how can I tell an employee to mind his own business?

A reader writes:

I have an employee who has great rapport with coworkers. Unfortunately, he makes everyone else’s business his business. He takes it upon himself to be the advocate or “cheerleader” for staff and their individual work-related issues that do not involve him. He takes time away during the day to rehash or discuss the issue with others and stirs the pot. This affects his productivity and that of others around him. How can I tell him to stop stirring the pot and getting involved in issues that do not concern him?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • How to turn down networking requests
  • Offering to be a resource to job candidates who I reject
  • How to get people to stop using “reply all”
  • Competitive managers are looking for mistakes on other people’s shifts

{ 113 comments… read them below }

  1. laughingrachel*

    Good luck stopping the “reply all” phenomenon! Genuinely I hope it works for you, but I think it’s an unfortunate reality of office life (whether in physical offices or not).

    1. Aquawoman*

      My favorite is the reply-alls to the prior reply-alls to ask to be removed from the email string.

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        I LIVE for these moments in my very large state agency. It’s pure gold to watch.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I like when someone responds to a reply all asking to be removed from the email string ALSO asking to be removed from the string. You already know those requests are going to everyone and are annoyed by it!

        1. bleh*

          It’s the best. They keep replying all in indignation at the reply alls. Beautiful mess to witness.

      3. Erstwhile Lurker*

        These never fail to liven up the day. As if everyone on the chain cares enough to remove their individual email from the list.

      4. Alex*

        Yes! Or, as I used to get in a previous job, auto-reply tennis. You send an email, get an auto-reply, which triggers your org’s auto-reply, which triggers their auto-reply…

        That’s a lot of fun to witness!

    2. Funfan*

      I was part of a huge “reply all” debacle years ago. My large company was announcing the schedule for mandatory compliance meetings for employees with licenses, this was going out to maybe 800 people all over the country. People started with “I have a dr’s appointment at 3, I may be a little late” and “I’ll go to the one on Tuesday” “See you there!” and so on and so on.

      After about the 15th email, I replied all and said “Please stop using ‘reply all’. This is going to 800 people.”

      I met with my manager (also on the mailing list) later that day and he said “good job stopping that ‘reply all’ fiasco. But do you know whose email you were replying to?”. It was our chief corporate counsel! He was also 6’3″ and a former linebacker! Easily the most intimidating person in the building if not the company. Fortunately he thought it was funny.

      1. Door Guy*

        We were supposed to “reply all” at my last job because there was typically at least some upper manager CC’d, and also to update others on the team. Almost nothing was sent to just one person.

        The exception to this was if there was an email group called “Localops” in the recipients, because that would send your reply to EVERYONE in the company who had an email address. Nevertheless, everyone did it at least once. My general manager at the time did it enough before his promotion that at his first big managers meeting a number of other managers responded “Oh, the guy who replies all!” when he introduced himself.

    3. BRR*

      I always say the same thing to the reply all questions because I think it’s really the best you can do. In outlook, use the ignore button to delete all future messages in a chain. I’m in a job that uses gmail and wish I still had that function. Also set up rules if there are frequent offenders. At my last job, we’d get the standard new employee email when someone started and one coworker who was pretty far down the org chain would always reply all with “welcome.” I created a rule to send all emails from the coworker going to all staff to go straight to the trash.

      But yeah good luck. It’s like someone saying their upstairs neighbor makes too much noise when they walk, basically unfixable. Also while sending a goodbye for one employee to everyone is annoying, it wouldn’t be the hill I die on.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Gmail has a “mute” function. It’s under the “More” menu item. The emails still come but they never land in your inbox. (They are still unread in your “All Mail” and when I find that too annoying I take the time to set up a rule.)

      1. noahwynn*

        This, along with limiting who can send to large distro lists is what my company uses. We get emails for executives all the time and in the body of the email they say which lists they were BCCd to so you know, but even if someone hits reply-all, it just goes to the sender.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Agreed. When it happens, I just set up a rule to move anything with that subject to my delete folder. Problem solved.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      We had a bonafide reply-all storm a few years ago — someone mistyped and sent a query to an corporate-wide distribution list and POOF. IT had to shut down service on four continents to purge the system. There were still replies trickling in three days later as people who had been on vacation got back to the office.

    1. Choggy*

      Good point! That might be the more immediate answer. I will let our HR staff know this is an option since they send out more of these Everyone emails than anyone.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They don’t know it exists often times.

