addressing feedback from an anonymous survey, coronavirus shaming, and more

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

1. Admin’s exceptionally messy desk

There is an admin in my department whose desk is atrocious. It is covered in not just piles of paper, but trash, food items, and all sorts of miscellaneous junk. This person doesn’t work for me and likely never will, but as an AAM junkie, I’ve been wondering how I would handle something like this if I were her manager. She is a good employee and appears to get her work done. How would you handle this?

In theory, if she’s doing good work and not losing track of stuff because it’s buried under trash, then she should be able to keep her desk however she wants.

But I’d consider three things: (1) If her desk is in a public area, especially a client-facing one, it’s reasonable to say she needs to keep it more presentable. (2) If people need to be able to retrieve files from her desk when she’s out and can’t find them because of the mess, that’s a problem. (3) The optics. Particularly as an admin, it’s important that people trust her to be organized and disciplined about her work. Do people have less confidence in her because she’s working from a trash heap? Ideally they should judge her on her actual work, but the reality is that perceptions matter in an office.

2. Can I address the feedback from an anonymous survey?

My company did an employee survey. It really was anonymous (no names and anything that could be de-anonymizing was scrubbed from the results I can see) but my department is small enough that I have a good idea about who gave each rating and who it was that gave a tiny bit of negative feedback about me. I absolutely don’t want to be that manager who is like “Who did it?! You’re wrong!” but I did want to talk to that person as it was all about giving feedback to me and they were neutral on how much they felt they could disagree with me. So not even negative, just not the higher scores everyone else gave.

I’m not really sure I see any way to be all “I disagree that you can’t disagree with me” without it ending up on the bad managers list at the end of the year, because I fully understand how ridiculous that is. But I’ve always had a pretty open feedback-filled relationship with the members of my team and I just want to make sure everyone knows they really truly can bring things up to me and I’m always going to listen and carefully consider. I won’t always agree and sometimes I will overrule what they think is best, but we’ll always discuss it and I try and talk about why I’m making the decision I am when it’s counter to theirs because I want them to understand the motivation. Sometimes I can’t because it’s just based on knowledge not everyone knows yet, but 99% of the time I can.

Is there a way I could bring it up? Even if it’s in the context of the next whole team talk and we’ll just talk about the overall company scores and I could reiterate that I want people to feel comfortable talking to me, and if they’re not I’d really like them to be. Or should I just let it go?

You’re overreacting to a neutral score. Neutral is neutral; it doesn’t mean this person gave you negative feedback or feels they can’t disagree with you. It would be a huge overreaction to try to address it with them.

What you can do, though, is take it as background information. This person apparently isn’t as strongly positive on you in this area as others on your team are, and so you can think about what might be behind that (which could be something you’ve done, or something they could have misinterpreted, or just their personality — for some people a neutral rating means “all is fine”). You can make a special effort to ensure they know dissent is welcome and (even more importantly) to respond well when they do offer it. (Just do it naturally — you don’t want it to come across as an obvious response to the survey, like “Jane, I know you need special handling.”)

But step back and see that you are making a very big deal about one piece of not particularly bad feedback on an anonymous survey. No manager has a team where every person feels strongly positive about them in all areas. (If their surveys show that, they’re probably not getting totally honest feedback.) The risk of overreacting is that it will signal to people that you are Very Sensitive To Perceived Criticism, and next year’s scores will be less honest.

3. Coronavirus shaming

My sister works for a subsidiary of a large U.S. corporation. Her office is located in about 20 minutes away from the nursing home that is Ground Zero for U.S. Covid-19 infections. She normally works from home two days a week, so telecommuting is possible and accepted. The CEO of her company has followed health department advice and advised all employees via email to work from home if possible if they are in one of the high-risk groups, which my sister is. (Note that other large companies in the area have also issued this direction to their employees, including Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, REI, and many more.) However, her direct supervisor and coworkers, who are all much younger than she, have been shaming her for working at home and videoconferencing while they have gone into the office. Contrary to health department advice, they laugh off any idea that any extra precautions should be taken in the office like cleaning surfaces and phones, avoiding large group gatherings, etc.

With the CEO telling her to stay home but her direct boss persisting in asking her when she will return to the office, what are her rights? How should she handle this? She is very afraid of being infected to the point of tears, she is not trying to take advantage of the situation to work from home.

What on earth is wrong with her coworkers? And her manager?

Any competent HR department would be extremely interested to know that (a) her manager and peers are mocking her for following the company’s instructions — instructions they issued to protect the company from a coronavirus epidemic, and (b) she’s being harassed for being in a high-risk medical group, which opens the company to legal liability. She should tell HR what’s happening, framing it as “I can’t imagine the company wants people undermining the health procedures it has put in place, let alone the legal implications of harassing people for being in high-risk health groups. Can you ensure this stops and clarify the company’s stance to (manager)?”

4. Can employers reject candidates because clients might be biased against them?

Due to the presidential primary campaign, I’ve been having some debates about the “electability” issue, and whether that kind of reasoning would be permissible under a normal hiring situation.

For instance, if a hiring manager were to systematically pass over qualified female candidates, not because he himself thought the female candidates were unable to do the job, but because he believed that the firm’s clients and partners “weren’t ready” for a woman in that position, would the hiring manager be violating employment law? To me it seems like blatant discrimination regardless of the reasoning, but others have argued that “ability to make clients feel comfortable” might be a central part of the job, which, if the client is biased against a certain group, would make it impossible to hire a member of that group. This seems … really gross. But is it illegal?

In an employment context (not an election context), it’s illegal. The law is very clear that an employer cannot decide not to hire women/people of color/Muslims/etc. because they think their clients prefer to work with men/white people/Christians/etc.

The only exceptions to laws against race and gender discrimination in hiring are for what are called “bona fide occupational qualifications,” which are very narrowly defined (for example, churches requiring clergy to be a particular denomination, or a movie only considering people of a particular gender for an acting role) and are not permitted to take into account clients’ perceived (or openly stated) preferences.

5. My employee texts me at 10:45 pm

One of my employees texts me at 10:45 pm. I’m wondering how I can firmly but fairly lay down the boundaries and let her know it’s not okay or respectful of my free time to message so late.

Just tell her not to. I think this feels more complicated to you because in your head you’ve wrapped it up with respect — and maybe because it seems so obviously not okay that it feels like you have to address that part too. But really, you don’t need to get into any of that! It will get much easier when you take those pieces away and just make it about communicating what you do and don’t want her to do.

So, simply tell her not to text you after whatever time you choose. For example: “Please don’t text me after 8 pm — I don’t want to be in work mode at that point unless there’s a serious emergency. Otherwise, if there’s something you need to convey at that hour, please put it in an email and I’ll see it when I’m back at work.” You might add, “The same goes for texting other colleagues too — in general you shouldn’t text anyone here that late at night because people need to be able to disconnect from work.”

{ 802 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Re: question #4 — no politics, please. Comments about specific candidates or political parties will be removed. (Note the question itself isn’t about politics — it’s about whether “our clients prefer people of X gender/race” can be a legal job qualification.)

    1. Maria Lopez*

      Yes. I’ll bet the employee does that OP and doesn’t realize you are hearing text notifications. She probably thinks you won’t pick up the text until the morning. If you know how, you could show her how to compose the text and have it sent at a later time, like the next morning.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        It’s also possible to selectively mute notifications from individuals and I’m sure there are tutorials online for this. I programmed my dad’s work phone to only go off at night if one of the family contacts him, and that makes him feel calmer knowing he wouldn’t miss a family emergency but isn’t bombarded by international work crap.

          1. Carlie*

            Yes – my family all have different brands of “mid-range” phones ($150-300) and none of them have that capability.

            1. Captain Kirk*

              Hmm weird, that’s supposed to be part of Do Not Disturb mode which is in stock Android, although it’s possible certain manufacturers remove it…

      2. Risha*

        This seems like a (unpleasant) cultural shift to me, though something I know from blogs like this has become normalized in the last few to several years. In my mind, still and probably always, email is for stuff that can wait, text expects an immediate response. I’d certainly be pissed at a coworker who decided to send me one about a random thought at 10pm, but fortunately I’ve never had a coworker rude enough to do so. I’ve no idea where the do not disturb setting is on my phone, because I’ve never had to go looking for it.

        (I’m sure having said this, I’ll get a couple dozen responses saying that you’ve always had asynchronistic work conversations over text. I’m going to say right upfront that you’re not going to convince me it’s always been normal and widespread.)

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          At work we use a google hangouts a chat messenger service to communicate with each other. Everyone usually tries to avoid contacting each other during after work hours or on the weekends. But I can mute all notifications from google hangouts, or just mute certain conversations. I always tell people you can message me when ever you want, but I might not necessarily respond right away. Sometimes I see certain messages, but if it is not important I will just ignore it until I am back at work. On occasion if I see something interesting I might send it before I forget, but I don’t expect an immediate response from anyone.

          1. sofar*

            That’s how I am with Slack, too. I mute it nights and weekends and religiously avoid responding to it until I am physically IN the office. This trains people who have no boundaries (because they usually learn that they won’t get when they need from me if the Slack me at off hours). And I also ignore all Slacks in the group channels, because I don’t want MY employees thinking they need to be monitoring these/responding on nights and weekends.

            And, sometimes, if someone goes off the rails and floods a group channel over the weekends and @’s me, I ignore those messages even when I’m back in the office and act like they went into a black hole (if they’re not an emergency). Because sometimes having to sift through 50 Slack messages on a Monday morning is just as bad.

        2. AKchic*

          Yep. IM and text is meant for chatting, which is the same as near-instant communication. Email is meant for “when you next see it”.

          I get people who play the “I get my best ideas at night!” and feel the need to “bounce ideas off of” me between 10pm-1am and yeah, I’m up, but it doesn’t mean I really *want* to have ideas bounced off of me, or collaborate on anything. Especially for unpaid projects. I still have my own paid work in the (very early) morning to go to. This is my unwind time. If it’s not an emergency, the later the message, the harder the side-eye.

          1. Maria Lopez*

            I used to get those “best ideas” at night or other inopportune times, and I started calling myself at work and leaving MYSELF a voicemail so I wouldn’t forget (this predates the internet, but it still applies).

              1. One of the Sarahs*

                I have no idea what happened there – but I send those 2am thoughts to my work email, as it makes so much more sense.

        3. Emily S*

          I agree with you that text is best for things that need a semi-timely response (not as timely as a phone call or instant chat message, but more timely than an email).

          That said, I’m generally in the camp of, “You can try to train other people to do what you want, and constantly be having to train new people who don’t know and retrain people who just aren’t internalizing the training, or you can just accept that people aren’t going to do what you want and invent your own process for dealing with it, because the one person you can count on to reliably do what you want is you.” I have no patience for trying to change other people’s behavior, especially if I know I’m going to get annoyed every time they relapse into the annoying behavior. If there’s something I can do on my end to make what they’re doing less annoying to me, I’m going to go for that option every time.

      3. Alyssa*

        It should not be the onus of the person getting the texts to figure this out. People should text at reasonable hours.

    2. Np*

      I agree with that. I often get texts from coworkers late at night and just don’t reply if it’s not urgent (no one expects a reply anyway — they just text when they remember something and I’m free to reply when I can. Sometimes it’s just to remind me of something).

      If it bothers you that much (or if they are expecting a reply that late, which I agree is inappropriate unless it’s something mega-urgent), just turn off notifications from that person or ask her to schedule texts. I often do that when I remember something at 1am but think it might wake someone up — so I write the text and schedule is for 7am or something :)

      1. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

        Why not email? That seems the perfect medium for this type of communication.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Not everyone has email connected to their phone, I could but I simply choose not to, because I don’t want that direct easy access on my phone in case it gets lost. I can access my email via a mobile web browser, but that takes a lot more work, over just sending a quick text or in my case sending a quick group chat message.

          I consider email to be a more formal request. Many times after work message are not work related, but just FYI’s about various things going on in the city. If they are work related its something more basic or not formal, like “I forgot to shut down my computer can you turn it off for me?”

          1. fhqwhgads*

            In this context choosing email over text if email isn’t on the person’s phone would be a feature not a bug.

            1. Bee*

              But not if you suddenly remembered something at 1AM while trying to fall asleep, and *you* don’t have email on *your* phone.

              1. Anonapots*

                Write it down. Email in the morning. Your memory loss or recovery isn’t enough of a reason for you to text me at 1am.

                1. Mr. Shark*

                  Exactly. Text should be for pretty immediate conversations only. E-mail is for a when-you-check-it during business hours conversation.

                2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  @Mr. Shark and Anonapots

                  I guess I disagree that texts means an immediate conversation, if you need immediate conversation call me.

                  I tend to see any written form of communication as a when you have time kind of situation. I am not always checking my phone for texts and/or notifications. Often when I am working and in the zone I will go a couple hours without checking my phone, sometimes I check it and I realize I have 3/4 new texts messages and/or IM’s. The same when I am home if I am doing something I keep my phone on my but I do not constantly check it, so someone can text me but I might not respond for a couple hours.

                  Colleagues/friends know that if they need my immediate attention the best way to get is, stop by my office or call my on my phone work/cell.

                3. Bee*

                  I was just explaining why a lack of email on your phone wasn’t a “feature” in this instance.

                1. Sparrow*

                  Yep, or I’ll use my personal email (which IS connected to my phone) to send a quick message to my work account, so when I get into the office and am checking emails, that will remind me to follow up on it.

            2. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Like Bee said the issue is on my side not on the other persons side. It is easier for me to send a quick text or IM regarding something minor, when I remember at 7/9pm. I always tell my coworkers feel free to email/text/IM me whenever you want, but if I am off the clock and not at work I will only be checking things when I want. I always put my phone on silent/do not disturb if I don’t want to be bothered. I can mute certain people or even certain conversations.

              I think this issue boils down to two fundamentally different points of view that apply to general social situations not just work.

              -My partner thinks it is rude to message people even friends/family late at night because it might disturb them.

              -I disagree. I don’t think it is rude because technology has progressed far enough that people can put their phones on silent and/or disable notifications if they don’t want to be disturbed.

              In life you can’t control other people you can only control what you do.

              1. Risha*

                I’m not sure the argument that someone has the tools to technologically ignore rude behavior excuses deliberately choosing to be rude, morally speaking. It’s like saying that because Twitter has a block and mute option and an only show tweets from my followers option, it’s okay for trolls to go into anyone’s mentions and say mean things to them. The onus is still on the person to behave well, the tool is just there to minimize the pain of dealing with the remainder.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I would argue that texting late at night is not rude, but rather just slightly annoying/irritating behavior, and trolls saying mean things is worse than rude behavior in the realm of abusive. But even so you can only control others so much, what you can control is what you do.

                  People shouldn’t be trolls and say mean things, but unfortunately being a part of internet commentary in an open communication system means dealing with trolls. Just because people shouldn’t be trolls won’t stop them, so yes individuals should take measures to hide/mute/ignore them.

                  People shouldn’t steal, and I should be able to leave my door open/unlocked. But I know that if I do that I am opening myself up to being robbed. So I will use all the tools/technology at my disposal (deadbolts, cameras, alarms) to keep people out and prevent them from robbing me.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I shouldn’t have to set up my phone to ignore or silence my texts from certain people because they don’t have enough common sense to know that unless it’s an emergency it’s not okay to text a work colleague late at night. If you think you’ll forget something, send YOURSELF an email at work so you remember to mention it in the morning. Now that most people have smartphones, it seems that all common courtesy has gone out the window. Just because you CAN reach me at all hours, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

    3. Jdc*

      Yes. I have a friend who constantly complains about his phone waking him up yet somehow can or comprehend that he can silence it even after being explained and explaining and showing how you can have a list of people who’s calls would get though in case of emergency (he has two teenage daughters). I truly wonder sometimes if people just like to have something to complain about.

      Of course, unless the building is on fire and employee shouldn’t be contacting you that late anyway.

      1. Rayray*

        Agreed. I really don’t get those people. I keep notifications for texts and such on silent at all times anyway, and starting at either 10:00 or 11:00, my phone automatically goes into Do Not Disturb mode. Only my family and roommate are on the list to go through.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          And I don’t get people that find it acceptable. I shouldn’t have t set up my phone for people with no boundaries or common courtesy.

      2. Academic Addie*

        My husband does this, too. He insists that his phone doesn’t have this capability, but it does. I think I might just set it up for him this weekend.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        It’s very reasonable for people to want to be able to leave their phones on and assume people won’t reach out at late hours for unimportant things. There are plenty of emergencies that could come up that would result in someone calling him from unknown numbers! His daughters could have had their phones lost or stolen or something and they have to borrow a phone to call him. Or maybe there’s an accident and the hospital calls him but his phone doesn’t ring because it’s not in the list of contacts to get through. Or something crazy happens and someone he loves ends up in jail and they call him with their one phone call and he doesn’t answer.

        I know I’m getting a little wild there at the end–but it could happen! I do personally keep my phone on silent, but I really hate when people act like that is an obvious solution that works for everyone because there are tons and tons of perfectly valid reasons that people are not comfortable silencing their phones.

        1. Mx*

          +1000
          If people were polite enough to not call/text at unsocial hours for non urgent things, we wouldn’t have to do be on do not disturb!

        2. A Non E. Mouse*

          There are plenty of emergencies that could come up that would result in someone calling him from unknown numbers!

          All of this.

          My father is in long term nursing home care, so I could get a call from multiple not-in-my-contact-list numbers at any time of day if something urgent occurred with him – like if he were transferred to the hospital, or one of the nurses used her cell phone to call me rather than the home’s phones.

          I could also receive valid, shit has hit the fan phone calls about work at all hours of the night, again from unknown numbers.

          My phone has silent settings – but I cannot use them.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. And as this person’s manager, the OP has an interest in ensuring they’re not doing this to other people too. Even if people have their phones silenced, good managers don’t want work intruding into people’s lives late at night.

        4. Robin Sparkles*

          I agree with this. However I have an android and I do know that one option in my do not disturb setting is if someone calls me more than once from any # – it will ring if the same phone number calls me again. Not a solution to wanting to get calls from unknown numbers but just something that I did for peace of mind.

      4. Lynn Marie*

        I think the onus is on the sender not to text late at night. They’re the one who should be doing the figuring out how not to disturb people. If you simply must put your very important thoughts in writing immediately, save it as a draft.

    4. MtnLaurel*

      However, that kind of defeats the purpose if you’re using it for an alarm, as I often do when I travel.

        1. Jdc*

          You can turn your phone off and it’ll turn itself on to make your alarm go off, assuming you have a smartphone.

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          Mine are, sadly. Side effect of having a very low-end smartphone. Now my DND ends an hour before I have to get up.

    5. Goya de la Mancha*

      Meh, this only works if OP doesn’t want contact from her family/friends as well. I know Iphones have an “allow” list for when your phone is on DND, but I don’t know about other phones.

    6. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      I think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the employee to email the manager after hours unless it’s a true emergency. Especially since it’s the manager asking the employee to do this and not the other way around.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        I’m wondering why the manager has expectations that the employee should still be thinking about work at 10:45 pm? Or if there are no managerial expectations, why the employee feels that they can’t switch off outside of normal working hours? There is possibly a mismatch between what the manager is expecting the employee to do (not text at 1045pm, and by extension, not be *working* at 10:45 pm) and what the employee apparently feels the need to do (keep working long after office hours).
        Wouldn’t addressing this expectation mismatch be the first step, rather than going directly to Stop Texting Me Do Not Pass Go

        1. AKchic*

          These are good questions.

          Obviously, there could be valid reasons why an employee is still in “work mode” at 10:45pm (shift work, for example); but theoretically, an employee should not be texting any manager after the manager leaves unless it is I M P O R T A N T.

    7. Mama Bear*

      Agreed. I have my phone on alarms only once I’ve gone to bed. I wouldn’t feel the need to respond at that hour. I’d encourage the employee to use email instead.

    8. TootsNYC*

      The thing is, that’s a lot of work, to remember to turn the sound off, for just one person, etc. Because I would want to get a text from my son at 10:30 p.m.

    9. Anonnington*

      I wish phones let you schedule text messages to be sent out at a later time. Sometimes, I need to text people, but I only have time (or phone reception) late at night or early in the morning. It seems like it would be a pretty easy feature to add.

    10. Elizabeth West*

      I did this because a friend is a couple of hours ahead of me, and she sometimes answers messages from the night before when she gets up. But I’m still asleep then! (Yes, I know I can disable push notifications in that app but I prefer not to.)

      Just make sure you turn it back up in the morning, OP; I forgot to do that a few times.

  2. Rich*

    OP2: I agree with Alison. I also think that responding to it directly (either 1-1 or to the department) has the potential to feel threatening to the anonymity that was promised in the survey. “I’ve read your feedback, and I want to address a particular point”, while looking at everyone in the room can give the impression that you’re fishing for the identity of the respondent.

    Anonymous feedback needs to be two things: It needs to actually be anonymous (which yours is — well done there). It also needs to _feel_ anonymous. Otherwise the fact of anonymity and the candor it’s supposed to promote isn’t possible. Don’t break the perception of anonymity or risk giving the impression that you’re trying to work around it. I see things like that as big red flags regarding employer/manager trust issues.

    1. Artemesia*

      ANY attempt (and no attempt the LW makes in their high dudgeon and fluttering nervousness about the slightest bit of discomfort with this feedback is going to be subtle) at correcting the feedback from this individual (assuming you got it right) will assure everyone who works for you that you are both insecure and not trustworthy. This should be a moment for some serious personal reflection and soul searching especially about what it means to be a competent manager.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In fairness to the OP, I think it’s possible she’s simply overly conscientious* about wanting people to feel comfortable giving her feedback, and in her zeal to ensure that, she’s missing all the reasons why addressing this in any way is a very bad idea. But I don’t think that warrants implying she’s an incompetent manager (for one thing, her letter makes it clear she has a lot of qualms about it already … plus she’s seeking advice, not just plunging in).

        * Overly conscientious people often do this “neutral feedback is bad feedback” thing, which causes them a lot of misplaced angst, and which you just can’t do in this context.

        1. OP2*

          Thank you. I’m pretty cognizant that I could be described as overly conscientious. It’s something I’m both working on and just accepting it’s part of me.

          At the time it was a long stressful day and I saw all the scores and it stuck me as something I wanted to bring up with the team because it’s something we as a whole were working on. Because of culture and personalities and even role (we’re all customer facing and our jobs are basically smoothing things over most of the time), people aren’t always comfortable bringing anything conflicting up because they devalue their own experience. So I was hoping for a way to reiterate that they’re all smart experienced people and the team and company won’t function if they don’t bring things up.

          I had already decided before you replied to my letter to leave it all alone. All I can do is keep modeling behavior and just being the approachable person I am.

          1. old curmudgeon*

            Modeling the open-door welcoming behavior is really the ONLY way you can communicate that you read that response and took it to heart. Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words. Let your actions be your response, and your staff will feel “heard” and respected.

            1. Veronica Mars*

              Yes, exactly. If my boss gave a door-is-always-open speech, I’d be LESS likely to be open with them. The only way to encourage people to be more open is through your actual response to their openness.

              I wonder if you are subconsciously doing something to make people feel like their ideas are not heard. I tend to be a very ‘direct’ communicator, and have had much better success once I started employing “yes, and” and “to Jane’s point” in my lexicon. I also make sure to always circle back with people to explain why I didn’t act on their suggestions. I used to think of those things as “unnecessary niceties” but it turns out they really matter to people.

              1. MtnLaurel*

                Exactly. I was in a similar situation once, in which I gave neutral suggestion of a possible improvement, similar to this . My supervisor brought it up to me one on one, and I never gave candid feedback again. Just keep it as one point of data to consider and move on from there.

