can I ask coworkers not to talk about coronavirus, wolf whistle ring tone, and more

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

1. My boss wants me to push my crew harder — but then he undermines me

My boss is always pressuring me to push my crew harder and enforce rules with more diligence. We primarily use write-ups (document containing description of offense, number of “points,” and signatures of acknowledgement from employee/supervisor/director) to keep track of the path of disciplinary action (warnings, suspension, termination) for various offenses (attendance, insubordination, job performance, attitude). As a supervisor of 20-40 employees per night, there are often many reasons to submit write-ups. These write-ups need to then be reviewed by the director before they are put on paper and physically issued and signed/acknowledged by associates.

However, when I push discipline upon some employees (namely, experienced veterans of the job), my boss insists on giving them a one-on-one talking-to in place of the write-up, meaning they are essentially provided a free pass on one of their points or write-ups. This doesn’t usually provide long-term changes within an employee.

Other associates quickly become disgruntled when they see their equals not receiving the same disciplinary action as themselves for similar offenses. Professionally, I can only tell them to “just continue to worry about themselves.”

Is my director softer than me? Is this maybe a morale tactic I’m not understanding? Why can he get away with letting it slide but nobody else can? How can I feel comfortable providing discipline knowing that their equals might not receive the same consequences?

The whole system is bad. You’re managing adults, not children. You should both be using one-on-one conversations with everyone, not just your veterans. If you find yourself having repeated conversations with someone about problems and those problems are serious ones, then yes, go down your path of disciplinary action. But all those write-ups are infantilizing.

I realize this doesn’t solve your problem — that your boss is pushing you to manage one way while he manages a different way — but really, the whole system is bad. That said, you can talk to your boss to try get better aligned on how to handle this stuff. Say something like, “I’ve noticed you push me to more aggressively enforce our rules, but I’ve also noticed you often make exceptions for veteran employees. I want to make sure we’re both using the same system, so can we talk through how you want all of this to work?” You can also say, “Some workers become demoralized when their mistakes are treated differently than their colleagues. If we want to do that, can we make it explicit that people who have been here longer and performed well over time do get more latitude?” (There’s no reason you can’t have a system that builds that leeway into it, but you should be transparent with people about how it works so it doesn’t seem arbitrary.)

2. Shift leader’s ring tone is a wolf whistle

I work in a fast-paced food service field, and our shift leaders are often covering more than one location at a time. They need to be able to receive texts from workers at the other locations and respond to them quickly, so their phones are usually close to them even when working with customers.

One of the leaders is a bit older than the rest of us — I think he’s in his 40s while most of the non-leader staff are in our 20s. This is only relevant because he cites his age and hearing as a reason to have his text alert set to a very loud volume. He’s used a couple different sounds since we’ve been working together, but he keeps coming back to one in particular: that two-toned cat call whistle you might recognize from cheesy movies, or cheesy guys on the street imitating it. Every time I hear it, I freeze up. I’ve tried to chill out about it, but my first thought is always: some guy is about to make a gross comment about my body. Our staff is mostly female, and I know I’m not the only one who has this reaction to it.

I have a decent rapport with this shift leader, so I’ve asked him to change it before. I tried to explain why it made me and other workers, and possibly customers, uncomfortable, but he didn’t seem to get it. He did try out a train whistle noise for a while, but he says the wolf whistle is the easiest noise for him to hear, and I guess that trumped my concerns, because it’s back.

Should I try to talk to his supervisor about this? We’re a small arm of a larger system and HR is based in another city, so I could email them but they are very hands-off and everything from them gets filtered through this top supervisor, to the shift leaders, to the rest of us. I don’t know that I’d call it sexual harassment, per se, but I’m not sure what else would get this issue handled in a serious way.

I’d try one more time with him since you have good rapport and he did change it for a while. I’d use this language: “I know we’ve talked about this before, and I appreciated you changing it, but it’s back. Can I ask you to change that ring tone permanently? For many women, including me, that ring tone is the sound of sexual harassment, and it’s very distracting and unnerving to hear it throughout the day at work.”

If that doesn’t work, then it’s reasonable to talk to his supervisor, framing it in the same way. You can be clear that you’re not reporting him for sexual harassment; you’re asking for assistance with something he’s misunderstanding that’s making at least some women deeply uncomfortable.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Can I ask my coworkers to stop talking so much about the coronavirus?

I work on a team of fewer than 10 employees. Like many people, I have recently been assigned to work from home. I have issues with anxiety, and it has been going haywire due to recent events. One thing I have started doing is only looking at the news at the beginning and end of each day. This has proven helpful on weekends, when I’m away from work. But on weekdays, the virus is a frequent topic of conversation over the team IM and text messages. Ignoring the messages isn’t an option because I need to check them regularly in case there is anything I need to take care of. Would it be unreasonable for me to ask them to avoid any virus-related chatter unless it is work-related, or to ask them to create a separate group and text message to discuss it?

It’s tricky to ask coworkers to avoid all discussion of a topic that’s on so many people’s minds — and affecting work so directly — because for many people, being able to discuss it is as anxiety-relieving for them as it is anxiety-producing for you. But yes, asking them to create a separate venue for it is a good idea, and probably more feasible. You could say, “I’m finding it really stressful to have so many messages about the virus during the workday. Would you be willing to put it on a separate group so people who want it have a place for it and people like me can opt out?” (Who knows, you might find other people would be happy to be able to opt out too.)

Read an update to this letter here.

4. My employee is using way too much hand sanitizer

My office has been deemed an essential service, so we are still going in. We have plenty of hand soap, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies for now, but obviously some of those items will be nearly impossible to restock in the short term.

I have an employee who started just before the COVID-19 situation hit the U.S., and he is honestly over-using our limited supply of hand sanitizer. He will pump multiple pumps into his hands so they are literally dripping with sanitizer, and other staff members have said they have seen him putting it on his face.

I have no idea how to address this in light of the situation. I really do not want to tell someone that they have to use less sanitizer right now, but he is over-using something that is a limited supply and effectively wasting it, as that volume is just not necessary. It’s not a cost issue, if I could order more, I would just ignore the behavior but — do I say something? Or no? And if yes, how on earth do you have that conversation right now?

Ugh, yeah, you don’t want to sound like you’re limiting his ability to protect himself, but if he’s genuinely over-using it (not just by a little, but by a lot), it’s legitimate to worry about running out and not being able to get more, given the current shortages.

So maybe: “Joe, the last thing I want to do is discourage anyone from using hand sanitizer right now and I fully understand the urge to use a lot of it. But because our supply of it is so limited, I’m concerned when I see you using so much more than the recommended amount each time. This isn’t a cost issue — I would happily purchase as much as we need — but there is a shortage of it and it is going to be very hard to restock right away when we run out. If there’s context I don’t have, let’s talk that through, but otherwise can I ask you to stick to the recommended amount, which is one pump per use?”

(Replace “one pump” with whatever the manufacturer’s directions are on your particular sanitizer. They can vary, so you’d want to check that first.)

5. My boss wants me to do my hobby as a gift for a client

I’m a marketing coordinator and photographer for a residential interior designer. I also do watercolor on the side in my spare time as a hobby. My boss adores my watercolor projects and asked me to do a watercolor of the exterior of a client’s home to give them as a gift.

How do I navigate this monetarily? All the painting supplies (paper, paint, brushes) are my own. Should I be getting paid as a normal salary employee PLUS an additional fee for the time/painting?

Your company should pay for either (1) your supplies and your time or (2) the finished product. If they have you do it as part of your regular work hours, you might choose to consider it part of your work for them and not charge anything other than the price of supplies, but I’d encourage you to do it on your own time and charge a fee. It’s reasonable to say, “The fees I’ve seen for this kind of work are around $X. Since I don’t normally do this professionally, how about (number slightly less than X)?” Or you can skip the discount if your work is professional quality.

{ 334 comments… read them below }

  1. Heidi*

    Re: Letter 4, while putting too much on your hands is wasteful, putting it on your face sounds unsafe because it could get in the eyes and mouth. Maybe you could steer him more towards soap and water washing if he’s doing this out of anxiety (as opposed to just not knowing how to use hand sanitizer). It actually is more effective than hand sanitizer, as it eliminates spores and other germs that hand sanitizer doesn’t kill.

    1. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Good point on the soap! Handwashing works better on coronavirus too. If the employee can be steered that direction, it’ll be better for everyone’s health *and* the company’s sanitizer supply.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Additionally, hand sanitizer is not meant to be used more than a few times each day. In addition to speaking to the employee, would it be helpful to post the CDC’s guidance on handwashing being the preferred method of sanitation?

      Also I cannot believe he’s putting it on his face. I have no words to tactfully respond to that.

      1. Edwina*

        Yes, I came to say the same thing. The CDC’s guidance says that soap and water and vigorous handwashing is the best way to get rid of the virus–the soap dissolves the protein surrounding the virus. Hand sanitizer is only for when you don’t have access to soap and water and is not as good. He sounds like he’s acting more out of anxiety, but please at least try to convey these facts to him, maybe it will help.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Exactly. Even beyond that, the CDC has quietly been trying to get people to stop using so much hand sanitizer for *years*. I have a few friends who work at the CDC. One of them was talking about this 15 years ago. Using too much hand sanitizer is a bit like taking low doses of antibiotics all the time–not enough to actually kill everything, but enough so that the viruses that survive are even stronger. That, and the fact that people use the stuff and think they’ve done their job of sanitation and are therefore MORE likely to spread disease than others.

          1. Quill*

            Yeah, I know some people with skin conditions related to their constant use of hand sanitizer.

          2. Al*

            I don’t know if it’s helpful to suggest that using hand sanitiser may help to kill off only weak viruses and leave those that are stronger, in the way that antibiotic treatments sometimes do for bacteria. I have given that a quick search and not found any research that backs that up – and it’s so, so important that we all only share information we’re able to verify. The idea of widespread hand sanitiser use creating a super-virus really isn’t something we need right now!

            Are you sure that your friend’s comment was in reference to alcohol-based sanitiser and viruses specifically? I do know there’s been a lot of campaigning in various countries to ban *antibiotic* hand sanitisers and soaps (with active ingredients such as triclosan) because they can help to create antibiotic-resistant *bacteria*. Most often, when people talk about discouraging hand sanitiser use because of the ‘germs’ developing resistance to it, the issue they’re talking about is bacterial resistance, not viral. Which admittedly is a HUGE problem, but not relevant to anyone using alcohol-based sanitisers to kill viruses.

            The hand sanitisers which protect against viruses (like coronavirus) contain at least 60-70% alcohol as the active ingredient instead, and are still highly recommended by WHO as the gold standard. I’d be surprised to hear that the CDC ‘quietly’ has an opposing view to them! The CDC website itself currently says that whilst handwashing is recommended for community use, alcohol-based solutions ARE an acceptable second choice, and are actually the preferred option in a clinical setting.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yeah, I really think the superbug thing was supposed to be about triclosan, and everybody kind of forgot that over the years. Alcohol kills in a different way.

        1. Koala dreams*

          I’m also thinking that. It won’t be enough to just tell him to use less hand sanitizer, he needs to know how to use it (use it on hands, don’t touch anything while it’s still wet, don’t use on face or drop on the floor). Also, if there is easy access to water and soap, maybe employees need to be reminded to wash hands thoroughly too. (It doesn’t say if he and other employees already do that, but some people think hand sanitizer is instead of washing with water and soap, so that’s a problem to look out for.)

          1. TootsNYC*

            also, you should rub hand sanitizer around in the exact same pattern as when you wash your hands:

            Maybe if you get him to focus on this technique, it will help “burn off” some of the anxiety that multiple pumps is burning off

            Also: I think people are often willing to change what they do when it’s framed as them helping others, so saying, “we have a limited supply, and other people can be anxious about it being used up too soon.”

      2. Tidewater 4-1009*

        I once saw a woman on a bus open a box of the disinfectant wipes used to clean bathrooms and *wipe her hands and face with one.*
        After that nothing surprises me.

        1. Dahlia*

          I met someone once who thought that was normal and disinfecting wipes were meant to kind of burn.

          They had not, let’s say, had a pleasant upbringing.

      3. MassMatt*

        Granted hand sanitizer is portable and can be used without water but it seems as though people are gravitating towards using it (and panic buying it) as though it’s a magical substance and forgetting that soap is superior. Maybe because it’s a newer thing people assume it’s better than soap?

        1. Bagpuss*

          I think a lot of people aren’t aware there is a difference between bacterial and viral infections and assume that ‘anti-bacterial’ = kills coronavirus.

        2. JustaTech*

          I think some people really are using it (unconsciously) as a magic talisman as well as a cleaning solution.

          I read an article recently by a psychologist that said part of the reason people panic-bought toilet paper is because they’re having a disgust reaction to the disease, and the function of toilet paper is to stand between you and something disgusting.

      4. Librarian of SHIELD*

        We keep a can of Lysol wipes at our customer service desk, and sometimes customers will ask us for one to wipe down their work station before they sit down. We had one regular customer who would come in three or four times a week and ask for a wipe before using one of the public computers. But one day, I happened to be out at the customer service desk to ask a coworker a question, and I saw him ask for a wipe, take a few steps away from the desk, and rub the wipe all over his face.

    3. Mookie*

      And owing to the amount, frequency, and areas where it is applied, tissues can become irritated, possibly turn to open sores which can then invite pathogens that cause infection.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I was going to say, since hand sanitizer is less effective than soap, he probably shouldn’t be touching his face!