      Same reason people don’t use distribution lists and properly BCC them.

      Multiple times over the years I’ve had to point out that someone gave me their entire vendor list by sending me a request that was literally all visible. And then of course, the landslide of REPLY ALL, with account details for our mutual customer.

      I’ve seen this happen with people who are trying to email blast their entire contacts list as well for various things. *chrissy teigen yikes gif*

      1. Ama*

        Outlook and I think Apple Mail (at least the Apple Mail of 8 years ago when I last used it) hides the bcc option by default and it isn’t particularly obvious how to get it to turn on. I have run into several coworkers who assumed Outlook didn’t have a bcc option for this reason and are startled when I advise them to make sure they use bcc when emailing a particularly large volunteer group we communicate with.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Fun fact, I had someone tell me they can only CC 3 people because they didn’t realize if you hit enter again, it’ll give you another address line *ugly cries*

      1. Amy Sly*

        My boss, who is generally a decent human being in many ways, prints … his … emails.


          1. Amy Sly*

            In fairness, he’s also the kind of business owner who hired me knowing I was getting a $20K raise, simply because he thought that was the fair price for my labor. So it’s worth putting up with his foibles. :)

        1. Email Hoarding*

          My predecessor printed and filed all her emails. I genuinely had fun cleaning out the office after she left!

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Screaming. I’m still cleaning offices from literally years ago that nobody ever dealt with prior to my nosy ass self coming along, “what’s in here, oh this is…not necessary at all..” kind of shit.

          One person printed every email received AND every email sent. More veteran staff who remembered her says it’s because she was covering her ass due to shenanigans in the office at that time. Most was boring and so extra, a few scattered laughs were had though.

          I worked with owners who were computer illiterate though, so I have a lot of sympathy and love for the folk without the computer skills. Doesn’t mean I don’t still laugh at this kind of silliness!

        3. kittymommy*

          I will admit to printing some of my emails, but I don’t keep them!! It’s just easier to take (temporary) notes on the printed sheet. And its primarily when I’m following up with multiple people about the subject matter.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            This def isn’t the same thing that I envision when people say “They print emails”.

            We all print things sometimes, I certainly do. Sometimes I email myself “lists” to print out for my meetings or to bring to meetings to use as backup, etc. It’s also different because not everyone has email here, so there’s plenty of times that I have to be all “we got this email, here are pictures we printed out for quality issues.” or whatever :) .

            “They print their emails” either usually means they print instead of forwarding!!! or they are filing them in some kind of archaic paper-filing system *sobs*

          2. LQ*

            Yeah, I take better notes on paper. It’s really hard to let go of. (I’m not that old and I wasn’t inclined this way in previous jobs either.)

        4. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          I printer longer emails if they are important to read carefully.

    4. A Poster Has No Name*

      Possibly because they don’t know about it. LW4 should also be training her staff to use BCC in situations where you definitely want to avoid a reply-all mess.

    5. Reply All*

      Exactly what I came to say. I would start encouraging people to use BCC to prevent this. I use it constantly.

    6. Mid*

      In my industry (law) it’s actually important to not BCC people sometimes! That way there is clear proof of who received what emails. It’s super annoying to have to scroll through 1,000 email addresses to see the actual email content, but there are some times when it makes sense to not BCC distribution lists.

    7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      As someone who has worked in IT in some capacity for 25 years and is fairly fluent with Outlook, I have never had the need to use BCC on an email and it didn’t register for me that using it would eliminate the annoying reply all emails. So it’s probably that they just don’t know about it or how it works.

    8. TechWorker*

      When you use bcc you also need to remember to let people know you have… else you get people helpfully ‘adding an alias’ that already got the mail :p

  2. Choggy*

    I wish there was a way to add a message before a Reply All email is sent “Are you SURE you want to send this email to all?” or something like that. I use this type of message in other software to prevent people from not thinking and just clicking.

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      Outlook now warns you about how many people you’ll be emailing when you add a list to your emails. At least it does at my company, but I don’t know if this is OOB functionality or not.

      1. JanetM*

        Exchange (Outlook) does that at my university as well. It amuses me because it says something like, “You are sending this email to approximately Exact_Number people.”

    2. Choggy*

      I wonder if it’s the version of Outlook/Exchange that provides that option, we are still in the dark ages using Outlook 2010 (but Exchange 2013, woo, woo!) Looking forward to Office 365 or 2016 at some point. I may be retired by that time!