              2. Zelda*

                “If my boss gave a door-is-always-open speech, I’d be LESS likely to be open with them. ”

                Extensive experience bears this out– every manager I’ve ever had who did a big song and dance about how their door is always open was straight-up lying. Every manager I’ve ever had who was actually open to ideas other than their own never had to SAY so; they were just in the habit of talking with people like we’re all people here, i.e. with respect and camaraderie, rather than like “Me Boss; you Underling.”

                1. Minocho*

                  Another +1 from me on this. The managers that talk about open door policies have NOT ONCE been open to either feedback or suggestions. I think the most annoying thing is when they then have giant department meetings and ask for feedback, then complain that no one wants to have open discussions.

                2. Kat Em*

                  Yup! One “Thank you so much for telling me that. I know this kind of thing can be hard to share but I really appreciate your bringing it to my attention,” is worth a million “My door is always open” speeches.

              3. TootsNYC*

                I have at times said, “I want to hear from you” and “I want us to be open,” so maybe that worked against me. However, I also actively solicited feedback. “Here’s what I’m thinking of doing and why–do you see any pitfalls?”
                I have to try really hard to not say, “Well, yes, but I want to do it my way anyway,” because of course then why ask and why should they answer.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            “You folks are all smart and experienced people. The team and the company won’t function if we don’t talk about stuff.” Just say this. It’s the truth.

            You can put yourself out there by talking about your own experiences and how you handled them. You can talk about what worked and what did not work and why.
            I am not sure how applicable this is for your setting, but to get the ball rolling maybe you can make up some fake examples of actual recurring situations. With your fake examples, you can show solutions or options to use.

            A looong time ago, in retail setting I had to handle customers whose credit card got rejected. Today no one thinks twice about this. In those days there was a chance the messenger (me) could get a fist in the face. When I trained new hires, I showed them how to handle the rejected credit card situation by retelling the words I used and the approach I used. I found that even the angriest of customers would calm down somewhat. ( This worked well in that time frame.) I was pleased to see that the new hires could handle such a situation without causing further upset AND without getting upset themselves.

            This is one example. I pulled many examples of difficult things that came up and talked about how to handle them. If a trainee had an idea that was better than my idea I would tell them so and tell them to use their idea. It’s eating an elephant one bite at a time, because you are going situation by situation.

            I dunno if you have regular meetings. At some point maybe you can work your way up to getting them to bring their successes and their challenges to the meeting for everyone to talk about as a group.

            Later at a different job, I wanted people to tell me when they had problems. It was like pulling teeth. So I said, “I understand if you don’t really want to ask me and I am okay with that. So just ask each other and help each other.”
            Gradually, things shifted. They DID test me. A few of them asked me relatively benign questions on some smaller points. I made sure to use an explanatory tone and made sure my answers were actually helpful/relevant. It just makes sense that they wanted to see how I would handle the small stuff before they’d bring me bigger stuff.

            It took a while. Gradually their questions got harder. I noticed the shift and I realized they were building a working relationship with me. Some questions were so good, I would tell the person that I was going to talk to the group about this, without using their name, and I would say that I had a really good question and I wanted to share the answer with everyone.

            This took a while to do because of the nature of our work and our setting. I knew I had to be rock solid consistent with them in order to build the cooperative/collaborative environment that I pictured. At the six month mark I noticed the tide was turning. At the nine month mark they were very different from the closed mouth group I had first met. By the one year mark, productivity had at least doubled if not more. I frequently “caught” them asking questions of each other and helping each other. They were bringing me fantastic ideas to help save on labor, reduce mistakes etc. They blew me away.

            My whole story started where yours starts: they were smart, hard working people. Never underestimate the power of YOUR faith in them. Let your faith in them show and role model how to discuss difficult situations in an open manner.

            For my part in all this, when I took the position I was overwhelmed by all. the. problems. I started by handling the problems that would provide some relief from all the stress. I mixed in some of the easy problems and fixed them as we went along. And yeah, there were a few nights that I came home and cried.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I have at times also said, “What I like about Jane’s approach is that she framed it as being a glitch instead of an error.”

              I’ve even said, “I hadn’t thought about that aspect. How do you suggest we incorporate it?” (and not “I’ll have to think about how to incorporate it.”)

              1. TootsNYC*

                I don’t do neutral on store surveys, though, because corporations are assholes about it.

          3. elaniaeltha*

            OP2–I had to double check to make sure you weren’t describing a situation in my company right now, ha! In our case, we have felt extra pressure to give positive scores about leadership so as “not to rock the boat,” and we feel we’re risking an adverse reaction from our direct supervisor by not responding positively. This year, I and several coworkers have decided to band together and risk honesty, and we’re steeling ourselves for a negative response because our team scores will be markedly lower than in years past.

            So, all that’s to say–you sound thoughtful, humble, and conscientious, but addressing it directly may create the opposite of what you’re hoping for and make people nervous that they’re going to be called out or that their jobs are in danger because of honesty on a survey.

            1. elaniaeltha*

              (and, for what it’s worth, we have received the “you can bring me any concerns you have” speech and know it is 100% not true and risky to do so. Your employees will not feel safe to bring you concerns just because you tell them to. They will feel safe to bring you concerns when you respond consistently and thoughtfully to negative feedback.)

          4. AKchic*

            I have given neutral ratings for things because I haven’t personally had to deal with that aspect yet and had no frame of reference to judge the question. I didn’t want to merit the rating one way or the other.

            Did the neutral rating give any details for their neutral, or was it just a neutral with no qualifiers? And really, is there a reason why neutral is inherently “bad”?

            1. OP2*

              Ha! We’re all in customer support, which is the land of neutral is bad (it shouldn’t be, but we’ve all internalized it since that’s what happens with customer feedback unfortunately). So neutral was the lowest score anyone gave on anything and we all defaulted to 5 in general and ticked downward from there.

              But reflecting after my initial (oh no!) on them being open enough to give that (and other!) questions a neutral score is a good thing in that they feel safe enough. So after deep breaths (cause again customer support – we all strive for perfect) it just comes down to being approachable and letting that show.

              And all the extra reality checks in the comments have been great :).

          5. AnnaBananna*

            As someone who is an ex manager, and now evaluates satisfaction through the use of surveying, focus groups, etc, I just wanted to mention that neutral can also be picked when they don’t care one way or another. If it’s a rating scale, it could be considered an N/A since there’s no N/A in a sliding scale like that typically.

            What I would suggest, however, is opening up the results to your full team and having an open dialogue with them (maybe even without you there for the first round) so that you 1) close the loop on the survey, and 2) so they can provide any ideas they may have to fix whatever ‘negative’ score they may have provided. Often times team members have wonderful ideas to fix areas of concern but never speak up. This is a great time to encourage that kind of engagement – a healthy way to reiterate your open door policy by doing it with the whole team. :)

          6. Former prof*

            What struck me is that the OP received feedback about her behavior and her response is to try to change her employees’ behavior. And ironically, the feedback was that someone thought she wasn’t great at receiving feedback and she thought the answer was to tell that person they are wrong. I think Alison is right on in suggesting the OP mentally review past interactions with the person she thinks wrote the feedback – heck with all of her team – to see what could have been better. It’s always more productive to assume that feedback has some legitimacy – it puts control of the situation in your hands since you can decide to change your own behavior to improve how others react.

        2. Allonge*

          Neutral feedback in this context may also just mean that the respondent did not have the occasion to test this / does not remember.

          Or they thought everything else is really good and this one could be a bit improved.

          It is almost certainly not ‘OP2 does this terribly’. And even if it were, addressing it with the individual is the worst possible way of going forward on this, so good on OP2 to have checked that instinct!

              1. Veronica Mars*

                At my car dealership, I had to take a survey where 5 was “above and beyond” and 4 was “Satisfactory”.
                I circled “satisfactory” because, I mean, what is there to go above and beyond about an oil change?

                The service adviser got this horrible panicked look on his face and had to call out the manager to ask if there was anything they could do differently and everyone was Very Concerned.

                I guess, these people live and die by their ratings and I totally blew up that guy’s day. I felt really bad about it, but also was annoyed at the gross overreaction. So now I always err on the side of unnecessarily positive.

                1. Daisy-dog*

                  Customer response surveys are just ridiculous. They just feel that only the “best” can count even though that is more due to the personality of the rater than the actual performance of the employee.

                2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                  Yes, at my work, any neutral rating was considered a fail. We aimed for 9/10 or 10/10, and if you got less you were In Trouble.

                  So I can see OP considering a neutral rating a problem, because it often is.

                3. IEanon*

                  Yes, when my partner worked in a restaurant, they were required to get X number of highly positive (i.e. “above and beyond”) survey results per month. Those that went over got a gift card for $5; those that did not meet the target were at risk of losing shifts on the next schedule. Knowing this, I never mark lower than 5/5 for perfectly acceptable service.

                  It is endlessly annoying to patrons, stressful to employees and useless to management. Why they insist on this BS, I’ll never know…

                4. pentamom*

                  Yes, I’ve been told by someone who works in a customer service position that 5 is the only actually “satisfied” response in the eyes of those who read the surveys. It goes against the grain for me to say I’m “highly satisfied” in a transaction that was done with normal efficiency and courtesy but did not require going beyond in any way, but because that is the standard set, I now give 5’s in situations where an actual person is going to be directly affected by the survey results, unless it’s actively bad and I feel like the person does need discipline or retraining.

                5. Cog in the Machine*

                  If I’m at a place I know requires a certain score, I tend to not do the survey at all. An 8/10 is a good score!

                6. fhqwhgads*

                  Even though car dealerships put those adjectives next to the numbers, in practice, management views it as “you must get all 5s at all times”. They take a 4 as having been knocked down a point for some reason, ie they must’ve done something wrong. So even though it feels silly, unless you want the person who assisted you to get written up, it’s best to do 5s unless you have a specific complaint about the service. Unfortunately a lot of CS surveys treat the answers this way, even though words have meaning and they don’t mean what the managers are interpreting them as.

                7. Environmental Compliance*

                  I actually just had my car in for an oil change, and asked the guy helping me how they rated anything under a 5 from the employee side. After a quick look of pure panic, during which I told him I had heard anything but Perfect got people dinged at certain companies, he told me Corporate did indeed do that.

                  So now I give all 5’s. Above and beyond for an oil change? Well, I can’t say I know what that means, but I had no problems and it all went well, so if I need to pick 5 so that someone doesn’t get negatively impacted by just doing their job, sure. Defeats the entire purpose of that rating system.

                8. TootsNYC*

                  their reaction wasn’t a gross overreaction when you factor in that the CORPORATION regards anything other than a 5 to be MASSIVE FAILURE DESERVING OF REPRIMANDS AND CUTS TO BONUSES.

                  It’s not their fault. And I have “stick it to the man” reactions, so I rate people at the highest every time.

                9. Veronica Mars*

                  I mean, now that I know it matters so much I definitely always rank people a 5!
                  But the situation was so annoying
                  1) because I repeated so very many times to the manager that there was nothing they could improve on, and offered over and over to change my number to a 5 so that it would reflect their given interpretation of 4=bad. But they wouldn’t let me. But they also wouldn’t accept my word over a stupid circled number.
                  2) You know what’s NOT great for customer satisfaction? Making your customer leave feeling incredibly guilty for accidentally harming someone’s livelihood.

                10. Kiwi with laser beams*

                  I’m the same as Cog in the Machine. Some companies are all “We want your feedback!!!!” (at a mass level, not directly to me) but they’ve refused again and again to use that feedback in a remotely constructive manner, so nope.

                11. Caliente*

                  This is so true. If you do your job correctly I’m satisfied and that’s it LOL. This is good. What would make it exceptional? I don’t know, maybe its free? Maybe you sent me to the spa to wait?

                12. Lavender Menace*

                  This is always my dilemma with surveys. I’m the top of person who avoids the extremes in general, saving those for truly excellent service. But I also create and analyze surveys as part of my job, and in SO many corporate environments, anything less than the highest or two highest scores is considered not good and ‘needs improvement’ – even when the scale is 1-10!

                  It means that the full range of the scale becomes meaningless, and a 9 or 10 just means “this met my expectations.”

          1. Daisy-dog*

            Neutral for me means:
            Not applicable
            I don’t know
            I don’t remember
            I don’t have any strong feelings about this
            Meh
            I’m tired of filling out this survey (hopefully not applicable to OP’s situation!)
            I’m actually neutral

            1. Veronica Mars*

              I actually really like that our culture survey has a “N/A / unsure” option.
              In our case, “neutral” actually means “I hate you a lot but am afraid of repercussions if I rate you “unsatisfied” but having that extra option really helps to avoid false-negatives.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I sometimes do neutral if my reaction is, “eh, it’s fine, not a problem but not particularly outstanding either.”

          3. Rectilinear Propagation*

            I came to the comments to say the same thing: the employee may very well have never disagreed with the LW and be truly neutral, not just ‘meh’.

            Ideally there would be separate options to indicate actually being between good and bad and being neutral.

        3. AnotherSarah*

          This makes sense to me. I get rated on 5-point scales every quarter, where 3 is “good.” “Good” sounds pretty bad to me–it’s a 50% on the scale!–but I’ve realized that some people think I’m basically just fine, pretty good in fact, and just check 3s all the way down.

          1. Artemesia*

            No system ever treated ‘3’ as good though. In many situations anything below about a 4.5 average will mean the consultant is not re-hired or the trainer is fired etc etc.

            1. Burned Out Supervisor*

              We have a 1 – 5 rating as well, but a 3 translates to “meets expectations.” This is a good score because it means that you’re doing everything that’s expected of you. I think where people get mad about it is because they either 1) have a completely different opinion about their performance or 2) you didn’t give them any feedback on how to go from a 3 to a 4.

        4. Artemesia*

          Oh I would definitely feel like the OP if I got the same feedback and would over-react and over-think and want to do something. But it is an impulse to be resisted because anything that comes across as suspecting that Jane or Fergus said this and it must be ADDRESSED is going to undermine the manager who does that. It may seem subtle, but it will not be perceived that way. It is an easy trap to fall into.

          1. OP2*

            Yeah for sure. I will admit my full reaction on seeing it was:

            1. Oh no this is horrible. I should talk to them.
            2. (a second later) That’s insane, no I shouldn’t. Just going to move on.
            3. (5 minutes later) Hmm, you know I wonder if ask a manager has ever had a letter on this because I’m curious her response, it would be informative
            4. She hasn’t, I’m going to ask!

            So hopefully the next person having those immediate “okay this is an insane reaction, but I wonder if ask a manger has talked about it” will have an answer :)

        5. Burned Out Supervisor*

          A lot of companies also interpret any answer to a survey question that is less than 5 stars or completely positive as essentially negative and an area to be improved upon. So, people who feel truly neutral about something either have to lie on the survey, or risk hurting their departments engagement scores (if you’re a part of a company that actively works to improve employee engagement).

    2. Sleve McDichael*

      Talking of perceptions, you state that the survey asks how much the employee feels they can disagree with you. Maybe the employee has other reasons that they feel like they can’t disagree with you. Maybe they struggle with disagreements or conflicting opinions just in general and they were looking at the bigger picture when they answered the question. Maybe they feel they can’t disagree with any managment at your company and you just happen to be the person above. You can’t know. So if it seems to be an outlying comment, it’s best to just shrug it off and put that datum on the shelf until you have other data to go with it.

      1. OP2*

        First just let me say, thank you everyone for your feedback here. Really.

        I wrote the letter in a moment of “oh this seems wrong” after a long stressful day.

        And something I didn’t vocalize is this is the exact reason:
        “Maybe they struggle with disagreements or conflicting opinions just in general and they were looking at the bigger picture when they answered the question.”

        Just the nature of my team is that we have a lot of imposter syndrome or just not feeling like they have the right to bring stuff up. And it’s something I’ve tried to offer coaching around because I want everyone to feel like their viewpoints are respected and quite frankly extremely valuable to the company as a whole.

        But I had already decided to shrug it off. If someone isn’t there, they aren’t there. All I can do is keep modeling good feedback myself and trying to be someone they can come to.

        1. valentine*

          It’s worth considering the person might be the one you least suspect and, when an employee disagrees, to think about both their objective and yours. Are they just stating their case for the record, while you’re looking for a silver lining, positive outcome, or common ground? Are you ever happy to agree to disagree?

        2. Sleve McDichael*

          Thank you OP, your response helps me understand the context of your question a bit more. It seems to me as though your initial reaction was ‘Oh, I see how this could be a problem for a person on my team, so I’d better address it’ and then on reflection it became ‘This could actually be a problem for my whole team, thinking of the culture’. That’s actually kind of good. That’s the sort of thing these surveys are intended to make you think about! But what everyone is sort of saying is that there is no need to address it straight away or directly. You can be subtle by doing things like being proactive in thinking about your responses (including tone and body language) or by actively encouraging natural opportunities for discussion such as brainstorming and ideas generation sessions as they arise. And I think you seem to be aware of that too, but maybe it needs to be said out loud so the idea fully forms in your head. Anyway, it seems like you’re keen to take stuff on board from people so I hope you get some good suggestions here!
          (And in the spirit of having discussions, let me know if any of my assumptions are wrong!)

          1. OP2*

            I did get good suggestions!

            I’ve got a post-it note on my monitor now that’s “ask for pitfalls” so I can make sure every single time I’m bringing up a new thing or something, I remember to just ask people “I’m thinking we’ll do x. Can you see any pitfalls?”

        3. hbc*

          If you feel it’s important, I *do* think there are actions you can take, though you’ve rightly taken “insist that they can disagree with me” off the table. For example, the anonymous survey had someone comfortable enough to give you a less than perfect score, so you could try to come up with similar ways to collect opinions. Or maybe figure out ways where low-stakes negative opinions can be floated–like you come up with two possibilities for something and they need to come up with positives and negatives for each to help decide.

          In my experience, it can be a lot of effort, so it depends on whether you really need every member of your team to feel they can disagree with you, or whether it’s enough that you *are* someone they can come to if/when they get over their insecurities.

          1. Veronica Mars*

            I like this suggestion. My team has started using ‘red teaming’ where we try to answer “How can we prove this idea is a failure as fast as possible?” or “Play devils advocate” and it has helped a lot with more reserved members of the group speaking up with concerns.
            Also, specifically asking people what they thing – as long as you aren’t clearly putting them uncomfortably on the spot.

    3. Avasarala*

      Also… OP in responding this way to the question, you are acting out evidence of why they feel this way about you.
      “they were neutral on how much they felt they could disagree with me”–the one time they gave you feedback that was not highly positive, your knee-jerk reaction is to disagree with their score and figure out how you can convince them to change it.

      It’s not even a negative score. It’s a neutral score. How about instead of telling them you always carefully consider their feedback, you show them with your response to this survey?

      1. TimeCat*

        It is also kind of the worst question to try to sniff out like this. You’d be proving their point.

        Let it go, seriously. Maybe do some self reflection. If they’re wrong, fine. But trying to confront them kn them certainly isn’t going to convince them of that, it’d just make it worse.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        That is exactly what I was thinking. Given the OP’s reaction to slightly less than positive feedback, I wonder if they actually are as good at handling disagreement as they believe.

        1. CaVanaMana*

          I wonder if they work at a place where any feedback less than perfection is considered negative and these employee surveys directly impact compensation. That would cause this type of reaction.

          1. Observer*

            That is not good practice, to be sure. But it still doesn’t make this a sensible strategy. And, doing this really would tend to prove to people that it’s true that you can’t really give OP feedback.

    4. Anonapots*

      Seriously. Let me tell you about the time we were tasked with giving our manager feedback and she sat me down and asked, “I was wondering if you could give me your thoughts on this one particular piece of feedback I received.” I was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt and didn’t even wise up when she asked me directly about my feedback. Anyway, she’s an asshole and I will hopefully never run into her ever again in my entire professional career, but sussing out who said what is a shitty thing for managers to do.

    5. TootsNYC*

      and actually–the fact that this manager WANTS to address this not-positive feedback actually indicates that this person might be correct.

      It’s worth thinking about.

      And that’s something that a self-aware manager would want to ACTUALLY correct, in the doing of it, and not in the “managing perceptions and influencing comments” way.

      And the way you do that is by reacting right, in the moment. And by seeking out input and valuing it.
      I told my team (back when I had one at this job) that I wanted there to be open communication, and I wanted them to be able to tell me thing. So one day, one of my folks came to me and said, “You said you wanted this to be open, so I’m going to take a risk and tell you that I wasn’t happy with how you mentioned me in your email about how an error was found. I felt self-conscious for X reason, and also it went to one of the top cheeses, and I don’t always trust her, so…”
      That was my time to prove to him that I meant it. So I thanked him for his feedback, assured him I understood, and talked about how to mitigate it, and pledged to be more careful in future.

      As a consequence, he has come to me to say, “You made X decision, but I think that might be a mistake, and here’s why.” And he was right.

      It’s the kind of thing you can ONLY achieve by PROVING it via DOING it.

    6. DataSci*

      I’d argue that if the recipient can easily de-anonymize the data (like if, say, the data is aggregated by gender and time with the company and there’s only one woman in the department who’s been there for between two and four years) then it is not actually anonymous, and that sounds like the case here. I’ve been in situations like that and did not respond to those surveys honestly, but with bland and generic positives. (Everything was at least Very Good, Excellent if I actually thought it was. Didn’t respond to any of the free-response options.)

    7. Philosophia*

      OP2: If “[your] department is small enough that [you] have a good idea about who gave each rating and who it was that gave . . . feedback,” then the survey is de facto not anonymous.

  3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #3 This county is a ghost town and yet they’re treating your sister like she’s the only one taking precautions. What a bunch of doofuses! We’ve been cleaning the heck out of all shared surfaces. We don’t want people to get sick even though none of us are in a high risk group.

    She should let HR know. I’ll personally verbally eat their faces. But only with 6 feet of space and a Lysol can aimed right at them of course. I’m sorry she’s being ridiculed over something the majority are taking seriously.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Lol your second to last sentence made me laugh because my manager today almost did spray himself in the mouth with Lysol and he accidentally took a bath in hand sanitizer during our conference call (I work from home, but apparently all of the conference rooms at our headquarters are packed with multiple cans of disinfectant spray, bottles of sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and dozens of tissue boxes). He said they’ve been spraying down every room in the building thoroughly, especially the meeting areas, to the point where the chemical stench lingers in your nostrils for hours after you’ve left – and they’re not even in a state with confirmed cases (yet)!

      A lot of people aren’t playing around anymore.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        He has hand sanitizer?! He better remember that is precious as gold right now and not waste it!!

        But seriously even our CEO was cleaning. We canceled all uncritical meetings. We can’t all work from home, so we do the least we can. We’ve made jokes while doing it but seriously just lightening a really dark mood over the entire region right now.

        Costco is out of TP and paper towels ffs!

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          I saw that, and stores in my city are now limiting the number of cleaning supplies and sanitizer any one shopper can purchase at a time (I just buy from multiple different stores on different days and have my orders delivered to my apartment, lol). And I keep telling people – you don’t need hand sanitizer, you can make your own. Get 91% rubbing alcohol, a spray bottle, and some aloe vera gel (for moisture – I skip that part personally), and you’re set.

            1. Threeve*

              Everclear will work, it’s basically rubbing alcohol without the nasty taste added.

              1. Zelda*

                NO.

                Rubbing alcohol is a *different substance*. It is isopropyl alcohol, and the smell is NOT a “nasty taste added,” it’s the actual smell of isopropyl alcohol. Everclear is “grain” alcohol, or ethyl alcohol, which is consumable by humans (with all of the effects that we love and hate).