    5. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

      This exactly. I came on to say encourage everyone to default to soap and water. It is more effective and is safe to rub on your face.

    6. ForkMath*

      Teacher trick: wrap a rubber band around the neck of the bottle so each squirt dispenses less. Weirdly, it seems more about the pumps than how much people actually get out of it. I don’t keep hand sanitizer in my classroom (because of super bugs) but it works on lotion and such too.

  2. Hexiva*

    It truly is a sign of dark times when I misread #2 as “Shift leader’s ring tone is a dog whistle” and was relieved to realize it was only “WOLF” whistle

    1. Willis*

      True. I interpreted the title to mean a wolf howl and was kind of intrigued by this ringtone and the OPs objection to it. Seems like an odd fight to pick as the shift leader…but I agree with AAMs advice to talk with him again about it.

      1. CAA*

        I can’t tell if you know what is meant by wolf whistle. It’s not a howling noise, it’s that two-toned whistle that some men do at women they find attractive. If you go to and search for “wolf whistle”, you’ll find a few examples that might help you understand why it’s a problem. The OP’s bracing herself because “some guy is about to make a gross comment about my body” is pretty common as that’s usually what happens right after that kind of whistle.

        1. Willis*

          I understand reading the letter, but it’s not what first came to mind skimming the title. I don’t misunderstand the problem.

          1. LadyByTheLake*

            It’s an offensive cat call sound. It is hard to imagine any scenario today where that sound would be acceptable.

            1. MassMatt*

              I am remembering the many old movies and especially cartoons (Tex Avery!) that featured it and cringing in retrospect. And in most cases the objectified women were drawn/directed to smile and bat their eyes. Ugh.

              OK food service work is less formal than most work environments but still, this sounds really disruptive. How about he set his phone to vibrate, or hey, just check for texts on his breaks like everyone else? I can’t imagine a workplace with whistles, chimes, gongs, trumpet noises, pop tunes etc going off all the time whenever people got calls or texts.

              Not to mention, is he digging around in his pocket for his phone and then prepping food? Sounds unsanitary to say the least.

              1. Observer*

                How about he set his phone to vibrate, or hey, just check for texts on his breaks like everyone else?

                From what the OP says, that doesn’t seem to be an option, because time sensitive work related texts are coming in.

                1. AKchic*

                  Food service-issued trousers have pockets. I know, because I wore them before I decided that I was done dealing with the sexual harassment of the customers and the drama of the coworkers and the lack of effective leadership of the management.
                  You can also *buy* your own trousers (most fast food facilities require you to supply your own, anyway) with pockets. It used to be a rule that you could not have a phone “on the line”, but as a manager, perhaps this rule is different (it wasn’t when I still worked food service, and wasn’t 3 years ago when my son was working food service). If someone business-related wanted to get in touch with management, they called the business’s landline. Or they emailed the employee’s business email, which went to the office computer.
                  I’m thinking he just *likes* that tone and is using his age and whatever potential excuses he can to keep using it. There are so many other high-pitched tones out there that he could use. Or other work-arounds because tones in a kitchen full of beeps, whistles, tones, etc. are distracting enough as it is. His phone shouldn’t be a distraction for *anyone* and shouldn’t be a potential SA issue.

                2. Observer*

                  @AKchic, it’s the OP who says that he needs to have the phone and see incoming texts as they come in.

                  I do, however, agree with you that this guy is just being a jerk. Even with a hearing issue, it’s just not possible that this is the ONLY tone he can hear.

              2. Eukomos*

                I frequently don’t feel my phone vibrate when it’s in my pocket and I’m focusing on something else, even in pretty tight jeans which I imagine are not what a supervisor is wearing to work. It sounds like part of his job is reading texts in a timely manner, and he needs a loud tone that he can hear in an environment with a lot of background noise. The whole point of loud whistles like that is to get the attention of a person who is ignoring you and has zero interest in paying attention to you, so I can see why that ringtone would cut through the noise and be useful. He’s discounting what OP told him about how upsetting it is for her because it’s so useful for him. I suspect under those circumstances she’ll need to bring in HR or higher ups to get him to take her seriously, since assuming she’s overstating the problem makes his life easier. People really like believing things that make their lives easier.

            2. Vicky Austin*

              “It is hard to imagine any scenario today where that sound would be acceptable”

              Strip clubs? Brothels?

          2. Observer*

            You UNDERSTAND the problem and you STILL think it’s an odd battle to pick?!

            I hope that you don’t have any power over any woman, in any capacity.

        2. CupcakeCounter*

          I also read it as howl originally but the letter makes it obvious that it is a cat call whistle we all know and loathe.
          I also read Willis’ comment as it is an odd battle for the shift leader (not the OP) to be picking by continually going back to it – not that the OP should be backing off.

          1. Sally*

            That’s helpful – thank you! I think a lot of us misread and thought Willis was saying the OP shouldn’t persist in raising the issue with the shift leader.

          2. Willis*

            Yes, that’s what I meant…why does he keep going back to it? Either he didn’t get the severity of the issue the first time OP talked to him or he’s doing it on purpose. I think Alison’s advice to talk with him about it again, and maybe the second time he’ll get it. At least it will be impossible to claim ignorance. But I think it’s weird he didn’t just change it when the OP asked originally…there are tons of other equally or more non-subtle ringtones one would be likely to hear.

            1. Observer*

              OK, I misread as well. I apologize for my reaction.

              This is one of the few times I REALLY wish I could delete a comment.

            2. LunaLena*

              I’ve found that a lot of guys, especially older ones, firmly believe that women secretly enjoy wolf whistles, because “it’s a compliment.” I have tried to explain why, as a woman who has been catcalled in public and made to feel uncomfortable, this is not the case, but all I usually get is “you’re wrong, I KNOW women actually like it.” I once asked one such person how he “knew” this, and if he had actually heard a woman say so, and the response I got was “because it’s obvious.”

              So my money is on this guy being genuinely clueless that this is genuinely distressing for a lot of women to hear, and thinks that the employees secretly like it or are, at worst, indifferent to it.

              1. AKchic*

                Sometimes, you have to keep asking how they know.

                Spoiler: It’s because *they* like how it makes *them* feel. That’s it. They truly don’t GAF about how the women actually feel. They like the way the women react (in any way) when they do it, because when women react in any way at all, it gives them power, and that is the only thing that matters. If he has power, he has control. If he has power/control, he is happy. Therefore, whistle means he is powerful, in control, strong (insert ridiculous ego-stroking adjective here).

                1. Eukomos*

                  Agreed, it’s the same mechanism that fuels procrastination. When you do something that you enjoy (like putting off a distressing task until tomorrow, or getting the attention of a woman walking by), the human brain falsely attributes that enjoyment to everyone in the situation, even though the slightest application of logic will tell you that tomorrow you will still find that task distressing, and the woman saying she hates being whistled at is telling the truth.

                2. LunaLena*

                  Oh, I know. But try explaining that to guys like that. Most just don’t want to hear it, because it would mean they have to *gasp* change their own behavior! :)

                  I once told my mostly reasonable brother, “if a girl says she would like to pay for her own meal on a date, just let her.” His immediate response was “no, that can’t be right, girls like it when you pay for them.” I told him “AS A SINGLE YOUNG WOMAN WHO SOCIALIZES WITH OTHER SINGLE YOUNG WOMEN, I am telling you that most single women out there prefer that you just let her pay when she offers to because [reasons].” He said “Well I’m going to keep doing it, because it’s the nice thing to do.” I responded that not listening to them is the opposite of being nice, and again, if I were on a date and offered to pay my share, I would be very upset if my date ignored me. His response? “Well, you’re different from other women.” There’s just no reasoning with some people.

                3. Vicky Austin*

                  Exactly. Most of them know that catcalling a female stranger on the street is not going to get them a date. They do it because it gives them an ego trip knowing that they have the ability to make women uncomfortable and threatened just by making a sound. No man who catcalls would never admit it, though. He just insists that it’s a compliment, and if a women doesn’t like catcalls, then it’s her own fault for not having the decency to appreciate his kind, gentlemanly attempt to brighten up her day by informing her that he would like to stick his thang-thang in her.

              2. Vicky Austin*

                Ever notice that when the subject of catcalling comes up, there’s always someone saying, “But what about the women who LIKE being catcalled?” and that someone is ALWAYS a male, which leads me to wonder if those women who like being catcalled even exist.

            3. Lime green Pacer*

              Why does he keep going back to it? I think he might be telling the truth: it works better for him than the other ones.

              Some alternatives:
              The theme to Mayberry RFD (also whistling)
              A bird call, like a chickadee’s “fee-bee” two-note call
              A referee’s whistle
              Old phone ring

              1. JustaTech*

                The whistling song from Kill Bill?

                I had a coworker who had that as a ringtone and every time it went off (rarely) it creeped me right the heck out. So I told him it was creeping me out, and could he please not have it play that sound. And, like a normal person, he said, oh, I had no idea, let me put my phone on silent.

              2. EH*

                I’ve used the bosun/hailing whistle from the old Star Trek. It cuts through just about any other noise.

              3. SleeplessKJ*

                As a hearing impaired woman that happens to use that ringtone, I can attest to the fact that it truly is easier to hear than the other ringtones. Maybe because it’s a dual tone and maybe because it hits the right “notes” but there’s truth in what he’s saying. I know it’s not the greatest ringtone but I do think it’s silly to villianize his “motives” in using it as some commenters here are prone to do.

              4. Kat in VA*

                I have on my phone, as the most annoying text/ring tone possible, the air raid siren from “Silent Hill”.

                That is a legit sound you canNOT miss. Air raid sirens, car horn, a regular whistle (like a referee’s whistle)…the list goes on and on for piercing noises that you can’t ignore.

                The shift leader is being a jerk.

              5. Vicky Austin*

                My text tone is a boing-boing sound, like you’d here in a cartoon. It’s very silly, but it’s the only one loud enough for me to hear.

                Either this guy doesn’t know how triggering a wolf whistle can be to women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault; or he knows and is a real jerk.

      2. Edwina*

        A wolf whistle is a well known sound:
        It’s used constantly on the street, by construction workers, etc, to whistle at women and usually is followed up by coarse invitations and coarse bodily comments. Every single woman on this thread has been harassed, over and over by these sounds. It’s not an odd fight at all–it’s a sound that would make every woman on that job tense up, thinking it’s some guy about to harass her.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Among my vices is watching old What’s My Line episodes on YouTube. An interesting bit of cultural history is the audience making wolf whistles whenever an attractive woman comes on. The host treats them as something of a joke, pretending that it is the wind whistling through the old building.

          1. No toots*

            “audience making wolf whistles whenever an attractive woman comes on”

            Does the audience seriously only do it to “attractive” women? That’s horrible. I’d feel uncomfortable about being objectified if they whistled at me, and I’d feel utterly humiliated if I was one of the few they DIDN’T whistle at. What a no-win situation.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              In practice it seems to be heavily correlated with the woman’s age. So perhaps it is more accurate to say they whistle at young (let’s say through their 20s) women.

        2. MysteryFan*

          A couple of the whistles on the link you shared are birds that have “similar” calls.. in that they are two , fairly shrill, tones. Wonder if LW could share and see if one of them might work for the guy.. assuming it is a hearing issue and just not buffoonery on his part.

      3. Coder von Frankenstein*

        I keep my phone on vibrate and always have – I despise ringtones – but I am now sorely tempted to install a wolf howl ringtone.

        Maybe a wolf howl for my friends, and a pack of baying dogs for work…? Okay, maybe not.

        1. Quill*

          My mom’s ringtone forever was our dog barking. He was a very chatty labrador and no one ever had the same ringtone. :)

          Other home-recorded options for the family have included “the pony whistle” which has been used in 3 generations of my mom’s family to call in children, dogs, and horses, and the sound of my brother playing taps on the trumpet.

          1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

            My mom’s ringtone for my dad is a recording of him using his duck calls. There’s never any doubt who’s phone is ringing and who’s calling.

        2. Quill*

          My mom used a recording of our dog (a very chatty labrador) barking for her ringtone for over a decade.

        3. Kat in VA*

          BossMan’s text tone is a dog barking (one of the iPhone presets). Gets my attention every time. :P

      4. Observer*

        It’s not an odd fight at all. No one should have to deal with that at work.

        If you’ve never been the subject of a wolf whistle, and you don’t care about anyone who has been the target, I suppose you don’t understand this. But I think that taking the time to read the OP’s description of how she responds should help you to understand that this is NOT a minor thing for her or other female staff.

    2. nutella fitzgerald*

      LOL. I assumed it was a Warren Zevon clip and was shocked by the idea of anyone asking to change it

    3. Whistles and Bells (LW 2)*

      I wonder if I would have made a bigger deal the first time I heard his phone say “reptilians control the banks” instead of the whistle. That’s very uncomfortable to imagine!

      1. PollyQ*

        That’s actually a lightly coded anti-Semitic slur, so if you hear that again, it’s definitely worth bringing to HR.

        1. Whistles and Bells (LW 2)*

          Yes I know, I was using it as an example of what a “dog whistle” ringtone might sound like, not trying to imply that’s a ringtone I’ve heard. I would have absolutely confronted that immediately, so I was thinking about /why/ I feel like I would come down hard on that, when I was pretty passive about the wolf whistle thing for a while.
          (Also worth noting, I used an antisemetic dogwhistle in this example because I’m Jewish.)