  3. Stimulus Check*

    Can someone tell me how to take away people’s REPLY ALL?

    Regarding that employee, I find their behavior passive-aggressive highly inappropriate.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      This can actually be done, by real IT and email admins (which is way more than just “help desk”). But someone needs to make the business case blah blah blah.

  4. JustKnope*

    So many issues boil down to, “just tell them!” Direct communication, people. It’s your friend.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      So hard for so many though! I love Alison’s scripts and especially love when she can share a sound bite of the right tone to use.

    2. James*

      The problem is, what you consider direct communication and what I consider direct communication may not be the same thing. Ran into trouble with that early in my relationship with my wife–I’d say “I’m doing X, Y, and Z this weekend” and she took that as a tentative schedule, for example. This took us a while to work out, and we’re still working on it.

      In terms of managing people, you need to find out how to speak so the other person hears you.

      1. Jennifer*

        That’s not direct communication, though. If you weren’t sure about those activities or if you weren’t planning on inviting her to do them with you, you needed to just say that – hopefully politely. “I’m thinking about getting drinks with Steve on Friday, nothing’s set in stone. Maybe we can do something Saturday?”

        Direct communication isn’t as complicated as we make it out to be sometimes.

        1. James*

          This is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. ;) I never said anything about including or excluding my wife (then my girlfriend)–in fact, in the conversation I’m thinking of, it was never a factor. She was going to do something that excluded ME and wanted to make sure I was okay with it. Regardless, the whole notion of needing to say I’m not inviting her was something you added because of what you saw as an ambiguity in my statement. My statement was, to me, very direct–I said X, she heard Y; doesn’t leave a lot of room for ambiguity to my mind–yet obviously to you it wasn’t.

          I agree that direct communication isn’t complicated. It is, however, something you need to think about. A basic truism in communication is “Know your audience”, and that’s really all I’m advocating here.

        2. Pennyworth*

          It seemed like perfectly direct communication to me, I took it at face value without embellishing the facts given.

    3. Artemesia*

      This. I loved Alison’s answer on that last one. YOU do not NEED a fricking new policy. You need to tell them to cut it out. People who sort through another shift’s work to one up another supervisor are not delicate flowers who need to be indirectly hinted at. They do in fact need to be told bluntly to ‘cut it out’. And they don’t need to be told ‘you don’t need to do this’; they need to be told to ‘stop doing this.’

    4. Jedi Squirrel*

      This is literally page 1 of Alison’s book, which is fantastic. A lot of people just don’t have the wording.

  5. Hiring Manager*

    I’ve also gotten a few requests for “informational” interviews that are not informational. One request on LinkedIn was from a candidate for an open position we had who wrote “I’d like to ‘network with you’ about your teapot painter opening”…I don’t even know what that means. I think people may be getting bad advice to find the hiring manager and circumvent the process to “stand out.” It’s a mark against them that they can’t follow the directions for applying that we have laid out, and I wish career counselors would not give this kind of advice to naive applicants.

    1. (Former) HR Expat*

      I get a lot of emails through LinkedIn telling me they’ve applied and asking me when I’ll schedule an interview. Or telling (read:demanding) that I give them the hiring manager’s name so they can schedule an interview with them.

      1. KRM*

        I’m willing to place about 50% of those types of things at the feet of people new to the workforce who have ended up with a crappy recruiter. The recruiter assumes that it ‘can’t hurt, might help’, and hey, it makes less work for them, right? So they tell people who don’t know better to do that. I’ve encountered many a recruiter trying to get me to take their job that would give advice like this.
        I’m hoping the other 50% got bad advice from the internet somewhere else, but you know there’s always people who are going to think it makes them look good to do this.

        1. Majnoona*

          Yes, if they’re new, don’t talk to them if you can’t but be kind. It’s a horrible job market and my recently-graduated daughter has spent the last two days (at her career office’s suggestion) “networking” with no response. It’s demoralizing and a kind word even if it doesn’t offer help would go far.

          1. Lizzo*

            Has your daughter been encouraged to reach out to alumni of her university who work in the field she’s interested in? That might be more fruitful–they already have something in common, and most alums are happy to connect with younger generations (provided they have time to do so).