                You’re right that both alcohols will work as disinfectants, but no one should get the idea that rubbing alcohol is in any way consumable.

                1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

                  I’m fairly certain Threeve was joking about isopropyl alcohol’s “taste”, but a good reminder nevertheless

                2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

                  Not to derail, but I can “taste” hand sanitizer. The scent is so strong to me that I get a (false) sensation on my tongue when I or someone next to me uses it. It leaves a nasty “taste” in my mouth.

                3. A Poster Has No Name*

                  I’m guessing Threeve was mistaking isopropanol with denatured alcohol. Denatured alcohol is mostly ethanol with some isopropanol added. Denatured alcohol is what is in commercial hand sanitizers, but I haven’t seen it sold in places like Target, etc.

                4. Threeve*

                  Well. Yes. Nobody should drink rubbing alcohol, ever.

                  But pedantry: it is true that rubbing alcohol is regulated in the US to not just contain isopropyl alcohol but also chemicals that make it horrible-tasting and vomit-inducing, because there is a long history of people trying to drink the pure stuff if it isn’t altered.

                  People should mostly not be drinking everclear, either.

                5. Richard Hershberger*

                  Ripper: Mandrake?
                  Mandrake: Yes, Jack?
                  Ripper: Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?
                  Mandrake: Well, I can’t say I have, Jack.
                  Ripper: Vodka, that’s what they drink, isn’t it? Never water?
                  Mandrake: Well, I-I believe that’s what they drink, Jack, yes.
                  Ripper: On no account will a Commie ever drink water, and not without good reason.
                  Mandrake: Oh, eh, yes. I, uhm, can’t quite see what you’re getting at, Jack.
                  Ripper: Water, that’s what I’m getting at, water. Mandrake, water is the source of all life. Seven-tenths of this Earth’s surface is water. Why, do you realize that 70 percent of you is water?
                  Mandrake: Good Lord!
                  Ripper: And as human beings, you and I need fresh, pure water to replenish our precious bodily fluids.
                  Mandrake: Yes. (he begins to chuckle nervously)
                  Ripper: Are you beginning to understand?
                  Mandrake: Yes. (more laughter)
                  Ripper: Mandrake. Mandrake, have you never wondered why I drink only distilled water, or rainwater, and only pure-grain alcohol?
                  Mandrake: Well, it did occur to me, Jack, yes.
                  Ripper: Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation. Fluoridation of water?
                  Mandrake: Uh? Yes, I-I have heard of that, Jack, yes. Yes.
                  Ripper: Well, do you know what it is?
                  Mandrake: No, no I don’t know what it is, no.
                  Ripper: Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to face?

              2. Burned Out Supervisor*

                “Everclear will work, it’s basically rubbing alcohol without the nasty taste added.”
                Fun fact, real Everclear that is 190 proof isn’t sold in every state and, in fact, is banned for sale in many states (some states you require a permit that states it’s for industrial use). You can buy “everclear” in Minnesota and 10 other states, but it’s only 151-proof (about 75% alcohol). Californians will have to drive to Arizona. Washington residents can probably get it in Idaho or Oregon.

                1. whingedrinking*

                  I’ve used the 95% stuff to make tinctures and extracts (my hobby is mixology and I like to play around with making my own bitters). That proof isn’t legal anywhere in Canada, so I asked my roommate’s American girlfriend, who lives in Seattle, if she could bring me some the next time she was up. I asked what I owed her and she said twenty bucks would cover it, which astonished me. She also gave me a very strange look as she handed over this bottle with “WARNING: FLAMMABLE” and “DO NOT DRINK NEAT” written on the label.

                2. Burned Out Supervisor*

                  My friend made homemade Limoncello and had to drive to Wisconsin for it (Wisco’s only about a 45 minute drive from us).

                3. Curmudgeon in California*

                  My state is one of those (California), and the previous state where I buy it banned it also (Nevada).

                  This actually makes me angry, because high proof alcohol is great for edible tinctures and extractions. The lower proof stuff has too much water. But no, the prohibitionists have to rain on my parade.

                  “Everclear” is California is 120 proof, which is 60% alcohol. To be effective, hand sanitizer needs to be a minimum of 60% alcohol. So technically, you could buy lower proof Everclear, as long as it’s 120 proof or greater, and use it straight as hand sanitizer. Personally, I would mix in a bit of 91% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and a little aloe vera, being careful to do the math.

          1. Librarian1*

            Also, washing your hands is super effective. All you really need is soap (and water)

            1. TrainerGirl*

              My coworkers gave me the stink-eye on Tuesday for saying that I didn’t use hand sanitizer, just washed my hands thoroughly. I think people underestimate that hand washing is effective.

          1. Chinookwind*

            That just makes me think “even Supernatual has a GIF for that” (it involves Chuck telling a past Dean to hoard toilet paper)

              1. AKchic*

                Yes, yes they do. And Chuck *is* god, therefore god was right to warn us about stocking up on the toilet paper.

        2. Just delurking to say...*

          The other night in my city, a truck carrying tp and paper towels caught fire. It was all over the headlines with news outlets reporting the fireys had saved half the “precious load”. (Cue much hilarity in the office; the tp situation is becoming a running joke here.)

          1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

            I hear they were cleaning skid marks off the gateway till the early hours!

            Meanwhile, in Big W…

        3. Trachea Aurelia Belaroth*

          Everyone should remember that hand sanitizer is not more effective than washing your hands, and that hand sanitizer at less than 60% alcohol is ineffective. If you are washing your hands, you don’t need hand sanitizer, and if you are using hand sanitizer you still need to be washing your hands.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            hand sanitizer at less than 60% alcohol is ineffective.

            Yup, which is why I switched to pure rubbing alcohol years ago – I use it when I’m out and about and can’t get to a restroom to wash my hands (then thoroughly wash them when I get home). I haven’t gotten an actual cold in years.

            1. Mockingjay*

              I keep rubbing alcohol in small 2 oz spray bottles and keep in purse and at desk. At work, I spray phones, keyboards, mouse. I can disinfect anywhere.

            2. Jubjub Bird*

              *puts biologist hat on*

              Just a heads up to check the percentages of the rubbing alcohol you use! The rubbing alcohol solutions you find in drugstores come in a range of concentrations, and paradoxically, 100% alcohol needs to be diluted somewhat in order to be effective at disinfecting (because alcohol evaporates ridiculously fast, and you want it to stick around long enough to actually do something). Ideally you want between 70-80% alcohol (with the remainder being water) – in microbiology labs, 70% ethanol is used to sterilize practically everything. So if the “pure rubbing alcohol” you’re buying is already at that concentration, great! Otherwise, you want to dilute it a bit for it to actually work.

              (Not directed at you specifically! Just a general PSA, because I certainly didn’t know this before I started working in a virology lab.)

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Yes. If you want to add aloe vera to your homemade hand sanitizer, you need to use the higher 95% percent, otherwise the 70% straight will work fine.

                When I worked in a lab we cleaned a lot of stuff with IPA. Of course, we also had an autoclave, too.

          2. Ethyl*

            The 60% alcohol thing is crucial to remember too if anyone is considering DIYing hand sanitizer with something like vodka (probably don’t tbh). A lot of vodkas are only 40% alcohol.

            1. AKchic*

              Okay, but if I’ve been drinking the vodka, I don’t worry about the illnesses. Even if I am sick.

            1. DataSci*

              Back when I used to go car camping without access to running water, we’d refer to hand sanitizer as producing “clean dirt”. Your hands would still be grimy, but the germs would at least be dead. So yeah, it’s better than nothing, but no substitute for actual hand-washing when you can do the latter.

              1. PVR*

                For sure. We’ve been hit hard with the flu here and I’ve been hand sanitizing when I am out and about but the first thing I do when I walk in the door is wash my hands. Then I put away any groceries or goods and then I wash my hands again. So far (knock on wood)—no flu.

        4. Liz*

          I just ordered tp from Amazon. BUT because i just need it, not because I’m a TP hoarder. I’m also lazy

      2. Bluesboy*

        I’m having issues with the chemical stench – not major ones, but the strong smell makes me start coughing hard, and you can imagine when you are in an effected zone and start coughing the second you walk into the office, your colleagues start giving you funny looks and wondering what you might have caught…

        1. Lily in NYC*

          For some unknown reason, I have a visceral reaction to the scent of the lysol wipes we keep in the office. It makes me gag. I solved it by buying lavender scented ones and asked my dept to use those instead. At least it doesn’t make me cough; I’m sorry your officemates think you might be Typhoid Mary (or Manny).

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Whereas the lavender ones would start me coughing, I’m allergic to fragrances and lavender essential oil.

            I end up coughing in meetings because of people’s perfume and after shave. :(

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          I have the same problem – I made myself cough up a lung last night when I sprayed my floors with Lysol and then Swiffer mopped them. The stuff is rank (I purchased the lemon scent), but it’s highly effective, so I just wheeze and bear it.

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            If you’re mopping with Lysol, you can buy the liquid kind and dilute it in a bucket of water, assuming you don’t have hardwoods, that is.

            It smells much less nasty.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Yeah, I used to use liquid disinfectant to clean my floors, but I don’t have an actual mop and bucket, just my Swiffer, so I started using their antibacterial floor spray. Of course, I ran out of that one and only have their regular floor spray on hand and my spray can of Lysol, so I worked with what I had. (And honestly, I’ll probably just switch to bleach anyway – I don’t mind that smell.)

              1. Sally*

                I don’t know what’s in Lysol or the floor spray, but don’t accidentally mix bleach and ammonia!

                1. Ms. Green Jeans*

                  Oh man, I almost did that when I was a kid, but my mom walked in and stopped me. I just wanted to clean the house for her. She was grateful but totally flipped when she saw I was about to pour one bottle into the other.

              2. I'm just here for the cats*

                I just have a swiffer too. What I’ve done is dilute the lysol floor cleaner by mixing it with water in a spray bottle. I just spray the floor and swiffer using a dry mop pad.

              3. whingedrinking*

                Antibacterial cleaning products may contribute to antibiotic resistance and aren’t shown to be more effective at preventing disease (including in hand soaps). If you’re determined to disinfect, bleach is more effective anyway.

        3. RussianInTexas*

          Oh god, last year I had a month-long bronchitis (not at all infectious, happened after a bout of bad allergies than progressed in to the sinus infection), but with annoying cough. My office-mate would spray Lysol every other time I coughed. Which irritated my throat more and made me cough more.
          Walked in to a Walgreens last week and whatever cleaner they used made me cough for 5 minutes straight. Caught a few side eye glances.

        4. I'm just here for the cats*

          Have you tried the scented hand sanitizers from Bath and Bodyworks and other places? They have a range of smells that I find mask the chemical smell from the alcohol.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Those set me off the moment I open them. Artificial fragrances are a nasty allergen.

        5. Liz*

          That’s me and my year round allergies, post nasal drip from said allergies and asthma. i cough and sneeze on a daily basis, and while i am not sick, and not contagious, i probably sound like i have the plague. I also am sensitive to many smells, esp. chemical, whcih make me cough like crazy.

          1. TrainerGirl*

            In a team meeting on Wednesday, when the message was put out to stay home if you’re sick or feel ill, someone reminded everyone that in some areas, allergy season is upon us and folks will be sneezing and blowing their noses but are not contagious. I can’t imagine what things are going to be like when the pollen really gets going.

      3. it's me*

        We’ve hired someone whose entire job is to go around wiping down surfaces all day with hospital-grade disinfectant.

      4. Quill*

        I have a combination of seasonal allergies starting early and a very typical-for-me cold and I’ve been playing more or less dead in a pile of disinfectant to avoid becoming the office’s curse of the mummy type cryptid.

        Also, my boss personally thanked me for working from home Wednesday, which was probably the day I was most able to spread the cold due to sneezing.

      5. Pennalynn Lott*

        One of my managers literally just [accidentally] squirted hand sanitizer on his face and neck as I was reading your comment. We keep it on top of a filing cabinet and he decided to dispense it from up there.

        Oh well, at least his head is safe from coronavirus! :-D

      6. MerelyMe*

        I was just kicked out of my chair, at my desk, so the chair arms could be disinfected.

      1. Mid*

        Yes please! My office has several high risk people, I’m currently home sick, and we just had our first confirmed case in my state.

      2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Yes! Here in Europe we have some issues with companies trying to stay open as long as possible even with confirmed Corona cases in employees (there’s not the same type of CDC tracking over here).

      3. TheOtherMother*

        Yes. It’s constantly changing, sometimes hour to your. Four of my eight hours today were spent in meetings putting together plans of how to move forward. This very well could be a long term issue or die down during the summer only to ramp back up come fall.

        For #3, both the state and county have declared a State of Emergency with much emphasis placed on vulnerable groups staying home and or working from home. Your sister has the backing on two different levels. Her office culture sounds toxic and currently unsafe. That will all change when one them or a close family member becomes ill.

        1. EPLawyer*

          The direct manager is ignoring a direct order from the CEO. How is that not insubordination? OP3’s sister needs to tell HR immediately. Also, depending on her relationship, she may want to tell her direct manager’s boss too. Grandboss needs to know that one manager thinks they know more than the CEO about what the company should be doing.

          1. A Poster Has No Name*

            Right? I think OP’s manager is an early “bad boss of the year” candidate. Ridiculous on so many level.s

          2. Clisby*

            That was my reaction. I’d be tempted to respond to my manager with something like: “I’m following the guidelines required by CEO. I’ll be happy to check with her about your objections if you like.”

        2. kstours1*

          OP3 here. Thanks, TheOtherMother. I’m afraid you’re right. If it hits close to home for any of these people they’ll see things much differently, sadly.

      4. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Yes, and beyond just the immediate health/infection control issues I’d really like to hear how others are finding the impact of it on business and the strain it’s placing on established work relationships too.

        1. Rainy*

          I had a colleague in another part of my organization MOCK ME for not shaking hands with him this week at an event.

          This man has never touched my flesh with his. I don’t shake hands. But for some reason he felt like it was an awesome idea to make fun of me for not shaking hands…now that we have an epidemic illness on our, as it were, hands.

          Like, how does this make sense? I’m still angry. And I’m still not shaking hands!

          1. kstours1*

            That makes me furious, and it makes me wonder what other risky behaviors that individual engages in. How sad that some people get a thrill out of things like that.

      5. Bazinga*

        Good idea. It would be interesting to see how other companies are handling it. Also, for those of us who work in healthcare, we can share what we’re being told by our Infectious Disease docs.

          1. Dogwood*

            I’d love to see our fearless leader have a few guest columnists or interview some folks who work in the area.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Funny, one of my friends who’s an infections disease doctor was very adamant that this was “NBD, you’re paranoid for worrying.”

          I have a hunch he’s going to be proved wrong very shortly, his city’s just started popping community-acquired cases. Though obviously I hope not because I don’t want people to die.

          1. Befuddled*

            I’m in Seattle, and unfortunately there’s a lot of ageism going on in the response. Since most of the fatalities so far have been older people, many think the that the precautions don’t apply to them or worse, joke about how it’s only the old folk dying. I’ve even heard comments about how social security won’t be a problem anymore. It truly makes me worry about humanity.

            1. Kyrielle*

              Oh, that’s *horrifying*.

              Statistically, everyone in our house will survive if we get it, though I don’t want a flu-level misery even if it brings no risk of death at all.

              There are coworkers who are in the vulnerable groups (probably more than I know, but at least a couple I know), we have much-loved relatives who are in the vulnerable groups, and I’m really hoping all the “safer” people around them *take the darned precautions* because what can make my household miserable, can be a disaster for them.

              I am doing for my community and coworkers what I want everyone to be doing for my vulnerable family and friends: trying to slow this thing down.

      6. Retail not Retail*

        Yes! I’m surprised my workplace has to do anything so I’d love to hear from other outdoor workers.

        (Side note – i’ve been dealing with some sinus/sneezing issues about a week and a half or so. I’m off Monday so if I still feel this way you bet I’m going to the doctor!)

        1. whyamihere*

          you should call your doctor first before going in – or at least that is the advice in my area.

        2. Eukomos*

          You may already know this, but coronavirus doesn’t usually cause sinus and nasal issues, just a cough. Allergy season is also kicking up already out west, so if you’ve got any tendency towards hay fever and you’re out here I’d try an antihistamine before making an appointment.

      7. Thankful for AAM*

        Yes to the Monday thread on Clovis-19.

        And is there some way to share a favorites resources list like CDC info, a video from a disease expert, etc. I have a great link to which songs have a 20 second chorus to help with hand washing for example. But I know links are hard to share.

        Having said that, some media are overhyping this to some degree; is there a way to use the Monday thread to help us all feel less stressed about it? I dont mean to imply this is not serious at all, just that there is a good and safe space between mocking coworkers and outright panic that I see in some articles and I want to avoid a panic fest.

            1. Third or Nothing!*

              I was fighting a panic attack. Need to tell my brain to stop catastrophizing. It’s so easy to do with PPA. * sigh *

              1. Arielle*

                Ugh, solidarity. My kid is five months old today and I was feeling mostly recovered from PPA (therapy FTW!) but this week has me in a spiral.

                1. Third or Nothing!*

                  My therapist told me to write down everything I think could possibly go wrong and create a plan for it. This helps get the thoughts out of my head and provide some distance. And creating a plan helps me see if it’s really something I should be concerned about, something I can actually do anything about, or if it’s just the anxiety lying to me.

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          As someone who struggles with postpartum anxiety, I could really use some neutral info right now!

        2. Dancing Otter*

          My daughter (theatre techie) recommends Lady MadBeth’s soliloquy while Washington your hands. It strikes just the right attitude, she says.
          That’s the one that includes, “Out, out, dam’d spot!”, so very appropriate.

          1. Dancing Otter*

            I guess auto-correct must be superstitious, and didn’t want me to spell the name of the Scottish play. The character is Lady MACBETH, of course, but since she does go mad, perhaps a felicitous misspelling?

            1. Quill*

              The Scottish Autocorrect.

              (Also, as someone whose first high school play was ‘cursed’ this way ,with illness even, I find this hilarious.)

              (three people dropped out, one person caught mono, the dog peed on the stage, the tree I made out of a lighting pole and chicken wire paper mache went on to break a saw because LITERALLY NOBODY the year after I left remembered it had metal in it, the orchestra pit flooded but that’s what you expect if you build the school auditorium on a swamp… etc.)

          2. Majnoona*

            I’ve read – wash your hand like you just cut jalapeno peppers and are about to put in your contact lenses

        3. BTDT*

          Any virus that causes a large country to shut down vast cities for a few weeks to control it isn’t over-hyped. The current mortality rate is over 3% and about 18% of those who get this virus require hospitalization. It’s a big deal.

          1. Eukomos*

            Though 3% is certainly higher than the real mortality rate, since we know there are a ton of undiagnosed mild cases out there and probably far fewer deaths linked to the disease that we’re unaware of.

            1. Pennalynn Lott*

              Yep, the latest figure is 1.4%, but even that doesn’t include all of the undiagnosed cases.

          2. whingedrinking*

            The CDC estimates that roughly 6000 Americans die every year from the flu; so far they figure coronavirus is probably worse in relative terms, but in absolute terms the flu has already done way more damage just this year. Obviously this is a big deal for vulnerable populations and we should do our best to protect them, but pretty much every precaution you can take for coronavirus are things we should ideally already be doing to prevent the spread of disease in general.

            1. kstours1*

              Yes, I had looked up the flu deaths for this 2019/2020 season in Washington State and it was 76 so far. It’s good for perspective.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          Someone on Twitter said the chorus to “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” was 20 seconds. I replied “Perfect; I can get it stuck in everyone else’s head at the same time” and got over 140 likes, lol.

          I also decided I’m going to just do a Vulcan salute at interviews. No touchy.

      8. old curmudgeon*

        Another vote for “Yes, please” here – one thing I am particularly interested in is how (or if) state unemployment agencies are preparing for potential mass layoffs as a result of supply-chain disruptions.

        1. Befuddled*

          People are already being laid off in service industries. Especially where people gather: restaurants, caterers, movies, small storefronts. Oddly enough Starbuck drive thrus are going strong so far.

          1. old curmudgeon*

            Unquestionably true. Hasn’t happened in my state yet, but there hasn’t yet been an outbreak in my state, either. I have no doubt in the slightest that that’s happening in the states that have been hit hard.

            Most state unemployment agencies can handle a certain increase in claim volume reasonably well without ramping up staff. My concern is what will happen if/when the manufacturing sector starts doing mass layoffs; a single factory closing down can put hundreds out of work and into the unemployment benefit system. In a state that has a lot of factories, that means either the unemployment agencies need to be ramping up staff NOW, or the folks trying to get benefits so they can pay their rent, feed their kids, etc., will face unconscionable delays in getting their claims processed.

            The people who are most likely to be impacted are those who simply have no alternative resources. There was a story in the WaPo today that said anyone who’s getting a refund on their income taxes this year (apparently the average is over a $3K refund) should save it as a hedge against job/income insecurity resulting from covid-19. I don’t generally see fear-mongering hyperbole in the WaPo, so if even they are raising an alarm about it, it is definitely a concern for me.

      9. Dogwood*

        Can we also talk about good old regular influenza and how to deal with that as well? It’s actually far worse out here than people realize and is getting no press.

        A local nurse just told me that Three people in my rural southern county died recently from flu. One was a youngish (under 50) man who had basically stated all these coronavirus precautions were for weaklings. He didn’t take time off and didn’t think his flu was that bad. By the time he agreed to go to the hospital, it was too late to save him.

        No I’m not joking. I wish I was.

        The death toll from flu this year in our state is staggeringly high. And no one is talking about it.

        Also, Allison, if it’s possible, could you maybe find an expert as a guest columnist to talk about precautions and reasonable fear v. Paranoia. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.

        1. Dogwood*

          I just checked. Flu deaths are up 65% this year.

          4,800 people have died from flu. Almost 90,000 have been hospitalized.

          In contrast, US deaths for coronavirus: 14.

          1. LQ*

            This is what bothers me so much. People are panicking over something that is impacting a tiny population but no one cares about the regular flu which is killing thousands and so many more are sick. People ignore the vaccine routinely which I know isn’t 100% but people are throwing themselves onto antibacterial products (what?!) over something that is, I’m sorry but tiny compared to the annual flu. Yes, it’s novel. But why don’t people call for every single person to self quarantine every winter?

            1. Nita*

              I guess it’s because there’s a vaccination for the flu. It’s not 100% effective, but many vulnerable people can get it and be at least somewhat protected. This stuff – there’s really nothing the vulnerable can do, other than hope they don’t get sick. And then there’s the fact that many people are not really at risk of serious harm from coronavirus, but chances are that someone close to them is. I’d just wash my hands and not feel anxious, if it wasn’t for the fact that I have people with health issues in my immediate family, and many older co-workers.

              Also the factor of the unknown. Many of us have had the flu at some point. We know what it looks like. This stuff is so new no one is quite sure even what symptoms to watch for, or when exactly people become contagious.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                All of this, plus the reports of how people who have died from coronavirus being tested and showing that they had severe lung damage that appeared to be irreversible doesn’t help. I’ve never had the flu in my life so I could be wrong here, but I don’t think most people who get that have irreversible damage to their internal organs, do they?

                1. learnedthehardway*

                  It depends on the severity of whatever illness they had. The current coronavirus seems particularly bad for causing lung damage, but anyone with pneumonia from any source can have lung damage. I know someone who has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) as a result of having chronic pneumonia for over a year. It developed simply because they had a cold/flu that got in their lungs and then they developed a secondary infection (a pneumonia) that they couldn’t shake. Over time, the pneumonia caused scarring in their lungs and now they have COPD.