  3. lilaeden*

    #4, please make him aware that hand washing (with any soap) is more effective than hand sanitizer. Always. Hand sanitizer is an in between temporary measure until you can get to a place to wash your hands. Should be fairly easy to find a credible graphic source illustrating this. He’s wasting his time in addition to the supply. Common misunderstanding.

  4. Dan*


    OP, just to give you some perspective, because AAM is 100% right: When I read your question, I was taken aback a bit by such a well articulated disciplinary policy. (I don’t mean this in a positive way, just that there was a *lot* for you to say about it.)

    I’ve been with my current employer for over 5 years, and TBH, I don’t know what our disciplinary policy is, if we even have one. If something is not going right, my boss pulls me aside and says, “hey, can we chat about X for a minute?” And that’s usually the end of it. I suppose if the same thing happens over and over, the issue might be “escalated”, but most of us are adults trying to do a good job and play nice in the sandbox, and we’re treated like that. It’s the rare issue that gets pushed up the food chain, and in 5 years, I’ve never heard of that happening.

    This might sound backwards, but your company’s policies are probably doing more harm than good. Usually what happens is people become overly focused on the “rules”, and productivity suffers because people are more concerned about “getting in trouble” than they actually are about getting work done. Turnover is higher, because somebody in your management chain is inevitably the “bad boss” that people are trying to escape from.

    As an aside about “the rules”, I once had a job where if we actually followed the rules, we couldn’t get the job done (quite literally) and also quite literally, if we got the job done, it was grounds for termination. If that sounds confusing… I did shift work and worked the night shift. Night shift, go figure, had a lower headcount than the two day shifts because things were quieter and there was less business. However, a core part of our job required, by company policy, three people to do it. More often than not, night shift was only staffed with 2 people (management certainly knew it, there was no “plausible deniability” there) and sometimes just 1. The job could safely be done by two people, and we often did it that way. But we all knew if there was an f up, we’d be looking for another job. Why? Because there was an f-up at another location, and management sent out a company wide notice explaining that two hard working employees with well over years of dedicated service to the company were let go for exactly that reason.

    1. Prof. Space Cadet*

      Totally agree. It sounds to me like someone in management got it in their head that the write-ups were a good idea (and they may have been effective for dealing with a particular problem employee or sub-set of employees at a particular point in time), but they’re now having the opposite effect on employee morale.

    2. HQB*

      It sounds like the OP is working in a call center or similar business (based on “As a supervisor of 20-40 employees per night” and other signs in the letter); I believe this kind of policy is very common in those kinds of workplaces.

      1. JamieS*

        I agree. Jobs like call centers, retail, etc. seem to have policies like this way too often.

      2. Dan*

        Sure? But the OP’s letter is just dripping with a seriously punitive mentality. “There are often many reasons to submit writeups” and “is my boss softer than me?” are examples. *Everything* in that letter is about discipline.

        Most shift jobs do have a “show up on time or else” rule, and if one doesn’t show up on time, one is fully informed on what “or else” means. Same with “unexcused” or no-call/no-show absences.

        That said, if there really are “often many reasons” to write a people up every night, something’s probably wrong with the rules.

        Advice to the OP is that perhaps she should take boss’s lead and soften up a bit. Unless she’s working for a state correctional institutions, there’s probably not that big of a need for *all* of the rules she wants to enforce that her boss is more lenient on.

        1. CupcakeCounter*

          The problem though is that the boss is riding the OP to enforce the rules and then backtracking for certain individuals.
          Yes, the boss is correct that a one-on-one discussion of the issue is the best way forward, but the OP is also correct that after years of getting a talking to with no follow up action does not correct behavior (especially of the reason for the talking to is arbitrary rules that have no impact on anything as opposed to something that is an actual issue i.e. uniform shirt has a grease stain from yesterday’s maintenance work vs showing up 25 minutes late). Boss also can’t have wildly different policies for long-time employees vs new employees based only on longevity because that is a moving target for the newer folks they will never reach.

          1. Nanani*

            I thought the leniency for veterans was more likely that OPs boss knew these employees and realised how silly the real policy was, while the newer people are just faceless space-fillers to them.

    3. ContemporaryIssued*

      I really would love to know the industry this LW is in. I can see disciplinary actions in a place where a lot of employees may be super-new to work (young people, students having a part-time job) or a job where it pays so little people have a tendency to be a little “I don’t get paid to care enough”, like a call-center. But even then I would look at the parameters of disciplinary action pretty carefully. Sometimes the rules are not conducive to good work.

      I used to work in a call center and we had certain phrases we *had to* use every call and if we didn’t we wouldn’t get written up but we would get a mark off our “performance score” which directly impacted our performance bonus. So even if you asked something in a different way than the correct phrasing, you could see it make a small but noticable dent in your paycheck. People usually felt discouraged by this. Like if you knew you messed up a few calls and maybe your boss could pick one of those calls for your performance appraisal, then you couldn’t be motivated to do all the other things you were supposed to do to get a good performance mark. So it lead to sloppier work in the long run, not better work.

      1. kittymommy*

        Maybe because of the industry I work in My first thought went to road crews (road maintenance/litter pick up). This is a policy both our unions required in their contracts and so we just do it across the board for consistency.

    4. Myrin*

      I have to say that I personally like “a well articulated disciplinary policy” because… well, I like detailed and clear policies, I like knowing policies, and I like knowing them before I actually have a need for them.

      However, I do agree with your overall point – I was weirdly taken aback by the “As a supervisor of 20-40 employees per night, there are often many reasons to submit write-ups.” line in particular because I seem to see a “par for the course” mentality behind it, like “I supervise 20 to 40 people a night, of course write-ups happen left, right, and centre” and I just can’t agree with that at all.

      But on yet another hand and circling back to my first paragraph, what good does the well articulated policy do if OP’s boss can just decide willy-nilly to not enforce it? And at the same time pressure OP to be more strict about enforcing it herself? (Of course nuance is important when dealing with performance issues, but it doesn’t sound like this system lends itself very well for nuance in the first place. Either you are that strict and bureaucratic with everyone or you need to loosen the actual measures – you can’t have it both ways!)

      1. Retail not Retail*

        I don’t know, it may be well articulated in terms of consequences but “attitude” and even “insubordination” seem up to my manager’s discretion.

        1. Myrin*

          Oh, absolutely! What I meant is the basic structure of “First comes a writeup. A writeup consists of the following: description of offense, number of “points,” and signatures of acknowledgement from employee/supervisor/director. Second comes a warning, third a suspension, fourth termination.”
          That’s a pretty straightforward setup, especially for inexperienced managers who might wonder “Okay, I’ve written X up and nothing’s changed. What do I do now?”. But like you say, the devil, like always, lies in the details.

      2. The OG Grouch*

        I’ve been in these types of environments. Good managers take the tactic of “We write up for *patterns* of violations for X level offenses and immediate write up without warning for Y level offenses.” The veterans may be used to that and feel comfortable going to the grandboss where as the newer employees don’t know they can do that. A best case scenario.

        Or maybe OP is working in favoritism land and there’s not much to do. Been there as well.

    5. WellRed*

      I see I’m not the only one thinking maybe there’s a problem with the “teacher” or system, not the “students.” There should not often be reasons to write up grown ass adults. And giving them points or demerits? Please, just…no.

    6. Rebecca*

      Just reading the OP’s letter made me anxious. I too would like to know what type of industry is this, and how in the world is it effective to rule by fear? It’s not. I cannot imagine working in an environment like that, well, yes I can. My first job was fraught with stupid rules, like as a woman, I could not wear pants to work with pockets in the back, even if they were dress pants. Pantyhose were required with dresses and skirts. And this was in a non-customer facing customer service office. No one saw us. Eventually we just wore what we wanted to, and thumbed our noses at the “rules” made up by a group of older women who still thought it was the 1950’s.

      That being said – for the OP – do you have a lot of turnover? Maybe as a company look at all the rules and ask yourselves why you’re giving grown adults “points” for termination instead of fostering a workplace where people would want to work?

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes, no matter how organized the system may be on paper, the idea of awarding points for disciplinary infractions really comes across as a tool for managing a second grade classroom, not a bunch of adults with her we should just be able to have a conversation.

        1. Temp anon (not an anon temp)*

          Call centers are rife with this. Countless team meetings were mostly devoted to “come in on time. Take calls, don’t take extra breaks” ad nauseum.

          There were definitely people that were not adhering but bad managers would use group lectures vs: talking with the offenders individually and taking the steps to warn and if necessary fire them.

          Holding meetings where you waste the time of a dozen people in order to address an issue pertaining to two of them is stupid. Especially when the 2 offenders are probably in denial that they are the problem anyway.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        The only thing I can think of where that level of strictness might be reasonable is something like a factory floor or things with heavy equipment where any disregard for the rules puts other people in danger. Otherwise that all sounds like way too much.

    7. T2*

      Honestly, write ups are like yelling. Yelling at work is ok, if it is at the right time. For instance, someone is about to be hit by a forklift. But if you do it all the time, then it loses all effectiveness. Writeups, like yelling are a means to get their attention to an urgent matter.

      A system where you build up demerits, like your reports are essentially working in the lunchroom at Hogwarts is objectively stupid. It doesn’t help anyone. It just teaches them that write ups are trivial.

      If I worked there I would essentially ignore them as meaningless.

    8. Amber Rose*

      As part of government requirements, I have to have a disciplinary system and everyone has to know about it, so we have a write up system of sorts. At least, on paper we do.

      In reality, I have literally never written anyone up in the five years I’ve been here. I write stuff down, as in, if I talk to someone I write on a piece of notepaper that I talked to them, date and sign it, but that’s just because good record keeping is an important part of every company’s CYA system.

    9. Silly Janet*

      Yeah, it sounds like there are numerous issues going on at this place if this many disciplinary measures are needed on a regular basis.

  5. Jessen*

    Thought on the wolf whistle one: having worked a lot of more blue collar/pink collar jobs, I might be a little more explicit about the sound? I’ve found for some people that “sexual harassment” just registers as one of those corporate buzzwords, but something like “it’s the sound creepy guys make when they’re following you at the bus stop” or something gets the point across. It’s not really fair, but sometimes some more description of the issue gets in and sticks, especially if you’re in a less professional environment..

    1. Mookie*

      I don’t know that I disagree, but almost all language that tries, diplomatically or aggressively, to both explain and discourage sexual harassment ends up making a lot of people defensive and allowing them to sea-lion your language choices until all possible acceptable alternative choices also disappear, meaning it’s not that the language is actually divisive—it’s the anti-social behavior that is— but that people will always try to shut you up.

      You mention “creepy,” which women at large have been told is unfair and misandrist. This will generally be what happens no matter what One! Weird! Trick! we use.

      1. Yvonne*

        “sea-lion your language choices” I have not heard that phrase and am not sure what I means. I tried Google but I still cannot make sense of it. Does it mean taking things literally to the extreme? Does it have something to do with the work of Kathy Streeter? I fell like I should know this somehow but I don’t.

        1. Reba*

          Look up “sea lioning” alone, you’ll get some results including a great comic that explains it really well.

          It’s a rhetorical strategy, often gendered, to undermine a valid complaint and just wear the complainer down by raising numerous inane points and “what abouts” and “I’m just trying to have a conversation !”

          1. Blueberry*

            *nod* Not only gendered — people tend to use it to minimize all sorts of bigotries. It’s an interesting (if depressing) pattern.

        2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          It’s from a Wondermark cartoon: the idea is that you say something that happens to mention sea lions, and this sea lion guy turns up out of nowhere to demand at great length that you justify your entirely-in-his-own-mind prejudice against sea lions, because after all it’s entirely normal to eat baby seals, how can you be so anti-sea-lion as to not allow this intruder to explain at great length the history of the subjects and why your example is inappropriate.

          While you’re thinking either “OK, fine, make the example a llama instead, the sea lion isn’t the point” or “Yes, we know, you feel horribly aggrieved that we’re talking about something that a lot of sea lions do wrong, without repeatedly saying ‘but it’s only a small minority of sea lions’ or pretending that penguins and skuas are just as likely to kill sea lions.”

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            OMG there’s a name for that annoying thing that happened to me every time I tried to share a breastfeeding accomplishment! Darn it people, I know formula is a wonderful invention and I’m thankful it’s there, but can I just be excited that I managed to pump enough milk for my kid that I didn’t have to supplement with the ridiculously expensive allergen friendly formula we couldn’t afford anyway? Please?

            1. Blueberry*

              Off topic, but: people give you crap for your breastfeeding accomplishments? One: CONGRATULATIONS, you are doing AWESOMELY, and two, after years of seeing my friends called bad mothers because they had to use formula, it boggles me that anyone would put down breastfeeding.

              1. nm*

                This is one of those things where there’s just no winning. If you do A, half the people will judge you, and if you do B, the other half will judge you.

            2. Former Employee*

              Breast feeding is fine. Formula is fine. It doesn’t matter. I wish people would stop talking about this other than in a general way that people talk about a lot of things, such as which brand of diapers seems best or which baby shampoo the little ones seem to tolerate.

        3. Angry Professor*

          It’s based on this comic: It basically means derailing a conversation and avoiding the core issue at hand by demanding evidence (in ways that can never be satisfied), nitpicking specific language choices, feigning civility, “I’m just trying to ask questions,” and so on.

          1. Crivens!*

            I’m just so happy that Wondermark got more widely known because of this. It’s my favorite webcomic ever.

