing, but I suspect he’s just going about his day and that makes noise. And personally, I’m way more likely to accidentally drop something or close a door harder than usual if I’m trying to be tired.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I was thinking the same thing – if my job required me to get on the road at 5AM, and my employer told me I couldn’t use the bathroom before I went, that… might be a deal-breaker.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Thanks! it’s a reference to a conversation I once had between me, the leader of an indie band that I like, and the band’s devoted fan. The band leader was tired and wanted out of the conversation, and the fan kept asking what the real, deep meaning of this or that song was. Finally the fan said “and what about (a song I really like, but now cannot listen to with a straight face)?” and the band leader was “oh yeah, that one, I wrote that one in the bathroom”.

    5. Yorick*

      It seems like they should put a bathroom in the other building where the employees usually go. That way they can use the bathroom any time without disturbing the family.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        That’s what I was thinking. I used to work out in a barn and they had built a small bathroom outside in the barn. It was basic and nice, but it meant I didn’t have to track into their house at 5am when I was working. I think maybe OP should start getting some quotes and go that option. Plus, I see people coming into my house as a security issue. Are you really just leaving the door unlocked to your house? Or do the employees have keys? I’m assuming they background check their employees, but you can never know.

        1. facepalm*

          Yes, I can’t imagine being comfortable with people entering my home in the early morning hours while I was lying asleep. The whole thing is bizarre.

        2. Veronica*

          If they’re leaving their door unlocked it’s not just employees who might come in! Doors should always be locked when people are sleeping, no matter where they are.

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, that seems like a bigger issue to me. I think it would be completely reasonable for them to keep the house locked down outside of business hours.

    6. HalloweenCat*

      Yeah I have to agree. The letter states that drivers sometimes have to start their day at 5am and it also states that the bathroom in the house is fair game “during business hours.” Realistically if your employees have to start their day at 5am, that means business hours start at 5am. At least that’s what I would assume as the employee.

      It is on the employer to solve the problem and I think even if it’s legal, it isn’t right to tell the employee “sorry you can’t use the bathroom at work until 8am”

    7. LilySparrow*

      Yes, if your emoyees are required to start work at 5am, then your “business hours” start at 5am. If John is starting his shift, he has a right to use the toilet and not be micromanaged about how he does it.

      If you don’t want to get up that early, change their start time or stop trying to run a business out of your home.

    8. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I used to have a job that required picking up/dropping off fleet cars at any hour of the day – usually during business hours but sometimes I would come home from a business trip after dinner, when the fleet services building was closed and therefore no bathrooms were accessible. It was only about 10 minutes from the office to my house, but I was usually coming from a 3+ hour drive where the closest rest area was over an hour before I got back to work. I have literally come within an inch of wetting myself in the car and I wouldn’t wish that feeling on my worse enemy.

      Maybe he has a medical condition which requires frequent bathroom usage. Maybe, like me, he has a small bladder. Maybe he’s going somewhere with no accessible bathrooms. Whatever the reason, it is cruel to deny him restroom access because it disturbs a quiet house.

    9. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

      Thank you for all of your insights! To clarify:
      We are in the construction industry. We have 8 other employees who rarely, if ever, come to the home office (less than once a month, and only for prearranged meetings). Our time sheets, work logs, etc. are all electronic. Most of the time, materials are shipped either to the job site or picked up from the local distributor, we have very little on hand (primarily parts left over from jobs that cannot be returned).

      We have 5 company owned vehicles (vans/trucks) suitable to our specific job. Four of them go home with our leads, each lead has a helper (apprentice, sort of), helpers do not have company vehicles and are expected to get themselves to the job site. One of our leads cannot park an additional vehicle at his home, hence the extra van at the office that we are letting this specific employee use-he is a helper, not a lead.

      We live at the northern border of a major metro area, this specific employee lives 45 minutes further north. His commute to a job is longer than most (if he was working nearer to his home, he would never be required to drive here first). It is not unusual in the construction industry to have 7 am start times. We only pay drive/commute if we are working outside of the metro area where the employee is typically based (we have a crew 2 hours south, another crew 6 hours north, sometimes, based on work etc, we pay the crews to travel). So his commute (1.5 hours each day, each way, is not generally paid, nor is his gas. Since we have the extra van, we let him use it (and company paid gas), for half of his commute (the house is about a mile from his ordinary commute, so not adding significant time). He isn’t coming here to work, or even clocking in, just get in the van and go, it isn’t every day, only when the van is not being used by someone else for a different job.

      Our work times can vary quite a bit. This week I walked out of the bedroom at 7:30 pm to him sitting on the couch-I think my issue isn’t so much the bathroom use as it is his lack of boundaries. He will also show up at 4 or 5 am because he “can’t sleep” so thought he would just wait at the office for a few hours. And by wait at the office, I mean sit on the sofa in the living room in the dark. Yes, we have talked to him about it, but it doesn’t seem to stick. (he is not homeless, does have an unorthodox living situation, is a 30 year old man) Thinking about it more, it isn’t the noise, it is him, inside the living space, outside of office hours. Closing off bathroom access between 6 pm and 7 am is a means to delineate work/home. The policy would literally apply to one person, but obviously we can’t post a sign saying “only Joe is not allowed in.”

      We do have office staff who work 10-5 on the premises. They come inside to use the bathroom, kitchen, etc. without issue. And we do have offsite storage, no bathroom. When other leads/helpers come to the office, we know about it in advance-we had 2 here on Sunday. We are looking at moving operations an hour south to be at the midpoint of most of our crews-like some are in San Diego, some in LA, moving to a midpoint and opening a more traditional office. There are plenty of public facilities within 5 minutes. Fifteen years in business (same location), countless employees, no prior issues. Also, these aren’t quick bathroom trips-they are 20-30 minutes long-there is no toilet seat banging.