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              ^this. The only reason I ever took part in my college’s mentorship program was to be pretty much the only environmental contact they had, so that my fellow enviro nerds had someone out in the field to talk to. When I went through it as a student it was only business majors. None had anything in common with me, and it ended up being a pointless endeavor. Several of those connections through that program are still connected with me on LinkedIn and every so often we message or tag each other.

              Sometimes I’m way too busy to really offer much, but for a newly graduated or soon to be graduated student who has a list of questions – I’m happy to email back and forth. Just don’t send things like “so how is environmental science?” Uh, depends. I got colleagues who now work in gov’t, people like me who jumped ship from gov’t, some went into research, some aren’t even in enviro now, that’s a reaaaaaaally broad and weird question that I can’t really answer in any meaningful way. Ask things like “what made you choose that Master’s”, “what sort of career progression did you start out aiming for and where are you aiming now”, “what conferences would you recommend networking at”, “do you know anyone at XYZ Company that would be willing to answer some specific questions”, things that are actionable.

              I say this only because that was one of my mentees. No matter what prompting, they wanted to talk about their day, their shopping trips, “environmental is just so…”…. it wasn’t a relationship I could spend any time on because the mentee didn’t want to participate in the structure of that particular program, and wasn’t doing any sort of prep work or thought in what I could (and was) offering. I don’t have time to talk to Random Person about their day. I will make time to talk to a fellow alum on working in the field of environmental compliance, especially if they are obviously respectful of both our our time.

          2. pamplemousse*

            Unfortunately, I suspect it’s an especially tough time to be trying to network right now. I try to do what I can, but the inability to meet with people in person, the disruption of working from home, the new demands on our time, and the depressing reality that I’m spending much more time thinking about layoffs than about hiring all makes it less likely that I’ll be able to make time for a new grad, or even remember to respond to their email.

            University career offices also often give pretty terrible advice! Networking-as-cold-calling rarely works even when it’s not a pandemic. The truth is that by the time college students are nearing graduation, they likely already have some kind of network, and there should be more advice about how to use that. A few suggestions:

            -Reach out to people she already knows from school. Horizontal networking — getting to know people your own age, basically — is so underrated! If she knows people 1-3 years ahead of her who work in her field, she should have networking conversations with them: What’s their job like? What’s the situation at their company? Who tends to get hired there, and why? Could they connect her to someone else within the company she could talk to in a more focused way? Would they give her a heads up if there’s going to be an opening on their team this year?
            -If she doesn’t know anyone in her field, she should reach out to slightly older friends or acquaintances anyway. They might know someone they can connect her to!
            -If she’s done internships or co-ops, reach out to former coworkers (or former fellow interns)and ask how things are at the company, do they know of anyone hiring, etc.
            -Can her professors introduce her to anyone in the field she’s interested in?

            Then, if she has to cold call, she should start with alumni of her university, but she should have a clear idea of what she wants to get out of those conversations and have done her research beforehand, including looking up the person on LinkedIn if possible. I get a lot of vague requests from my alma mater that go something like “I am very interested in Teapots Limited and your career path since State U.” I respond if I can, but I’m much more likely to respond to something specific: “I noticed you went from being a teapot painting intern to an entry level position in spout manufacturing, and I’d like to hear more about that.”

            My credentials for all this: I hire for entry-level positions and I graduated in 2009, when networking and finding a job was also very difficult.

        2. (Former) HR Expat*

          I wouldn’t have an issue if it were people new to their careers. Unfortunately 9 times out of 10, these are people who should know better. If it’s someone early in their career, I’ll usually pass on a kind word mentioning our process. When it’s someone with 15 years of experience, I ignore the message. It’s my current industry. I never had this issue in my previous industries.

          Sometimes if it’s really egregious (like the guy who emailed me the same message 4 times in a week), I’m tempted to send a scathing email. But then I realize i’m in a smaller company where the candidate could very easily send my response to the company president or post it online. And that stops the urge to respond.

    2. irene adler*

      I’ve read advice (not here!) that one should apply and then reach out directly to the hiring manager regarding the position. Helps one to stand out-especially if one asks intelligent questions about the position.

      When folks ask how they might locate the hiring manager, the recommendation is that it is a fairly easy thing to do. Just contact folks who work in the department with the open position and ask for the name of the manager/supervisor of said department. LinkedIn is suggested as the way to do this.