      2. highbury house*

        I feel fairly confident that the reason (or, okay, one reason) the wolf-whistle ringtone ‘keeps coming back’ is precisely that it makes all those young women uncomfortable. I would not be so quick to give him the ‘we’re not accusing you of sexual harassment’ pass. I’d let that possibility loom.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          I don’t know that he’s doing it for that reason. I think it’s just as likely that it really is the ringtone he hears best . . . and he just does not care even a little bit that it might make some women uncomfortable, because he thinks it’s ridiculous that they would feel uncomfortable, and it’s such a small thing, and why can’t they just get over it, and why should he have to change what works best for him when it’s such a small thing that they should just get over, why does HE have to be the one to make an accommodation and be inconvenienced instead of them, etc.

            1. beanie gee*

              Also, 40s? I know hearing loss can come at any age, but I’d be realllllly surprised if he used that ring tone because of hearing issues.

              1. Clorinda*

                And . . . how does a man in his 40s not know that this is very much not okay? We’re talking a man who is forty-something years old, right, not somebody who was born in the 1940s?
                Dude. For your whole adult life, this has never been okay.

                1. Observer*

                  Because he’s apparently a self-centered jerk. That’s a pretty common thing, unfortunately.

        2. Anon for this*

          I had a co-worker who adopted a ringtone like this in 2012. It made me wonder briefly, but I decided to laugh it off. Wrong. It turned out he had a MASSIVE sense of false entitlement. He was getting into proto incel stuff online and also emotionally abusing his girlfriend. Lovely.

          1. LunaLena*

            Plus, there are always people who will go out of their way to do things like this to show that no one can tell them what to do, and they feel that they’re sticking it to The Man/feminazis/SJWs/whatever group they’re objecting to.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Yep. There’s a vast troll culture offline as well as on. These people aren’t just clueless; it’s deliberate and malicious and they delight in being awful.

        3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          I’m wondering if it’s not a wolf whistle, but that annoying two-beat slide-whistle notification sound that iPhones have, and that’s why she’s getting so much pushback.

          1. ShyGuy*

            If OP#2 says it’s a wolf whistle, I think it’s a wolf whistle.

            And even if it were just something that sounds a lot like a wolf whistle, it’s obviously close enough to make her uncomfortable. What’s the point of debating the exact sound? If it were something that sounded close enough to gunshots that it make someone uncomfortable, would it matter if it was actually the sound of a big drum being hit with a mallet?

        4. AKchic*

          I’d let it loom too. He’s old enough to know *exactly* what it was for “back in the day” and how inappropriate it is in the workplace. Just because HE isn’t making the noise himself and isn’t directing it at anybody isn’t the point. The fact that his device is making the sound and he has already been asked to *not* use the sound and still openly, consciously, and willfully chooses to use it, knowing that at least one person vocally objects to it… yeah.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      Ugh, I am so tired of people using “but I’m/they’re blue-collar” as an excuse for sexist behavior. It’s condescending to blue-collar folks who AREN’T knuckledraggers and it gives the ones who are a pass they really don’t deserve. (Not directed at you, but at the coworkers who play dumb about this crap because “corporate buzzword.)

      1. SweetestCin*

        Working with both – my own experience has been the higher percentage of sexist behavior has originated with “white collar”. Mileage varies with what trades and where you are, and more of an observance and not directed at anyone :-)

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I suspect it’s exactly because the stereotype is that they’re not the ones who are primary offenders.

    3. Aquawoman*

      Everyone, and I mean everyone, already knows what a wolf whistle is. There is zero plausible deniability where anyone could say, “What?! Men whistle at women on the street and catcall them? I never knew.” It’s garbage. People are not entitled to the benefit of the doubt beyond all common sense. He knows, he’s been explicitly told, and rather than choose, say, a different toned whistle, he’s using the wolf whistle. AT absolute best, he knows and doesn’t care and at worst, he’s enjoying it. It’s a hostile work environment.

    4. Stella*

      Seems like it could be useful as an additional comment if someone seems confused. Maybe along with “I realized you must not know what I mean or obviously you would use a different ring tone: I know you would stick up for any woman being targeted!” Not because you really think that but in hopes it shames him into cooperating and maybe protects you a little if you have a sexist boss/HR team. My sense is if you have to get that explicit, this is not an innocent mistake. Most people would change their ringtone just out of embarrassment if nothing else.

      1. Stella*

        But I’d only do this if you think there’s a significant chance your boss and HR team are terrible.

        Maybe this is one of those times where you could speak up as a group, too, if your boss and HR are terrible. But at that point, you’re in a situation where ideally it is a stopgap measure you take while you job search.

    5. Münchner Kindl*

      I’m wondering if older coworker is too lazy / ignorant to
      ask his local deaf/ hard of hearing support group
      ask in an internet forum for hard-of-hearing support
      ask his local hearing aid shop

      to find a ringtone with the same Hz frequency, but a different, non-harrassing, melody as his current wolf-whistle, after he was already talked to.

      Or if it’s a lame excuse by a creep wanting to continue creeping.

      Is the coworker in other areas pro-active searching out information? Creeping on women?

      If OP has an overall picture of coworker as “genuinely ignorant, not wanting to be a creep” she might search herself for alternative melodies in the frequency range.
      If however OP has an overall picture of coworker as generally creepy, she should take this serious as continued harrassment despite being asked to stop.

  6. SisterSpooky*

    I kept reading #5 over and over thinking 1. You can use watercolor to paint a house? And 2. They want them to paint the entire house as a gift?!

    I now realize it it a watercolor painting OF a house

    1. gsa*

      Regardless, of painting THE house or a painting OF the house…

      The painter should not be doing this for under market rate, unless they really want to paint as a gift.


      1. JessaB*

        Especially because if they do it once, the boss is likely to ask them again in the future. This is opening a potentially very large can of worms that will never go back in the can.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      I read that the exact same way! It took me a minute. Though a house with a watercolor exterior sounds very beautiful!

      1. Llama Face!*

        Job security! She can keep on charging for going back and retouching/repainting it! :D

        I’m with everyone who says don’t undervalue the work! And if you don’t really want to do it, overcharge and maybe they will change their mind.

    3. Münchner Kindl*

      Taking the joke serious for a moment:

      We have a store in my city that sells natural paints, that is, earth pigments with friendly solvants. So people with allergies can paint their houses.

      Also, about rain: For wooden houses, centuries old tradition is what is known as “constructive protection” – the house is already built in such a way that the roof overhangs a good 20 cm (almost a foot) which protects most of the (wooden) sides from being rained upon.
      It’s only with modern building methods that companies who build houses don’t have to pay to maintain them, so the shave a bit of the cost by making the roof almost flush, and the houseowner has to pay every 10 years to have the house re-painted, instead of building sensible from the start.

      So yes, it is also possible, if you want to, to paint a house with watercolours.

  7. Aphrodite*

    OP #6, if you want to do this then you should charge your boss the same amount to do it that you would charge if you were selling these at a gallery (online or a store) or on your own website. I can see a couple or maybe even several hundred dollars. They are art! Do not do it as part of your job. Do not charge a minimal amount plus supplies. This may be a hobby you love but you are an artist. Charge like it!

    1. The Watercolor Artist*

      Thank you! I needed to hear this. My other debate is whether to do this on company time or my own…

      1. Aphrodite*

        Your own.. This is your art, your vision, your time. That’s why you should charge as the artist, not the assistant to the designer. Your boss loves your work? Great! Become your own gallery owner and sell them to her.

        1. Clorinda*

          Do it on your own time with your own supplies and charge your own fee. Maybe your hobby is on the verge of becoming your side hustle. Good for you! ( And keep your taxes organized; buy your art supplies on their own receipt, not mixed up with regular shopping, so you can more easily subtract your expenses from your profit.)

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        Think of it as doing an independent project. Charge your proper fee for art, and do it on your own time. (Please, please charge a professional amount, too! I wouldn’t touch a commission like this for less than $300, personally.)

        1. Amaranth*

          Excellent advise. Also, if you do it on company time, it becomes less an obvious favor and to me, creates an expectation they can ask you to do others in the future because ‘they are paying you for it.’ and it becomes a facet of your job. If your work is being given or sold to clients, you should value it from an artist’s standpoint not as part of the 9-5. Also, if you can spend a significant number of normal work hours on a big project like without needing to shift your other responsibilities, could it give the impression you don’t normally have a lot to do?

          1. The Watercolor Artist*

            My boss definitely knows I have a full plate, but yes…working on a big project like this would shift my daily responsibilities!

          2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            And especially if she’s salary rather than hourly it sets a dangerous precedent that the boss can just pull in anything that suits (unrelated to the role) using the “any other duties as assigned” catch-all.. and then it de facto becomes part of the OPs workload. (And additional complications like if the client liked the painting so much that they wanted to commission another one – what would happen about that?)

            1. Kat in VA*

              I’ve seen this on AAM and other places where someone sews a baby quilt / bakes an amazing cake / creates a neat tchotchke and suddenly it’s incumbent on the employee to make them for ANYONE who asks because “You did it that one time for X and didn’t charge them!”…without taking into consideration the cost of materials as well as the time spent making quilt/cake/tchotchkes or whatever.

      3. Admiral Thrawn Is Still Blue*

        Plus, it’s highly likely you will be asked to do more gifts. Start charging now, before that becomes an issue to deal with.

        1. NB*

          Exactly! And this sets boundaries early especially under the scenario where the boss was expecting for OP to do this for no consumption, thereby making the gift cheap (for the boss) in addition to nice.

        2. WorkIsADarkComedy*

          This. It was pretty crappy of the employer to ask this to begin with. It seriously never occurred to them that asking the employee to create a gift for the client on their own time is asking to the client to work for free (and to buy their own materials to support the company)?

          This makes me wonder whether the employer takes advantage of employees in other ways as well.

          1. Perbie*

            People who aren’t artists/crafters tends to think creation happens in a joyous and fun 5 minute montage* and/or have the holywood notion that of course you are doing it for fun/love and wouldn’t want to sully the experience with vulgar money… or idk, they just haven’t thought about it very hard and don’t realize it’s truly work they are asking for.

            *i wish it did!

      4. Reba*

        I would charge for the piece, but not for supplies as a separate line item (that is included in the price of the work, effectively).

        Do it on your own time. That too is part of your price.

        Look around galleries or etsy for pricing guidance. Maybe $300-400 depending on the size and complexity of the work? NOT including framing!!

        I would not be surprised if your boss changes tack when a price is quoted… ;) But that should not discourage you from selling your work for a “real” price!

      5. TootsNYC*

        if this is going to be a regular thing, it should be a professional arrangement. Not on work time, and you need to be paid.

      6. Starbuck*

        If it helps, I did something similar for my workplace – a watercolor painting to be used for promotional image. I did most of the painting on my work time (mostly by heading home early, since that’s where my art set-up is) and at the end they paid me for the painting ($300). Also, I kept the painting itself and just provided them the high-res scan, so if you are gifting the original, charge more!

        1. Starbuck*

          Oh yeah, and since it was just a scan it wasn’t framed of course – which can be a significant expense on top of that if it’s done right, as I’m sure you know!

      7. Lizzo*

        Do this on your own time, and charge market rate for it. (Or a little lower than market rate if you are at the beginning of your art career…but not too much lower.)

        I have been a freelance artist for years. The rates I charge for my artistic work are about 4x what my regular “professional office job” pays if you break things down hourly. Part of it has to do with the fact that I have expenses associated with my art and I need to have that cost built into my pricing, but the artistic talent is also a very specialized skill.

        Also, if you do not cultivate:
        1) the expectation with (potential) clients that this work/talent is valuable and you should be paid accordingly
        2) your own sense that your work is of value and you should be paid accordingly
        you will be fighting an uphill battle for the rest of your career.

  8. Snuck*

    #1… if you have the authority…

    I would split your “20 to 40 per night” into a few classes. (I presume these are casual workforce? If they are permanent/regular then this would be the same and MUCH easier)

    Regular employees who work predominantly predictable number of hours split into “performing well across behaviour and workload targets” and “needs support”. Schedule a 5 minute chat with the needs support weekly, and the ‘doing well’ fortnightly. Five minutes somewhere in the week where you walk past, find a quiet moment and ask how they are going, bring up any issues, and let them raise any with you. If these employees are working a lot of hours, and it’s essentially a ‘full time night shift’ then make a monthly 30 minute time slot for them all too.

    Casual/temporary/short hours workforce split a similar way from your quick experience of them, and do the same 5 minute chats, but work out if you need more time with them. Work out where the line is for you on effort to manage vs find new staff. Somewhere there’s a reasonable line there.

    New staff/juniors/trainees give 5 mins every day, and ask them for what they need training in. Assign a competent high performing senior to mentor them after they have reached a reasonable level of training, so that your time is freed up.

    Team managers often manage 20. Managing 40 is a stretch. Plot your time well.

    Then… write up the reports, talk to the director, and have him sign them. If he doesn’t want to sign it then fine, file it away, but it sounds like the whole process will be much quicker. Then if the same staff is doing the same problem you can take the four unsigned ones back and say “Hrm… looks like the chats aren’t working, shall we do something different this time?” For example.

    It sounds like your director is trying to balance an known quantity employee with some flexibility, vs an unknown one … it’s not exactly fair, but it also is reasonable to cut well performing capable staff a little flexibility at times. Also look at the system and see if it’s allowing trust and independence or are you infantising your staff? Points and write ups for every transgression and so on does not create a positive work place… if you can lay off a little (do the staff actually know the expectations? Why are you getting so much rubbish back from them? Look at the root cause? Are you hiring the wrong people? Is this a sweat shop aka Amazon timed nonsense place?) if you lay off, and people can breathe, will they give a little more consideration and effort to you?