      Thanks again!

      1. HalloweenCat*

        Hi OP thanks for the added info! I will say that this changes things significantly from my perspective. Especially the parts about him just. . . hanging out in your living room in the dark while you’re sleeping. That’s completely unacceptable and, at the risk of coming off too harsh, creepy behavior. This is not a bathroom issue. This is a much larger boundary issue that you need to address very directly with him one on one.

      2. Half-Caf Latte*

        Yikes. Yikes. sitting on the couch in the dark?!?!?!

        I’m wondering how direct you’ve been with him about how he never needs to sit in your living room in the dark and can’t just “hang out at the office” ever again.

        But really, I’m wondering if Joe is really so great at helping that he’s worth keeping around. He’s got some major boundary issues. You don’t say whether there are kids in the home, but if there are I’d be really wary of continuing to allow this person unfettered access to your home.

        1. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

          After the do not sit on the sofa (15 feet from bedroom door) talk, we had to have the do not sit at the dining table (12 inches from the bedroom door), then the do not sit on the patio outside of the bedroom door talk. And also the no, you cannot be in the office, sitting at people’s desks attempting to guess their passwords talk.

          The kids are grown. So not an issue.

          He was hired as a favor to a family member (very distant connection to us), no, he is not great. We sometimes need someone to pretty much stand here, do this or someone to go to Site A and bring something to Site B. That’s his role. Once a month he comes up with a new life plan that he shares with us, unsolicited. It never includes the industry we work in, so our incentive to further train him is low. We keep expecting him to move on, he hasn’t.

          1. Zillah*

            If he’s in the office sitting at people’s desks attempting to guess their passwords (!!), I feel like that’s a much bigger issue than the bathroom. To me, that’s so obviously not okay that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to fire him for that alone.

      3. Malarkey01*

        Whoa, that changes things A LOT. I’d have a very hard and fast rule about not loitering in the office (a lot of businesses won’t let you come in and just sit around for an hour off the clock, especially if the business isn’t open yet, so this should absolutely apply). In your situation I would lock the office (your home) during non “open” times. You can do a lock box with the keys outside like most motor pools do. It really isn’t so much about noise as having people in the office/home outside of normal hours. As an aside I cannot tell you how creeped out I’d be if I came out of my bedroom to find someone had been sitting in the dark for an hour-that’s horror movie plot right there).

      4. Jules the 3rd*

        Yes, lock the doors outside of work hours. I know there’s not a ton of places he can go hang out at 5am, but that list includes your living room. Point him to a local Waffle House short term.

        Long-term, you can’t leave the work building open either, but consider a heated/cooled entryway with restroom and a couple of padded chairs, with the lock between the entryway and the actual work building, so that he has a warm, safe place to go that’s not your house or the construction site.

        I mean, I know people who would do this who are not in any way dangerous, so I don’t agree that he needs to be fired. But you have every right to not wonder about who’s in your home while you sleep.

      5. Name Required*

        Curious as to how much Alison edited your letter … because this doesn’t sound like remotely the same question.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No editing to it other than standard copy editing — no info/details removed. I think it’s not uncommon for someone to write in with one question and then for it to come out in the comments that there’s a lot more to the situation.

        2. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

          No editing done by Alison. The question really is: Can I not let him in to use the bathroom? but I suppose, it is a whole lot more complicated than that. Once I started reading the replies, I realized, this isn’t about using the bathroom, it is about him lacking any sort of boundaries and turning up in the house at all hours. I think he is using the bathroom, because we have had to explicitly tell him he can’t sit in the office (he was trying to log in to peoples computers and was rifling through files.), can’t sit in the house while we are sleeping because he got to work 3 hours early, etc., so now he is in the bathroom killing time. We have several other employees, no issues with any of them being here at different hours. Actually expecting two of them here tonight around midnight to drop off some paperwork and pick up one’s car (they are finishing up a job 4 hours away, they had the choice to drive back tonight or stay in a company paid hotel and drive back tomorrow). All but two of our employees work in the field, and rarely come to the office as their *job site* is a construction site and most of our interaction with them is at the location where the work is being performed. We actually just had everyone in for a full staff meeting over the summer and several offsite people were meeting the office people (2 part time people, plus me) in person for the first time-they talk/text/email.

          1. Perpal*

            If I understand, you are just letting him come by so he can get in a company van as a favor to him? Why not just take that away, if you’re not willing to fire him; otherwise, yes, I think it’s fine to say he can’t come in if he’s just there for a van pickup, just like I can’t use someone’s house for a bathroom when I’m just commuting by them. No?

          2. Quandong*

            In all honesty I think you can fire this person immediately. Fire him right away.

            Not only is he intruding on your personal space despite instructions (this is so NOT OKAY) he has shown that he will try and break into other people’s computers and go through files when the opportunity arises.

            He is not trustworthy and it won’t be difficult to find a better fit for the job. Replace him with a person who will do the job without these egregious behaviours. He had the chance to correct his actions and he chose not to do so.

          3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            The family connection makes it a little stickier for you, I’d guess, but even in families there are boundaries. This guy sounds plain-out creepy. Your personal safety/comfort/peace of mind are crucial. It sounds like he’s kind of a go-fer? Would it be easy to eliminate the position (if you’re tender-hearted about outright firing)? As for the relatives, well, they don’t run your business, you do and you decide your staffing needs.

      6. Campfire Raccoon*

        This information changes my advice completely.