      Initially, I thought this was very astute. But then I wondered how this advice might work in larger companies. There might be many managers within a department. How does one find the correct manager (never mind if there’s multiple positions open)? And, in Quality, there’s lots of similar sounding departments with lots of the same titles within. So who works where? Who would I contact? Do I make a pest of myself reaching out to ten or fifteen people? Suddenly, that advice doesn’t seem so great.

      1. Lizzo*

        Yeah, unless you know the hiring manager or you have a friend/colleague who can put in a good word for you (in which case it’s the friend/colleague who should do the outreach, like passing your resume along), you shouldn’t be circumventing the hiring process with individual outreach. The only message it sends is that you 1) don’t know how to follow instructions and/or 2) are desperate.

      2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        My company has teams scattered across Europe, Asia and South America, and the same positions are open across all of them (for example, Asia team A and B might be sharing a Teapot Architect and looking to hire a Junior Teapot Architect to distribute the tasks). If someone tried to contact each potential hiring manager, it will take them months to get the right one. Luckily I’ve never recieved such requests so far.

    3. Pennalynn Lott*

      I recently received the following message on LinkedIn from a student at my alma mater:

      I hope you are doing well
      My name is [Student] and i am currently pursuing my Master’s degree in ITM at [Alma Mater].

      “I am actively searching for summer internship and few days back I came across a job posting for the position of data science intern at [Pennalynn’s Employer].

      “[Penalynn’s Employer] has been my dream company and this opportunity for summer internship will help me to to use my skills and also gain enormous amount of knowledge through actual implementation.

      “Due to current critical situation of COVID-19, its been really tough as an international student and I was hoping if i could get some referral which can really help.”


      I had to write her back and explain that a total stranger cannot give a meaningful referral. And, further, the internship wasn’t even in the department I’m in and my degree was in Accounting not ITM, so I couldn’t even speak to the quality of the program she’s studying in.

      Poor kid. I feel for her, but this isn’t how you’re supposed to network with alums on LinkedIn.

      1. irene adler*

        I can almost hear the school’s career advisor pushing her along to write and send this to you.

    4. Eukomos*

      I think it’s applicants not understanding the advice they’re given. They’re told to “network,” and that without a referral their resume will rarely be noticed in the stack. Put that together with the standard process of applying to posted jobs and it’s easy to conflate the two, think that you can send applications to jobs and “networking requests” to get the referral on the same day as part of one process. A lot of people who say that networking can get you a job fail to explain that you get referrals from people you have PREVIOUSLY networked with, because it seems obvious to them that asking to network after you’ve applied is using people rather than forming a network with them. That’s not obvious to everyone when they’re in the depths of trying to get a job in a new field and everything about job searching feels utilitarian and alien and unfriendly, though, you have to spell it out.

  6. Observer*

    #5- To add to what Alison said – It’s rarely a good idea to respond to a problem by creating a new policy. In this case, it’s especially bad management. On the one hand you are likely to start on the road of a dynamic of “if there is no SPECIFIC rule against X, it’s ok to do it”. That’s not the kind of thinking you want in anyone, especially managers and supervisors. It’s also going to be extremely hard to craft a rule that actually is responsive to the problem you are seeing without being way over broad.

    1. Kiki*

      I also think creating a policy for this when it’s just two people taking something to an extreme that’s causing the issue will create more confusion for those who aren’t part of the problem right now. Because you know you mean that these two people need to stop the extreme reviews and revisions that are wasting time, but what about a future supervisor who happens to look back and sees a serious error? Will they feel less willing to address a real issue because of this policy?

    2. whistle*

      “It’s rarely a good idea to respond to a problem by creating a new policy”

      This is my new mantra, and I might just need to cross stitch it on a pillow. Thank you!

    3. Jedi Squirrel*

      Oh, 100% this.

      Actually, our old policy of “Use your head and act professionally.” covers what these two managers are doing quite nicely, I think.

    4. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Man, I worked at the place where every issue became a policy. We used to say that you truly weren’t apart of the team unless there was a policy written because of you. The ‘company car’ was actually the owner’s spare car that was kept at their house, and there were about five pages in the policy manual dedicated on how to part it, exactly (for the record it was parked in a really stupid place). I was there about four months before I got a policy of my own, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was about. You could of concussed someone by swinging the policy manual around.