  9. Anonariffic*

    #5- Another thing to consider is what if you’re asked to do this again? Say the client loves their piece so much that your boss wants to make it a standard thing for all future clients? If you’re only willing to do it for this single client as a one-off, make sure you’re clear about that now so your boss doesn’t start making grand plans or promises without your input. But if you would potentially be willing to do more paintings for clients, definitely make sure you’re setting terms and prices now that you’d be comfortable with for all that future work.

    And also take a moment to stop and think about if you do want to make your hobby a part of your job before you agree to anything more. Lots of people think it’s the greatest thing ever to get paid for doing what they love, but there are also a lot of people who have tried to jump from hobbyist to professional and found that the stress of filling orders and meeting deadlines sapped all the joy out of it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Definitely think about this from the angle of sustainability. Is this something you are willing to do over and over and what is it going to take for it to be worth your while to do this?

      My friend is really great with woodworking. He can probably make you almost anything you dream up. He draws his lines firmly. I have shown him small pieces of furniture that I liked and he point blank said, “You can buy that from this company much cheaper than I could ever make that for you. In the end it’s just going to be too much money for what the item is.”

      On the give-side of this story he tells me where he can help. For example, in helping me with my house, he would point out pieces of wood that could be easily re-purposed for something else. Some of my cupboards morphed into shelves. There were also times when he found something in the garage and pointed out to me how we could use it for Current Project and save some costs in materials. Saying no, or setting limits does not have to be a totally negative thing.

      Sometimes just informing people of hidden costs can help bring the whole question to an answer. I am wondering if your company has thought about who will frame and mat this picture? They can easily spend $500-600 here even with controlling costs. If they are sloppy in controlling costs this could run sky-high. Perhaps just talking to them about how much they have budgeted for this project would clearly show that you cannot help them.
      I wanted my friend to do some chainsaw art. I wanted a tree stump made into a dog. The more we looked at things the more we realized this was going to be at least $900 for him to do this. (And I had the additional consideration that this art would eventually rot and be gone.) It’s too bad. It would have been a great project, but financially I can only take on projects that are cost effective and have some longevity.

      My overall point here, is that your company is not a BFF or a dear family member. Don’t give away your work. I am not sure how this applies to painting pictures specifically, but I would like to encourage you to think it through and clearly state your boundaries.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yes to this. I like to bake and have often brought cakes and other baked goods to work. Many people have tried to convince me to sell my baked goods. But if I did that, it would no longer be a relaxing hobby, it would be a second job. And that’s not something I want to do. OP I would consider saying no if you don’t want this to snowball into a second job instead of a hobby.

      1. Roy G. Biv*

        Exactly this! Don’t let your beloved hobby turn into a deadline-driven drudgery of work. Or even worse, a deadline-driven drudgery of work where someone else calls the creative shots!

      2. CupcakeCounter*

        I have sold my baked goods to a select few individuals and only when it was convenient for me. Outside of that, nope. I’m in finance, not culinary arts.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Dear god this! I sew and of course retro clothes are very hip right now, so I’ve been told by countless people that I should sell them!

        When Hell freezes over!

        I love doing this! I don’t want it associated with the stress of being a business. I like my actual job well enough that I don’t feel like my dreams or whatever are being crushed by needing to have it, and it keeps the unpleasant realities of having to make a living far, far, away from my beloved hobbies.

      4. Butterfly Counter*

        I think this same way about writing. If and when I am moved to write, it is so enjoyable. When I am compelled to write for whatever reason, even if it’s something I normally would like to write, subject-wise, the fun just drains out of it.

      5. Starbuck*

        Same with my watercolor art! Although I’ve actually done a few pieces for work at this point (usually about one a year) and it’s stayed pretty manageable. It might be one big thing a year that they pay me for (a nice 11×14 painting that I spend several hours on, including a sketch that I send to them first for revisions, where they are dictating a theme/subject) but then a couple other times per year I might do something quicker just as the spirit moves me and I see an opportunity for it.

        But I’ve always found it pretty easy to say ‘no, not this time, too many other projects on my plate’ and they’re very good about respecting that. Family & friends also have learned at this point that if they wanna commission me for something, turnaround time is gonna be like…. 6 months

      6. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

        People often ask me why I don’t sell my knitting for a profit. My response is that if knitting becomes my job, I’m going to need to do project management to unwind and relax. My day job has deadlines and demands from outsiders; I don’t need that in my off-time.

    3. Saberise*

      I’m reminded of the letters from some that made baby blankets or birthday cakes for a few co-workers and the next thing they knew they were expected to do it for everyone. And if they didn’t people got butt hurt. Something they enjoyed doing quickly because something they resented having to do. Basically ruined their hobby for them.

      1. Quill*

        This is my rule, I only do fiber arts for family, and only as gifts.

        Most of my family is similarly artsy/crafty so we’ve had a decent idea of effort involved, though.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          My online friend knits. She only does it for herself, immediate family, and people who would actually appreciate it. She made me a small porg and a Baby Yoda as gifts because she knew I would love them (and I do). I made her a spectacular Infinity War-themed interactive PowerPoint quiz for her birthday. It took me a week of hard work and she really enjoyed it.

          I’d probably still enjoy the PPT if I did it on the job, but being contracted to do it is different from doing it so a friend can have fun on her birthday.

    4. zaracat*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t do it at all – in this situation there’s nearly always pressure to undervalue your work or to make unpaid changes or you trapped into repeat jobs or “similar” jobs (eg “you’re so artistic, you could do all the artwork for our company newsletter” which inevitably turns out to be unpaid and on your own time).

      I’ve been caught out a number of times in this way with work and schools. The one that made me most annoyed was when I made a traditional icon (wood panel, handmade egg tempera paints, gold leaf etc) to donate to my daughter’s (Catholic) school as a silent auction prize for a fund raiser. Commercially it would be worth at least $500. It was a donation so I didn’t expect even to be paid for materials, but I did expect to receive the same sort of personal letter of thanks that businesses donating goods and services got. All I got was a generic mention of a donation from “the X family” in the school newsletter which was especially galling given that I’m divorced and my ex never donates anything.

    5. Lizzo*

      On the flip side, if you cultivate this hobby as a second source of income separate from your work duties for your current employer, it can offer some financial and professional flexibility in the short and long term. My income from my freelance artistic work goes into my savings and/or retirement account, and that income has also been incredibly helpful when I’ve been between my “professional office” jobs.

  10. Emily*

    Re: #2, I agree you are likely to get further if you frame this as a misunderstanding, but…. I’m having some difficulty believing that an adult human can’t comprehend ‘this thing feels bad, please choose one of a million other sounds this planet has to offer.’ It’s not a complicated concept. The most generous interpretation is that he doesn’t care, the less generous is that he is doing it on purpose. I would be wary around him, personally.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, even if he doesn’t comprehend why wolf whistling specifically is an uncomfortable sound in the sense that it’s never been directed at him, he should be able to abstract the general concept from what OP’s told him.
      To me personally, he sounds like a very self-absorbed person – he wants to use the ringtone that’s easiest for him to hear, even at the expense of others’ mental wellbeing; the fact that he did change the ringtone for a short amount of time after OP talked to him suggests to me that he isn’t necessarily unwilling to change, but he’s unwilling to do so if it’s uncomfortable to him in any way – his comfort trumps the discomfort his actions cause others.

    2. Mary*

      As a 41 year old, I am highly side-eyeing “Oh, I need to have this ringtone that makes all my20something female co-workers uncomfortable because I’m in my 40s and my hearing isn’t so good.”

      I mean, his hearing might be bad, but it’s not that likely to be age-related.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        There are more piercing text tones than a wolf whistle to cut through the craziness of kitchen noise.

        I also assume he has it on vibrate which I can feel at work as long as I’m not using a machine. (Jammed in a truck together. “You just got a text.”)

        1. Professional Merchandiser*

          Yep. When my phone was out of order I had to borrow my step-father’s phone for a week or two. His ring tone was a police siren. You could hear that thing everywhere.
          A store manager asked me to change it because it “made his customers nervous.” I did.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Not to mention most phones phones have a vibrate option, so if you put it in your pocket, you will feel it when you get a message. I think it’s an excuse to be gross.

        1. Perbie*

          I’m all for changing the sound, but I actually have a hard time noticing my phone vibrate if I’m doing anything other than sitting so I’d understand not doing that specifically

    3. Picard*

      “Alarm” is also a very good one for cutting through noise but if youre working in a kitchen, it might make you think your fire alarm is going off!

      1. Daisy-dog*

        That was very trendy when I was in college and it scared me to death every time I heard it. I’d be in a lecture hall with 400 people and would panic and start getting out of there until I realized that it stopped and no one else reacted. I don’t know which I would hate more – the alarm or the wolf whistle, but really both should be banned.

    4. Stella*

      Absolutely. By not stopping when asked, he has kind of turned this into sexual harassment. It is maybe subtle but it sure sounds like a hostile work environment to me, where there is something going on that makes the workplace a bad place to be for women. I don’t know if it meets the legal definition or not, but this guy is not a decent person.

    5. Jaylee*

      Hell, don’t iPhones have a regular “whistle” notification sound? It is similar in terms of tones but is not a wolf whistle. I’m trying to think of the best way to explain it, but it’s like a quicker version of the wolf whistle so that it sounds more like “hey look here” rather that “ooh look at you.”

    6. Perbie*

      Right? And there are other whistle calls that aren’t really associated with street harassment, if his hearing really is best in that range

    7. Whistles and Bells (LW 2)*

      I got a new job a few weeks ago (I can sit down! I can work from home!) and since then I’ve learned more from my former coworkers, and basically, you’re right.
      I got along with this supervisor, so he was generally more willing to listen to my concerns than some of my coworkers’, so I saw a slightly different side of him. Apparently he was not likely to side with the staff if a customer was being difficult (or creepy). I’m encouraging my friends to talk to the top manager, this supervisor’s boss.

      1. AKchic*

        That sounds like a great idea.
        I really hope the grandboss does something, but if the grandboss and the supervisor are contemporaries, or even friends, I wouldn’t expect too much. If this is a big chain, they might have to call the anonymous national hotline (if one is supplied, as it should be).

  11. MistOrMister*

    OP3, I’ve had a coworker tell me they were avoidintg the news to get away from all the virus anxiety. Anyone with an ounce of compassion would want to know it’s making you anxious so they can talk to you about something else. I’m talking to my coworker about non-virus things happily (although boy oh boy is it difficult to bring up current events if you’re not doing virus talk!!). You don’t want to hear about the virus? Let me detail to you what odd things happened at the grocery store today! Or, let’s have a convo about who just got fired, that dream I had last night, the fact that my dog just ate a loaf of bread, etc. There’s always something! I think it’s just we’re all so focused on it because of the media saturation, but I think people will be happy to talk to you about other things. Even those of us who need to keep up with it in order to feel more grounded want to talk about other stuff too. Speaking of which, I am now going to search out what a sourdough starter is because this is apparently a thing and I need to know what kind of thing exactly!

    1. MistOrMister*

      Also, I do think you still have to be prepared for people to speak about the virus indirectly. Such as if I’m sharing something whacky that happened at the store, and it’s something that wouldn’t have happened in a pre-corona world, I would still share it because the point is, to me, telling the story of an oddity, not highlighting that hey, coronavirus and now this thing happened. Rather it’s, HA I just went to the store and saw X and isn’t that crazy??? Or, I will be reading so much about the virus that I’ll find,something like the tp shortage and then an article about how tp used to be made and what used to be used and now I want to tell you about the fact that, hey so I know you can’t find tp anywhere but did you know old tp used to come in big sheets and yadda yadda? It’s all sort of tied up together and I think personally it would be very difficult to go NO virus talk at all if I had to cut all indirect links as well. But I would hope that those kinds of conversations would not be exacerbating anyone’s anxiety.

      1. Avasarala*

        Yes, I think it’s invaluable in times like these to separate chat topics into “information sharing” and “commiseration.”

        One chat is for:
        “Company policy about something corona-related has changed”
        “The reports you asked for are going to be late, I’ve been pulled into a corona meeting so it’ll probably run long.”
        “I’m heading out to buy groceries, will be back in about an hour.”
        “How’s your sourdough starter going?”
        “Did you know that Nintendo’s stock went up because everyone is inside playing Animal Crossing?”

        The other is for:
        “How are you holding up?”
        “I bought Corona Light, makes me feel like I’m fighting back.”
        “5 songs to sing while you’re washing your hands for 20 seconds”
        “Latest facts about the spread”
        “5 conspiracy theories that will make you lose respect for my intelligence”

        At least that distinction of intent is helpful to me. Sometimes I need to commiserate, sometimes I want to be distracted.

        1. MistOrMister*

          Yep, definitely I go both ways too.