                  What doesn’t kill you sets you up for the next thing to do so.

                2. Jean*

                  Many of the people who died from COVID-19 had pre-existing lung damage, which can make it much more likely to kill you. And yes, the flu can absolutely cause permanent lung damage in some patients, especially people 55 and older.

              2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                The issue with coronavirus vs. flu, is that something like 10-15% of people who catch coronavirus require care in the ICU and a ventilator.

                We simply do not have enough ICU beds and ventilators to care for 10% of 70% of the population. There will be care shortages, and people will die, if a region is hit hard.

                1. Diahann Carroll*

                  Also this. Seriously – I’m sick to death of the flu comparisons. It is not the same thing or even close. But yes, people should be concerned about both (I get flu shots every year).

                2. Clisby*

                  Well … we really don’t know that, because we don’t have widespread enough testing. By that I mean, we don’t have a good handle on how many people have coronavirus but have never even been tested, so we can’t know what percentage of people with the disease need to be in ICU – or die, for that matter.

            2. Bee*

              In part, too, this is because we’re trying to contain the coronavirus so it doesn’t become a normal part of flu season every year. If we can keep it from gaining a foothold (like SARS and swine flu), we won’t have to worry about it next year. That’s the point of the quarantining: stop it from spreading so it dies out.

              1. Artemesia*

                too late for that. Pretty clearly not contained. We are supposed to travel to Paris for two months on April 1 and of course travel insurance doesn’t cover the huge loss if we don’t. So looking at how ill prepared the US is to deal, my calculus will be ‘am I better off getting this in France or the US.’ Not clear which it is.

                1. JM60*

                  It’s well past containment, but mitigation efforts can go a long way to keeping the infections in the hundreds of thousands rather than the tens of millions. Also, the virus is already mutating, with there being at least 2 stains – L and S. The more people get the virus now, the higher likelihood that more strains will appear, and the less likely the vaccines that will be available next year will be able to eradicate it.

            3. TiffIf*

              The Covid-19 to all appearances so far has a much higher mortality rate than the seasonal flu–seasonal flu kills on average 0.1% of the infected–right now the Covid-19 estimated mortality rate is above 3%. That percentage may change as we get a clearer picture of how many people may have the Covid-19 but not be diagnosed or only have minor symptoms and therefore not eek treatment.

              From John’s Hopkins:
              The COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly. Since this disease is caused by a new virus, people do not have immunity to it, and a vaccine may be many months away. Doctors and scientists are working on estimating the mortality rate of COVID-19, but at present, it is thought to be higher than that of most strains of the flu.

              We’re still learning about how it is transmitted. Evidence currently is that it is not as easily transmitted as the seasonal flu, but we still don’t know a lot about how contagious it is. There’s not a lot of good information yet on how long it can survive on surfaces or how well it is transmitted by droplets in the air. These unknowns aren’t something you want to wait to find out on–it makes more sense to over clean.

              We’re also still at the beginning of this thing–if we can prevent it from becoming endemic by taking precautions then that is a win–otherwise it may become part of our seasonal flu pattern and make those numbers you cited even higher every year.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                +1000000

                That is an enormous difference in mortality rate. I’m so tired of the “flu is the same/worse” line being spread by our current head-in-the-sand political administration and by way too many people online who should know better.

                1. JM60*

                  And I think a lot of people are missing the point when they point out the flu currently has a higher death count. It has a higher death count because it’s so endemic, and we want to avoid COVID-19 from becoming as endemic! The flu kills tens of thousands of Americans each year, while COVID-19 could kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year of it becomes as common as the flu. I’d rather take steps now to prevent that.

              2. biobotb*

                That percentage WILL change–the real percentage is guaranteed to be lower because the number you cite has been calculated without being able to factor in all the mild and undetected cases. Also the overall case fatality rate totally overestimates the danger of SARS-CoV-2 to people under 50, and underestimates it for older people.

            4. Curmudgeon in California*

              The flu has a vaccine, although it may not cover all strains. It also has a shorter incubation period. The coronavirus has no vaccine yet, and people can be infectious for up to 14 days (two weeks) before showing symptoms.

              Community spread of the coronavirus is potentially more dangerous, especially to vulnerable populations, like those over 50, immunocompromised, or already sick with the flu.

              I’m 58. I get a flu shot every year, plus got the first of two pneumonia vaccines. If I get coronavirus, I would a) end up infecting my wife and roomies, all who are also part of the at-risk population, b) probably get pneumonia, and c) might die, which would destroy my household financially – I’m the primary breadwinner, the others are underemployed or on disability.

              I don’t feel that taking extra precautions is unreasonable. I like breathing, and pneumonia sucks.

            5. Eukomos*

              It’s tiny SO FAR, because the outbreak has only just started in most places. The fatality rate is probably somewhere in the range of five to twenty times that of the normal flu, and hospitals don’t really have the capacity to help that many people at once, which would again increase the death rate. And harm everyone else who needs help from the overstuffed hospitals.

              This isn’t Spanish flu where healthy young people are going to start dropping dead in their tracks in huge numbers, but it’s a very serious threat to older people and those with pre-existing health conditions, significantly beyond the level of normal flu. We need to take serious precautions, if not for ourselves then for our parents and grandparents and friends with histories of lung problems.

        2. Veronica Mars*

          Yes!
          I’m working from home because we just got back from a destination vacation and my husband is sick with chest symptoms. Plus my cubicle-mate cares for elderly parents.
          Yesterday husband got confirmation that its not-coronavirus. But it kind of made me pause.

          My boss, who LOVES coming to work sick (even though we have great work from home / PTO options) and has already given me one cold this year, was absolutely insistent on me not coming in until we’re both past the contagious period.
          Yesterday husband went to get meds at the drug store and got treated like a total leper (he has lost his voice so its obvious he’s sick).

          Imagine if we treated all humans who decide to go out in public while sick, the same way we treat them during a Coronavirus threat? Imagine how much less sickness there’d be in the world?? I just really love how its become no longer a socially acceptable thing, and I hope the trend outlasts Coronavirus.

          1. Quill*

            In order for the trend to last, we’ve gotta start mandating that businesses provide adequate paid sick leave. The flu vaccine is great but people are at risk from the flu every year due to people, especially ones with hourly jobs, having to chose between going to work sick, and potentially losing their job and access that they might have to health care (via insurance or money) by not going.

            1. Veronica Mars*

              That’s definitely a real issue and I 100% agree. My husband is hourly and staying home was a tough decision for him.

              That said, there’s also a lot of people who absolutely 100% could afford to stay home, who have great sick leave and WFH policies, who still choose to go to work when sick. Its a huge part of the culture at my job and it makes me so angry. Everyone thinks its a badge of honor to be “too important for sick days” and thinks its a “weakness” to stay home sick.
              Another example: last month I was getting my hair cut next to a woman complaining about how sick she was. Like, really, your hair cut is more important than avoiding the spread of disease?

              We have to enable people to take paid time off, yes, but we also have to make it culturally unacceptable to be out in public while sick.

              1. Quill*

                Forcing companies to give people sick time is the first step towards making a culture where you can actually use it, but yeah.

                The other thing is going to be making sure people have enough stability in terms of time/money that they don’t have to be out spreading germs on their sick day in order to get the work of living done.

            2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

              Heck, in some jobs I had, I’d be happy for unpaid sick coverage, rather than having to drag myself in because there was literally no one available to do my job in my absence.

            3. Elizabeth West*

              Yep. Totally. It makes no difference if you can’t stay home to avoid spreading it.

          2. 'Tis Me*

            Not loving the reports of people who “look” Chinese being harassed and assaulted because it’s clearly their fault… I know that attitude comes from a minority of people but it’s still horrible and unacceptable.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Yeah, that’s absolutely horrible. There’s a vocal minority of people in America who really do just seem to be taking any opportunity possible to be racist.

            2. Veronica Mars*

              Yeah, I mean, thats not at all the same as trying to avoid people who are actively coughing up a line. Thats just being racist/xenophobic.

            3. whingedrinking*

              Oh lord, this. I live in a place with a very large population of Asian descent and it’s frankly embarrassing (not to mention enraging) how people who should know better have reacted. I highly doubt that anyone you’re likely to meet on the streets in my city had anything to do with formulating the Chinese government’s public health policies.

            4. Elizabeth West*

              I hate this most of all. Everyone, please stand up for people if it’s safe for you to do so.

          3. KoiFeeder*

            I don’t know about that, personally. I have a chronic illness. I “look sick” because, well, I am sick. But I’m not gonna pass it to anyone, and I’d like not to be treated like a leper because my body wants me dead.

            1. Veronica Mars*

              True, that’s a good point. I get that a lot during allergy season.
              I guess I’d settle for people at my company not literally bragging about how sick they are from their desk next to mine.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Oh, for sure. That’s a whole ‘nother bed of worms, and they can lie in it when people start treating them like contagion hazards.

          4. Librarian1*

            This sounds awful, honestly. Sometimes people have to go out while they’re sick because they don’t have any else who can go shopping for them. Lots of people can have symptoms of a contagious illness, but not actually have a contagious (allergies anyone?)

            1. Spencer Hastings*

              Yeah. I live alone, and I’m going to have to go to the grocery store etc. even if I’m sick.

        3. MtnLaurel*

          +1 for the request for an expert on prevention and what to do…in affected as well as unaffected areas.

        4. Pennalynn Lott*

          80,000 Americans died of the flu in the 2017-2018 winter. Why wasn’t everyone freaked out and hoarding toilet paper then?

          1. JM60*

            Because people have become use to it.

            COVID-19 is very good at spreading, and may have the potential to become as widespread as the flu, and it’s estimated death rate is ~30 times that of the flu. I’d rather take steps now to slow down the virus, increasing the likelihood that next year’s vaccine could eradicate out before it mutates too much.

          2. ...*

            Because the death rate is tens of times higher than the flu. So it could kill 30x that amount. Which is huge, and we want to stop it so NO ONE has to die. Why are people against preventing illness?

          3. Megster*

            We’re accustomed to the flu. We know what to expect. There’s a vaccination for the flu. In contrast, no human immune system has ever encountered this coronavirus before.

        5. Alexandra Lynch*

          I had a friend die like that in her early forties. She worked home health care, and of course in that sort of job you don’t have paid sick days. So she kept going to work sick. Then one night, she collapsed, was in the ICU two days, and dead the next.

      10. Antilles*

        Yes.
        In fact, I was actually planning about posting one during today’s Open Thread because there’s currently a fascinating difference between how my company is handling it (office smells like a Lysol manufacturing plant) and how my wife’s company is handling it (everything is fine meme) and I wanted to get a feel as to where the spectrum lies. But if you’re going to make a post thread about it, I’ll hold off.

      11. Sylvan*

        Sure. It’s probably on all of our minds, and an open thread would give us a place to talk about it so it doesn’t dominate other threads.

      12. kstours1*

        OP3 here. Thank you, Alison, for your response about coronavirus shaming. That’s great advice and I’ll pass it on to my sister. She’s really been doubting herself and her position and I know this will reassure her that she’s not wrong to feel the way she does. Thank you!

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          She’s absolutely not wrong, her coworkers and manager are insane! You mention they’re younger, perhaps they’re afflicted with the feeling of youthful immortality??

          I’m in Pierce county which is directly adjacent to King County and a TON of people who live here work in the Seattle area, so it’s only a matter of time before we get our first known cases. I’m pregnant and work for a university so I’m considering whether it’s time for me to wfh full time too :/ Your sister is wise and doing the right thing, not only to preserve her own health but anyone else she might come into contact with who could be vulnerable to the virus.

          1. kstours1*

            Thank you, TBLCS. I agree. One person taking unnecessary risks can endanger so many people.

        2. emmelemm*

          She’s absolutely not wrong, especially if she’s in a high risk group. I’m really healthy overall – if I get corona virus, I won’t die. But I have a friend who is very seriously immuno-compromised, and she could very much *actually* die.

          1. Megster*

            Being healthy is very much a good thing, and stats show you won’t die, but it might not be easy or fun…the first patient in Italy was a 38 year old runner who spent weeks in ICU with respiratory failure.

      13. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes, definitely. I’m hearing from some of our patients (here in Seattle) about bosses who may have been exposed but are refusing to stop coming into work, or who are requiring a doctor’s note to allow high-risk people to work from home, and all kinds of ridiculous things.

        There seems to be a significant subset of grown-up versions of “that teenager who wears shorts all winter“ we have decided that the CDC and government officials are overreacting and they’ll be just fine.

      14. Temperance*

        I would love that. I’m a pretty hardcore germaphobe, and I’m curious to see how other orgs are responding.

      15. I'm A Little Teapot*

        That would be funny. There’s tons of companies cancelling travel, telling people to work from home, etc. And then there’s my company. Not a peep. Well, there was a peep. They regurgitated the CDC’s posting for employers.

        And I booked travel this week for next week. For work. That isn’t essential, believe me. I’m waiting for them to wake up, realize that they should cancel travel, and do so just in time to spare me having to go anywhere. Out of my hands.

      16. Anne Elliot*

        I would be interested to know how many employers are doing what my employer is doing thus far, which is absolutely nothing. I am in a state with more than one confirmed case but without an identifiable outbreak.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            UPDATE: They just sent out an email outlining some risk management precautions. We’re being told to limit business travel to necessity and to use online methods to conduct business whenever possible.

      17. Yuan Zai*

        Yes. I’m very interested in hearing how other offices in the area are operating right now and I think this could be good “be prepared” information for areas that aren’t currently affected but potentially could be.

      18. Autumnheart*

        Yes.
        Right now, I’m apparently the team Doom and Gloom person because I’ve been taking the situation way more seriously than my coworkers. (No cases in my state yet, but I would be surprised if that were still true on Monday.) I’d like a perspective adjustment, so I can get a handle on feeling like I should be standing on a corner holding a cardboard sign.

      19. TrainerGirl*

        Yes, that would be great! My company just suspended all non-essential travel, but we’re in the DMV and there have been been 3 cases diagnosed in MD. I have a feeling that we could move to a WFH situation for some or all very soon. I will say…they are not dragging their feet on this one.

    2. Admiral Thrawn Is Still Blue*

      My company is very concerned. We’ve been getting emails about taking precautions, both personally and also mad cleaning. They’ve ordered quantities of cleaning wipes, etc, to put out for us to use for door handles and other surfaces. Doubtful work from home will be an option for us in customer service, but all signs point to them taking it seriously.

      Her manager and co-workers are just stupid. This is a time to be cautious but not panicking. It’s not a time for being arrogantly dismissive. If it hits their area, this virus will not care they don’t take it seriously.

    3. HoHumDrum*

      My question is, are the younger people making fun of her allowed to work from home as well?

      I work in an institution that serves the public and I’ll admit I feel a certain type of way about seeing all the office folks freak out about corona and y’all about staying home, while the frontline workers are expected to still come in and do not receive the same number of benefits. I can’t do my job from home, and I only have 3 paid sick days, so I am very concerned about what would happen if I fell ill, and as far as I can tell the answer is I would just have to choose between exposing people to a dangerous virus or not making rent that month.

      Our healthcare and our worker’s rights in this country are a travesty, and because we aren’t doing anything about it we’re all going to suffer. You know your grocery store clerks and your food service workers are going to expected to just come in no matter what, or they’ll have to risk getting fired and losing their access to healthcare. A lot of this could be prevented if our country wasn’t so determined to punish the poor.

      That all said, obviously her younger employees should not be mocking her and of course it’s very likely they’re all just jerks. I’m just providing context because I know at my company I’ve been feeling really salty about the influx of “Don’t come in if you’re sick!” emails that provide no help or protection to those of us who aren’t at the top of the food chain.

      1. HarperC*

        That is definitely a huge problem. It’s easy for a company to say “stay home if you are sick” while not providing paid sick leave. Missing pay even for a couple of days can be disastrous for people, and like you said, it can mean being terminated and losing all access to healthcare, if they even get that through their employer. Every time something major happens, I think it will “wake people up” and yet … here we are.

        1. Paid sick days for all, please!*

          Yes—this is exactly what’s on my mind. Can this disease please be the catalyst for mandatory paid sick days in the US? Something like: If your company has >50 employees, you are required to pay for, let’s say, 4 paid sick days per year (8 hour days). That won’t stop the spread of coronavirus, but it will at least acknowledge that the reason people aren’t staying home is because they will get FIRED (at worst) or just not paid (at best) for taking a sick day. I’m looking at YOU, Congress.

      2. Dogwood*

        I just had a conversation yesterday about how several of us are avoiding the fast food places b/c we know that the staff are forced to work sick. That’s how norovirus spread so badly a few years ago.

        Of course, we are all more worried about regular old flu (which is in my location) and not Covid-19 (not here yet – that we know of).

        I don’t get how a society can be so stupid as to be ok with having sick foodservice workers who can’t help but spread diseases b/c they have to work to eat and pay rent.

        Not having a social safety net means the working poor work sick. That means people get infected. That means people die.

        Why is it so hard for people to understand that forcing people to work sick creates a risk of harm to everyone?

        1. Nonny Maus*

          ‘Society’ is okay with it because we are a capitalism rife with modern Robber Barons and dealing with a systemic history of disenfranchising those who could make a difference. Basically if you’re not rich and/or white, you don’t matter. I also blame strains of certain branches of a big religion in this country, mostly for the idea of “Well I’m rich and therefore blessed and must be a GOOD person” while if you’re not, you must be bad/evil/sinful.

          I’m a temp office worker now (trying to stay in office work too) but have more than a decade of food service and retail experience and lemme tell you. Legally, and if you have a ‘good’ manager they’ll do all they can to support this–officially we’re told ‘stay home’ (and taught the 5 symptoms that mean we should). Practically though, considering people (bosses and public) expect us to stay open and operate as normal, you’re given shite for calling out. Especially if you’re already running a skeleton crew b/c of a need for ‘profits’.

          (No, I’m not salty at all, why do you ask? I just wish I had an actual solution that would help. Mostly b/c I know ‘not shopping/eating out’ is not a realistic response.)

          1. Quill*

            Saaame, Maus. Same.

            I’m running headlong into giving up lab work for office work permanently because I’m just… never going to have a job with paid sick time if companies keep deciding that they can have skeleton crews that they lay off at the end of the fiscal year to look better and then rehire if I stay in the lab.

            I’m paid pretty well for contractors but I’d still be in trouble if I caught the regular seasonal flu, which I wouldn’t be at high risk of anything but misery from. And in the meantime I’m not getting younger, healthier, or more secure in my job.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Yep.
            I can remember going to work after being super sick (I think it was bronchitis) and coughing for DAYS while making sandwiches. I had no choice. Sorry if anyone back then got sick.

      3. Turtlewings*

        HEAR HEAR! I cannot agree hard enough with this sentiment. When you’ve got, say, a single mother working two waitressing jobs who had to pay for a blown tire last week, she’s not missing work no matter how bad she feels. Maybe she “should,” in the larger ethical sense, but she’s not going to and imo, no one gets to judge her who isn’t helping her pay her rent. We’ve created a system that disincentivizes all sensible don’t-spread-disease measures so heavily that it’s just a matter of time before there’s a deadly epidemic (not just the fear of one, which is our current situation, but the reality), and it’s terrifying.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Even food service here is taking precautions and we’re a state with mandatory paid sick leave and paid medical leave.

        Other states I’m willing to hear you out but not Washington and certainly not King County. Please understand we’re a very progressive state in that way.

        We’re in a state of emergency and have quarantine locations popping up.

        1. Veronica Mars*

          I’d love to hear Alison talk with policy makers on Monday’s threads about what emergency precautions companies could offer.

          I mean, I know restaurants etc are not going to let the bottom-of-food-chain people have more PTO permanently. But here’s hoping that its a bad enough for business right now to make sick people come to work, that they’ll grant temporary PTO policies.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            The drop in everyone out means they’re cutting hours regardless. I’m curious to see if that kind of hour drop would fall under unemployment benefits. Now I’m gonna go down a rabbit hole there. If your hours are cut temporarily to a certain point you are typically eligible.

      5. Autumnheart*

        And then! As if that weren’t bad enough, a great many people who *do* have sick time or PTO won’t have nearly enough of it to accommodate the kind of isolation we need, especially since we’re coming off of the holidays and flu season, when tons of people take time off.

        AND THEN you get to consider how virtually all of us, even if we have decent PTO and make a decent living, are one medical emergency away from financial disaster. What the hell happens if you use all your PTO, wind up on a ventilator, and come out of the hospital with a $70,000 bill?

        It’s basically like a row of healthcare dominos poised to get knocked over.

    4. Phony Genius*

      I see a bigger issue here. The employees feel comfortable with making fun of somebody for doing what the CEO says. To me, it looks like the CEO does not have firm control of this company. If they had control, this behavior would not happen in the first place. At least not with as many participants. If I was on the board of this company and heard this story, I would start looking for a new CEO who the employees will respect. This is an upper management problem whose effects are being felt by the employees on the bottom.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It could be such a large company they don’t know or ever meet executives. It’s Seattle, not everyone knows the executives. And good luck removing Satya Nadella over this kind of thing, you know?

      2. Veronica Mars*

        Honestly my first guess was that the CEO didn’t really mean it. He just wanted to have some statement out there about “I *told* them to stay home!” to cover his butt. But everyone else knew it would be a bad look for them to stay home, and therefor didn’t.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah, that’s what I think about any executive who makes a statement like that which doesn’t include a very generous sick leave policy that applies to absolutely everyone at the company. Just hypocritical CYA.

      3. TootsNYC*

        he also can’t have control over this if no one tells him it’s happening.

        I often feel that people like the OP’s friend have an OBLIGATION to send this information up the org chart.

    5. Mama Bear*

      Government agencies are also allowing liberal telework for folks who are at greater risk. I agree that she should let HR know/let HR clarify to everybody what the corporate policy is. Their behavior is ridiculous if there’s policy allowing her to protect herself and the approval has come down from the CEO.

    6. S*

      Greetings from Kirkland, WA, the epicenter of the coronavirus. (On maternity leave, but would be exclusively working from home at this point if I wasn’t.) The derisive under-reaction of OP #3’s sister’s work is in large part why my family and I are mostly staying home.

    7. Anonapots*

      People across the country are watching to see what happens with a major pop culture event happening next weekend in that county. I’m in the next big city south of you and our building brought in people to spray the entire place down with disinfectant. I hope the OP’s sister loops in HR and I would love to hear an update.

      1. TGIF*

        I still can’t believe ECCC hasn’t been cancelled with the amount of guests that pulled out and everyone asking for refunds.

      2. TiffIf*

        They’re holding off on making a decision until May, lat I read, but the Olympics might be cancelled.

    8. I'm just here for the cats*

      I just read this after finding out that the nearest women’s bathroom is out of soap! YIKES!

    9. Quiet Liberal*

      Our company sent out a three-page email about Coronavirus, today. Besides the usual instructions on how to avoid exposure, our health insurance is allowing early refills on prescriptions so we will have enough on hand and free testing if our dr. suspects we have the virus. Employer will give us paid time off if we have to self-quarantine. I live in a super conservative state. Co-workers were making fun of all this “silly preparation” because of how it’s presented in the conservative media around here. Super annoying, but I sincerely hope no one in one of their families is affected.

  4. MJ*

    #3.
    “What on earth is wrong with her coworkers? And her manager?”

    This! We live in Hong Kong, and both our employers are allowing people who are able to do their work from home to do so. Even the government required its employees to work from home for a few weeks (back in offices now).