  7. Hope*

    To busy OP2 who says “I know i need to write back” to two people who wrote to her asking for info interviews after applying for an open position on her team – one who wrote totally cold, and one who was an old classmate of a friend – I would actually say that, no, you don’t necessarily need to write back. It can be nice/kind to do so if you want to do it, but I don’t think everyone who emails automatically gets a response just by virtue of having emailed. By sending an email, you’re asking for the recipient’s attention and time and I don’t think you automatically get a reply just because you asked.

    1. Artemesia*

      In this case they do need to be brushed back IMHO. They need to be told that they will be interviewed if the hiring committee decides to move forward with their applications. Let them know that what they are doing is inappropriate.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I would say it’s more of a “nice thing to do” rather than an obligation. Unless the former classmate is more than an acquaintance, OP owes them nothing, especially if OP is stretched thin right now.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      I would ignore the cold call email completely, but respond to the college friend telling them that you don’t have time and that if they have applied for the position already it would be best to just go through the established process.

      1. Eukomos*

        Agreed, the friend should have known better than to try to make the connection after their contact had already applied for the job, but they’re well within their rights to feel slighted if OP doesn’t spend thirty seconds on an email to say “sorry, can’t help.” OP might someday want that college friend to think kindly of them again, so they’re better off closing the loop.

  8. Observer*

    #1- Be careful when talking about the disruption factor. You don’t want a situation where it sound like you don’t want him to helping people realize when something is actually wrong. It’s bad management. And if these are non-exempt employees, it’s also illegal.

    I understand that that’s not what you are concerned about. But it’s easy to give the impression that that’s what you are concerned about.

    1. HR- Occam's Razor*

      “And if these are non-exempt employees, it’s also illegal.”
      I’m not reading anything that would be deemed protected concerted activity, such as wages or safety issues. What are you seeing?

      1. Observer*

        The law is not limited to just wages and safety issues. It covers ALL of the terms and conditions of the workplace. And the OP explicitly says that it’s about work related stuff and that he is (at least in his own mind) advocating for others.

        1. HR- Occam's Razor*

          Taking the letter righter at their word I’m not seeing what you are describing.
          I’ve been in many situations needing to direct an employees focus back to what they are responsible for.

    2. Zidy*

      Are you talking about the right of a worker to organize? I don’t believe anything in the law requires employers to give employees time while on the clock to discuss work conditions and it’s entirely fair to say that should be done on your own time and actual work should be a priority.

      1. Observer*

        I get that. As I said, it’s a matter of not creating an incorrect impression.

        “I don’t want you stirring the pot” and “You need to stay out of other people’s business” implies that he can’t talk to others about the issues he thinks he’s seeing at any time. That’s a problem.

        If the OP limits non-work related socializing and chit-chat, then they can definitely tell the guy that he’s welcome to talk to whoever he wants to ON HIS OWN TIME, but he needs to stop wasting time at work. If there tends to be a lot of non-work related chitchat and interaction it gets a lot more tricky as in many cases if yo allow people to use work resources for non-work purposes, you cannot forbid ONLY NLRA covered activity.

        Now, if I’m right and his conversations take a lot longer than the typical chitchat, and are also louder and more disruptive, that IS something the OP can address. It’s not that you are only forbidding conversations about work issues, but conversations that disturb other people who are not involved or that take up significantly more time than the typical social chit chat.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          I’m thinking this is more than the usual office chit-chat. OP said this:

          > He takes time away during the day to rehash or discuss
          > the issue with others and stirs the pot.
          > This affects his productivity and that of others around him.

    3. Sam.*

      Yeah, I did wonder if the employee’s reasons for advocating for coworkers and encouraging them to stand up for themselves (aka “stirring the pot”) are a result of office dynamics that make others uncomfortable speaking up, not him just being a difficult boundary-crosser. I have worked in that kind of environment, and if the employee(s) have legitimate concerns they’re trying to express, I expect that shutting down the person helping to give voice to those concerns would be perceived as OP not caring about employees.

      We have extremely limited information here, so there’s no way to know if there is, in fact, more going on than OP suggests, but either way, I would encourage OP to think carefully about whether this is an issue with a specific employee or if it’s a symptom of a larger cultural or structural issue in the office that the employee is trying to help people navigate (or both).