          And I tell you, I looked up sourdough starter thinking maybe I’d try it. Can’t do it….it seems so wasteful, having to throw out most of it every time you do a feeding! How are people ok adding all this flour every day and then tossing it out with the bathwater tomorrow??? Give me a nice yeast bread any day

          1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

            Sourdough is so delicious. And once it’s established you can pace your feedings out a lot so it’s not everyday. I’ve timed it with my Saturday pancake schedule…

          2. Myrin*

            In case you might be interested in how to remedy the Sourdough Woes and in the hopes it doesn’t take us too far off-topic:
            You don’t actually have to throw out the initial starter! You can, but you can also make bread from it. I’ve always made it so that at the end of the procedure, I have about 1kg of sourdough and with the right recipe, you can make two breads from that because you really only need a tiny bit to have an active starter.
            And with the feeding, you don’t have to throw out the rest, either, you can spread it thinly on a sheet of baking paper and, once dry, store it somewhere to re-hydrate and use later (I’ve found that these re-hydrated parts aren’t usually as strong as the fresh stuff but it’s still worked well enough).

            (Caveat that I’m from Germany, certified Bread Country, and we probably Bread differently than anyone else, even though the basic biological processes are of course the same. I also generally only use the German expressions for this kind of stuff, so I hope my explanation was understandable!)

          3. Miranda*

            If you search sourdough discard recipes you get a bunch of things you can make with it. The King Arthur Flour’s website has recipes for all sorts of different things including biscuits and chocolate cake.

          4. Lucien Nova*

            I’ve just started (heh) a starter myself, and you don’t actually have to throw it out! As people have said below, you can dehydrate and store it or make bread out of it, or honestly you can just leave it in if your container is big enough (as per my mum, the baker, who adores sourdough and used to make it often.) I did throw the first few days of mine out while it was still only small and not active enough to make anything with, but that’s because I’ve only got a quart-sized jar to work with and needed the space for later feeds – I’ll be using the “discard” for bread now it’s gotten established.

            Though I also had to be difficult and start with a whole wheat flour instead of an all-purpose one, which changed things up a little bit. :P

        2. Harper the Other One*

          I literally LOL’d at “5 conspiracy theories that will make you lose respect for my intelligence” and now my cat is looking at me funny!

          1. LizB*

            I also laughed at that one, at least partially because my SO has been experiencing it from a couple of coworker (via chat, from the safety of their own homes) and I think he’s gonna sprain something rolling his eyes so hard if it continues. His team lead had to explain to someone that “the National Guard has been mobilized to move PPE from their warehouses to hospitals, and we might have them do food deliveries to vulnerable folks eventually” is not the same as “we are declaring martial law.”

            1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

              Yeah, we had one in a group (work) chat yesterday and it was obvious bs but I gave up after trying 2 or 3 times to write a response that was essentially “yeah, fyi people, the thing that Fergus posted above is unscientific bs and anyone with an iota of critical thinking faculties wouldn’t have posted it” because I couldn’t find a tactful way to put it…

        3. Indigo a la mode*

          Yeah, in my big international-friend Slack, CV news was taking over our catch-all channel, which I imagine made people loath to share their actual everyday news for fear of sounding off-tone. “Hundreds die in Italy” followed by “My cat did the cutest thing today” is a bit jarring, after all.

          So we created a coronavirus channel where people could go for all the reasons you mentioned, and that way people can avoid the anxiety machine if they want to. (Not me. I dwell in the anxiety machine.)

    2. New Job So Much Better*

      On the Mercola website this morning there is a post about a relaxing technique for those suffering from anxiety about the CV or just being isolated. Might be helpful.

        1. JustaTech*

          Seconded. Not a science-based or reality-based website, which doesn’t work for people who say they’re giving health advice.

          But yes to new relaxation techniques! I know the app Headspace is offering their COVID materials (“weathering the storm”) for free. (Not sponsored, not an endorsement.)

    3. changing my username because coworkers read here*

      I have a government job that can’t be done remotely, so we’re still coming in. We’re not allowing the public in right now, but staff still have to show up if they want to be paid. My boss had been listening to coronavirus news briefings without headphones and with the office door open pretty much non-stop for over a week. And a day or two ago (it’s so weird and hard to keep track because time feels like it no longer has any meaning) I reached my breaking point. I got up and said “I’m going to close the door while you’re listening to this, because it’s stressing me out.” And thank all the goodness that ever there was, my boss fully understood and hasn’t been playing any virus related videos out loud since I spoke up.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        A bit of a tangent but what jumped out to me in what you wrote is that after more than a week you “reached your breaking point” and told the boss you were “going to close the door bc this is stressing me out” — I can totally understand this but it may be worth thinking about the relationship with yourself/your team, your boss, and conflict situations in general (e.g. do people find it difficult to bring up other issues with this boss as well? Another way people would handle this is to have a discreet word with the boss earlier, like “oh hey is there any chance you could play that over headphones or with your door shut as it’s causing me and probably other people who don’t want to speak up a lot of anxiety?”)

  12. Prof. Space Cadet*

    L.W. #1, I recognize your hands are somewhat tied, but I would suggest trying to come up with a response to employee complaints that’s something other than “just continue to worry about themselves.” I might say something like “I can’t discuss Jane’s case with you, but thank you for bringing that to my attention. Let’s focus on getting you to do [thing X] better . . . “

  13. Fanaana*

    LW #5, don’t discount the value of your work just because you don’t sell often, or at all. If your work is good enough to sell (i.e., your boss wants to gift it to a client!), it deserves market value. By pricing it appropriately, you are valuing not just your own work, but that of all artists. Props to you, and best of luck!!

  14. Cass*

    While obviously you don’t want to be wasteful in the current situation, most nonmedical people I’ve observed trying to sanitize their hands use way too little sanitizer. Guidelines are to use enough to keep your hands wet for the full twenty to thirty seconds while you thoroughly rub it into every part of your hands. One pump doesn’t generally do the trick.

    1. MsSolo*

      But also, it hasn’t worked until it’s dry (evaporation is key!), so if he’s soaking his hands in it and then rubbing those sopping wet hands all over his face, he’s actually just transferring any germs on his hands to his face before the sanitiser has had a chance to take effect. You’ve got to keep rubbing until your hands are dry (after the 20 seconds), and the more you put on, the longer that’s going to take and the more tempted you’ll be to move on with your day.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        > (evaporation is key!)

        Huh, TIL how to use hand sanitizer properly. I usually keep some around (I’ve run out at the moment though and of course there isn’t any in the shops) but I’ve been doing the rub around the hands thing ok but didn’t realize the evaporation part is part of the cleaning process – I thought the alcohol just ‘intrinsically’ killed the germs somehow!
        I do wash my hands where possible though, I’m not just using hand sanitizer instead!

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It does, but my understanding is the formulation is generally such that how long it takes to evaporate = how long it takes to kill the germs. If you wipe it off sooner, it wasn’t on there long enough to kill anything. The rubbing is also a necessary component, but it’s both.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I spent a long time in hospitals when my dad was sick. They had sanitizer outside every room. You’re supposed to use it upon entering.

      All nurses used at maximum 2 pumps but usually 1. I trust their methods and followed them. Even with my huge hands one pump was enough to wet my hands and dry in the correct time.

  15. Dawn G.*

    #2. Somebody make this guy an mp3 of the first five seconds of The Andy Griffith theme. Or surely he can find another whistle tone that’s not the specific wolf whistle, if whistles are easiest to hear.

    1. BookishMiss*


      Just sayin. Love the droid but yikes is his voice piercing as an alert or ring tone.

      1. Classic Rando*

        Yes! I used to have R2D2 on a medication reminder for exactly this reason, I could hear it anywhere.

    2. Quill*

      Other candidates: The Pony Whistle, a family annoyance for the past 3 generations (Goes FWEE-ooh-EEE-oooh-EEEEEEE-oooooh) which is what my grandfather used to call in the ponies when my mom was a kid, and which then became the batsignal for all loose dogs and children. It’s incredibly loud. Notable hits include being summoned from halfway across a county fair, disrupting an entire beach to gather the grandkids, and that one time my brother and I got lost in the hamster tube section of a playland and had to navigate back by ear as my mom whistled like a steam train.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        My grandmother had a super loud one where she’d stick her fingers in her mouth and go, “FwweeeEEEEEP!” but this is fantastic.

  16. Shannon*

    #3. I am public servant and my job is 15 hour days super stressful. I am just dealing with what is right in front of me. It seems odd since all I’m doing for work is about the virus but it seems kindof abstract if that makes sense. So I don’t read/watch the news (my mom said ‘you don’t have to because you are the news’). Anyway, in all my family/friend chats I had to say “please only non virus things as much as possible.” Do what you need to for your mental health.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I work at a hospital, and yeah, I requested that people not send me links or whatnot via direct messaging (text, Facebook message, etc) because it was getting overwhelming. I was like “Between work, school and every company I’ve ever done business with I’ve gotten at least 40 emails about it TODAY ALONE, please do not add to this bombardment.”

    2. MistOrMister*

      This is a really good reminder for those of us who know people on the front lines, that we should make sure we’re being mindful of conversational cues and to be sure we cut off the virus talk if asked. I’ve got a friend who’s a nurse and it never occured to me that she might be experiencing corona-convo fatigue. I don’t *think* she minds the talks, and she’s the one bringing up some of it, but it really makes sense for everyone’s mental health to get some other topics in there too.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      We have a separate chat thread so people can choose to avoid it. My department is working non-stop on our city’s COVID-19 response and while some people find it cathartic to vent, others prefer to stay away. It’s working for us! We are good at policing ourselves about where we post what.

    4. A*

      Yes, please please speak up if you feel this way OP! I work in a global supply chain position at a CPG company, so I have to be heavily involved in the virus updates (and have been since my suppliers and colleagues in China were first impacted). Since I’ve been plugged into this from the beginning, and spending my time after work desperately trying to get the word out since it was very apparent that it would spread – it has very much been the sole focus of my life over the last ~3.5 months.

      Unless someone tells me they don’t want to discuss the virus, consciously or not that’s what I’ll end up talking about. I’m comforted by discussing it, and I personally find no benefit in avoiding the topic – and within my social and professional networks it is very much the norm, so I wouldn’t assume it to be problematic unless told otherwise!

  17. Tyche*

    I agree with Alison, and you should talk with him directly, maybe you could ask your other female coworkers to stand with you.
    That said, I had a similar problem with my father whose ring tone was a shrieking “TAXI” screamed at full volume. It was extremely jarring. Unfortunately my father had some hearing problems and he could not hear most ring tones, such as the classical motives available in his phone, especially in a noisy room. It’s normal when you are experiencing a progressive hearing loss (it’s sort of a first stage) and some particular sounds such his “Taxi” ring (that was similar in tone and volume to your wolf whistle, I think) are ideal because they are so jarring and strange that are easier to hear.
    That said, maybe it’s possible for you to redirect your shift leader to another ring tone that’s equally loud and strange?

  18. fogharty*

    I would suggest the Boatswain Whistle commonly used on Star Trek.
    I have a YouTube link, but that would put this into moderation, so I’ll link it in a reply.

    1. Mockingjay*

      I watch Star Trek reruns in the evening and that sound wakes my dog into full alert every time!

    2. Drtheliz*

      I was going to suggest that very sound! I had an ex who used it, it always made me smile.

    3. Whistles and Bells (LW 2)*

      This is a great idea. High pitched, loud, and much more likely to make people smile. Thank you!

  19. Retail not Retail*

    Op1 – writing up a night crew for “attitude” seems unreasonably harsh. I know you’re working the same shift they are but I assume you’re making more money and have been doing it longer.

    I do agree the double standards can be confusing – we can sometimes lightly moan and groan about a work assignment but if the work release guys did it? Lecture and threat. (“Don’t like it? I can send you back.”)

    I once committed the cardinal retail sin of rudeness to a customer on the overnight self-checkout shift. The competitor has cashiers at one am! Then why don’t you go to the competitor… NOT yelled muttered. She stormed out, called to talk to night manager, he told first day manager and the consequence was no more overnight self-checkout shifts.

    1. Retail not Retail*

      Also these are your employees, not people on a work release. Both groups deserve respect, but it is true that they were held to a higher behavioral standard than we were.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        I lost the chance to get 50 cents an hour extra night premium! Hello!

        The manager never said anything to me about it and he was known as a hardass.

  20. Violet*

    LW 5, please charge a fair price for the painting. If you charge less, it’ll be a gift from you, not from your boss or the company.

  21. Lola Cola*

    Separate channels can work well, but it’s worth chatting about what that actually means – for some people ‘no virus talk’ just means ‘no news stories’ while others want a total blackout. Neither is right or wrong, it’s just worth discussing where people are at so you don’t all take different meanings.

    I say this because I just got a reminder about keeping a particular channel coronavirus free from someone who had just posted on it about problems buying particular foods. She didn’t see that as corona talk, while others would.

    1. Smithy*

      I agree – if there’s any way you can be more specific about what exactly you’re looking to avoid, that may be helpful.

      As a Teams user, our large team’s thread has a lot of chat on it now around exercise classes available online, virtual community block parties, entertainment on Instagram live/Instagram tv. While it’s all in the effort of sharing uplifting or potentially fun things, it’s also not work related and for most people feels very related to corona. Even someone deciding to binge watch the Office or bake bread, it may all be because “this is how I’m getting through corona”.

      If the OP wanted to share this in a more positive way, I could actually see going to the team/team leader and requesting that it might be helpful for there to be split team channels. One for work content and then the second for non-work content that maybe the muted or otherwise avoided. I know that my workplace has tried really hard to foster a more emotionally supportive online community, and in the spirit of both supporting people but also not making people self conscious around what they can/cannot share – this might be the easiest way.

