colleagues want favors for their families, coworker has profane outbursts, and more

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

1. Coworker swears angrily during the day

My cubicle is next to a person who swears a LOT during the work day. I assume it’s frustration with his computer, but a least a couple times an hour I’ll hear an onslaught of expletives coming from his cubicle. To be honest, it’s pretty disconcerting to hear and it’s also really distracting. Otherwise, he’s a great person to work with but I’m not sure how to approach this.

It sounds like the anger and hostility might be a bigger problem than the profanity itself. It’s jarring to hear angry outbursts throughout the day. That’s not cool to do at work — and a couple of times an hour is really over the top. (And really, what is going on with his computer?)

He might not even realize you can hear him, or he might not realize how frequent it’s become, or what it sounds like to someone trying to focus on work. If he’s a decent guy, he’ll rein it in once you tell him.

I’d say it this way: “Cecil, could you tone the language down? It’s pretty jarring to hear it so constantly.”

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Employer sent me three pages of rudimentary interview tips

I recently was invited for a final round interview and a week before, I received an email from the internal recruiter. The email was basically a three-page document about the interview — what to do (including remembering to smile), what not to do, and how they’d like their questions answered. It was so long that the recruiter even included a TLDR at the top!

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the guidance and advice, but this feels like a huge red flag and I worry this shows a theme of micromanagement and poor communication. However, since I’m switching industries, I’m not sure if this is common practice or not. Have you ever heard of something like this? Am I overreacting?

Some external recruiters do this (because they want to ensure you make a good impression on your client, because it reflects on them), but it’s less common to have an internal recruiter do it. That said, there’s a school of thought that not everyone gets the same interview prep guidance from school, family, mentors, etc. and so, especially at more junior levels, providing some guidance to everyone can even the playing field a bit. It’s odder if you’re at senior level though.

I wouldn’t say it’s a red flag on its own. If you see other signs that they’re controlling or infantilizing, pay attention to the pattern — but this on its own isn’t a huge deal.

3. Coworkers keep asking me for special favors for their families

I just started working in an industry where people are able to ask for special treatment for family members and friends (think: traffic tickets).

Being new, I’ve only been approached a few times so far, but I’m extremely uncomfortable with this. Growing up, neither I nor my family members had access to any kind of network like this, and I got where I am today without knowing anybody in the industry or asking for any favors. I also don’t think I, or anyone I’m close with, is owed special treatment, so when a colleague asks me to do a favor for their cousin, I’m tempted to ask, “How is it fair that I should treat your cousin better than I would anyone else?” But I also don’t want to burn any bridges or come across as unreasonable, as I’m very solidly part of a minority in this industry. I spoke with a friend, who works in a different industry that also has this problem, and he said, “That’s just how it’s done.”

I’m already frustrated with the practice and it’s only going to get worse the longer I have this job. Is this something I’ll just have to get used to, or is there a way to say that, out of fairness to everyone, I won’t be doing anyone’s family member any favors, as I won’t be asking for favors on behalf of my own family members? It’s just another way to perpetuate inequality, in my opinion, but I seem to be the only one at my workplace who finds this practice really irritating, and 95% of the time my supervisor tells me to do whatever the person is asking.

I fully agree with you that this kind of thing perpetuates inequality. Whether or not you can take a stand against it without having it impact you professionally is an answer I can’t give you — but your manager probably can, because she knows the culture and the players. So talk to her, explain your concerns, and tell her you’d like to have a “no personal favors” policy (and won’t ask for any yourself). You can still take a stand regardless of her response if you decide to — I just want you going into it with your eyes open, and that’ll give you a better feel for what you’re dealing with.

4. Going back to work with a hair-pulling disorder

A couple of months ago, I snagged a job doing really impactful work for an amazing company. I love my team so much and feel really proud of what we accomplish. My first day was about a week after we began working from home due to COVID-19, so I have yet to actually see any of them in person.

For my whole life, I’ve dealt with anxiety/depression, which often manifests itself as trichotillomania (otherwise known as “hair-pulling disorder,” a constant and uncontrollable urge to pull at your hair). Normally, it’s centralized to one part of my head, which I’m able to cover up so that it looks less obvious. However, with recent events and some heartbreaking losses I’ve experienced in my circle of friends and family, my anxiety/depression levels have skyrocketed and my habit got out of control. I’m seeing a therapist about it and am trying really hard to stop, but although I’ve been doing better, I am left with a pretty large bald spot in the back of my head that’s larger than it’s ever been and definitely cannot be covered up.