        There is no reason for him to be hanging out in your home. It’s creepy, and concerning. Like half-caf said, if there are kids in your home, you need to take a long, hard look at this employee’s behavior. Is it worth the potential risk to yours (and your childrens’) personal safety?

        You may want to consider electronic keypad locks, in addition to whatever you have now. They’re cheap an easy to install, and can be programmed to automatically lock at the end of work hours. That way he has access during work hours, but cannot come in at other times.

        1. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

          Lol! We are *very* familiar with access control. But you know how the plumbers toilet never works? ;)

      7. CupcakeCounter*

        Whoa!
        So I’ve read all of your replies now and you really didn’t write your letter correctly.
        Essentially you allow an employee to save some money (in gas and vehicle wear and tear) by using a company van that is not required for him to do his job for a portion of his commute since he drives by the house on his way in. Instead of just grabbing the van and going on to the site, he will show up IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, many, many hours before his shift is schedule to start and just sit around your house.

        Lock your damn doors!

        1. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

          Well. Yes. When you summarize it, it seems crazy. Especially reading it back. Thanks!

          1. Quandong*

            Plus, when you write in the bathroom killing time I can’t help but think he may be doing…other things…in there. While you may or may not be sleeping in a room neaby. Which for me adds an extra layer of NOPE to this whole situation.

        2. Perpal*

          Right?! And moreover, when OP tells him not hang around, he goes right ahead and keeps hanging around, just in a slightly different area! As if that makes a difference!
          There’s no way to give a long and exhaustive enough list of places he can’t hang out in that would actually prevent him from doing this creepy annoying stuff, probably. Just don’t give access to the house. Consider revoking this whole arrangement too.

      8. Dahlia*

        If he only needs the keys, could you maybe put a lockbox outside? And then the “office” as it were can just be closed during those hours, which isn’t unreasonable or anything.

          1. Quake Johnson*

            Wait, so then he doesn’t actually NEED to come into your house then???

            I’m deeply confused now, OP.

          2. The Other Dawn*

            Since they keys aren’t in the house and he has no business need to be there at 5 am, just lock the damn doors and tell everyone that the house isn’t open until X time. Given all the additional information you’ve provided, it seems he truly has no need to be in the house at all.

      9. Koala dreams*

        If he’s the only employee that hangs out in your living room, it doesn’t make sense to put up a sign or make a policy, it’s much better to say directly to him that he isn’t allowed to hang out in your living room any more. I’m quite perplexed that you think it makes sense to make a new policy just to deal with one employee.

        The bathroom question is a different thing, and it’s pretty weird for you to forbid your employee to use the bathroom as a kind of revenge for him hanging out in your living room. The fact that the only bathroom available to employees at this location is your family bathroom, located next to your bedroom, is a problem in itself and worth solving even if you decide to fire this particular employee. A lot of potential employees would find the current set-up uncomfortable. You can consider installing a small bathroom in the basement, in a closet or in the laundry room, for example. Or build a small outhouse for the bathroom.

        1. Zillah*

          Yes – given how much he’s poking around, I’d definitely change your locks and make sure that any important documents haven’t vanished.

      10. Joielle*

        Whoa, yeah, this is wildly different from what I think most people were envisioning. This is a lot of important context. It would be completely reasonable to not allow access to your home outside of business hours in this situation… or put the van keys in an outdoor lock box, or stop letting him use the van, or let him go altogether.

      11. TootsNYC*

        I agree, this is not officially work time–this is his commute. And he can pee in a gas station restroom on his commute like the rest of us. It’s time to lock the house door.

      12. KayDeeAye (a.k.a. Kathleen_A)*

        It still doesn’t really change my mind about your initial problem. You can, with perfect fairness and justice, tell him not to show up early and definitely not to wait for his starting time *in your house*. Which is just….just weird.

        But if he’s there in a genuine work capacity, he should have access to the employee bathroom. If he isn’t supposed to be at work at 6 a.m., then tell him not to come to work (a.k.a., your house) at 6 a.m.

      13. Sacred Ground*

        This is an odd situation indeed.

        What about just having a spare key made for the truck and letting him hold onto it? That way he can come by, get in the truck, and go without having to come inside the house to get the key at all? And your door stays locked because the business isn’t open.

      14. Lilysparrow*

        This is an entirely different situation than presented in the letter. You have someone coming into your house at 4am and hanging out on your sofa in the dark?

        That’s not about an employee being loud in the bathroom. That’s about a stalker.

        1. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

          I think he is harmless. Just odd. Without being overly specific, he was hired as a favor to a family member. He was not known to us previously and recently relocated back to this area.

          I do have a deadbolt I can lock denying him access to the house, but also bathroom. Hence, the bathroom question. We have dealt with the other issues, so now, instead of sitting on the couch, or patio, he is hanging out in the bathroom. This isn’t a quick pee…this is 20-40 minutes. The dog gets up and is pacing and whining for attention, so it is pretty disruptive.

          1. WellRed*

            Still don’t understand why he has keys to your house? Presumably, the van keys don’t unlock your door.

          2. Quake Johnson*

            …so you’ve banned him from one room of the house at a time, leaving now only the bathroom?

            Why didn’t you just say “Stay out of the house until 6.”

            Or, even better, don’t give him unfettered access to your home.

          3. Quandong*

            I commented above but this person may not be using the bathroom for the purposes you expect. Would you feel so okay about him being in your home while you were sleeping if he were in there masturbating to pass the time? Because I’ve known several people who thought that was acceptable behaviour at their workplace bathroom.