      1. CyaneaCapillata*

        I will confess to having “stirred the pot” and gotten scolded for it. As far as myself, I will manage my tone and conduct this in a timely manner – no matter what the boss does, there is still that trap of angrily venting about how precisely he is wrong. That said, unfortunately, since he clearly violates state law by telling employees incorrect information regarding critical matters (denying certain benefits exist to employees in need), I will have to keep walking the fine line of “Oh yeah, he did say that. Just in case, here’s the phone number if you want to check.” His responses when he catches other employees even innocently asking me are extremely defensive, and I can picture him writing this letter.

    4. LQ*

      I don’t think that it’s illegal to tell someone that they need to not be involved in personnel issues that are not their own.

      I think maybe you’re thinking that it’s different because the person in question is pro-the people involved here. But flip it in your head. If this person were going around doing the same thing but advocating against coworkers and stirring the pot that they should not get certain projects or should not get raises or whatever. That’s not ok at all. It doesn’t make it a lot more ok to do it just because you’re pro.

      Sure say that Sally is fantastic. But if you spend 2 hours a day saying either Sally is fantastic or Sally is horrible and you’re saying it to anyone you’re wasting 4 hours of time. Say it in 30 seconds or 3 minutes and go back to your work.

      1. Observer*

        It can veer into illegal territory very, very easily. Working / talking with others about the terms and conditions of employment is explicitly protected by the law, and you do NOT get to decide that since one of the people in the conversation is not directly involved they can be forbidden to discuss it.

        1. HR- Occam's Razor*

          This type advice gives HR a bad name. Severely limit best management practice by creating a conflict that doesn’t exist.

  9. Mannheim Steamroller*

    LW #1…

    Every office has at least one “I don’t want to do my job, so I won’t let others do their jobs” type.

  10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m smiling over the forever-fight over Reply-All. Because my newest complaint is those who don’t indeed reply all.

    We use it because we’re looping people in and they need to know the answer. Then I get to play the damn game that says “Did the Vendor ever respond to our request?” “If they did, they didn’t reply all. So on my side, the answer is no. When you look in your email, you may find differently.”

    These are the little things that we must assume will never fall into place and people will always need to be reminded or just left alone to struggle through that on their own. Our own annoyances be damned.

    1. Kiki*

      I think it’s partially a UI issue, which frustrates me because email clients could make changes to it more explicit who the email will be sent to. I know most people know when to use reply or reply-all, but wouldn’t it be great if more email clients responded to clicking reply or reply-all with a highlighted recipient list?

    2. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      The recipients don’t always know why specific people were cc’ed. So it’s often a judgment call as to whether to Reply All.

      I changed my default from Reply All to Reply, because I’d rather make the mistake of excluding someone who should have gotten the message (a mistake that can be corrected) than make the mistake of saying something sensitive to someone who shouldn’t hear it (a mistake that can’t be taken back).

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I figure if someone is going to CC someone in an email, that means they are going to be privy to whatever the details of the email conversation is about. So I don’t see it as a security risk in the slightest.

        Excluding people can delay things in my world. You won’t get paid if you don’t reply all and send me the invoice as well. You won’t get our business if you don’t send back the quote to all of us because I’m the one who is following up on that end.

        I’d rather clog up someone’s email box in the end because a simple annoyance isn’t going to cost you or your company money usually.

        1. James*

          They may be privy to some of the conversation, but not all. I’ve gotten in trouble before by copying clients or outside venders on what should have been an internal conversation stemming from an email to or from the client or vender. So there are risks to “Reply All”.

          1. TechWorker*

            You can avoid this by:
            a) checking the whole thread is suitable for ‘external’ eyes before adding someone.. if you don’t have time or it’s too long to check, start a new thread!
            b) if you’re deliberating excluding part of the audience from a side chat, put [internal] into the header or at the top of your response… not foolproof but it helps!

        2. Jedi Squirrel*

          I’m in the same boat. It’s less time and energy for me to delete an email that’s only of tangential interest to me than to hunt down who has the information I need and get it sent to me. CC exists for a reason. If I CC someone on my outgoing message, I want them CCed on the reply back.

          I just need my email recipients to trust that I know what the hell I’m doing.

    3. bananab*

      Always remember the time I got called out for missing a detail by someone passive-agressively finding the old email and forwarding it to me in “you were told this months ago.” I wasn’t in the list of recipients! I was the victim of overzealous reply-all pruning…

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I hope your response was to cheerfully say “Ah this does show that I wasn’t actually in this recipients list, so that explains why I never got it! Thanks for figuring that out for us, wow that’s a load off my mind that I didn’t make a mistake and miss it.”