My company just announced that we’ll be going back to work soon, and I feel sick at the thought of of facing my colleagues and having to answer their questions or stares. They’re all very friendly and I’m sure they’ll be polite and understanding about it (unlike others I know who don’t seem to understand that it’s involuntary and uncontrollable without therapy and/or medication), but there’s no way they won’t notice, and I know I’ll constantly be looking for ways to not have to turn the back of my head to people. Do you have any advice on how to face this when I get back? Do I give people a heads-up (pun maybe intended?) from the get-go, or do I just wait and constantly have to sit with the unacknowledged observation others are making?

Do what will make you feel the most comfortable! You definitely don’t need to preemptively say anything if you’d be doing that for other people’s comfort, but if would make you feel better, you could matter-of-factly say, “My hair looks strange in the back, it’s a medical thing, it’s being treated.”

But you could also say nothing if you prefer! If anyone asks, you could say, “Yep, medical thing, getting it treated.” People will take cues from you, so if you’re matter-of-fact and breezy, it’s not going to be a big deal. (And if anyone is rude enough to push for details: “Just a health thing I don’t want to get into, but it’s nothing to worry about.”)

5. Company canceled performance reviews

Normally at my company, we have performance reviews in May with a small cost-of-living raise that follows. Due to COVID-19 and the financial disruption it has caused, my company isn’t doing raises or promotions for at least the next year. They recently announced that all employees will be taking pay cuts in addition to no raises. Prior to the pandemic, my boss gave me a heads-up that I would be getting a promotion and raise this May, so that is no longer happening. While none of this is great news, it makes sense and I know a lot of companies are in a similar boat right now.

The thing that surprised me, though, is that upper management announced we’re not doing performance reviews at all this year. I understand the company wouldn’t be able to promote anyone or raise wages based on a positive review, but canceling the reviews themselves doesn’t save additional funds – so why not do reviews anyway? To be honest, I feel a little cheated – because I expected a positive review, I’m disappointed that I won’t even receive positive feedback from my boss. My boss is a nice person but a stoic manager – she hardly gives feedback of any kind throughout the rest of the year and she’s not the type of person who says “thank you” for a job well done, other than during our annual reviews. I’m feeling hurt that I won’t get a simple “well done” during a review, especially now when I’ve taken on many extra responsibilities due to the pandemic. It also irked me because my boss said that she’ll soon be sending out an email requesting positive feedback from us in lieu of her getting a review from her boss this year. That hardly seems fair to me – we’re supposed to praise her but not receive any feedback ourselves. (I don’t think it would be acceptable for me to ask for positive feedback about myself like she did, even if I did feel comfortable doing it.)

I am grateful to have a job right now and I want to keep this in perspective. Am I overreacting?

Doing formal performance reviews well takes huge amount of time and energy. It’s possible your company figures people’s plates are already overflowing from the current situation and doesn’t want to add to that. Or they might not want to formally evaluate people during a time when many people’s performance isn’t normal. So I don’t think it’s an awful decision — although ideally they’d still have people do a shorter, less burdensome (and possibly less formal) process because it’s still important to ensure managers are giving feedback, people know where they stand, goals are set for the coming year, etc.

But there’s no reason you can’t ask your manager to talk about how things are going, just without doing a formal review. You could say, “Since we’re not doing formal reviews this year, could we set aside time at our next check-in to talk about how things are going? I’m hoping to get your feedback on what’s going well, where I could do better, and what to focus on over the next year.”

If she misunderstands and thinks you’re asking for a review, say, “I’m just hoping for an informal conversation because it’s important to me to know how I’m doing and make sure we’re aligned about where I should be focusing.”

{ 332 comments… read them below }

      1. AA*

        I have this too! I find one split end (beard) then I unconsciously need to find more. So far it hasn’t affected anything professionally. Wife is sympathetic and understanding.

        1. anonanna*

          Also offering solidarity. I struggle with skin picking (due to OCD/anxiety) and the lockdown coupled with mosquito season has left my face, neck, and legs scabby and scarred.
          one thing I find helpful to stop the cuticle/finger picking is to keep my nails painted- even if it’s a subtle color, I can’t stand chips, so this helps me be more mindful not to pick. hope that’s helpful to other skin pickers! for hair pulling, maybe you could find a similar diversion/aversion to help.