    We don’t wear masks, unless required to to enter a building, but neither of us would dream of mocking the millions of people here wearing masks. People are doing what they feel is right for them to protect themselves and their family. And your sister is doing just that.

    I hope she follows Alison’s advice because what they are doing is essentially bullying.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Good companies in Seattle are telling EVERYONE who is capable of doing their job from home to do so for the moment — not because they, personally, might or might not be at high risk, but in compliance with the city’s instructions to avoid (if reasonably possible) gathering in groups of more than ten people. That this company is only allowing high-risk candidates to work from home isn’t going far enough… it only makes it much more likely that their company will be part of the problem that allows this thing to spread faster and farther. And the way they’re behaving about routine precautions certainly doesn’t help!

      1. many bells down*

        Yeah nearly all of my friends are working from home for the foreseeable future. My husband’s office shut down for two weeks today. I’m at a tiny nonprofit so I’m still going in, but many of the events we normally host are canceled.

      2. Just stoppin' by to chat*

        I work for one of those good companies in the Seattle-area, and working from home as we speak!

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They are checking temperatures before letting people in the front door of many medical facilities in many areas! It’s not some kind of hoax ffs!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        When I started PT a few weeks ago, we just walked back to the room. This week the therapist stopped and gave each of us a dose of hand sanitizer. (And she squirted me the correct amount.)

        That’s a medical practice, so it doesn’t close and knows lots of people in the vicinity are immuno-compromised in some way. Out in the rest of the world, just because you can’t see that someone has cancer, or lives with someone who does, doesn’t mean that they don’t.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          This. One of my roomies does cleaning and shopping for an immunocompromised person with COPD. We tell if it’s been a good or bad month by how many days he spends in the hospital. If I get sick, she can’t go help him once a week.

          My wife is ten years older than me. If I get sick, she will, and either or both of us could die. I don’t know if I could cope with her dying because I insisted on going in to the office when I can work from home.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        Yeah especially after we’ve had some patients fibbing about their symptoms, we have guards at the door to make sure no one comes in who needs to either go somewhere else to be tested or to come in with a mask. (Of course we’re also rationing masks since healthy people are snatching them.)

      3. KoiFeeder*

        Well, that’s not what me and my constant 99.8º temperature wanted to hear. I’m probably gonna have a hard time whenever I go back to follow up on my surgery…

      4. biobotb*

        Screening people for respiratory symptoms is standard practice for many medical facilities during any flu season, so this shouldn’t be a new practice for them.

    3. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      I remember even ten years after SARS we still had to check the temperature of every single grade school pupil that walked onto our campus in HK every morning and besides common surface disinfectant three times a day, the whole school was essentially washed down every night. They can’t afford to screw around in such close confines.

    4. kstours1*

      This is OP3. Thank you, MJ, for your comments. You’re right–it is bullying. I can’t imagine what it must be like in HK right now. I hope you and your family stay safe!

  5. nnn*

    #2: You could also consider communicating upstream to whoever’s in charge of the survey that they need to adjust the way they do the survey or the way they share feedback, because you can tell who gave what feedback in your department, and therefore the anonymous survey is not working as intended.

    (There’s a technical term for the way they need to adjust the survey, but I’m blanking on it. Maybe someone else who’s reading this will know the correct term to express this concept.)

    1. Sleve McDichael*

      It’s not actually anonymous if you get given people’s individual rankings for things. It’s very bad practice. The manager should only get a report saying ‘This is the average rank and std. dev. of the rankings you recieved for this criterion’, and if the department is small maybe not even that much. Because if you get everyone’s rankings and you know that it’s just Fergus who thinks he can’t disagree with management because of past trauma from his previous job then it’s going to be pretty darn obvious that Fergus gave you that score.

      1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        I’ve never believed those employee surveys were truly anonymous. Each survey has an identification number on it. So while your name isn’t on it, they can probably find out who has that id number or whose computer that id number survey came from or the email that I’d number is associated with, etc.

        1. Sleve McDichael*

          In my part of the world, I’ve only ever seen these surveys run by big consulting firms who were very professional about it. The company only ever received statistics, never the raw data. I have great doubts about companies going DIY or using cheap consultants. Doing statistics right is hard.

    2. OP2*

      Agreed. I’d already brought it up to management that even with them removing the obvious identifying information I could still figure some people out just based on their ratings matching exactly conversations we’d had. They’ll be changing the surveys going forward.

    3. BadWolf*

      We have to have a minimum number of people fill out the survey for it to be given to the manager.

      But you can include comments. And I discovered the hard way that the comments are given to the manager verbatim. So if your writing style sounds like you…there are you. I stopped providing typed comments.

      1. JessB*

        I get this, too. I write just how I talk most of the time, and I tend to give a lot of feedback, so the longest comment from our team is probably mine!
        I’m glad that various people above me were so open about this, because I changed my writing style for comments on issues that I truly wanted to be anonymous, and I was a lot more vocal in conversations where people were guessing who wrote which comment- pointing out that if people wanted us to know who wrote what, it wouldn’t be marketed as an anonymous survey!

  6. Mockingjay*

    #2, You didn’t get a top mark for one small thing. Instead of accepting the feedback, you are investigating to find out which employee did it.

    Put your focus on creating a team environment that empowers employees to do their work well and rewards them for doing so. Those things matter to an employee far more than a (likely meaningless) survey that provides no tangible result for them. Company score? Who cares? Bonus for exceeding production schedule? Now that’s motivation for your staff.

    1. Viette*

      Yeah, definitely this. This isn’t even a criticism, just not a high score, and the OP is focusing on it excessively hard for the situation. The way to make sure that people know they can approach you is to self-reflect and maintain approachability, not tell everyone you’re approachable in response to a single neutral rating on a supposed-to-be-anonymous survey.

    2. university minion*

      What’s the company culture like in this regard? I worked at one huge company many of you have probably interacted with and they treated anything less than the highest possible rating as problematic. So, neutral was, in effect, the same as unfavorable. OP2, if your company has that sort of attitude, please realize that’s a them problem, not a you problem.

      1. Lizzy May*

        I’ve seen this all the time in companies as well. Anything but the top box (or two boxes) was bad and that’s just a silly way to score people. Neutral can mean so many things including just not having an opinion or experience with the topic of the question.

        1. Antilles*

          I’m pretty sure that’s every single company that does surveys. Even if the categories are titled stuff like “Terrible, Poor, Acceptable, Good, Outstanding” or there’s directions that say “rate on a scale from 1-10 where 5 is average”, the company will internally expect you to get all Outstanding 10/10 values…and punish people who don’t. Our company doesn’t just want to have good customer service, we strive for excellence at all times!
          Which is weird if you think about it, because in most cases, customer outcomes are a lot more binary – you either solved my problem in a reasonable time frame or you didn’t. If you did, I’m perfectly happy and will come back; if you didn’t, I’ll be calling back or using a competitor next time. It’s often not even quite clear what exactly “Outstanding” looks like in the context of these sorts of things.
          …But of course, since it’s the accepted system and nothing you can do will change it, the only alternative is to just spam 10/10 Outstanding and roll your eyes at the flawed metric.

      2. BostonKate*

        This is my company. I read this letter and completely got where OP2 was coming from. I would be required to address it to show to the team that I’m working on improving. If we don’t respond to the survey feedback (generally in a team meeting), then that’s a bad thing.

        1. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

          It’s the type of feedback that can only be effectively incoroperated through action, not just an “Not true!”

  7. Zeldalaw*

    For OP #3, there could be an age discrimination issue as well, depending on the ages of everyone involved, in addition to the health status issue. If I’m reading it correctly, it sounds like the OP’s sister is higher risk because of her age and I believe all of those groups are north of 40. Since the coworkers and manager are seemingly not in the higher risk group, it’s likely they’re all under 40 (not that they need to be in order for age to be an issue, but it helps make the argument). That could be an issue as well, in addition to Alison’s wonderful-as-always advice.

    And OP, your sister’s coworkers are terrible and her manager is worse!! I’m so sorry she is seemingly stuck in the position of having to decide between her job and her health!!

    1. Tau*

      I wouldn’t assume age – you’re also at risk if you have pre-existing conditions or are immunocompromised. But that may fall under disability discrimination! In any case it is a terrible look for a boss to criticize someone *in a high risk group* for taking precautions.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I’m struggling to think of a high risk factor that isn’t also a protected characteristic, which tells us how egregious it is to tease someone for falling into that group.

        1. Autumnheart*

          It could be as simple as someone who just got over the flu. If you already have compromised lungs and immunity because you’re getting over something else, that makes you a bigger target.

        2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          The only one I can think of is “works in a medical facility, including nursing homes”–and if they discriminated against people on that basis, they would have no staff.

    2. Anon Anon Anon*

      Young people can be disabled/immunocompromised too……. and some disabilities mean higher risks with illness

      1. Anon Anon Anon*

        Ack I responded without double checking the original question — I see now it says that everyone is younger than her. My response is about the overall idea but not really relevant to the question. Sorry!

    3. kstours1*

      OP3 here. Thank you, Zeldalaw, for your input. Yes, my sister is in her 60s and others are much younger.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        As someone who is 58, I understand the problem. I am in the high risk group, so is my wife and all of my roomies (age, diabetes, multiple occurrences of pneumonia, etc.) I am lucky in that I can WFH, and my boss will allow it, even though he’s going to come in. (I think he has kids at home that are noisy/distracting.)

  8. OneWomansOpinion*

    I hate to sound rude or sarcastic, but I’m a little puzzled as to why you posted #4. It doesn’t seem like a remotely serious question (obviously elections are nothing like hiring, obviously voters and pundits can legally discriminate based on gender and employers can’t) so the only serious conversation that it could generate is…political.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The question isn’t about politics; the question is whether employers can reject women for a job if they think their clients would be more comfortable working with a man. It’s asking whether you can use “ability to make clients feel comfortable” as a qualification if what your client are comfortable with are men.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        It also cycles back to the question this week about whether a nominally secular organisation can or should use overtly religious language and events to appeal to religious clients.

      2. Project Manager*

        Related question, I was attending a resumes & interviews for internal positions training at my company, and many of their interview tips boiled down to “don’t be neuroatypical” (make eye contact, don’t speak in a monotone, show exactly the right amount of confidence, etc.). On the one hand, it seems unfair for people to lose out on work for that kind of thing, but on the other, the kinds of positions I’m applying for at this stage of my career genuinely do require good speaking skills, particularly in intimidating situations (large groups, presenting to a high ranking person [who is known to ask very tough questions, I might add], etc.). So, if someone can’t handle an interview, which is generally a friendly environment (at least here), smoothly, they probably can’t handle being grilled by the top boss either. But it seems to me the end result of using an interview as the measure for that is that you’d definitely be less likely to select someone neuroatypical for these positions. Where is the line between genuine job requirement and discrimination in that case?

        1. Anon for This*

          My son is high-functioning autistic. He would have a lot of trouble in the one-on-one interview (though he has been working on this for years and is much better.) However, he recently did a stand-up comedy routine for a school talent show. He is much better in public speaking than in a smaller setting. So it really depends on whether a person has the qualifications for the job. One-on-one sales? Not for him. Motivational speaking? He could do that.

          1. Carlie*

            Oh yes. One-on-one conversations and public speaking are totally different skill sets. Any job that involves talking to groups should have a planned group presentation as part of the interview.

          2. Project Manager*

            My son is too (and I’d probably have had the same diagnosis had we known as much about autism 30 years ago as we do now), which is why I was thinking about it. He definitely shines in public speaking, but I’m not sure how he would do in an interview. (Although our interviews here are pretty much always panel interviews. For me at least, they feel more like public speaking, which I enjoy.)

        2. the Viking Diva*

          thanks for this comment, Project Manager. It’s useful to think about the extent to which we equate “good” speaking skills with neurotypical affect. I am hiring for a project manager role right now, and this is a timely reminder that – while I do want the person to have good communication skills – some of the organizational skills that are crucial to the role might well be strengths of a neuroatypical person. Thinking now about how we can account for that in a process that is fair to all applicants…

      3. Trachea Aurelia Belaroth*

        I read this question as equivalent to when someone writes in with a hypothetical question from pop culture about how a scenario would play out in the real world. The only one I can remember right now was how Rory from Gilmore Girls would have fared strongarming her way into a job that didn’t exist. Just hypothetical and interesting. There’s even another question in this very post that’s hypothetical, since #1’s LW is not the admin’s superior and can’t do anything about their desk.

        And questions about affirmative-action-esque topics often spawn a very interesting discussion.

    2. Avasarala*

      FWIW I agree that the question is focused on a specific candidate and party in a way that makes it hard to broaden out to the question it’s actually asking.

      If we just want to discuss how “our client base isn’t ready for X” is different in employment law vs elections, then we can do this without mentioning anyone specifically in the question: there were several women and people of color and a gay man represented in the primaries so this can be about any of them. But the question’s wording seems to reeeeeally invite commentary on a certain person dropping out.

      I think Alison could save herself a moderating headache if the candidate’s name was not mentioned.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think she’s even asking about how employment law differs from elections. I read it as asking solely about employment law, and just mentioning the primary as context for why she’s thinking about it. But you’re probably right about the impending moderation headaches, so I’ll take that line out from the start of the question.

        1. Avasarala*

          I think it’s a good decision. Honestly I had trouble parsing what the question was really asking because I was distracted by that first line.

          I’m still not sure political primaries (as experienced by the candidates and voters, not the people working on the campaigns) have much of anything in common with the average office job hiring process, but maybe it’s helpful for people who do see similarities to see how it would play out in the working world.

        2. Chinookwind*

          I agree. You can’t compare elections to employment law because you are voting for one out of 5 or 10 candidates and looking for the best representative of you from that group. It is sort of like the final interview where gender shouldn’t play a role, just qualifications.

          I think the issue is more about the number of female candidates to begin with (whether for a job or an election). You need to work on the pipeline to fill it with women of various backgrounds so that “female” doesn’t become their only identifying characteristic.

          On the flip side, you also have to ensure that, once they are in office/on the job, they aren’t treated in a hostile manner that not only influences them to quit but discourages other women from the attempt (Which is what has happened in Canada where we have had female prime ministers, premiers and govern generals). If you see other women being held to a higher standard or treated poorly, why on earth would any other woman want to take their place?

          1. Amy Sly*

            I think the issue is more about the number of female candidates to begin with (whether for a job or an election). You need to work on the pipeline to fill it with women of various backgrounds so that “female” doesn’t become their only identifying characteristic.

            And you should have those candidates organized in such a way to easily access and determine their qualifications for available jobs. Maybe like in 3 ring binders.

            1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

              Binders full of women will be hard to top as my favorite political gaffe/meme of all time. Thank you for today’s laugh.

        3. OP4*

          OP4 here, and I want to thank Alison for clarifying my question! While the current U.S. political situation was the context for how this topic came up in the first place, the question wasn’t meant to be about politics or elections specifically. I think most folks are aware that campaigns function very differently than normal hiring processes and that different laws apply. What I was interested in is whether “electability”-style reasoning was illegal in normal hiring contexts when “electability” is perceived as a challenge for a candidate due to other people’s biases against their legally-protected characteristics (sex, age, race, disability, etc.). I also realize “electability” is confusing in a normal hiring context, so substitute “likability” or “competence” or whatever other quality you’d like. Apologies for the confusion.

          I’m glad to hear that this is straightforwardly illegal. That was my thought since this seems like nothing more than roundabout discrimination — or at the very least it has the practical outcome of discriminating against people regardless of the intent of the employer. But I have run into folks who argue that a business needs to be free to hire whoever would do best at the job, and sometimes “doing best at the job” is interpreted to include catering to the preferences of clients, even if those preferences are explicitly racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. So I wanted to get a ruling on that.

          For what it’s worth, I’ve never personally run into this as a hiring manager, but I *have* run into this as a candidate for promotion. I’m a cis woman who has worked primarily in heavily male-dominated fields. One of my previous jobs involved traveling around the country to help lead teams of people I had never met in responding to crisis scenarios. Before I started, one of the people on the hiring committee pulled me aside to congratulate me, but also inform me that there was some concern about my ability to do the job since I’d be the only woman on a lot of projects, and since I’d likely face a lot of sexism and skepticism over my ability to do my job. He was right. I *did* experience a lot of sexism and skepticism that I had to overcome before I could effectively lead operations. But I was thankful that they actually gave me a chance to prove I could handle it. I did a lot of good work during those years, and I think I was able to change some minds about what women are capable of.

          1. Nanani*

            Ugggh isn’t that always the way.

            For the record, the onus should be on the people doing the hiring to make sure it won’t be an issue, not just warning you and walking away.

            But it’s so much easier to make sexism women’s problem so they hardly ever do the harder things like hire more women so nobody is the only one, or enforce consequences for sexism on their other employees.

          2. Paulina*

            Thank you for asking the question, and discussing your experience. I found it very relatable, as I’ve been a candidate for higher administrative positions where how people might be expected to react to me is a potential issue. A couple of years ago I was in the running for the head of our international outreach unit, which would have involved needing people from very different cultures to respect that I could speak for my institution, when they would not be used to having that person be a woman. We do have employment equity as a requirement, so the closest any of this came to being overtly discussed were questions about my comfort in travelling to various places. Which seemed a bit turnabout, really, in that I would be quite comfortable going anywhere that would respect me, so any problem shouldn’t be considered to be my comfort level at all.

          3. TootsNYC*

            there was a Reddit thread from an employee who wore yellow eyeglasses that had speckled bows and got flack from a customer (older guy, very cantankerous). And they pushed back a little with the guy, then got in trouble with their manager because the guy had complained about their “attitude.” They were sent home and told to come back with different glasses. (Apparently they did have more than one pair.)

            Eyeglasses aren’t a protected class, but in many cities, hairstyle is becoming one, mostly because of its connection to race. And I can see that being something that a company would worry will drive their customers away.

            I hope we’ll come to a time when customers are better people, but I once though we were on that track, and then 2015 and 2016 happened…

          4. FirstDayBackHurts*

            I appreciated you asking this question! When I was in my early twenties and right out of college, I interviewed for an executive assistant job for a VP at an investment strategy consulting firm. I made the final two in the interview process, which was all done by committee, but the VP then interviewed the top two candidates and chose. He called me to tell me he wanted to hire me but was concerned that my being a woman would limit my ability to do my job effectively. Much of his work was done in Asia and specifically in made-only private clubs. He told me that it would be a problem if he could not bring his private assistant to his meetings, so he was going to hire the male candidate. I understood his reasoning, but I always wondered if that choice was illegal (and if his wife had any say…).

      2. Picard*

        I am reminded of a very recent situation with Olive Garden where a customer requested a white server and the manager obliged… :O

        I believe the manager has been fired and the customer banned. (as should have happened)

    3. Fikly*

      I vaguely recall an old post here where someone was being told to use a more white sounding name to make clients feel comfortable (or a manager was asking if they could make an employee do that) so it does come up in jobs!

          1. Quill*

            I should be so lucky to feel like last month was a different century, instead of last week.

    4. JKP*

      I think it’s an interesting thought experiment. The question made me think of jobs where customers have more of a direct effect on your job and income, like if you are in sales and making money based almost exclusively on commission. So if an employer hires a woman and a man for the same sales positions. But the customer base in the area is less likely to buy from the woman, so she makes a lot less money for doing as much or more work than the man, can there be a case for discrimination? The case could be made that he’s just a better salesperson. But if there’s a whole team of salespeople, both men and women, and all the women end up making significantly less than the men, it becomes obviously about gender, but it doesn’t seem like something the employer could control, since the customers ultimately decide who they buy from.

      1. Fikly*

        This is a very real thing, both in sales, and for another example, tech support, where customers will listen to/follow the instructions of people they believe to be male (in text-based support) but not people they believe to be women.

        The employer can’t control the customer’s behavior, but they can control compensation, and not base it on discrimminatory or biased behavior. So they should eliminate commision as a means of compensation.

        1. Antilles*

          It’s true that it can be a very real thing. However, the problem is that in a lot of cases, people will use this as a fall-back assumption without any evidence except a vague ‘feeling’. “Our customers are just used to buying from a man, so we try to avoid hiring women for these roles”.
          Wait, have you ever actually tried hiring a saleswoman and seeing how it went? Did customers actually say things that made you believe that? Do you have a particular reason for believing that?
          …Or is it a simple rationalization because *you* don’t want to hire a woman and it’s easier to just blame it on a vague generic “our customers”?

          1. Tempestuous Teapot*

            ^This. It’s easy to rationalize it, even based on a believed observation of the outside world. But observations are skewed by perceptions and therein lies the bias. Hire the qualified person, period. The ‘women don’t do well because of customer base’ problem tends to dissolve once management and the team back up her qualms and rebutt concerns with ‘No, she’s good’.

            1. Anonapots*

              I went to graduate school with a woman who screened candidates for hire for her boss. She did her best to bypass implicit biases around names and gender by removing names from resumes, numbering the resumes, and forwarding them to her boss. There’s a good chance I’ll be moving into management in the next few months and I’d like to request our site start doing this. Let’s get them in the door based on ONLY their experience and hope we can mitigate our implicit biases enough when we meet them in person.

              1. Fikly*

                That’s what we do on my team. We give candidates who pass the phone screen a short exercise to do, and most of the team will grade/give opinions on it and discuss. Only the person who receives the exercise from the candidate knows who each one belongs to, and they don’t grade. I really like that.

              2. AMT*

                This reminds me of how symphony orchestras began to hire far more women after they instituted blind auditions. Some even rolled out carpet on the stage so the sound of the candidate’s shoes wouldn’t tip them off.

            2. Fikly*

              I remember reading somewhere about two people who did text based tech support. The woman always had a hard time with clients, as they would frequently argue with her about whether her advice was correct. Clients didn’t argue with the man and followed his directions. So his solve times were vastly quicker than hers.

              One time, she was on lunch or a break, and there was some reason he ended up signing her name instead of his. It was a client he’d worked with before. Suddenly this client was giving him a hard time, when they never had before. So as an experiment, for two weeks, he signed her name, and she signed his. Their solve times completely reversed.

          2. JKP*

            I’m not saying don’t hire based on that assumption. I’m talking about the reality that when your income is completely based on commission selling to the general public, that all of these unconscious biases around race, gender, religion do affect your income significantly. So employees would self-select out or quit if they can’t make as much as their coworkers who match the majority demographic of the area.

            A few examples: one area I worked in, I noticed that almost all the customers who came in my office had acryllic nails. Even though I cared nothing for fancy nails, I started getting acryllic nails too and my close rate increased significantly from that one change. When I was growing up, my mom was in sales and we had to get a different family car because people wouldn’t buy from her unless she drove a specific brand of car (many people in the area worked for that car manufacturer). Several different male salespeople I’ve worked with found their close rate shot up if they were clean shaven vs with a beard. These are just the things that you can actually control. Obviously things like gender, race, religion have an effect also, but as a salesperson you can’t change these to match your customer.

      2. Canadian Yankee*

        I’ve never been in sales, but I was recently in a senior technical management position where I often had to meet with customers for technical design sessions. This generally included time for chit-chat, either during breaks during the sessions or at lunch/dinner. I don’t think straight people realize how quickly and freely they “come out” as straight in these environments by mentioning their opposite-sex spouses, but I always had to think of whether it’s going seem like a potentially alienating “political statement” if I said something like, “Oh, my husband and I saw that movie last weekend – I loved it but he fell asleep halfway through.”
        I ended up always erring on the side of non-disclosure and not mentioning a same-sex partner just because I didn’t feel like I could risk alienating a potentially homophobic customer (think 5- or 6-figure consulting gigs with a very small number of very high-value customers), but it was uncomfortable and mentally draining to have to maintain a mental ledger of who I’m being honest with. It’s just one of several reasons I left that job.