          4. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            If he thought it was OK to wander around your HOME in the wee hours or snoop through the office, I’m sorry, this guy is beyond just odd and you can’t take for granted that he is or always will be harmless. You sound like a very compassionate person, but you need to dump this guy.

            I understand the family favor, but your family can’t expect you to let a weirdo into your home on their behalf. Let this guy hang out on their sofa while they’re asleep if they feel tender-hearted about him. If he’s not doing some crucial job, he can use you as a reference to get something else.

          5. Zillah*

            I think that sometimes, the person involved is in the best position to evaluate this – but I also think that sometimes, we don’t recognize deeply concerning behavior when we’re really close to it. I can’t think of any oddness that’s not problematic that would lead a person to try to break into people’s computers.

  7. Maria Lopez*

    OP1- Your company already only has 20 people, so there is not much of anywhere to be promoted to. Act as if nothing has changed and actively begin your job search, hopefully at companies large enough to have positions to promote into.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Although . . . I do want to just step in to defend the advancement opportunities often available at micro-companies. The benefit to small companies is that they (often) move and grow quite fast. And the employees tend to grow at the same rate along with them. Opportunities can sometimes open up left and right. For example, one new client could mean having to establish a whole new project team, with a new manager and everything.

      I currently have 8 employees. A large number of employees past and present have advanced from entry-level to senior levels of responsibility with astonishing speed. And the teams and levels keep growing, so the top performers very much rise with that tide.

      I mean, no one is going to graduate from here and immediately become the CFO at Xerox, but small companies do offer opportunities to learn a lot and gain a lot of responsibility very quickly.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        My BSc was a 4 year sandwich course (one year in industry, 3 studying). I worked for a small company on that year in industry. By the time I left I had experience as acting head of 2 departments (admin and tech support), and had routinely provided cover for a third (sales). I was 20.

        It just isn’t the sort of thing you can truthfully say after less than a year, whilst technically unqualified, at an entry-level job at a big company!

      2. Maria Lopez*

        Except in this case there are only 20 employees and leadership has already decided that they do not like OP. I say don’t like because their personal view of OP does not necessarily have anything to do with OP’s abilities but more with leadership’s fixed idea of them.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Yes, I totally agree. OP is not likely to advance in this company because of leadership’s beliefs/attitudes. I’m just trying to point out that’s not necessarily related to there being only 20 people at the company. In other words, I think the problem here is indeed leadership’s attitudes, not necessarily that there’s no place to be promoted to.

  8. Iron Chef Boyardee*

    Regarding Alison’s recommendation to OP #4 (“Can I add a note to my personnel file?”) that OP sends a note to HR explaining that she took the complaint seriously, and ask “Would it be possible to add the attached addendum to my file as well?”

    What is OP’s next step if HR says no?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Then you just move forward. The employer owns those files and you can’t force them to include the note. (With the exception of a few states that do say the employee must be permitted to provide a rebuttal in the file.)

      1. 'Tis Me*

        Is that something you could bring up at your next performance review to confirm that your manager is happy that you have taken it seriously and there are no ongoing concerns about your behaviour, assuming it happens at least 4 months or so after the incident took place? It would then be a formal record your company has about the subject.

    2. Donkey Hotey*

      If HR says no, then I would assemble that documentation and keep it in the first file folder in my desk (plus a .pdf copy on my desktop) so that it is instantly available if the issue comes up again.

    3. Formerly in HR*

      Some notes/ documents added to personnel files have a ‘retention’ interval attached to them. That is eitehr set based on the document type or at the time the document is created (i.e. we know to keep all resignation letters for x years, but if there is a reprimand letter it should have a note to say whether it sits in the P-file for 6 months, 3 years or forever).
      Also, unions intervene on behalf of employees if certain documents should not be included in teh files or should have been purged but where not.
      So the OP could ask HR if this document can be purged from his account after a defined interval, provided he’s meeting certain conditions.

  9. Marlene*

    #2 Providing a bathroom is the least you can do as an employer. Literally, the bare minimum (hey, an unintended pun!)

    There is no way I’d leave my home unlocked and let people wander it while I was asleep.

    So, you need to separate the home from the business. Follow Alison’s advice of a portable toilet or have one installed in the office of the outbuilding. I assume there’s heat there.

    1. Rockhopper*

      Since it sounds like it’s just a storage building for vehicles and parts (like a garage) I doubt there is heat or plumbing to the building.

      1. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

        We actually do not have heat, we have some portable space heaters which do the job quite nicely on the few days a year that we need them (warm sunny climate!). We have AC-it would be unbearable otherwise.

        It is set up as an office-desks/computers, for me and 2 part time people. We do the bookkeeping, payroll, permitting, etc. Our sales people work from home. Our crews work on the job sites (construction industry). The employee in question works in the field-I explained that in more detail on another post.

  10. I heart Paul Buchman*

    OP2 I don’t know where you stand legally but morally I feel that access to a toilet is a human right. If workers are heading off to remote sites this might be their last chance to use the toilet in some hours. Also, I would feel very uncomfortable using the toilet in my boss’s home and perhaps your staff would appreciate an alternative as well? Providing one would solve the problem.

    Also, I’m curious about the optics of you being asleep when your workers arrive? I’m in a rural area where lots of farmers have staff coming to their home property. It would be considered very embarrassing to be caught in bed when your workers had started the day. 5:30 start is perfectly normal here for business owners as well as workers, is it possible that your worker is being passive-aggressive about waking you? I’m genuinely curious as not in the US but that would be my first assumption here. The only exception would be if you are doing the night shift.