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Hell yes to the power of X.
      My husband & I have been trying for three years to get the teachers & administrators in this new school system to include both of us on all emails. Previous school system? One request per teacher. I blame gmail interface. :(

    5. Allonge*

      Exactly: the only thing worse than reply all is not using reply all. E.g. my boss, instead of using reply all, tried to recreate it manually, but left me out acidentally. She keeps asking me if there are responses. How am I supposed to know?

  11. Lilchickshan*

    I finished reading the reply all’s only to get a string. An intern was just made full time, and her mom works for the company too. Her mom’s reply all email to the congratulations with her childish pet name made me cringe for her.

  12. Anononon*

    What about the other side of the Reply All debacle? There are certain clients I email with often, and I typically cc the relevant paralegal on these emails. My clients know that the people cced work with me. Yet, without fail, they NEVER reply all. The same thing happens when the paralegal emails them and cc’s me – I don’t get any reply emails.

    1. NotMyRealName*

      I too suffer from this with some of our vendors. My boss travels a lot and gets a ton of email so if they don’t copy me, I’m often out of the loop unless he forwards it to me. Once we started telling people that they should include me to expedite getting paid, that helped a lot.

  13. Exhausted Trope*

    Speaking of “reply all hell,” how do you stop habitual read receipts requests? I have two coworkers who have the setting enabled in outlook and it drives me nuts. They are the only ones that have this.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I just set up my Outlook to always send the read receipt. Then it’s no longer my issue, because I don’t have to send them. It becomes my coworkers’ issues, because they have to deal with them.

      This is a feature in most email clients that I am aware of.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I chose the reverse — I *never* send read receipts. Because phishers use read-receipt requests too — and I do not want to confirm that my address exists.

        1. Marzinnia*

          I always send one, but manually, to the people who request them, usually people I know and work with, in a pleasantly malicious compliance not-really-malicious way, with an attitude of, Heck, it’s your email getting flooded with read receipts, if that’s how you want to live your life, go bananas, I don’t understand it, but sure, enjoy.

          I didn’t know there was an option to always send one – then we’d both get what we want, me not to spend a single second on it, them to get it. But your phishing point has me pausing. May have to continue doing it manually for now.

    2. LQ*

      Set to NEVER send read receipts. It’s an easy setting in outlook. Options >> Mail >> Tracking >> For any message includes read receipt. “Never send a read receipt.” (or always, but I’m a strong believer in never , if someone needs a receipt they should ask.)

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Honestly, what’s wrong with including the line “Please reply back so I know you got this email”?

  14. TechWorker*

    It sounds in LW1 situation like it’s fairly clear cut that there’s no expectation in this persons role that they’d be getting involved in work outside of their area, but in my field at least it’s often *not* as clear and it can be difficult to know when it’s reasonable to ask people to stay in their lane. Eg:
    1) The work my company does (like many I’m sure) has lots of different areas – where there’s no one person who understands all the bits of the system, but people who’ve moved around and worked on different things over the years have invaluable experience. In this scenario being nosy about what another team is doing might benefit you (as there’s a chance the knowledge will be useful in future) – but with some of my colleagues crosses the line into demanding time I don’t have. (‘Can you just explain to me how x works’ when x is as far as I can tell completely unrelated to what they’re working on and the answer is not short at all…)
    2) At mid and senior levels you *are* to some level expected to be able to contribute cross team and say, spot problems in someone else’s design without necessarily needing to understand the full context behind it. I’ve struggled when people who are starting to move into this role try to do that without being asked because it can be a bit clumsy (and again, time consuming to explain) – but I’m sure they see it as trying to progress…

    In that sort of scenario telling someone to stay in their lane with no other context likely isn’t fair or reasonable – even if actually the most productive thing for everyone would be to ask them to back off and work out when it’s appropriate to stick your nose in & when it’s not :p

  15. Erstwhile Lurker*

    #2 I think this is an extremely kind thing to do, but I fear that as Alison says it may start to drain your time and become a point of resentment.

    You sound like you have some valuable experience and insights, why not type them up in a blog and direct people there? Then you can impact far more people.

  16. JessaB*

    Re reply all, make sure that the default reply setting is reply to sender. If possible even remove the reply all icon and make people use the menu to reply all. that’s what I did with a friend who kept doing that to me.

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