    2. sofar*

      At my workplace, in addition to the virus talk (and freakouts), there’s lots of “Let’s cheer each other up with random funny Slack polls, gifs, memes, and silly questions!” going around at my workplace. Communication channels are inundated, and if I don’t check my team channel every 20 minutes, there are too many messages to catch up on, so I’m missing important stuff amid cat videos. We are also being asked to check in with our employees TWICE per day to see how they are coping, which leads to spiralling and fretting (and more panic).

      Those in the “Let’s all calmly do our jobs and ask for flexibility as needed like adults,” are very much in the minority. I’d take March Madness chatter over this.

      1. tetris replay*

        Up until this point, I had maintained a single team IM channel for a small group. I figured breaking it out into multiple channels would make conversations harder to keep track of.
        I have abandoned that philosophy entirely and now the cat photos and COVID news (all personal/non-work stuff, basically) goes its own channel. Everyone has less capacity right now, so knowing that everyone needs to watch the work channel, but the personal channel is entirely optional, gives everyone a little more breathing room.

  22. Not So NewReader*

    OP #2. I have a suggestion which may or may not interest you. I liked it because it’s a bit of a puzzler question. Is there a high pitched tone that we all are familiar with that has a happy connotation?

    My thought here is that he needs the high pitches to hear it. This is not the same as saying, “I like wolf whistles and I am going to use wolf whistles.” I do understand as my hearing is changing as each decade rolls by and I hear certain sounds better than other sounds.

    People here might have suggestions for sounds and where to download the sound from and maybe, just maybe , he’d be okay with a sound that did not have such negativity tied to it, if he could actually hear the sound. Maybe someone has an idea on this here.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Strange ideas work. I have a friend who works outside most of the time. His phone is connected to his car. When his phone rings the car blows the horn and flashes the lights. It works for him, he can be a distance from his car and surrounded by lots of noise and STILL know his phone is ringing.
      So a car horn will not work in your setting, obviously, but this shows there are ideas out there.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Someone above mentioned their father used the TAXI! yell so what about using the TAXI whistle? Also loud and high pitched.
      Or the tune from Kill Bill that Darryl Hannah’s character whistle’s on her way to eliminate The Bride? Lots of sharp high notes (although probably still negative connotations for people who know the movie…)

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Ha ha I use the submarine alarm for my mom’s ringtone. She was righteously offended but my excuse is that it’s obnoxious, so very few people use it, so if I hear it I know it’s her and I need to answer (everyone in my phone who matters has a certain ringtone. If it’s the generic tone, I don’t hurry to get it).

    4. Whistles and Bells (LW 2)*

      This is a great idea and I’ll pass it along to my old coworkers. (I have a new job now :) )
      Although I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s asked him to change it in the past, and I’m not sure that he would take kindly to being given a list of other things to try. I’m also picturing me or my coworkers spending time making that list of “sounds that don’t suck” and that just seems like it’s not our responsibility and it’d be holding his hand through an easy process, especially since I’ve asked him more than once if he could find a different one on his own.
      I do appreciate your advice.

      1. Observer*

        If he really gets offended, then you KNOW he’s being a jerk and making excuses.

        In which case, his manager needs to just tell him to stop, and press some consequences.

    5. SD*

      I don’t think Mr. Wolf Whistle needs to have his crew find an alternative for him. He is a 40-something man working with 20-something women using a sound that has only one context. If it’s even possible that he didn’t know that a wolf whistle was offensive to the women, he’s since been informed that it’s a problem and still chosen that ring tone. Using the words “hostile work environment” should make him apologize and find his own alternative. If not, then making a formal complaint up-chain is the next step and other actions after that as necessary. I know this is a transient sort of job at low wages, but it is still worth making the point; this is 2020, not 1965 and this sort of behavior is intolerable.

      1. Observer*

        No, he doesn’t. What’s useful here, though, is that he’s claiming that this is he only tone he can hear. That’s baloney, of course, but it’s the kind of baloney that a supervisor who doesn’t want to deal with it will “believe”. Staff coming up with a few alternatives is going to make it much harder to ignore.

    6. Observer*

      I hope you are right, but to be honest this guy sounds like a jerk. I find it REALLY hard to believe that he REALLY could not find another sound with similar characteristics.

    7. A*

      I was gonna go with the high pitched ding from an Easy Bake Oven (uhhhhh hello warm and fuzzy memories about waiting 1 hour for a teaspoon sized cake to bake via light bulb)…… but something tells me this guy did not enjoy that toy.

  23. TV or not TV*

    LW 4 – I can easily see Joe sending in a letter in a few days complaining that his company is trying to limit the amount of hand sanitizer he can use. I suspect the commenters here would be encouraging him to publicly shame said company (as has been the theme of several recent threads).

    1. KRM*

      If Joe wrote in and said that his company was trying to limit his hand sanitizer use with *no other context*, yes perhaps he would be encouraged to shame the company. But if he wrote in and said that he was using multiple pumps of hand sanitizer (forget the face thing, that’s just wrong) and the company was mad, I suspect he would be told that 1-it’s not more effective to use more sanitizer, it’s just wasteful and 2-he should be washing his hands preferentially because it’s more effective.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      We’re still going to tell him to use soap and water instead. And remind him sanitizer is extremely limited right now.

  24. TV or not TV*

    LW1 – If you are wanting to write people up and your boss is saying to simply talk with the employees instead, my suspicion is that you are overzealous in your hunt for infractions. I would also suspect that if he particularly does this with long term employees, then he realizes that by virtue of their longevity, they are highly valued to the company and he does not wish to risk losing them (after all, they seem to be good enough at their job to have survived this rather punitive write up system for this long).

    1. PhyllisB*

      The boss is the one urging her to be more diligent in disciplinary actions, then undermining her when she follows his instructions.
      This is a lose/lose proposition. I think she should just try to slack off on the write-ups and try to talk to employees herself. Of course this might not fly, but I do think she ought to point out to the boss how demoralizing it is for employees when they see that they get in trouble for something that someone else just gets “talked to” about.

  25. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 – I’ve seen comments stating that OP is way too harsh with the rules, but I think context is important here. If it’s a call center, there are certain rules that need to be followed – you can’t just stroll in 5 or 10 minutes late when you’re scheduled to start your shift at a specific time, you can’t have an attitude with the customers on the phones, etc. If it’s some sort of manufacturing plant, there are probably rules to be followed so you’re producing product in a timely manner and people are working safely. But the bottom line is that OP’s boss is a bad manager. If the rules are necessary, everyone needs to be held to the same standard. Telling your employees to “worry about themselves” is not a solution. I’d be pissed too if I was held to a higher standard than someone else with the same job. You need to have a conversation with your manager, push back, and if they won’t budge, take it higher.

  26. Fabulous*

    #2 – I can identify hardcore with only being able to hear certain ringtones! I’ve had that same issue since my 20’s. When you finally find one you can hear consistently, it’s a godsend!! That being said, I can see how a wolf-whistle may not be the best choice, especially for a work environment. My go-to text alert has been a bottle cap for the last ~5 years. I will be devastated if I ever get a new phone that doesn’t have this sound! Maybe he has something similar on his phone that he can hear too? Definitely ask him again to change it, citing the sexual harassment element.

    1. valentine*

      There is no way that a ringtone he knows fully well is offensive is the only one he can hear or the one he can hear best, and he has other great options, like vibration only and keeping the phone on him.

      1. Tyche*

        Well, to stick the phone on vibrations only and keeping it on you is useful only if you don’t move a lot: if you are merely sitting, you feel the vibrations; but if you move a lot as OP2’s shift leader probably does as they work in fast food, well it’s absolutely useless.
        While the wolf whistle is offensive, it could be more easily heard for tone and pitching of the sound. As Fabulous said OP2 should ask her coworker to change it, maybe suggesting some other options.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Seriously; there are literally infinite ringtone sounds available on the internet that can be easily set up on pretty much any phone!

        1. Fabulous*

          I’m pretty technology literate but I couldn’t tell you how to download new ringtones…

  27. Carlie*

    On #2 – I also have trouble hearing my text notifications, so I empathize with your co-working wanting to stick with one that works. HOWEVER, there are a lot of whistle possibilities that have the same piercing nature without being that particular two-tone catcall. It seems that the impasse is that your point is “that is an unsettling sound”, and his is “but it is one I can hear”. You might be able to sidestep both by having him find a whistle clip that is not that one. Zedge is one website he can go to and find a bunch. Heck, go for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and everyone will be entertained going “waah-waah-waaaaaahh” after. Or he could try some birdsong ringtones for the same kind of effect. He might just not realize that there are so many options within the range of what his needs are.

    Of course, if he rejects all of those ideas, then it is him being a jerk and it needs to be escalated to his boss/HR.

  28. LilDucky*

    I always tell friends to try not to work for free. I work as a professional 3D modeler and illustrator and the tools and time put into these industries cost money. Sometimes I also paint some some illustrations as gifts on the side, but I prefer to be compensated some way. Even if it’s just a cup of coffee and a bagel or two I feel more appreciated.

    1. The Watercolor Artist*

      These custom watercolor house paintings are going to become a regular thing, not just a one-off.

    2. James*

      This is a big issue in the maille jewelry community. Everyone who gets into chain jewelry for a hobby eventually thinks “I could make money on this!” The issue is, they under-price themselves. They think it’s somehow immoral to charge more than the materials cost. But if you do that, you go broke fast. Pliers are a consumable in this hobby/industry–make 10,000 links (a fairly modest amount) and you start to wear them out. Then there’s the cost of space–lights aren’t free, nor is heat/AC, water, etc. Even if you work from home those things cost money. Sales receipts, files (even electronic ones), tax documents, etc. all cost money. Then there’s your time. Forget this and you go broke; forget the tax stuff and you go to jail.

      The other issue is, if you under-charge for your work, you undermine the other artists. People get used to paying $20 for $100 worth of product. Don’t get me wrong, if you can out-compete someone good on you! But undercutting prices via an unsustainable business model eventually destroys the entire industry. Photographers were fighting this a few years back (not sure where it stands these days).

  29. Jennifer*

    #1 This seriously sounds like Dwight’s demerit program on The Office. I agree with Alison. This isn’t a kindergarten class. I honestly think my kindergarten teacher was a bit more forgiving. Not every minor mistake someone makes deserves a write up. Not everyone is going to come into work like Miss Mary Sunshine everyday either, so I’m not sure what writing someone up for “attitude” means either. Really getting flashbacks to riding in the car with my mom and getting long lectures when I was 13. If someone consistently makes serious mistakes or is rude to you or their coworkers, that’s a different matter. But based on experience it’s very difficult to work someplace where you don’t feel you can breathe without getting a “demerit,” or worse, a “full disadulation.” I get why some of them are disgruntled.

    1. Nacho*

      I work at a call center, and having bad attitude on a call is a real problem. Imagine calling somebody for help returning a broken item, and she just sounds like she couldn’t care less about you, and just wants to get you off the phone as soon as she can. Even if she does manage to help you, you’re not going to be very happy with the service, will you?

      There are a lot of rules in some jobs, and they usually boil down to “do your job well.”

  30. White rabbit*

    About #1–the strategies listed aren’t a good way to manage children, either. I wish we could stop implying that they are.

    1. Quill*

      Oh, they’re not, but as I was fond of complaining at 12, most adults think kids only have rights if their parents insist on it.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        And if the kids are “normal,” because we all know that non-neurotypical/disabled children don’t deserve rights when their teachers are already working so hard to not commit murder on the spot.

        (this is… I guess mostly just me complaining about my school experience)

  31. Oh No She Di'int*

    #4: Hand sanitizer.

    I think Alison’s advice is sound, but in this time of heightened anxiety, I’d at least be ready for some pushback. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, I think we need more discussion of both how to deal with the reality of the virus AND people’s responses to the virus, which are sometimes irrational. These both have to be factored in.

    I am right in the middle of setting up a number of policies for how our workplace will operate in a new age. Essentially all of our work processes have to be rethought. Any time I come up with a new protocol, it first has to pass the “is it safe” test. But then it also has to pass the “will people THINK it’s safe” test. Often it passes the first but not the second, so it’s back to the drawing board.

    1. Stella*

      Maybe suggest the EAP if your company has one, too, or even suggest that if he can manage to not touch his face between the time it would take to get to the bathroom from where the hand sanitizer is, soap and water is more effective, so that way he can help the hand sanitizer last longer without taking on amy additional risk.

  32. AnotherAnon*

    For everyone commenting on LW1 disciplinary system being over zealous – I work for a large municipality and we have a similar system for all hourly employees, because many of these employees provide essential city services on a specified schedule. A lot of points assessments are related to attendance. If someone is working a waste collection route across the city they can’t show up late, the other crew members in the garbage truck can’t wait for them. They can miss their whole shift by showing up late. Same goes for many other maintenance/cleaning/repair services. It’s really not a perfect system and I have my issues with it, but I also haven’t thought up a better way to enforce strict shift work involving thousands of employees.

    1. Tuckerman*

      Yeah, this is definitely something where the context makes a huge difference. I supervised at a call center and we had lots of rules and a strict write up procedure, but you need to have policies that can be applied equally, with equal consequences in that environment. And these were not difficult things to follow- don’t have a magazine out while you’re on a call, don’t “trick the system” into re-routing calls away from you. But so many people thought the rules were dumb and violated these policies anyway. Attendance was also a big factor, but there was some leeway. You wouldn’t get written up until after a clearly defined set of occurrences.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Sure, I think most people get that there’s reasons to have such procedures in place sometimes. The problem is that OP’s boss tells her to write people up–but not these veteran employees. Those folks just get a reminder chat.