    1. Avasarala*

      I agree that if I were a worker who had to schlep to my boss’s house at 5am just to grab keys, then spend the whole day working at remote/various sites, and was not allowed to use the only “company bathroom” before I left, I would feel pretty resentful. Especially if the reason was something about “business hours.” As a worker, my business hours start at 5 when I go to the office. Sorry to wake you up to use the only bathroom available before I go to work while you’re still comfortably in bed. Sorry to inconvenience you by using the setup you provided that only you as house/business owner can change…

      All this to say I think the damage to employee morale would be pretty severe and not worth the cost of just providing another bathroom.

    2. X. Trapnel.*

      Yes. I’m a worker on a dairy farm. I start work at anything between 4 and 5 am. Every job I’ve had, the boss has provided toilet facilities – either using the loo in their home, or a separate loo near the milking parlour for staff use ( this is the set-up in bigger units). If a boss objected to me needing to use a toilet, they’d be milking their own cows. FWIW, I thought the OP here was being somewhat unreasonable.

    3. Beth*

      Agreed that toilet access is a must, regardless of legal responsibility. OP2, even if a lawyer tells you that you can get away with not allowing access, do you really want to be the boss that won’t let their employees pee while on shift? That’s a terrible reputation to set yourself up for.

      In your shoes, I’d be looking for other solutions. Even a port-a-potty is better than nothing, but maybe you have a mudroom that can be converted to a bathroom with an external door? Or perhaps a bathroom can be added to the garage? It doesn’t have to be fancy; just functional, private, clean, and ideally more insulated from the elements than the thin plastic walls of a port-a-potty.

    4. Alice*

      Yeah, I was a bit surprised by Alison’s answer here. If the bathroom in your house is the only bathroom available for workers, I think it’s kinda crappy (pun intended) to ban them from using it. Sucks that the noise is waking OP up but that’s what happens when using your house as part of the workspace. Also when I heard ‘stomping feet’ my first thought was maybe the worker is wearing work boots and can’t help making noise. OP really should look into alternatives such as a portapotty or installing a toilet in the workroom.

      1. Yorick*

        If that part of the house isn’t carpeted, putting rugs along the path to the bathroom might cut down on the “stomping” noise, whether it’s because of boots or not.

    5. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I agree with this. If your business starts at 5am and you are the owner, then you can’t complain if business disrupts you at 5am. For example, my boss owns my company. People generally start work at 830am. My boss likes to sleep late, so he comes in closer to 10. If someone calls him or emails him at 845 and the alert wakes him up, it would be pretty weird for him to object.

      Having your business located on your home muddies the waters a bit, but that’s the reality. If it truly bothers you, then either work starts later, you keep the van at another location, or you adjust.

      This situation reminds me of a woman I knew who met a man in another country and convinced him to move in with her in the States. He had a hard time finding a job in his field, but she insisted he help with rent, so he got a job in a restaurant that required him to get up at 5am, and he woke her up getting ready. She constantly complained. So he offered to quit, but no, she told him he needed a job. I used to roll my eyes so hard at her. You can’t have it both ways– or, rather, you can’t have both and expect everyone to be happy about it.

      1. Joielle*

        This! The trade off for not spending money on an employee bathroom is having people using the house bathroom whenever they’re at work. If the OP doesn’t like that trade off, then they can choose the other option. But they definitely can’t have it both ways.

        1. Joielle*

          Commenting again to add – maybe it would help the OP to think about it in terms of money. How much would it cost to add a bathroom to the adjacent building? Is not being woken up at 5 am worth that amount of money? If so, build the bathroom. If not, OP has chosen to live with it. That’s the kind of thing you have to weigh when you own a company!

    6. rnr*

      That was my first thought as well – the employee is being loud on purpose, thinking, “if I have to be up, they do too.” This is pretty childish thinking though, IMO. My work has people that start at 5:30 and those that come in at 10. Everyone’s getting their job done. He should be able to use the bathroom while being quiet. He’s either being rude or obtuse.

      1. LilySparrow*

        I have to say, being put on “potty restriction” and chided about tiptoeing around the employee bathroom to not wake the boss before I set out for a day of labor, would turn me petty real quick.

        1. Ann Nonymous*

          So if the boss asked you to be more quiet in using the bathroom you would be terribly offended and make more noise to spite them? Wow.

      2. KayDeeAye (a.k.a. Kathleen_A)*

        I think there are a lot more options than “rude” and “obtuse.” It could be that the bathroom is constructed in such a way and in such a place that it’s just naturally noisy. (I lived in an apartment building like that once – it was amazing how much the bathroom sounds traveled.) It could be that the combination of the guy’s work boots and the flooring that he walks on to get to the bathroom just naturally results in extra noise. It could be that the OP is just a light sleeper, or is a light sleeper in the morning. There are lots of possibilities here, but in any case, somebody who gets to work at 5 a.m. should be able to pee before he hops in a truck and goes out on a job!

    7. TootsNYC*

      but would other members of the farmer’s family still be asleep at 5:30?

      The spouse with the office job, perhaps? The kids, who don’t need to get up until 6:45 in order to make it to an 8:30 school start?

      1. I heart Paul Buchman*

        No, not really. They might be in bed I suppose but having people moving around the house, putting on lights and boiling kettles naturally shifts your stage of sleep.we have much smaller houses than would be usual in the US I think. My Dad was a dairy farmer and we did not have to be up when he left (at 4) but we did tend to wake up.

        I have kids now and IME until they are teens they are the most flexible about being woken. I feel like the boss is being a bit precious.