      3. Nita*

        Well, it will stay that way until the sales team starts hiring women and the customers get used to working with them. It’s just going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Social change has to start somewhere, and if it’s not working well at first, that doesn’t mean it’s never going to work.

      4. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        When I supervised swim instructors, I had a HUGE problem with parents demanding female instructors. They didn’t want men around their little kids and would threaten to pull their kids if they got a male instructor. We also occasionally had parents demanding a male instructor (strong male role model for my boy!) and immigrant parents demanding instructors of the same race/culture as themselves.

        It got to the point where it was an EEO problem and I spent a lot of collateral trying to fix it, but ultimately was overruled because The Customer Is Always Right. It made me angry.

      5. Gumby*

        I mean, I always go to a female massage therapist and I kind of feel no reason to apologize. I definitely have no problem with female car salespeople or tech support (in fact, I would be thrilled to work with a woman to buy a car). But I am oddly okay with discriminating in selecting masseuses.

        I did try a male massage therapist once and while the whole being naked under a sheet in the same room as a strange man thing was slightly uncomfortable but bearable, there was a definite difference in the approach. The several women I had seen at that office convinced my muscles to relax. The male therapist pummeled them into submission and then I was sore for 3 days. Yes, I did ask for him to lighten up a couple of times and he did temporarily but it wore off and I am apparently not nearly assertive enough. Sure, it may have been just that particular man, but I am not risking that again. Besides, I see no reason to put up with “slightly uncomfortable but bearable” even if he had been more gradual about things. Thankfully, I have now settled on a therapist I see every month so I am not trying out different people each time I go.

        1. Jay*

          Massage therapists and doctors are two professions where I believe this preference should be respected. I’m an MD. I’ve had lots of women patients who chose me because I’m a woman, and some male patients who left me because they were more comfortable with a man. My massage therapist is a man and my husband’s is a woman, and that’s fine, but I’m glad the company asks for preference before booking. Massage clients and doctor’s patients are uniquely vulnerable. My ability to help people is largely dependent on the relationship I can build with them and if men won’t tell me things, I can’t help them. On the other hand, there’s evidence that women docs are better (as in lower mortality rates for hospitalized patients, lower risk of post-surgical infections, and better diabetes control for office patients). So maybe it’s not to their benefit to switch.

          There is evidence that race-concordant care improves outcomes for people of color.

    5. Harper the Other One*

      I have actually run into this question in the wild! There were questions upon hiring someone to work in our drum department at a music store about whether customers would buy from a woman because she knew her stuff but would they BELIEVE she was a drummer. And you know, I sort of understand the question: if you’re looking at a job where sales dollars are a big factor for performance evaluations, and you think clients will avoid buying from her, she’s at a massive disadvantage.

      When it happened I was much younger and I didn’t know how best to counter that question, even though I was outraged at the idea – it was my first full-time job and I didn’t know what to say. A discussion like this would have been really helpful to me.

    6. Wednesday*

      It can be a safety issue, unfortunately. For example, my company sells products in Saudi Arabia, and per the country’s regulatory compliance guidelines, all aspects of the project must meet Sharia Law. Our PMs always go on site at least once for each project. If the project management position for that product line becomes open, they’re certainly not going to hire a woman or a Jewish person.

      1. Fikly*

        That’s illegal. Legally, your company, in the US, must hire regardless of that consideration, and then either hire an extra person who meets their standards, or temporarily assign someone else who already works for company.

        1. Super Duper*

          Seriously. This isn’t an “unfortunate” happenstance – it’s discrimination.

          1. Fikly*

            Yeah, this company is choosing to sell their products to a client that has x requirements. If those requirements mean it costs more to sell to them, well, that’s the part of the cost of business. If they can still make a profit, it might be worth it to them to continue selling, but if not, they should reconsider, not behave illegally.

            No one is forcing them to sell to any one client.

      2. Amy Sly*

        I have a friend who’s a CEO of small business with a diverse international clientele … and he’s an Orthodox Jew. He goes through great effort to not be an “out” Jew with his clients, including only having very small curls he tucks behind his ears and wearing a baseball cap in public to hide his kippa, because there’s no way he could do business in many parts of the world otherwise.

        1. Anonnington*

          Wow. I know it’s about the same with certain religious and cultural attire in the US. But it’s sad to read about it happening anywhere.

    7. RC Rascal*

      This situation just happened at my friends large public company. A local regional manager in a rural area attempted to stop a black man who was a corporate relationship manager from visiting several customers in the area because local manager felt customers weren’t ready to work with a black person. Local manager brought it up in a meeting when a bunch of corporate types were visiting, in front of the black manager, his boss, & grandboss.

      Boss & grandboss did not support the black manager and his right/responsibly to do his job & call on the customers in question. Black manager called Ethics Hotline, who launched an investigation. Boss & Grandboss ( a Director & VP) were subsequently fired. One of them is now suing the company for wrongful termination. Not sure what happened to local manager.

      1. Caliente*

        That’s awesome that they got fired. When will racists just stop the madness. You’re not really getting away with it anymore, people!

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I love to see a story with a happy ending in the morning! Can’t believe one of them is suing, well it’s this person’s time and money and if they want to waste those resources, they certainly can.

    8. CheeryO*

      I have a hard time believing the question was asked in good faith. How are women supposed to make in-roads in certain fields if we start caring about what gender clients would prefer to deal with? I deal with plenty of people who are not used to interacting with women (super male dominated field in a rural area), and I don’t particularly care whether or not they’re comfortable with it. They can take down their naked lady posters, open their ears, and get over themselves. And honestly, they do! It takes time, but they generally come around once they realize that I know what I’m talking about.

      1. Jessen*

        Depends on the position the person asking it is in. The question reads to me very much as “I know that people who do this, I know it’s hogwash, but do I have a legal leg to stand on to tell them that they’re wrong?” It’s not always clear to the average person what’s actually illegal discrimination, and what’s discrimination of the sort that’s really crappy but not actually illegal.

        1. emmelemm*

          Yeah, AAM gets the same letters over and over again about “this seems like bullshit, but is it actually illegal?” Most of the time the answer is No, so it’s nice to have one where the answer is Yes.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        But the letter writer seems to be writing from a place where they have recently had conversations where other people are suggesting it’s okay to hire with that in mind and they disagree and want to be able to re-enter those conversations armed with more knowledge–and now they have the answer they were looking for that it is indeed illegal. Seems totally in good faith to me!

      3. Anonapots*

        We have recently seen a question asking about a situation very similar to the one posed by the OP. This is an actual thing that happens to people. And just because nobody is saying it out loud to you that they would hesitate to hire a woman/POC because of how clients would react, it doesn’t mean those things aren’t being thought and they aren’t influencing hiring decisions.

    9. Lawyer*

      We 100% had the question arise at my former law firm, not with respect to hiring but to staffing female associates on a client team with a client who was known to be sexist. This was within the last 6 years.

    10. CM*

      I think all the examples here — what about women in tech sales, Black people in predominantly white companies, etc. — show why this problem needs to be solved on a macro level. If the answer to all these questions was consistently, “It doesn’t matter, we’re going to hire this person and everyone can just deal with it,” then there would be more diversity which in turn would lead to more acceptance of diversity as normal. But if in each individual case, everyone said “Well, I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic but I need to think about the bottom line and this person won’t be as palatable to our customers” then the problem is perpetuated. This is why employment discrimination laws exist.

    11. Anon for this*

      It is 100% a valid question.

      I see this in my industry. No one will ever put it in writing, but I have heard people say out loud that they’re considering illegal factors in their hiring decisions, almost always WRT hiring a client relationship manager. A few years ago, I heard a high-up say she wasn’t interested in hiring an account candidate because the candidate felt too “motherly,” whereas our clients were “bro” and would prefer someone they could drink beer and talk sports with (i.e., a man, or at least someone younger than the candidate).

      It really pissed me off and I wish I’d gone to HR.

      1. RC Rascal*

        It’s also common for hiring decision like this to default to the pretty candidate. Frequently “client presence/executive presence” is a hiring factor for client relationship type positions. In companies where this type of experience is considered critical for advancement/senior roles, it results in a whole bunch of senior pretty people.

      2. Jan*

        Yeah, because no middle-aged woman in the history of ever has ever liked beer or sports…(sarcasm)

    12. Butterfly Counter*

      I just read an article yesterday about a manager at Olive Garden who got fired because they agreed to reassign black waiters with white waiters at racist customers’ requests.

      This is a thing people legitimately don’t understand.

    13. RedLineInTheSand*

      I worked at a small religious non-profit in the South. I was doing the work of a Finance Director, but because they had never had a woman director before, I was called (and paid at the level of) a senior accountant. I asked about a title change and increase in salary due to the work I was actually doing. I received a pay increase, but not nearly what the position deserved, and no title change.

      Also, they had a guy that came in once a week to run our A/P checks through the printer and get the proper signatures (not his), and they called HIM the Finance Director. He had a full time job at a sister nonprofit and only came in for about 2 hours each week! I left after about 18 months.

    14. DBI*

      A good friend had her manager decline to send a person of color to a rural area because “we want to put our best foot forward” and didn’t want to allow Black Lives Matter posters because it would make police officers uncomfortable, and police officers where some of their clients. Incredibly disgusting.

    15. Anonnington*

      There have been times when I’ve spoken out about abusive behavior from men (and from women discrimminating for other reasons), only to be told, “Then you shouldn’t be doing [inocuous commonplace activity].” Or, worse, “That means you can’t handle yourself.”

      For example, Fergus intentionally spills water on my desk while yelling that he hates women accountants, and the boss’s reaction is to tell me, “Anonnington, since people are reacting that way, you shouldn’t keep being an accountant. It’s not safe for you.”

      It’s a similar line of reasoning. Placing the burden on the people affected by the unacceptable behavior instead of addressing the problem itself and holding people responsible for their actions.

  9. Anabel*

    #3 What the actual… I live in the area. This isn’t a joke. The county and state government have made it clear that EVERYONE needs to do what they can to slow the spread of the virus. It doesn’t matter if you are in an at-risk group. Any time people spend time together increases the risk of this spreading. Sure *you* may not get sick, but you may give it to someone who has a spouse in cancer treatment or a grandfather who recently had a heart attack.

    Even the county government is having everyone who can work from home stay home. She definitely should talk to HR. Bring the King County COVID guidance for companies which is pretty easy to find online.

    https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/news/2020/March/5-slowing-the-impact.aspx

    1. kstours1*

      OP3 here. Thank you, Anabel. Yes, you’re right about how poor habits at work could help this spread to others who may be vulnerable. Thanks for the link.

      1. KPWT*

        OP 3 – I also live in King County, not far from the epicenter. Please let your sister know that because things are rapidly changing, some folks who are not up on the news may not be aware of the Department of Health’s recommendations. It is VERY CLEAR that people in high risk groups need to stay home. We are all taking these precautions to minimize or avoid spread to the 20% of people who will have complications from COVID 19. The reality of the situation will likely sink in to your sister’s coworkers soon. The University of Washington (54,000 students) just cancelled in person classes for the rest of Winter Quarter. She should definitely let HR and/or higher level management know about what she is experiencing.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Wow! The university where I work is just encouraging take home tests and relaxing class attendance demands, plus cancelling large gatherings. They did end the foreign study program for the time being, and are discouraging travel. it feels a bit like frog boiling.

  10. Avasarala*

    #4 Going to try to avoid politics in my answer…
    In my experience, there are 2 meanings of “electability”.
    Politics are basically a popularity contest. Especially when you’re talking about a leadership position that’s more about shaking hands and kissing babies than crunching numbers, many people value the ability to explain, inspire, convince, speak, and hold attention. Having that charisma is part of the qualifications of this kind of leadership role. So one meaning of “electability” is “does this person know how to present themselves so that the public will agree with them and do what they say? Can they bring people together and unite them with a common goal?”

    Another kind of “electability” is a dog whistle for “this person doesn’t fit the image of what a leader looks like, and I don’t like it/”they” won’t like it and that matters to me.”

    I don’t think the second has a place anywhere including politics–maybe in certain hard strategic discussions about how to force a progressive topic down racist’s throats (ie racists on Earth won’t like a Belt-born leader, so how do we spin them as “electable”).

    I think the first is a genuine question that we must ask of all politicians and leaders. You can often tell the difference between the two by seeing if the reason is gender/race/etc, and if the speaker leans heavily on the mysterious “they” that thinks the candidate is so “unelectable”.
    Unfortunately until the US changes to a voting system where you can rank your favorites, it will always be an issue as long as votes are “thrown away” on “unelectable” candidates (I say this as someone whose vote was thrown away).

    1. Harper the Other One*

      I love your point about leaning on an unnamed “they.” I’m Canadian so I can also say it’s not an American only thing; I heard a LOT of questions about Jagmeet Singh and whether “they” would have problems with him… because of his YOUTH and INEXPERIENCE of course. Which is the other big signifier, I find – people seem like they are much more concerned about those things for some candidates than others…

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, the double standards and mental gymnastics that some people use to deride candidates who are not paragons of the dominance demographic in the US are simply astounding. Every time I notice then, I want to bang my head on the desk in frustration. From local to national elections, people who aren’t cis, straight, white, Christian men have to work two to ten times as hard to get elected. But the naysayers will point to “inexperience” or “likeability” as a reason to deny them press coverage, ignore their platforms, call them “unelectable”, etc. IMO, this is the case across the political spectrum – it’s that pervasive.

    2. ThatGirl*

      There’s a test of sorts that pollsters see when talking to people. Most people want to say that THEY would be fine with a woman/black person/gay person/other marginalized group in whatever office – but oh, their *neighbor* might not be. The neighbor is sort of code, a way to say “I don’t think a woman should be president” without actually saying it.

      1. Quill*

        Or, as I’ve muted Twitter for the day “I’m worried enough about potential descrimination or lack of ability to turn people away from the Other Group that I don’t want to throw away my nomination vote.” Which obviously reinforces the idea that the candidate in question couldn’t possibly win, because everyone has a different idea of what their neighbors’ real secret opinions are, based of course on if they think those neighbors are mostly “like them” (but slightly less well informed, enlightened, etc,) or not.

    3. Maya Elena*

      Electability arguments corn from a place of inertia and status quo, maybe even cowardice, on both sides of the political spectrum.
      At the same time, if you acknowledge that you have to be “shoving things down people’s throats” in a democratic context…..

      1. Blueberry*

        At the same time, if you acknowledge that you have to be “shoving things down people’s throats” in a democratic context…..

        Democracy is not supposed to be three wolves and one sheep voting on dinner. Some ethical principles do need to be upheld even if a significant proportion of people disapprove of them and some bigoted laws need to be cleared out even if many people would rather keep them.

  11. Mary Richards*

    Re: #4, I just have this feeling that any hiring manager who would have that feeling would phrase it in such a way that it wasn’t outwardly discriminatory. You know: “Clients wouldn’t like [candidate]. She isn’t like us.” Something like that. Sure, I’m not going to disagree that some hiring managers would just come right out and say it—and plenty more are thinking it—but the ones who’d do this in the first place would probably be euphemistic about race, class, gender, etc.*

    *noting that my attitude comes from living in a very liberal, urban area; I’m sure this is different in other places.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, and that’s often the problem with how “culture fit” is used too. They’re still leaving themselves open to legal problems though if it’s ever challenged because they’d need to explain how they’ve ended up never hiring women for the role (or hiring disproportionately few) and if their screening process has an adverse disparate impact on women, legally it’s going to be a problem.

      1. Mary Richards*

        Absolutely. I can see how it would get normalized into a company’s culture over time (“we don’t hire people like that”). Which sucks. And I’d hope it would be challenged, although I know it’s hard to push that kind of change in a lot of companies (especially smaller ones).

        I can’t believe we’re having this conversation in 2020.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          I was living in another EU country (X) when my contract was finishing and so I was looking for another job. This was 20 years ago, before Monster and other jobsites, so it was the old-fashioned listings in the newspapers. (The EU bit is relevant as Freedom of Movement means you can apply to jobs in another EU country and you should be considered as equally qualified.)

          I got an interview, went along, thought it went ok, then was told that “Well your qualifications are good, you speak the local language fluently, but unfortunately you are not Nationality X, so I don’t think the customers will be happy.”

    2. Fikly*

      And that’s the huge issue with discrimmination in hiring. 99% of the time it’s impossible to prove.

    3. One of the Sarahs*

      The thing that upsets me is when the managers couch it in “I’M not discriminating, I’d LOVE to hire them, but our clients just wouldn’t like it, it would be unfair on the person to hire them” – so weaselly, because it’s so transparent.

      1. Formerly Ella Vader*

        I have wondered whether this kind of thing would come up when a man applies for a job as a waxing esthetician, for example. In my thought experiment, I figured that the fairest way for the salon to approach this is to ask all the applicants whether they would be bringing a client list, and judge based on that evidence rather than an assumption that existing clients would not accept certain services from a man.

        In film and theatre, it would make more sense to have the submission call describe each character’s gender and age range, rather than specify the actor’s gender and age range to submit. Because if the actor is credible and talented playing a 15yo boy, does the audience care if they are actually 25 and a different gender?

    4. Bluesboy*

      This actually happened to me as a hiring manager, I wanted to employ a black African man, and my ex-boss came out with “I’m not racist, but…I think that our clients will have issues with having to deal with a black man”.

      To try to be as understanding of my ex-boss as I can, we were operating in a place where racism was a significant issue, she was trying to run a small, new business and I can see her concern – she probably would have lost some clients (I would guess 5%).

      That said, when you start accepting things like that, you’re on a very, veeery slippery slope. It just isn’t acceptable, also because if you do that, the minority never gets the chance to prove to the discriminators that actually yes, they can do their job, and do it just as well as any other human being. I’m sure people were saying the same thing about employing women a few years ago.

      As it turned out, the position fell through anyway, so I didn’t have to decide what to do. And as it turned out, my boss WAS in fact, wildly racist, but it was difficult to tell because she was pretty much equally horrible to everybody.

      1. Picard*

        They still say that about women in some places. Didnt we just have a thread about pregnant women?

        1. Quill*

          Either last month or last century, yeah. Unless the one I’m thinking of was someone who didn’t want to hire women because they *might* get pregnant and that would raise the cost of the insurance coverage…

      2. hbc*

        Yeah, I’ve never met a person who used the “It’s not me, it’s just what our clients will think” and wasn’t significantly racist/sexist/whatever-ist. Guaranteed, you will eventually see stuff come up where they are far more dismissive of customer preferences (“yeah, we’ll lose MSU fans with a Wolverines banner, but Go Blue!”), and you’ll at least hear the occasional dog whistle.

        1. Jay*

          I live in Phillies country. I’m a Yankees fan. The year the Yanks played the Phils in the World Series, I wore a Yankees lanyard with my ID. No one ever suggested that I would alienate Phillies fans.

      3. Slow Gin Lizz*

        There’s always the opposite viewpoint, which is that if you hire a minority, woman, etc., maybe your client base will expand because people in those groups or even (gosh, what a concept!) white males who believe in equality will see you supporting minorities, women, etc., and will support your organization. It’s just good business sense. (Which is true, but I offer up this last comment somewhat tongue-in-cheek.)

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          There are so many things that companies should be doing from an ethical standpoint that would also be good for business long-term. I wonder how much profit has been lost by my husband’s old company due to high turnover and low morale. Probably >$0.

      4. Nanani*

        The correct answer for your boss would be to take the 5% hit and enjoy not having racist clients.

        1. Blueberry*

          Yeah. As Slow Gin Lizz pointed out, the company might have gained that 5% and more back in POC clients.

          1. Bluesboy*

            We definitely wouldn’t because there just weren’t enough black people in the area to make it up.

            Where we WOULD have made the money up, is from non-racist people receiving great service from this guy, who was clearly the right guy for the job, renewing contracts and recommending us to their friends.

            Even if that weren’t the case though, my boss would still have been in the wrong.

      5. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

        When you normalize racism instead of the people who are marginalized, you are very much part of the problem.

        Another excuse I’ve heard for not hiring minorities is, “She would be the only black/woman here. She will feel uncomfortable/like she doesn’t fit in, so we might as well go with the [insert white/male candidate]”

  12. Tyche*

    For OP4: I agree with Alison’s answer, but I’d like to add another point: trash.
    While I can pass a messy desk, as a manager I’d say something if there was a lot of trash. So used or filthy things, paper tissues, dirty or sticky food packages, used coffee cups etc.
    I think if there is a lot of trash, that you could ask to keep up with recycling or bin these things.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I agree. If there is food material, empty dishes, or the desk is physically dirty (rather than just untidy) then the manager should speak up, for a basic pest/mould prevention.

      I do think there are also limits to untidiness in shared or public office spaces. Even if it isn’t smelling or attracting vermin, if you’re sharing an office, or have coworkers or clients who have to come to you, there’s a level of mess that’s unacceptable. Piles of paper should be contained on the desk and not in danger of falling on the floor, the floor shouldn’t be used as a filing system, if you have a chair for visitors it should be sittable, stuff should not be encroaching on the desk of the person next to you, you shouldn’t be constructing pyramids of empty pop cans on the window sill.

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Yes, food material is a whole other matter. Once, I had to properly clean out the “cleaned” desk of a former employee. It started with me just wanting to scrub off the 0.5x Sephora store accumulated on her landline handset so the incoming replacement didn’t get grossed out on their first day. But then when I checked the drawers I found used, dirty cutlery, orange peels and empty food wrappers with remnant crumbs and food bits still inside. Stuff that had been there for weeks if not months. And I still don’t get it, her bin was RIGHT THERE – even easier to toss that stuff in than the filing cabinet. I just could not figure out why she did it. Though coincidentally, I guess that explained a lot of the struggles I had with her general approach to projects and filing.

        So yeah, people can be pigs at work if they really want. But they can’t seriously expect their coworkers to hold them in high esteem if they choose to disregard basic hygiene and shared-space manners. It’s a major CLM.

        1. allathian*

          Yuck! That’s gross! You have my sympathy.
          I keep a reasonably clean desk at work, and while my home office desk is cluttered most of the time, it’s not dirty.

        2. Mockingjay*

          Yep, food remnants are disgusting. I’ve had several offices that I had to clean before using. In one, when I pulled open the desk drawer, I found that the previous occupant had left a plethora of candy wrappers and saltine bits, plus one roach that died from overindulgence of said saltines.

          Another was so bad I took pictures of the food-encrusted keyboard that I had to use. It took me three weeks to get rid of the empty boxes someone had dumped beside the desk. I also had to clean food residue and stains on the chair upholstery at the end of each day so it would dry overnight and I could sit on it the next day (took a week).

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      Agreed. Papers and clutter is whatever – to each their own – but I think allowing trash to pile up (especially things that could smell or attract flies) isn’t acceptable in an office space.

      (Or hording coffee mugs from the office kitchen.)

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’ve worked in offices with “clean desk policy” where you can have a mess all day so long as the cleaners can get to all surfaces after hours – so your piles of papers go to a shelf or cabinet before you leave.

      In the current climate where it’s recommended to sanitize hard surfaces regularly, a desk that is messy and dirty is a potential health risk, especially if that mess and dirt includes any food waste or used napkins/tissues.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Honestly, that would drive me crazy. I have everything set out in piles based on where they are in process and priority, it’s how my brain works. If I can’t see it, it won’t get done. If I had to redo that every morning and undo it every night I would lose my mind.