      1. AnotherAnon*

        Definitely agree that’s a problem! I run into the same problem and it’s frustrating. Nobody wants to discipline, but as Tuckerman noted it may be especially important in this context to apply the rules fairly, and the boss is completely undermining the whole system. You aren’t alone OP!

  33. Koala dreams*

    #5 If you want to do this, you should absolutely charge the market rate for the artwork, including the costs of your time and supplies, as well as a reasonable profit. If you don’t want to do the painting, feel free to turn the suggestion down. “Thanks for thinking of me, but I only do painting as a hobby, not professionally.” Some people prefer to keep their hobbies as hobbies, some people are interested in making it into a side business. It’s up to you to decide.

  34. Turtle Candle*

    LW3, I agree completely with Alison. Asking people to not talk about it generally is going to be pretty difficult, given how clear and present in people’s mind it is–and how much it affects everything. I’m on a chat channel with a no-coronavirus-talk rule, and I spend a lot of time trying to parse what of my ordinary daily life is too virus-y to mention. Like obv. I’m not going to tell people to wash their hands [they know] or breathlessly announce the death rate, but can I share this funny story that happened because everyone is wfh? can I mention that the grocery store was out of flour so I got a big bag of masa and am going to teach myself to make tamales? I don’t actually know. And the guessing game on top of everything else is making me slightly loony. So a “no virus talk” rule would probably get you some pushback from, uh, people like me. (Sorry.)

    But it is 100% fine to ask it to be sequestered into a separate group chat/channel/whatever. In that sense, it’s no different and no more shameful than saying “hey, discussion of the Warbleworth account is taking over this chat, can y’all make your own group chat for that?” or even “NFL fans, howsabout you make a #getyourgameon slack channel and put your football discussions there? I love you but I don’t actually care.” (Well, probably not that last sentence unless you get along with your team REALLY well.)

  35. Guacamole Bob*

    It’s mostly not the point, but OP2’s coworker really needs a fitness tracker or smartwatch if hearing his phone alerts is this tough for him. My Fitbit buzzes every time I get a text – I can turn it off but I don’t get that many texts. If he genuinely has hearing difficulties and that’s why he likes that loud, piercing sound, there are alternatives.

      1. A*

        Sure, but that doesn’t invalidate the suggestion. You could literally give that response to any advice given here involving a physical object of some kind not purchased by the employer.

        Also – and this 100% does not negate the fact that you are right and some people cannot afford it – but it’s worth noting that there are tracker watches for ~$30 nowadays. It’s just the higher end brands that are still costly.

        And worth looking into if the employer will pitch in. My current and last employer both offered discounts on fitness trackers (not linked to the company or anything creepy like that). Last employer was a flat 20% off any up to $200, current has pre-negotiated rates with certain brands.

    1. Whistles and Bells (LW 2)*

      That is a good idea but I don’t know that he has the budget for a smartwatch. I certainly don’t. This is basically a fast food restaurant and he has kids to support, so I think he has other bills to pay first.
      Thank you, though!

      1. A*

        If it’s a chain with a large parent company it might be worth checking if they offer any discounts on fitness trackers.

  36. Teacher Lady*

    Regarding the hand sanitizer: Do what us elementary teachers do and put a rubber band around the neck so that the pump can’t be fully depressed. It causes it to pump out an appropriate, but slightly smaller amount. (Google “hand sanitizer classroom hacks” to see a picture of what I mean.)

    Also, I don’t know if this is a problem for you – it is for me, but again, elementary school teacher – but hand sanitizer that drips onto the tile floor in my classroom actually damages the finish on the floor. After they had to re-strip and finish my floor over winter break because of all the damage from hand sanitizer, I had a conversation with my students about what “the right amount” to use is. Obviously you would frame this differently for adults than I did for my 9-year-old students, but pointing out that someone else (our custodian) was having to do extra work because of their actions also helped that message sink in.

  37. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    The over use of limited cleaning supplies has had me on edge for weeks now. My response when I see it is to provide the alternative. “Sanitizer isn’t for the face! Soap and water work the best, per the CDC.”

    Or casual reminders that we’re not able to get more right now, so you’ll want to be aware of that uncertainty.

    It’s especially hard for work places still operating. We can’t buy in bulk for our offices. Limits and rations do apply the same as for your personal purchases. Unless you’re huge with corporate resale accounts and even then, you’re limited.

    Uline won’t sell certain products to new customers. You have to have previously bought it. Then there’s a limit in place.

  38. Observer*

    #2 – If you need to talk to his supervisor, please point out that it’s not only women on staff who will be made deeply uncomfortable, but women CUSTOMERS. Right now, of course, no one is really worrying about that, since we’re trying to keep people home. But I can’t think of any woman whose experience would be enhanced by hearing that, on the one hand, and I can see a lot of women deciding that they REALLY don’t need to be hearing that when they just want some food (even if you do fast food or something like that.)

    Even if you are not in a restaurant, there are almost certainly customers involved, so the issue of not making your customers uncomfortable applies here.

    1. Whistles and Bells (LW 2)*

      Thank you! I tried explaining this exact thing to my supervisor, but he didn’t seem to get it. Maybe if that message came down the chain of command instead of up it, that would make a difference.

  39. James*

    LW #4: A way to steer people away from using so much hand sanitizer is to post CDC guidelines. The CDC (last I heard, 48 hours or so ago) recommends regular soap and water as the primary means of controlling the virus–they recommend washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and hot/warm water every 90 minutes. Hand sanitizer should only be used as a secondary option. It’s simply not as effective at killing the virus as normal soap and water.

    The other benefit–at least if my experience at Walmart is any indication–is that other people aren’t following those guidelines. Hand sanitizer is rare these days, but you can generally find soap. Liquid soap, good old-fashioned bar soap, even dish soap would work.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Posting is important! It helps remind people to stop and think rationally at times of worry.

      But I also make sure that I forward them to people as well and continue to keep people updated, it helps. Instead of just assuming “we’re all adults and just know”. We really don’t, everyone is scared right now and needs that gentle nudge of “CDC says just use soap and water, Jimbo.”

      1. James*

        Our safety guy (fortunately not currently me!) is doing that as well.

        I think the important thing to remember is that we’re not dealing with a normal situation. We’re dealing with panic. Most of us have never been through a plague before (the last time I remember a disease being a serious threat to me was scarlet fever as a very young child), and most people frankly don’t know what to do. People do stupid things when they panic–not because those people are stupid, but because they’re terrified. Adding stress is only going to make the situation worse. As you said, gentle reminders and constant communication are key, at least for stuff on this level.

  40. All Slacked-Out*

    I’m glad to read Allison’s reply because this was something I recently experienced in my work Slack’s “General Chat” channel. Except, every time the subject came up, it led to so much in-fighting and even some racist comments against Asian Americans (and I’m Asian). I suggested a Covid-19 centric channel but was shot down because “no one would use the channel,” “this is the only place I can discuss the virus,” or worse “stop being so sensitive.” I didn’t really understand why my workplace was ok banning some topics like politics and religion, but daily fighting over the virus is ok. For now, I’m trying to avoid it and if someone wishes to speak to me, they can DM directly.

    1. Blueberry*

      Ugh. I am so sorry you’re having to endure this. I send you strength. If I were you I’d drop a line to HR with screenshots appended, if they can be relied upon, but that’s a judgement call every person must make for themself.

  41. Whistles and Bells (LW 2)*

    Thank you very much Allison, and everyone who’s commenting with advice! I actually got a new job a few weeks ago– the kind where I get to sit down! And am able to work from home, which turned out to be a much bigger plus than I thought it would be– so this coworker’s ringtone is no longer an issue I’m dealing with on a daily basis.
    That said, I still see my friends from my old job every so often, and I’ll pass along everyone’s advice. Since I left, a lot of them have been more open with me about other frustrations, especially with this manager. I’m ashamed to realize that this was actually part of a more widespread issue of him not listening to staff about things that made people uncomfortable (mostly to do with customers and extremely bare-bones late night staffing) and I was making excuses for him because we got along pretty well.
    If anything big happens, I’ll let everyone know, but for now I’m encouraging my friends to stand up for themselves and doing my best to support them from the outside.

  42. Jennifer Strange*

    #2 – When I was working as a waiter/bartender at a country club one of my co-workers had a text tone that was a whistle (not a wolf whistle, but still a whistle) and I hated it because I would hear it and think one of our customers was whistling to get my attention so I’d stop what I was doing and look around to figure out who was trying to get my attention before realizing what it was.

    1. Whistles and Bells (LW 2)*

      That’s so frustrating and distracting! Customers whistling at servers for attention is one of the things I really hate about food service.

  43. Lego Leia*

    Letter Writer #4 – in addition to talking about the CDC guidelines for soap vs sanitizer, can you ask the employee which situations make him want to sanitize? It sounds like he is having some anxiety issues, and if there are ways to reduce what he perceives as risky transmission activities, that may help curb his use. For example, if he super sanitizes after getting handed papers from someone else, can they be shared electronically? Are people congregating in the kitchen? Remind people to follow the 2 meter rule even in the office. Also, where is the hand sanitizer being stored? It really only makes sense to put the hand sanitizer near doors/entrances. Once in the office, promote proper hand-washing for everyone.

  44. Zona the Great*

    Can I ask out of pure curiosity? For things like Letter #1, why not just say as soon as you see him doing it, “Don’t do that. That’s totally unnecessary. Please don’t use that much again. Two pumps are all that is needed and we have limited supply” and walk away?

    1. James*

      The issue is, if someone is slathering hand sanitizer on their face it’s a good bet that they’re not the type to take criticism well. If you say “That’s not necessary, two pumps are enough, we have a limited supply” they hear “We need you to not adequately protect yourself because we’re more worried about other people than we are about you”. It’s tricky to find a way to say that he’s using more than necessary without him hearing that his health isn’t important.

      1. LW4*

        Yes, this is exactly why I asked. He is also in an open floor plan part of our office, so I don’t want to come across to others as seemingly like we are limiting access to supplies to protect their health. (Although his team mates are the ones who originally alerted me to the situation, so I think they would understand).

        It’s just a sensitive subject where I want to make sure my message reflects my intentions. (1. Be safe 2. follow guidelines 3.reasonably conserve our limited resources when that does not conflict with the first two points.)

    2. Batgirl*

      Culture matters a lot as well. In my workplace you could say: “Why are you trying to take a bath in the hand sanitizer Arthur? It’s for your hands, not your beauty regime” …. but that’s not the case everywhere!

  45. LV426*

    Ringtone Whistle Writer could suggest the R2D2 whistle for the ringtone. It’s less offensive but still high pitched enough that the manager would be able to hear it easily.

  46. JessicaTate*

    Related to #3: Along with trying to keep Corona-chatter contained, I would add: For people who run meetings… Think twice before you ask questions about how people are doing personally: “Is everyone doing OK with you and your families?” or some variation.

    I know it comes from a well-meaning place, but if you have experienced loss (a close friend’s parent died from the virus), there’s no good outcome to that question being asked publicly. I’m not speaking up about my loss and the breakdowns that followed. And everyone who hasn’t been affected goes into jokey-joke mode about the lighter parts of this situation, which wasn’t super-fun either.

    I understand it’s complicated, and people want to show they care. If my boss asked in a one-on-one, I’d be fine; I could decide whether or not to answer and how specifically, depending on whether I thought it would impact my work. But in a big group setting, may I suggest making a statement instead of a question: “I hope everyone and your families are well and staying safe.” And focus the “doing OK” conversations to coping with work issues right now.

  47. fogharty*

    A bit off topic, but I have a parrot who wolf-whistles usually as a greeting.
    So in nice weather when his cage is in front of an open window, he’ll “greet” people passing by, who can’t see where the sound is coming from.
    The reaction of women vs. men is quite different. Women are generally more unnerved by it.
    He (the parrot) doesn’t do it so much anymore since I try to not reinforce the behavior for that very reason.

  48. Batgirl*

    OP2 you don’t usually talk about how you feel at work but this is one of those occasions.
    I think your shift leader believes there’s just an ideological objection to using a wolf whistle tone for shits and giggles and that trying another ring tone showed enough concern that it wasn’t his ideology. Now after all the experiments he has shown a legitimate reason, so objection trumped!
    I would say “It’s making me freeze up” and “Even though I know why you have it, I get a physical shock every time I hear it”.
    You’re having a visceral physical reaction and no amount of “aww he doesn’t mean it” will prevent that.
    If you get asked why, say ‘It just does’. If told you’re too sensitive say you definitely are too sensitive to this noise!

  49. Daisy*

    OP #4 (or LW4 , I see people using both!) If you are worried about your stocks of Hand Sanitizer, WHO released an official DIY formula that can be easily mixed and made available if needed. It only requires 3 components: alcohol in some form (either from your a drug store, or the ones used to create liquors), glycerin and the commonly found Hydrogen peroxide.

    Here is the official link

    You may find other formulas around the internet, but please only use it the ones coming from official channels.

  50. Io*

    LW2’s situation reminds me of a former boss. His ringtone was the ‘Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On’ chorus. I like old country, but it ruined Mel McDaniel for me.

  51. miss rose*

    LW#2 – Suggest that your supervisor get a bluetooth headset or wear a smart watch with haptic alerts so that he can get notifications that are not audible to everyone else. I also work in a loud environment and use both of these so that I can stay connected.

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