    8. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

      The employees who *work* in the office arrive at 9 or later. This particular employee primarily works in the field (construction industry) it is not uncommon for our crews to meet at the worksite at 7am. The field workers have access to bathrooms at job sites. We do not restrict his ability to stop at a public facility or use a bathroom when he needs one. Most of our crews come to the office once a month-or less.

      He is not required to use the van-I explained in another response in more detail-he is using it for his convenience when it is available for the day (some days it isn’t and he drives his personal vehicle directly to his worksite). No schlepping. He lives quite a distance from the metropolitan area where most of our work is located. He uses the van (and company gas) for half of his commute (he drives within a mile of the office on his way to work), when it would otherwise be sitting unused. We are actively hiring another lead, who will be taking the van home, so his using it is temporary.

      He is considered a helper or apprentice in this field. Sometimes we have him pick up, deliver, or stage parts for ongoing jobs. This would be scheduled-“come to the office at 9am tomorrow and do xyz”. However, he has (more than several times in the year he has been employed) shown up at 4 or 5 am because he “couldn’t sleep” and sat on the sofa in the living room in the dark. It is very unsettling to walk out of your bedroom to make coffee and see a man on your couch who just came to work 5 hours early. Yes, renting an office space would solve this, it would also add significantly to overhead, ideal, but expensive, and not in the budget.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If the van use is optional and it’s causing all these problems (and you said elsewhere he’s damaged the vans before), why not just have him stop using the van?

        1. cheese please*

          Echoing Allison’s idea. I read your previous response and it looks like John is using the van as a convenience for commuting long distances since he is not paying for gas or maintenance. Maybe you can have a policy that is also exclusive to John (bathroom man) that states “for employees that commute over X miles a day at least X times a month we will compensate an additional $X for gas and transportation”. A standard transportation benefit is common in some industries (I am thinking of NYC where a lot of employers provide a monthly metro card etc.) but construction may be different. However, this may be cheaper than plumbing a separate bathroom?

          As others have stated I think addressing the showing up 5 (!!!) hours early at someone’s home (!!) is something you can address directly. “John I understand that your may have trouble sleeping and feel that the office is a space place to go, but the fact of the matter is that this is also our home where we sleep / my child gets ready for school / my wife comes downstairs to get her coffee in her pajamas and it is unnerving to find you sitting in the living room hours before your scheduled arrival. I need you to understand that my house is not an employee lounge that you can use as you please. In the future, please do not arrive more than 30 min before you are asked, especially during non-business hours. The ability to use the van is a courtesy to you, and I expected that in return you respect my home life and abide by these standards. Do you think you can do this?”

          1. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

            I like this.

            Also just having him use his own vehicle unless the van is needed to pick up materials. We are actively looking to hire an additional lead who will use the van exclusively (and take it home with him/her/them).

            1. Zillah*

              Yeah, I would strongly suggest you change your locks and have him use his own vehicle. Ultimately, the long commute sucks, but it’s not your problem to navigate for him; doing people favors is really nice, but when the favor starts to have significant negative impacts on you, it’s time to reevaluate.

              1. Zillah*

                Oh – and I also don’t think you need to (or should) give him any notice (e.g., “Tuesday is the last day you can use it”). This doesn’t impact his ability to commute – just tell him that the van isn’t available.

      2. I heart Paul Buchman*

        Hang on, that changes things quite a bit. I stand by my comment that access to a toilet is a human right but this does not expand to access to a job site 24/7. I can’t turn up and hang out at my office whenever I please, I need to have a valid work reason for being there. I don’t think it is safe for workers to have access to your house when you are sleeping if they can access the house proper (I assumed the toilet was separately locked). For me the solution is for you to start having clear open and closed hours for the site. If you have workers on site at 5am that means 5am open. You would then have to get up and unlock the property for their access – I would have locking gates on the drive and then go out and unlock them when the site opens. You could designate a foreman to do this if you don’t want to do it yourself. That is normal on most jobs – the senior person present unlocks and opens up at the start of the day.

      3. Beth*

        So there are absolutely things you can reasonably do here! You can stop lending him the van, since it sounds like this is more of a “we’re not using it so I guess you can” perk than a “he negotiated this in his contract” or “he’s doing us a favor by using it” arrangement. You can define set hours for when your house is ‘the office’ vs ‘your private home’ and tell him (and everyone else) that it’s closed during off hours. You can lock up overnight and not give him a key; it sounds like he’s got no legitimate reason to be there outside normal business hours when you’d already be up and have it open anyways.

        You can’t reasonably make a policy where employees who are there for work purposes aren’t allowed bathroom access. That isn’t a solution to the problem of this specific employee (who is hanging out in the dark in your living room even when he doesn’t need to use the bathroom, just for the heck of it! wow yes that would be creepy to wake up to), and it will create a lot more problems than it solves.

  11. MasterOfBears*

    The mouse trick is cute! But I think it should be used with the knowledge that there’s a (small, loud) strain of transphobes/gender absolutists who like to push the “they/them is for PLURALS ONLY” under the guise of “lol I’m such a grammar Nazi.”

    This doesn’t mean it’s a bad trick if it works for your brain! Just be aware if you mention it to an nb person it could raise some unpleasant associations.

    1. Ellen N.*

      I am absolutely not transphobic nor gender absolutist, but it sounds weird to me to use a plural word for a singular noun. I’m not the slightest bit “loud” about it.

      By the way, as we’re on the subject of words that make others uncomfortable; the word Nazi should be reserved for Nazis. It makes light of the millions of people who were killed by Nazis to use the word to describe one’s views on grammar.

      1. MasterOfBears*

        I’m definitely not suggesting that its transphobic to not be used to they/them as singular- I apologize if that was how it came across! I just wanted to note that it’s an argument that gets used by people who DO want to invalidate nonbinary pronouns, and that’s context a cis person should have.