        That said, I am also very careful to make sure I do throw away all my trash every day and wipe down my desk on the regular, because I do know that my organization style does lend itself to collecting dust and crumbs.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          The cabinets were pretty large, so I could transfer the piles to shelves without losing organisation. YMMV obviously but I didn’t find it too onerous. If everything had had to be Properly Put Away I would definitely have struggled.

      2. Adultiest Adult*

        That’s interesting. Our cleaners were just explicitly told not to touch anyone’s desks because some things were broken/damaged when an overzealous person was cleaning. I’ve never worked anywhere where cleaning your desk wasn’t your own responsibility… Luckily, I’ve also never run into the “unsanitary” issue, though a former boss’s paperwork piles were legion, and gave him about three inches of usable surface in front of his keyboard!

    4. whistle*

      I actually disagree with Alison’s answer exactly because of the specific mention of trash. Trash on a desk is everyone’s problem (bugs, rodents, smells, germs, etc.) and should be addressed by management.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think especially since they say it includes food trash it would be very reasonably in my opinion for someone to politely point out to the admin that it is her own desk, but that her desk is in a shared space and leaving out food trash can impact others in the space in a way that just messy papers will not.

    6. Curmudgeon in California*

      At my open office hellscape, they decided that the janitors will not empty individual trash/recycling, everyone must bus their own trash to collection points, and sort it, too.

      Most people say “Hey, what’s the big deal? You do that at home, don’t you?”

      Well, no, I don’t. I’m disabled. We have lots of trash cans and recycle bins around at home, and my able-bodied roommates empty them and take out the bags. Not me. I could hurt myself if I fell while being the trash lady.

      So at work I leave my recyclables on my desk until I can manage to bag them up and remove them, something that actually takes time out of my day. I empty my little trash can weekly, and unlike others, I bring in liners for it so I don’t have to try to carry a slick piece of stiff plastic in my one usable hand along with my cane. I still resent it. I can’t have oranges or apples at my desk unless I go into the kitchen and stand up to peel or core them because of this.

      So much of the “green” and “eco-friendly” stuff is blatantly ableist that it makes me see red.

      WRT the trash on the desk: Does she have a convenient trash can? Or does she have to leave her desk to dispose of it (which a receptionist usually can’t do.)? A trash bin and a recycle bin that get emptied every night might just fix the problem.

      1. Adultiest Adult*

        Can you push back on this at all? And honestly, I’m giving your coworkers the side-eye hard. I would be happy to collect your trash bin/recycling on the way to empty my own if I knew you had difficulty with it. I mean, we’re talking about a standard desk-type trash bin, right? Any chance you have someone similarly-minded?

  13. Tyche*

    For OP1: I agree with Alison’s answer, but I’d like to add another point: trash.
    While I can pass a messy desk, as a manager I’d say something if there was a lot of trash. So used or filthy things, paper tissues, dirty or sticky food packages, used coffee cups etc.
    I think if there is a lot of trash, that you could ask to keep up with recycling or bin these things.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      The food stuff makes me cringe. I’ve worked in a building with a mouse problem (hellooooo big city!) And it’s 100% not worth risking. So I’d be saying something like “If you want to eat at your desk, you are going to have to keep this tidy enough that we can know it’s clean. Crumbs attract pests.”
      And in the context of today’s coronavirus letter… how would this person’s desk be sanitized if there’s a case in your building?

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Do you want ants? Because THAT’S how you get ants.

        1. Quill*

          I just astrally projected cross country to share the laugh this gave me with my brother. (It’s his favorite meme ever.)

        2. ellex42*

          I can attest to that. I once had a coworker who had an ant problem around her desk…on the 11th floor…on the opposite side of the building from the kitchen.

          Although it seemed like nearly everyone who worked there had some basic cleanliness issues. The kitchen was disgusting. When we moved to a new location they were going to move the fridge and ended up just throwing it away. We once had the sprinklers go off (thankfully just in the kitchen because we had SO. MUCH. PAPER.) because someone decided that putting wax paper in the toaster oven was a good idea.

      2. Chinook*

        I want to say the same thing – there are legit health concerns over trash and dirty dishes festering on a desk. Besides attracting pests, do any of you have flashbacks to the coffee cup mold found in a teacher’s cup on their desk because I do.

        1. Mae West*

          Oh man, PESTS! I would argue that you absolutely have standing to request that garbage be thrown away properly and not be littering a workspace. Even though you’re not the manager. Even if it’s not in a public-facing area. Even if no one needs anything from that desk. Pests will come if they haven’t already!

    2. Mockiningjay*

      We’ve started using a comingled recycling bin and it’s more trouble than it’s worth. No one rinses containers and refuse is dumped in, so it gets very smelly and attracts critters.

      One person thought that comingles meant that the recycling company separated trash from the recyclable materials. No, they separate plastic and metal. Other people dump trash in the recycle bin if the trash can is full. Oy!

      I printed the county’s guidelines and posted them over the container. Hopefully that will help.

      1. Quill*

        A nice, cheerful THIS IS HOW YOU RECYCLE sign has been the weapon of choice since I was a tiny child and student council was trying to obtain recycling bins.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        My office is so bad at this as well! I don’t understand! Good lord, people on what planet do APPLE CORES go in recycling rather than the compost bin RIGHT NEXT TO IT!

        Yeah, I have a thing about this. I’ve had to learn how to breathe and walk away, because I don’t have time to resort all the trash in the building.

    3. Sally*

      I keep a small stack of compostable stuff (for example: plate, bowl, fork, cup) on the corner of my desk during the day and then take it to the bin in the kitchen periodically – and definitely before I leave. I have never liked how it looks, but I didn’t want to keep running into the kitchen. But given the response on this topic, I think I’ll start putting stuff in the compost bin more often. It will also get me up and out of my chair more often, which is a plus.

      1. Sally*

        Also, for general mess: perhaps a pretty box would help. I keep my desk at work tidy, but at home I use a few strategically placed boxes to through stuff in when I don’t have time to actually put things away.

    4. TTDH*

      Yes! In our building we are beset by mice during certain seasons, and once they find a spot with food crumbs you will have a hell of a time getting them out of it. They even climbed into my colleague’s desk drawer from the back to chew through the wrapper of his ramen noodles and eat them. Food and drink trash at the admin’s desk definitely puts this into a different category than just messy.

  14. Observer*

    #3- I think that your sister needs to emphasize that her department are explicitly going against the directive of local government, the DCD AND the company’s top management. And that they are not only all coming in to work and harassing her, they are not even taking basic reasonable precautions! Keep in mind that while the large gatherings directive is new to Covif19, wiping down surfaces, etc. is a good idea even for a “standard” flu season. Which means that they are increasing the risk to the entire organization.

    These people really ARE doofuses. And her manager is exhibiting appallingly bad judgement. And that’s before even the issue of possible age and ADA related discrimination.

  15. OP2*

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I did just want to clarify a little, as I’d written my email at the end of a stressful day where things were weighing too heavily on my mind. First, well before this was published I had already decided the whole thing didn’t matter. A single 2 on a 5 point scale wasn’t the end of the world. I even pointed out I knew how ridiculous the idea of saying I disagree that they can’t disagree when I wrote in :).

    My concern wasn’t so much how to find out who answered as they did, but more that I just wanted to ensure everyone felt they could bring things up. Because as a whole my team is heavily people early in their careers, or just who are more people-pleasing types who are conflict-averse (we work directly with customers and that ends up being a side effect). They’re not as confident as they really should be that their opinions and experience matters. We’re always working on their confidence overall and I just wanted to figure out a way to reiterate to them that I’m their boss yes, but I’m not the boss of them. Everything we’re doing for customers is a collaboration that takes everyone bringing their experience to the table. But in the end all I can do is model good behavior and be there for them if/when they do want to bring things up.

    1. x/5 Stars?*

      Oh, wow, you commented *while I was typing my comment* and I didn’t notice ’til after.

      Glad to hear you’re feeling better about the situation now. I’d still emphasize that, given weird perspectives on how to score, that it’s very hard to read into the scores like that. I know I used to start around 4/5 on surveys about stuff, or even start at 3/5 when it explicitly said neutral, and only add/subtract for things significantly above/below expectations. I had to shift that to defaulting to 5/5 when I learned some companies pretty harshly punish anyone associated with some surveys.

      Yeah, unless the survey explicitly and verbosely spelled out “Start at 3/5 stars. Add or remove exactly 1 star for small things like a, b, or c. Only add or remove 2 starts for extraordinary examples, akin to x, y, or z.”, it’s probably safe to assume even the shared scores could have had wildly different meanings and just not read that much into those.

      Longer-form answers can be more helpful (when folks feel comfortable sharing and trust the anonymity), but scores without painfully exact (and well-followed) instructions are just hard to count on as anything more than a loose measure of approximately what might be the case.

    2. Avasarala*

      I appreciate your goal is to make sure people feel free to disagree with you. I think that is great and you sound like a great boss.

      But your first paragraph makes me understand why someone would give you a neutral score.
      I can’t hear your tone but it comes across as a little defensive, as trying to backtrack and claim you were right all along, and a little bit snarky. I’m sure it’s different in the context of knowing you, but that’s how it sounds to me.

      If I was on your team and you responded to feedback I provided with “well I was stressed, and I already decided to agree with you, and I even said that in my email in the first place :)” I would think that this is not someone I can 100% always disagree with. I would think, this is someone who likes to be right, and I’m not sure what will happen if I have to point out they’re wrong.

      1. jbouv*

        I didn’t read it that way at all, but even if you’re right, that doesn’t mean that’s how LW (or anyone) would act in person. How we write in comment sections of blogs, and how we write into advice are usually different than we act in real life, especially in an office. So I think there’s a lot of assumptions and reading into things going on.

        1. Zillah*

          Agreed. How I communicate with people in a work context is very different than how I communicate the rest of the time, and interpreting nuances of tone like this is really reaching, IMO.

        2. Avasarala*

          Of course. But I thought it would be useful to OP to point out that if that comment is at all indicative of how they respond to critical feedback, then they have some deeper reflecting to do.

      2. Prairie*

        Yes, the backtracking in OP2’s comments show his/her continued deflection of feedback. When you ask for feedback (in a survey or in an advice column), process it. If we deflect or justify or rationalize, then we deprive ourselves the chance to grow.

    3. Marthooh*

      When I read your question, I wondered if maybe the person who scored you low was an inexperienced employee who meant something like “I gave some feedback once and OP2 explained why we do things the way we do so then I felt stupid about bringing it up even though OP2 didn’t say I was stupid, so I guess… neutral?”

    4. Senor Montoya*

      Since you’re pretty sure who gave the rating, can you think why that person feels that way? Really examine your own behavior — are there things you can be doing (or stop doing) that will encourage that person to feel more comfortable disagreeing with you? Modelling good behavior is not the only thing you can do.

      BTW, you may be wrong as to who gave you the “2”. Especially since your employees are people-pleasing. It would be helpful for you to reflect on each employee — what if that person feels they can’t disagree *and you don’t know it* because they’ve said they can (people pleaser, not sure survey is really anonymous, etc). What can you do/stop doing to encourage that person to feel ok disagreeing with you?

    5. ynotlot*

      They probably gave you a neutral rating on being able to bring things up to you because of this exact reaction you’re having to their neutral rating: if anything is out of place, you’re on the case, trying to figure out who and why, ensuring it gets fixed. Sometimes people want to be able to bring you something, say “this is a small thing, just a heads up” and not have it become A Situation where it needs to be identified, corrected, and discussed.
      I know you said elsewhere that you have given feedback about being able to identify respondents, and that they’re going to improve the anonymity going forward – that’s great! I would recommend that you also commit to, when faced with a survey where you can identify who gave the feedback, just don’t. Don’t try to, actively try not to, don’t think about it. When asking for anonymous feedback, it’s important to be committed to the spirit of anonymity, not just the letter.

    6. CM*

      I think it’s more than modeling good behavior — it’s saying to them as a group and individually, “What do you think about this? I value your opinion,” or “How do you think that meeting went?” You may feel like you’re open to their feedback, but especially early in their careers, they may not feel confident in giving it. Help them out by explicitly asking them. And when they do give you feedback, follow up and say, “I considered what you said and here’s how it affected my decision,” or “I heard what you said, and ultimately we decided to go a different way because of reasons, but I appreciate that you brought it up. I’ll definitely keep that feedback in mind when we need to make another decision like this.” You can do this casually too, like, “So we decided on the black and white design — thanks, Janice, for pointing out that some of our customers are colorblind — and the next step is …”

    7. Essess*

      Neutral usually means that they haven’t had the situation arise. So someone who hasn’t had to disagree with you wouldn’t know if they will have problems disagreeing with you since it hasn’t come up. That’s how I put ratings for coworkers if the question doesn’t apply (unless there is an actual ‘does not apply’ rating option)

      1. Pilcrow*

        I do something similar, as well. If it never came up or didn’t apply to me, neutral would be the only rating that would be fair. For example, when leaving a review of a hotel I stayed in for business travel, I marked the price question as average/neutral because I was getting a corporate rate and being reimbursed; I didn’t feel my rating would be accurate.

    8. Zillah*

      One other thing to keep in mind – I’ll sometimes put a neutral score if something just hasn’t come up one way or the other. People’s scores often mean super different things.

    9. Julie Noted*

      Wait, the rating described as less than perfect and neutral was 2/5? That’s not a neutral rating, that’s a negative one.

      You seem to have difficulty acknowledging this so perhaps rather than trying to make the rater understand that their perception is wrong it would be worth some honest self-reflection on how they might have a genuine insight, if you’re willing to listen to the feedback you received.

  16. x/5 Stars?*

    I feel like #2 is *exactly* why we need to, as a population, address a serious problem with how scoring systems work. Even when stuff explicitly spells out “negative”, “neutral”, and “positive”, some people will start with max points and only go down if there’s something explicitly negative (which, by the way, means it becomes impossible to indicate above-and-beyond behavior) while others will start in the middle and move from there in whichever direction makes sense.

    It is entirely plausible that most of the workers were the “start with 5/5 and remove stars over any problems” type and one worker was the “start with 3/5 and add/remove points if warranted” type. This would not only potentially lead to the scores described, but it could do so *while everyone feels the same way about the manager* and because scores are broken this way nobody could verify without de-anonymizing the data.

    What’s worse, lots of contexts have trained people to have to start with max scores because in so many contexts *anything* short of a perfect score is deemed negative (as appears to be the interpretation being used in this letter) and sometimes these surveys impact people keeping/losing jobs, so folks will just blindly put max or nearly max scores out of habit to not cause companies to overreact at workers in certain roles.

    I guess my general point about #2 is, at least in the United States, the way we’ve all trained ourselves and each other to react to scoring systems like this is so horribly broken that there’s probably no need to even be concerned in the first place. Even if one has all the scores and they’re all separated out (that’d be defeating the point of anonymizing, but okay…) it is still at best a herculean task and at worst literally impossible to figure out who grades which way in what context.

    If the neutral score were the *best* score then there’s room to be worried (though nobody could really tell someone *how* worried to be, because how many points are subtracted is also so arbitrary), but if it’s the *worst* then at minimum things are going okay and very likely the scores really indicate an above-and-beyond sort of performance.

    1. MK*

      I agree. You see this all the times with 3-star reviews at goodreads.com; some of them are wholly positive, but the reader didn’t give a better score because they reserve that for truly excellent books, others are a laundry list of negatives and the score isn’t lower because the reader only does that for truly problematic books.

      1. Quill*

        And a wild and improbable few of them are “this was a 3 star review and then the author jumped in my DM’s about ruining their book’s rating so it’s a 1 and I regret using this site.” (This doesn’t happen often but when it does it makes the rounds of publishing twitter as a PSA about how not to interact with fans. every. time.)

      2. Oranges*

        I have problems with the rating system/star descriptor numbers of good reads reviews. The descriptors they use are too closely grouped. If I used their rating system I’d give books like “IT” (I LOATHE this book because ending) the same rating as “The Cloud Roads” (a fun read but nothing to flip out over).

        The issue with me doing this (as pointed out above) is that my rating now only is meaningful to me.

        For the curious, my rating system:
        5 – this book has excellent points and only few missteps. Pure pleasure to read.
        4- Solid book. Enjoyable. Might have some plot holes/missteps/
        3- This book is okay. I won’t read it again.
        2- This is technically a story. It has a ton of problems but you did manage to write something I finished and don’t actively want the time I spent reading back.
        1- I want all your characters to die in a horrible fire or I couldn’t finish it.

      3. Absurda*

        Yeah, this is me. The vast majority of books I rate on goodreads are 3’s which to me is a perfectly average score: it’s not outstanding but not unenjoyable either. I’ve done a few 4’s (mostly for literary merit) and some 2’s (for really bad books) but I don’t think I’ve ever rated anything a 1 or 5. Something would have to be a true stand out (positively or negatively) to get a 1 or 5.

        I behave the same way for other surveys as well. On almost all 1-5 scale surveys my responses cluster in the 2-4 range. 5’s are reserved for truly above and beyond, never expected level of service. Similarly, if I’m rating something a 1 it was a really, beyond imagination terrible experience. Most transactions are really a perfectly average, normal, expected 3.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      It’s also interesting because when it comes to employee evaluations, tons of workplaces treat 5/5 as only for exceptional work, and 3/5 is the starting point.

      I love OPs responses, they seem super-thoughtful, but I would ask them if they always expect their staff to get the highest mark – because that makes a difference in how they complete the survey. 4/5 could mean “well above average, but not exceptional”, because that’s the culture the staff are assessed in.

      1. Lizzy May*

        Yes, this. My company acts like giving me a rating above a 3/5 is basically impossible unless you move actual heaven and earth and that impacts my salary and bonus yet they expect me to give them a 5/5 on our annual employee survey. It’s very frustrating.

      2. OP2*

        “they always expect their staff to get the highest mark”

        No way! We work in customer support so there is that internalized (from society, from past jobs, etc) belief that only perfect is best. I’ve tried really hard to make sure they know that you can’t please everyone. No part of their job is affected by customer surveys and I push back on management if they try. All ratings are meant to be treated as a learning experience “do you think you could have improved? Cool do that next time. No? Eh can’t please everyone.”

        So all of this…totally good reminder that I need to rewire those same pathways in my own brain because obviously I need to work on it too.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I think it’s far better to have a scale in words like the Harry Potter universe where you’re grading for expectations, so the middle is “meets expectations” then “works slightly / significantly above / below expectations”, then convert the responses into a 1-5 scale for analysis.

      And then actually expect “meets expectations”.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        But then managers change their expectations based on the employee… it’s like when your truant sibling gets a C in a class and that’s something to be celebrated, and you’ve been diligently working this whole time so no one cares about your A.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          That’s a fair comment. It would need to be “meets expectations for the position” rather than more personal.

        2. Anonariffic*

          Exactly- you’re usually a perfect unicorn of an employee but you were 15 minutes late that one morning when a bridge collapsed and the entire city was gridlocked for hours, so you didn’t meet attendance expectations. Meanwhile, the slacker in the next cube over exceeded expectations because he now comes into the office with a hangover rather than calling out sick every Monday.

      2. Susie Q*

        Expectations are difficult to judge as well. All the places I’ve worked has used expectations. My current company expects most people to have meet expectations with a few exceeds expectations. Whereas a previous company wanted exceeds expectations for everything. Rating scales are completely subjective.

    4. Sled dog mana*

      At a former job we had this disconnect. On external client surveys we were expected to “strive for fives” but on our internal annual reviews 3/5 was considered normal and 5/5 was reserved for a truly exceptional year. I once gots 3.5 for leading a major accreditation project (2 year project) really well and putting in major work getting policies written down that should have been spread across the department.
      I know of one 4/5 for someone who came up with an idea for a new revenue stream with minimal investment from the company.
      Fortunately our supervisor made a point of saying that a 3 was expected and what was needed to get the company wide “merit” increase (which was really a COL increase).

    5. hbc*

      This reminds me that we created a movie review database back in college that normalized your score based on what your overall rating distribution was. So a movie that got straight 8s from a bunch of picky people would end up with a higher rating than one that got a bunch of 9s and 10s from people who loved every movie they saw.

      Yes, we were nerds.

    6. Threeve*

      I have to process applications from teenagers for a high-demand summer program, with applications rated on a number of criteria. And even though our committee members know that we can’t accept everyone, they almost never give less than a four on any aspect of the applications. If something is truly unacceptable, they might squeeze in a 3.5 (when it should really get a 1), but they just feel guilty ranking the kids poorly even though the kids will never see the scores.

      So I frequently have to distinguish between a 4.85 and a 4.87, when 4.87’s application is actually miles better, and it’s ridiculous.

  17. Tuppence*

    #2 No idea if this is relevant or not to your situation but could it be a cross cultural issue?

    I worked for a European company that had a US parent company and there is a definite divide in how people marked surveys. A friend of mine explained it as Americans give 10 if nothing went wrong, the Europeans give 8 if everything is going amazing because things can always get better.

    Even if its not cross cultural it could even be a personal survey answering habit. They might the kind of person (like me) who doesn’t like to give all the same answers on a survey page.

    1. OP2*

      Yes! My team is very international so I know there are just differences in how things are scored (it’s the bane of my existence in customer surveys because I always have to explain we need to weigh them differently depending on cultural divides).

      It’s part of why I had put it out of my mind and sort of forgot about it until I got the email that my question was being published (surprise!). It’s not like my team (or me for that matter!) were being judged professionally on those scores. It’s just a way to take a snapshot of how people are feeling and I’m maybe (not maybe I know this about myself), as Allison put it in another comment, overly conscientious.

      And in this case my team is almost entirely in Europe or Asia and between personalities and culture I just shouldn’t have been surprised at all. It just caught me off guard on a bad day, since it’s something the team as a whole had had a discussion about quite recently and we’d had a good open discussion around it (not a conversation started by me even).

    2. Avasarala*

      Very true. I recently had to explain to my US bosses why the Asia feedback scores were so low! These kinds of surveys are seen as an opportunity to provide places to improve, and employees think that companies actually want them to provide critical feedback, because where/how else are you going to get it?

    3. Mx*

      I am from France and I would put 9 for really amazing as 10 would mean absolute perfection. Probably doesn’t exist. We tend to focus on what needs improvement while Americans may focus more on the positive.

      1. Zillah*

        I think it may also have a lot to do with how scores are used – it’s not necessarily that Americans choose to focus on the positives as much as it is that Americans have been taught that not-perfect scores can have tangible consequences. When I mark a lyft ride where nothing went wrong with five stars, it’s because I know that something lower is going to impact the driver, and I don’t want that.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah – there are a lot of people in powerful corporate positions here who demand that everything be perfect, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the rest of us. (Though toxic positivity is real and sadly prevalent, and I think that is mostly an American thing.)

        2. DataSci*

          This, exactly. I used to routinely use 4/5 for “Nothing was wrong, but there was nothing above-and-beyond amazing.” Uber and Lyft have trained most of us out of this. Sadly, in many cases ratings have become “Does the person responsible for this deserve to get in trouble for it?” yes/no question, and if we don’t know in advance which it is, we’ll err on the side of “I’m not going to risk this driver getting fired for taking the slow route.”

    4. Junior Assistant Peon*

      We had 360 feedback at a former employer, where we were asked to score several categories on a scale of 1 to 5. I interpreted that to mean that 3 should be an average score. I was horrified to learn that the real average was something like 4.9 and I had been unintentionally screwing up my teammates’ performance reviews for years!

      1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        4.9 as average?? ACK! I just did one of those for a colleague and gave her a mix a 4s and 5s because I was feeling like 4 was an average score. She’s definitely above average so now I feel bad.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          I don’t know the exact average, just that most people gave straight 5’s or mixes of 4’5 and 5’s. I had been giving a lot of 3’s without realizing I was ruining people’s performance reviews.