        I take your point about the usage of Nazis – I was quoting a phrase I’ve seen tossed around, but I understand why it seems flippant.

      2. Alice*

        ‘They’ has been widely in use as both plural and singular since the 14th century. It was comparatively recently (late 19th century iirc) that some grammars started pushing to replace the singular ‘they’ with ‘he/she’ and using ‘he’ when the gender was indeterminate because ‘masculine pronouns are more worthy than feminine pronouns’.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            And I’ll third it. This is our awkward English solution to the lack of a gender neutral singular pronoun, and it’s not a recent one.

            And I remember being taught to use “he” because women would obviously understand it meant them, it was just that actually referring to them was soooooooooo much work.

            1. Odie*

              English has a gender-neutral singular pronoun: it.

              But it never came into favor for referring to a person.

            2. Veronica*

              I remember my mother talking about the use of “he” to mean “all humans” and how chauvinist it was. This was in the early-mid 70’s and I remember the use of “he” to include me (a girl) did make me feel invisible.

        1. ceiswyn*

          Am I fourthing or fifthing this?
          It amuses me how often grammar ‘pedants’ turn out to be simply wrong :)

        2. Elizabeth West*

          It has been; however, I get where the OP is coming from because many of us were taught NOT to use they as singular. It was drilled into our heads as children.
          I’m not transphobic either, but it took a little time to unlearn that.

          1. Cedrus Libani*

            Yeah, me too. Where I’m from, “they is” is a dialect marker, and it’s an extremely low status dialect. Nice people (read: rich white Southern people) don’t talk that way. I’m not exactly proud of how hard I had to work on this one, but at least I’m 100% sure it had nothing to do with non-binary people.

        3. anon9*

          This is very interesting information!!

          Just as a side note, I always find it funny how everyone is suddenly a grammar whiz when bigotry and/or contrarianism is involved. :)

        4. Lara*

          While that’s true, singular “they” has never been used on as such a wide scale before.

          For example, I’ve been reading fiction that involve a non-binary character (we can call Alex) that uses they. However, simply replacing all references to that character with a “they/them” gets confusing in situations that involve more people. Did Mary hand “them” flyers, with “them” referring to Alex? Or “them” as in Alex and their best friend who are frequently together? Or “them” as in the whole class?

          Ideally, a good writer would write the sentence in a way that leaves the meaning very clear, but lots of people just lazily sub in a “they/them” that leaves readers scratching their heads for the next few sentence until they get enough context to piece together the scene. I really do wish there was another non-numbered gender-neutral pronoun we could use just to eliminate any confusion.

          1. Dahlia*

            That is such a weird argument. You have four characters who use she/her pronouns, Jen, Jo, Jane and Jina. Mary handed “her” the flyers.

            Who is that sentence talking about?

        5. TootsNYC*

          almost every consumer magazine has given up the fight against using “they” and “them” for generic single people. But they do also sitll use verbs to match. Context tells you it’s one person.

      3. Ethyl*

        So how do you refer to someone whose fender you don’t know? Like if you found say, someone’s hat on the ground? Would you say to your friend “I found someone’s hat on the ground, I hope he or she isn’t too cold”? Or would you say “I hope they aren’t too cold”? Because I’ll bet you use the singular they all the time, so you should ask yourself why suddenly it’s weird when it’s about someone specific and their gender identity.

        1. Asenath*

          Because those are two different usages – I heard that point recently, and it really helped me understand the discomfort some people have when they’re used to “they” meaning “unidentified and non-specific person” and now are asked to change that to “they” meaning an individual. There’s something uncomfortable for many people in using a generic term when refer to an individual, and when it’s done, it usually refers to the person’s role, not the person as an individual. It’s almost dehumanizing in the ears of a lot of people, and speech meanings and implications built up over a lifetime are not always easily changed.

          1. Odie*

            Right. There are two different uses, one of them much newer than the other, and the use related to gender identity isn’t just newer; its visibility has increased relatively rapidly and less organically than many shifts in language. Of course it takes some getting used to. And everyone should get used to it as a basic courtesy, but the nonbinary “they” is going to seem conspicuous for a while to some people.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              There are lists online of classic English literature that uses a singular ‘they’–authors from Shakespeare to Austen and beyond. If someone needs a way to get past a strict prescription is training in grammar, that’s an easy place to start: Read good books that use the word you’re pracicing.

              1. Spencer Hastings*

                Those are lists of examples where it’s used as a generic. Odie isn’t wrong that the non-generic use is new.

            2. Massmatt*

              I volunteer for a charity supporting local LGBTQ youth, and have only recently encountered a few people that use “they” for their personal pronoun. It did seem weird at first but like anything you get used to it with time.

              It’s ok to feel uncomfortable with change, especially at first, it’s human nature. Keep in mind how important it is for people (especially those that have been marginalized) to be able to choose how to be referred to and keep making the effort. Soon it becomes the new normal.

              And it will be a new normal; teen and tween youth are abandoning binary gender (and sexuality) in great numbers, as they enter the work force things will change.

      4. Joielle*

        It’s not inherently problematic to not be used to singular they/them, but it IS problematic to not be actively working on getting used to it. Hopefully you’re exposing yourself to singular they/them as much as you can to normalize it for yourself! Eventually it will sound natural to you.

      5. ArtK*

        You use “they” as a singular pronoun and you’re not even aware that you’re doing it.

        X: “Someone broke the stapler.”
        Y: “Oh, what did *they* do?”

    2. MasterOfBears*

      (I just realized this comment double posted – it was intended to be a reply up thread, but I responded to the response down here!)

  12. Snorkmaiden*

    #4 It’s good that you’re working on this. I would have someone read over whatever you write – eg your therapist – just to check that it sounds suitably reflective, objective etc and no frustration has accidentally crept in.

    1. JayNay*

      OP4’s situation sounds a bit confusing. OP4 says they’ve watched videos about the issue and are working with a therapist to adress it as well… that is a strong reaction, and makes me think the complaint was serious enough to warrant such a response.
      In that case, it’s fair that this is on record. If it comes up again (e.g. during a job search or performance review), that’s a moment to mention all the work OP’s been doing to correct their past behavior.

  13. MistOrMister*

    A ban on using the bathroom would bother me as well! Even if legally its ok to do and say, hey you have to go to the McDonalds up the road before whatever time, that really is not going to make thw employees feel good. Someone who has to get up probably at 3 or 4 to get ready for the day and get to the house to get their van by 5 being told that, you now can’t use the bathroom in the house any more because the owner needs their beauty sleep….well, it comes off as kind of a dick move.

    I would love to know if any other employees,are using the bathroom that early. I can’t tell from the letter if they do and are more quiet or if it’s only this one guy who does this. If it’s only the one guy, it is possible that pretty much anyone coming in at 5 am would wake them. Also, given that they’re taking delivery vans, I’m thinking maybe these people tend to wear work boots. Depending on how heavy the footwear is, this guy might NOT be stomping, it might just be that he’s clonking because of the shoes. And then, some people are just heavy walkers no matter what. A runner carpet seems like it would do a lot to motigate the noise. Hadn’t heard of hydraulic doors before, but I assume they’re like my slow-closing toilet lid (that thing is awesome except I forget it’s not the norm so I don’t lower other lids slowly and end up slamming them accidentally. D’oh!) and would be a great suggestion. Hopefully OP will do what they can to mitigate noise or at least provide another bathroom rather than banning access to their before a certain time. Although I will say I would be much less happy with a porta potty. Those things are foul most of the time.

    1. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

      It is the construction industry. No other employees are using the bathroom/house before 9am. He often comes to the office much earlier (several hours) than he needs to because he woke up early. He will sit in the dark in the living room or on the patio outside of the bedroom slider. We have many other employees for whom this is not an issue-the office people never arrive before 9am, the work crews generally don’t come to the office, but go directly to the job site. Some days he will come sit here for a couple of hours (off the clock) before driving to his scheduled job site for the day.

      1. KayDeeAye (a.k.a. Kathleen_A)*

        Then that’s a different problem. You can, with perfect fairness and justice, tell him not to show up early. But if he’s there in a genuine work capacity, he should have access to the employee bathroom.

  14. LGC*

    So…kind of jerk answer to LW2, but…do your other employees close the door loudly and you just notice less because it’s not 5 AM? If that’s the case, you might want to replace the offending door.

    I’m thinking of my office – some of my employees inadvertently slam our office’s door. So do I, as a matter of fact. It’s not intentional most of the time, it’s just a loud door. (We’ve asked for replacements.)

    Disregard if he actually does slam the door much louder than others.

    1. tangerineRose*

      I think someone should close a door more quietly at 5 am than at regular times when people are usually awake – just seems more polite.

      1. LGC*

        I totally agree, but sometimes doors just are…doors. You might try to be careful, but they just do their thing.

        Anyway, I read the update and LW2’s reply here and…I mean, I don’t agree with locking him out of the bathroom at 5 (because – y’know – the law, ethics, so on and so forth), but I totally understand. And I’m reading their reply and I’m wondering if this is a sitcom plot (and if it’s not, it damn well should be).

    2. No Bathroom For You! OP2*

      He is just loud. And it seems the more he tries to be quiet, the louder he becomes. Like trying to tiptoe in work boots, then losing his balance and knocking something off a shelf. We also have a dog. She doesn’t bark when he arrives, but she does get up, and want to be let out of the bedroom to greet him. Then he talks to her. Then he remembers it’s some early hour so he starts whispering apologies, then he bumps into a chair…I don’t think he is being malicious, he’s just a bull in a china shop.

      1. Manchmal*

        Just tell him that he can’t arrive before the appropriate work hour! If he wakes up early, he can sit in his own damn house, or at a McDonald’s or a coffee shop or wherever.

  15. Just Smile*

    I have compared the pronoun thing to having to get used to using someone’s new married name. When a person gets married and changes or hyphenates a surname, there’s a period of time when people say the ‘maiden name’ or previous name instead by mistake, just based on how long they knew that person with the old name. Think about the pronouns like that! When you slip up with the old pronoun, correct yourself, but smile. This way you are showing support for the person’s recent change and being clear that you WANT to do it right. If you look too embarrassed or worried about it, it may also cause your coworker to worry, and you just want your coworker to know you are supportive and doing your best.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yep, I like to use the analogy where my family had a tough time when I told them I preferred to use my middle name. Eventually they got it. They don’t call me by that name anymore.

      One friend flatly refused to do it because it was “too hard to remember.” She also turned out to be a huge transphobe, and we’re not friends anymore. (I’m not trans, but I don’t want to be around that crap; it was just icing on the nope cake.)

      1. Massmatt*

        I’ve heard this excuse before, it always struck me as extremely lame. As in, if you truly cannot remember to call someone William instead of Steve, see a freaking neurologist, something is very wrong.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That’s how I felt about it. It’s not just about trans folks using a different pronoun or preferred name, but the coworker with the ethnic name you don’t want to bother to learn. Or calling me by