    5. londonedit*

      I was asked earlier today to provide feedback on some interaction with my mobile phone provider, and because of this thread I actually made an effort to put 9 or 10 for everything (because yes I was perfectly satisfied) rather than my natural reaction, which would have been ‘Yes, it was fine, I guess 6 or 7, it wasn’t amazing but there weren’t any problems’. I’d never really thought about the fact that a lot of companies probably view anything other than a 9 or 10 as an issue, whereas the majority of customers probably wouldn’t ever give a 9 or 10 unless everything was absolutely spot on perfect and out-of-the-ordinary amazing.

      1. ...*

        Yup can confirm we use these surveys. Look up NPS (Net Promoter Score). On a Net Promoter score model giving a 6 counts as a -100 for how the scale is calculated. It is extremely hard to come back from lower scores.

    6. grace*

      I work in survey research – it’s amazing how often we run into people who “never put higher than 4 on a 5-point scale because it could always improve” or “a 3 out of 5 is good enough for me.” It’s definitely something we have to take into consideration when analyzing scores and should absolutely be thought about in surveys about employment, too.

    7. Mary*

      I’m used to hearing about customer service surveys where anything other than 10/10 or 5 stars is a failing grade for the poor service employee. So at this point I give everything other than massive incompetence a perfect score.

      1. Absurda*

        Yeah, I’ve experienced this. I called my internet provider once with an issue then did the survey afterward. I gave everything my usual neutral and above neutral responses. I was perfectly satisfied: I called, he was polite and solved my problem fairly quickly but it wasn’t anything mind blowing. Just an average interaction. After I completed the survey, I received an automated email from the company they were sorry I wasn’t happy with my experience. I mean, what? I wasn’t doing back flips out of sheer joy but I wasn’t unhappy either.

        That’s why I stopped doing these kinds of surveys. They don’t really want usable feedback, they’re only interested in ultra high numbers, it’s just a BS exercise and I have better things to do with my time.

  18. Observer*

    #4 – This is explicitly illegal. You cannot discriminate in any of the protected categories because customers will be uncomfortable.

    I just saw an article about a person who demanded to be served by someone who is not black (although I imagine they use a far less neutral term). The manager that accommodated this was fired. I don’t think it’s because the company has such wonderful moral sensitivity, but because they have competent HR. And what the manager did was flat out illegal even though customer was EXPLICITLY “uncomfortable” with the black server.

    1. JKP*

      When I worked at a Deaf relay center, customers calling in could request a male or female operator. Presumably because it would be weird talking to someone of one gender, but have the relay operator be the opposite gender, especially in more intimate calls with your significant other. It never seemed like discrimination perhaps because it would balance out in the end.

      1. Avasarala*

        Oh this is fascinating. I don’t know of any such thing in the interpreting world of spoken languages, and I am very interested to see the basis for that. In my experience, individuals can certainly have preferences for which gender is easier to understand, but that’s not something you can explicitly request.

        1. JKP*

          Interpreting might be different because it’s more public than private. Relay is your private phone calls, which can include phone sex with your boyfriend. I relayed plenty of multiple hour phone conversations between young couples while I worked there, and I can image that the wrong gender voice would have broken the spell that you were speaking directly to your significant other rather than through a middleman.

          1. JKP*

            Oh, and to add to that, the customers could choose not to reveal it was a relay call, like if they didn’t want someone to know they were Deaf. So that would be hard to put off if the relay operator wasn’t your same gender.

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        That might be the bona fide occupational qualifications thing Alison mentioned?

        We had a more extreme case when my great aunt went into a dementia nursing home. One of the other residents, on one of her bad days, would shout, scream, and eventually hit and throw things at any of the nursing staff who weren’t male. So she only got male nurses. This was a case of protecting the staff as well as the other residents (and it’s not like the female nurses suddenly became idle because they were no longer looking after her)

        1. Smithy*

          I was actually just thinking about the medical field, and in lots of cases wanting someone who sees you naked (ob/gyn or otherwise) or emotionally vulnerable (a therapist) to be X is not treated the same way as asking for a server who is X.

          That being said, while the desire for a therapist of color or woman ob/gyn is seen in one way – not sure how a patient who only wants a white male doctor is treated.

        2. Smithy*

          I have to say….the more I was thinking about “client comfort” – two big things came to mind, the medical/therapeutic profession and spas (specifically waxers).

          The notion of a woman having a preference for the sex of her ob/gyn is taken as a care consideration. Similarly wanting a woman that may come from your religious or ethnic community is seen as understandable if perhaps a harder ask (i.e. as a Muslim woman, I’d like my ob/gyn to be a Muslim woman). Also therapists, the desire for a therapist from your community and making that request of a large hospital or insurance company – that’s also seen as different. However, then there’s the flip side of “I only want a white male doctor” or another one I’ve seen “I want a doctor who’s older than me”, how do health care customer service reps handle that concept of “patient preference”.

          And then with healthcare, while I see perhaps a more blurry line around patient preference vs customer preference – I have never encountered a man who waxes. To such a point that if I made an appointment at a new place and was given a gender neutral or even traditionally male name of my waxer – I would likely still be shocked to show up and see a man. However with a massage therapist, again while it’s understood to be a more mixed profession, it’s still common to ask for preference of a man or woman.

          So while I understand the concept of bona fide exception…..it feels like there remain so many opportunities where it acceptable to say “I want someone who is like me to provide my services” or “I want a traditional representative of the majority” when it comes to health and body care, that how that mentality can blend over into banking or food service seems far too easy.

          1. Amy Sly*

            Yes, but I think preferring a female gyn is an appropriate request, whether for religious, cultural, or just personal reasons.

            *One of the male gyns I’ve had seemed like a decent guy, but he had this super bushy mustache that kinda weirded me out. Kept thinking he’d have to get close in to look at something and that thing would be tickling me like crazy.

          2. Whoop*

            Yes, but plenty of people who want to see a gynaecologist would prefer to be seen by a female gyno, and would request one. If you are hiring a gynaecologist and your office currently has two male gynos, it would presumably be acceptable and legal to preferentially hire a female gyno.

            1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

              Right. And that’s also for like — TSA agents, for example. Most people would prefer to get a patdown from someone of the same gender. So needing to replace an outgoing female staff member with another female staff member would be sensible for hiring.

      3. Delta Delta*

        This is interesting. I’ve had relay calls before and I’m trying to remember if the relay operator was the same gender as the caller or not. It might be a little odd if I’m on one end talking to Suzanne but the voice coming through sounds like Will Arnett. On the other hand, you know you’re talking to a relay operator so you know it’s someone else’s voice.

        I’m probably going to think about this all day to see if I remember how those calls went.

    2. WS*

      My workplace has twice had to ban customers for demanding to only speak to white people. We’re a majority white business in a vastly majority white area, but it still happens.

    3. Retail not Retail*

      We had a customer once with a swastika tattoo on his forehead. He didn’t ask for a different cashier but she took one look at him and walked away. The manager that night was a black woman as well so… he used self-checkout or left.

      My sister tried to argue we discriminated against him!

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        I hate it when people use the word “discrimination” in this way. He chose to have a swastika tattooed onto his forehead. What did he think would happen?

        1. Jennifer*

          Exactly, HE was in the position of power there, not the employees. They did what was needed to stay safe.

        1. Retail not Retail*

          “What if it was a prison tattoo and he had to get it to survive?” …… he could wear a hat

          1. Observer*

            Nonsense. Prisons are pretty bad places, but there is no US prison where you need a swastika tattoo ON YOUR FOREHEAD to survive.

            1. Autumnheart*

              Maybe look into getting it removed/covered up/wear makeup once you’re released, so people don’t see your involuntary swastika tattoo?

    4. blackcat*

      I think there are some exceptions. Ex: I *think* a medical office can hire a woman in order to have a woman on staff for sensitive exams that a patient may refuse from a male practitioner or the other way around. Similarly, some law enforcement agencies may need to have a certain staffing of one or the other gender.

      1. River Song*

        I was just going to ask about this! My husband’s department is trying to hire more POC and women and there are definate grumblings about it from some people. We live in an area that is mostly white, so naturally the people hiring are mostly white and men. There have been times where they let a woman who didn’t pass the obstacle course in time train and retry, where they would never allow one of the men to do that (until the next hiring round, of course) I feel like it’s reasonable to do for the greater good, but some of his coworkers don’t

        1. blackcat*

          There’s also the fact that an obstacle course may have been designed with more male-oriented feats of strength. Men do have greater upper body strength relative to their mass than women on average. Women have similar lower body strength to men, though.

          I think the right thing to do is actually think about how the obstacle course reflects the actual challenges people may face on the job and adjust the course accordingly.

          1. River Song*

            Well I think women already have more time to complete it. So while I can see their point to an extent, I still think it’s a good idea to do what they can to diversify the force as much as possible. If I’m assaulted, I want to talk to a female detective.

            1. Jennifer*

              I’m not so sure about that now. I’ve read so much about male AND female detectives bungling those types of investigations just out of pure ignorance and assumptions about how victims are supposed to behave after an assault. I think it’s less about gender and more about people receiving the proper training. If I were in that situation I would want a trauma-informed investigator to talk to me.

              1. River Song*

                That is a really good point. My husband was a detective for years before getting the proper training for interviewing sexual assault victims, and he was horrified after that he had been doing the interviews without it, and most of them didnt have that training. Maybe its just a personal preference, but I would be more comfortable talking to a woman, all things equal. (But also, I don’t think the token female detective should have to work all sexual assault and child abuse cases by default. It’s a tricky thing.)

                1. Jennifer*

                  Yeah, that one woman detective would get burned out quickly.

                  If I had a preference, I’d want a properly trained woman detective too, but I think talking to a poorly trained one who blamed me for my own assault might be even more damaging.

                2. blackcat*

                  I don’t think it’s just a personal preference.
                  After I was assaulted, I had a hard time being alone with ANY man. It wasn’t rational. It was the trauma and PTSD. That’s not always the case, but it often is. It was quite some time before I could describe what happened to me to *any* male-presenting person.

                  So training is important, but it’s possible for a victim to have an uncontrollable, trauma-caused response to a people of a certain gender.

            2. Smithy*

              When it comes to women ob/gyns or detectives and POC therapists – roles of that nature where providing more competent care and service to patients or victims/witnesses of crimes – does that follow under the bona fide concept? Because the flip side being if a person insists on waiting for a white male detective or doctor and refuses to be interviewed/care from another detective/doctor – how does the law and best business practice step in here?

              Very curious about how these two approaches are handled, because I do think they more often than not get exploited in debate style arguments as a means of offering excuses to uphold exclusionary preferences.

              1. Jennifer*

                Well, it’s not really comparable because if you’re a white man that would prefer to talk to a white male doctor or a white male detective you wouldn’t have much trouble finding one. If you’re white in general and prefer to talk to a white professional, you won’t have much trouble finding one.

                That being said, I don’t think a man that had been assaulted and insisted on talking to a male detective would be looked down upon. I think most people would understand why.

                1. Smithy*

                  If you’re talking about an emergency room though, and if a woman were to request female doctor or nurse due to comfort issues I still see that as very different than if a patient were to request being seen by a white male doctor. Additionally, you’ll have situations where your normal doctor may be out, and another one is assigned.

                  Similarly, putting aside assault specifically – the case can be made that any victim of any crime is in a vulnerable situation and what is done about a request for a white male officer because that’s what would make them feel better. Again, very curious what best practices can be to push against “client comfort” in cases of racism/sexism while acknowledging marginalized communities making those requests are coming from different places with different needs.

              2. Koala dreams*

                I’ve heard that many men and many women prefer women service providers, because women are seen as more caring than men. I wonder if that’s true?
                Getting back to the issue of doctors, I’m not sure that people in general prefer a doctor of their own gender. Some women prefer that their gyn doctor is a man, for example.

                1. Alexandra Lynch*

                  I prefer female medical providers because I feel, right or wrong, that they will understand my needs and concerns better. Women still, to a large extent, go home and still have to find dinner, do the laundry, pick up the house, etc, and it doesn’t matter how she “feels” about it or if she “wants” to do it, it has to be done. I have gotten a perception from male doctors that since I don’t work for a paycheck that therefore my work isn’t important, and it doesn’t matter if I feel bad or have impaired mobility, or have to change my lower garments several times a day.

              3. Adultiest Adult*

                In practice, it’s tricky. I work in mental health in a large agency, and sometimes assigning therapists gets challenging. We accommodate male/female preferences to the extent we can (but we are usually 80-90% female staffed anyway) and will understand if someone wants to wait for someone of their preferred gender to be available. We do our best on the more subjective “I want someone older/younger than me.” Because those considerations actually do impact clinical care. But if you came in and refused to work with anyone over 40, or said that you didn’t want a therapist of color, or only wanted “an attractive therapist,” we have no problem telling you we can’t accommodate you.

  19. TimeCat*

    For LW1, given the food waste, I’d also immediately step in if you had smells and risked bugs or rodents. That could make people sick and must be stopped immediately.

    1. SD*

      I was thinking about food splotches (chocolate smudges, coffee drips, crumbs) ending up on papers that need to be handled by others either at her desk or received from her. Yuck!

    2. tink*

      Agree. They should have a small trash can at their desk, and if they’re not using that for food waste or trash I actually have bigger concerns than the messy desk? However, if we’re talking about something like “Sansa brings a small bowl of grapes and the lid migrates around her desk as she shuffles paper stacks around” I’m less concerned.

  20. Lena Clare*

    LW2
    The feedback was about how the employee felt neutral about disagreeing with you?

    Well… the fact that you want to address it with them (when it’s meant to be anonymous!!) kind of proves them right. You can’t take feedback without wanting to disagree about how you can take feedback?

    Let it go, and be thankful that you get neutral-to-good feedback that’s honest.

    1. OP2*

      I mean, I did say I knew how ridiculous it was in my letter :).

      It was more around it being a theme of people feeling insecure or too shy to bring things up and I wanted to know how I could communicate that it’s safe and encouraged. But I can’t. I just need to show them over time.

      So don’t worry I’d already moved on with no intention of bringing up 90% of the survey with them. And the 10% I did was with the team who as a whole all answered the same way around something, myself included, and I wanted to let them know I’ve been working with the company to fix the issue and changes were coming.

      1. Penny Parker*

        This response also proves the feedback is valid. You keep doubling down on your defensiveness instead of simply owning the issue. This would read a lot better if you started out recognizing the speaker (you are correct, which is why…) instead of only focusing on yourself and defending yourself.

        1. Zillah*

          Wait, what??? How on earth is “yeah, I knew I was being ridiculous, I moved on and the only part of the survey I addressed was to tell people that something a lot of people were concerned by is being addressed” defensive and doubling down??

      2. Susie Q*

        There is nothing a boss could do to prove to me that I could provide anything other than superficial feedback. Your own response is proving my hesitation in providing feedback.

  21. Ele4phant*

    #3 ummm what? I live in the area, and both my husband and I’d companies have told us to work from home for three weeks.

    His large tech company literally had a security guard at the door to tell people they could grab what they need but couldn’t stay to work.

    Everyone is freaking out…and there are people still giving others flack for following the company and local government recommended guidelines?!

    1. Delta Delta*

      I live in an area (not the same as yours) where there are a few confirmed cases. People are freaking out that the names of people with confirmed cases aren’t being published so they can know if they’ve had contact with them or not. I’ve also had to wait in line to wash my hands in some public restrooms because people are being so thorough with their hand washing. Seems like most people are taking this really seriously.

    2. kstours1*

      OP3 here. Thanks, Ele4phant. I’m glad you feel the same way I do. I saw how empty the freeways were in the Seattle area yesterday, so I was surprised my sister was being given such a hard time for working from home.

      1. JustaTech*

        Your sister’s coworkers are 1) jerks and 2) about to find themselves vigorously shunned.
        I work in the same area and while I’m coming in to the office (it’s pretty spaced out, I drive, and I can’t take lab work home), all the tech folks I know are mandatory WFH. And that’s a huge proportion of the workforce around here. Like, at the rate this is going I wouldn’t be surprised if there is anyone who could work from home who *isn’t* asked to. It’ll be just health care workers/lab folks, child care workers and food service.
        So your sister’s coworkers are a very small minority, and it’s totally reasonable for her to push back firmly both with coworkers and her manager. (And yes tell HR!)

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve even seen local restaurants running understaffed on purpose and offering only take away.

  22. Fikly*

    #2: Your reaction to this survey? That’s why you got the response you did. Think about it.

    1. Jennifer*

      I was thinking that too. She got feedback that an employee may not feel that they can disagree with them, the OP disagreed with that and overreacted big time. She proved the employee’s point.

      1. Jessica*

        I don’t want to pile on, because I believe that LW2 wants to support their team, but that’s exactly what I thought. Going by this alone, there is *something* that is preventing your colleagues from feeling like it’s OK to disagree with you. You sound sincere in your wish to welcome healthy discussion—so it would be worth looking at what messages you could be sending that could be giving off this impression. I say this as someone who theoretically values open discussion but who has been given similar feedback.

        * Is your first reaction to a disagreement to defend yourself?
        * Do you feel angry when someone disagrees with you? Not *acting* angry, necessarily, but *feeling* it? That’s fine, but if that’s the case it could be coming out in ways you don’t recognize.
        * Do you find that when someone disagrees with you, that changes how you interact with them, even in the short term? That doesn’t have to mean holding a grudge or being gruff—I find myself bending over backward to be super super nice to someone after a disagreement. But that also shows that I think there’s something inherently wrong or mean about a disagreement (that I then need to “correct” by being super nice, when in fact it’s a part of a healthy workplace.

        I dunno. Everyone else is making great points about scoring systems and such, but this really leaped out to me. Something to consider!

      2. Fikly*

        Yeah, I saw in the comments where they were saying how they wrote in right after and then later they calmed down. But that overreaction in the moment is exactly why this feedback was given, if it’s a pattern.

  23. Raindancer*

    #1: If she’s got food on her desk and it’s truly messy, then she’s probably got empty food wrappers and (ick) old food stuffed somewhere under the layers of detritus and THAT is an issue for the whole office. At the very least, food that’s sitting around can attract ants. Worse? Roaches and even mice. I’ve worked in many offices that did allow employees to eat at their desks, but all food trash had to go in the kitchen. Once you get mice or insects, it can be very hard to get rid of them!

    1. bikes*

      Exactly! Half-eaten snacks and discarded wrappers attract all sorts of pests. Having a gross office greatly impacts morale.

  24. Jbd*

    Re #5. Like me, this employee might be a night owl and/or be used to communicating with others late at night
    Also, depending on the industry(could be an overnight shift employee) they could need something while working. Telling them should work just fine, but it’s possible they don’t mean disrespect :)

  25. Ganymede*

    OP#1 – messy desk.

    I know people leap to diagnose sometimes, but that sounds like my desk and I’ve just been diagnosed as an adult with ADHD. I have been a good employee and now do voluntary work from home, and my desk is a disgrace, piled high. But I do get the work done, I’m great in a crisis, I’m quick-thinking and inventive.
    As a teen and young woman I used to come out-of a he’ll hole of a room (you could barely see the floor), practically catwalk-ready.
    Obviously you can’t ask your employee to get tested for ADHD, but have a google and see if it fits. It often goes undiagnosed in women as it presents slightly differently. I must say the trash and food is just unacceptable, I never left food packets/remains around. Maybe make sure she has her own bin under her desk?

    The mantra that is currently helping me most is: “Don’t put anything down, put it away”!

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Also adult duagnised ADD here.
      For me, “if you can’t find it, you don’t really have it” led me to be extra careful about sorting & labeling.
      I got a LOT of better habits out of a corporate 5S initiative that explicitly provided us with time to do the sorting, standardizing, sustaining, etc. We were given guidelines organizing, weekly feedback for the initial months of the program, and most importantly, explicitly rewarded for staying clean & organized. Departments with top ratings got praised in meetings…it was excellent for me.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I was childhood diagnosed, thought I had outgrown it. Nope. Especially after I had a stroke.

        If I can’t see something, it’s like it doesn’t exist. It either has to be visible or the container has to be labelled.

        If I don’t put a thing away upon bringing it into the house, it stays wherever it was dropped off until I get time to organize, sometimes months later.

        My desk and drawers at work are the same way. I had to go through and decide what went where, and god help anyone who messes with it.

        When I did a lot of work with paper, I had piles. Each pile was a certain type and status of a thing. If I took time off and people messed with my piles trying to “help me get organized”, I was damn near unable to work for a week while I tried to find things.

        Using computer has made things easier. I can organize my tickets, source repos and web info in my browser windows in multiple workspaces. Yes, I get mocked for having multiple tabs open. Too bad, it helps me find stuff.

        I do avoid garbage (abandoned food, crumbs, wet or dirty stuff) on my desk. Sometimes I end up with a little, but clean it off before I leave. I regularly wipe down my keyboard, because a dirty keyboard grosses me out.

    2. ADHDesk*

      Just came to say the same thing! I’m sitting at a fairly disgraceful desk right now but I get a lot of good work done and I just… never keep up with keeping it clear. I clean it off once a quarter and I do try to keep up with the trash but actually as I write this I think I see two week old pad thai in a chinese food container I’m just going to go toss that riiiiiiight now.

    3. Normally a Lurker*

      Hard same on all of this. I am also and adult with ADHD with a VERY messy desk full of stuff.

      And honestly, if my desk were clean, I wouldn’t get work done.

      I also have general questions in terms of what “trash and food” means. For instance, I often eat about half of my lunch right away, then pick on the rest of it for several more hours. To be clear, as does half of my co-workers. I also do the same thing when there is cake or pastries for whatever reason. My desk is always clear of food when I leave at night though. But if that’s what you’re calling “food” all over my desk, then… that’s not what that is exactly?

      There’s a lot about this letter that I have questions as to what the definitions of words are.

      Anyway, I think Alison’s answer is right on here.

    4. Alexandra Lynch*

      For my ADHD, clear space is a clear head. I don’t like clutter because that makes me anxious. So my desk has the minimum stuff on it I need to function, and trash goes in the trash so that I know I don’t have to think about it any more.

  26. a passerby*

    There is so much wrong with #3

    I would contact HR immediately, who I imagine will come down on the manager and coworker like a metric ton of bricks. If they aren’t outright fired for it, they’ll probably get a stern reprimand and generate a lot of cursing in the HR department.

    You know what is worse then exposing the company to large liability for what is very likely illegal discrimination?
    Doing so while proliferating a pandemic. If this story made it to the press the company would be eviscerated in public, especially in a county that is the center of the US covid outbreak.

  27. triplehiccup*

    Re 3 – No question Alison’s advice is the right thing to do. I’m curious, though, how it affects supervisory relationships when an employer is forced to bring in HR, particularly when it comes to references, since by design you aren’t meant to know exactly what a reference says about you (or, perhaps more importantly in a case like this, how they say it). Do you just lay out the situation calmly and request that they not call that manager?

    1. Observer*

      It often has a negative impact. The thing is, though, that the relationship is already pretty fired here. So, hopefully HR will be competent enough to insure that OP’s sister is not retaliated against.

  28. RUKiddingMe*

    “ No manager has a team where every person feels strongly positive about them in all areas. (If their surveys show that, they’re probably not getting totally honest feedback.)“

    I was going to say that given that employees might not trust surveys to be truly anonymous any super positive type of feedback should always be taken with a grain of salt.

    Neutral is neutral. Not everyone is going to think you (the general you) hung the moon. That’s ok.