          1. Ollie*

            I used to pick my fingers bloody. While it may not be feasible during this time I found the best thing that helped me with finger picking was acylic nails. They are thicker, don’t have as much edge, and don’t do as much damage. They are a pain because you have to have them done every coupld weeks but I’ve since grown them out and my fingers look presentable.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          When I get way too stressed I pull out my eyebrows and sometimes even my eyelashes. I graduated from college missing half an eyebrow because my senior thesis was tough. I also get my eyebrows done by a pro if I feel they need grooming because if I start plucking them myself I will get compulsive and not stop.

          The last time anyone said anything mean about it was in middle school and those people would have mocked me for having 10 fingers and 10 toes if they hadn’t been able to find anything else to mock. One time in college my roommate asked if something happened to my eyebrow and I was like, “I pull them out when I’m stressed, I don’t even notice I’m doing it,” and she said something in the general vein of “Oh that’s rough,” and that was the end of that.

          1. JBeau*

            Same. I’m an eyelash puller when stressed. I have really long eyelashes so the empty patches can really stand out.

      2. Not "that" Karen*

        I also have trich and being home all the time has not helped since I pull more when I’m staring at a computer. I have been considering whether or not to purchase a Keen bracelet. It seems to have good reviews, but I have my doubts (as a life-long puller, nearly 30 yrs now). Just wanted to put it out there in case others haven’t heard of it yet.

    1. BigTenProfessor*

      I think a lot of people will be coming back from quarantine with changed appearances (weight gain/loss, DIY haircuts, etc.), so I hope everyone mind their own business and it is less likely to raise questions at this particular moment.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This. Everyone will have something, and they’ll likely be too self-conscious about theirs to worry about yours.
        I gave blood yesterday and the technician asked my weight. I said “I don’t know; I have quarantine body,” and she laughed.

    2. President Porpoise*

      Same. I had a bad period in middle school that left a bald patch the size of a silver dollar at the top of my head. My mother French braided my hair daily for two years until it grew out enough to not be obvious. Being the child I was, I claimed it had gotten caught in a hair dryer.

      But I find that keeping my hair consistently up and in a bun or braid helps stifle the urge. I have also redirected the urge, so that instead of pulling all hairs, I am only “allowed” to pull hair that is kinked to the point that I can feel it without seeing it. It helps – but the onset of the occasional white hair is making that rule harder to follow.

      Best of luck.

  1. Hiya*

    Op #4 having suffered from trichotillomania my whole life I wish I could chat with you directly. But check out for support

    1. Cathie from Canada*

      Would it be possible to wear a wig that looks like your usual hair style and cut?
      My sister wears a wig all the time, because she has always felt her hair is too thin and wispy and she is much happier with the look the wig gives her. I used to think that she would damage her real hair but apparently this isn’t a problem anymore, with the materials now used for wigs.
      Anyway, perhaps it is worth looking into.

      1. Amanda*

        OP, please remember, if you don’t want to wear a wig or extensions or whatever, that’s fine too. You have a health issue that comes up as a hair issue, and it’s still nobody’s business! Alison gave you some great advice on wording, and any decent person would accept that script without bothering you any further, or even thinking about it much further.

        If you want to wear a wig, that’s totally ok, and good for you. If you don’t, that’s still ok and equally good for you! Just please, PLEASE, don’t feel like you have to change your appearance to conform to what your coworkers ‘expect’ of you.

      2. The IT Plebe*

        Fellow trich-ster here and +1 for wigs. I started wearing them eight years ago and it gave me a huge confidence boost. If anyone said anything about it, it was to compliment the new style/color/whatever. As Alison said, people take their cues from you, so if you don’t make a big deal out of it, neither will anyone else — of course, there will always be an outlier or two, but if they’re weird or rude about it, feel free to deliver the awkwardness back to sender (thanks, Captain Awkward).

        Since we’re all at home and I had a relapse myself, I just went “eff it” and shaved my whole dang head. Again, any comments were “looks good!” or “I bet you love how low-maintenance it is!” (oh, how I do) and “man, I wouldn’t mind doing the same thing right now.” The fact that I have nothing long enough to pull right now coupled with seeing everything growing back fairly evenly (albeit slowly) has been a real boon for keeping the urges in check. If that’s something you feel comfortable doing, 10/10 highly recommend and there’s no better time to do it. Plus, it makes wearing wigs 100% easier.

        Mostly, I’m sorry. I know exactly how rough it is. Trichotillomania is a disorder deeply rooted in shame and I hope you can give yourself a lot of grace and gentleness right now.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Ooh, I’m not the OP, but thanks for this. I’ve definitely been thinking about doing a haircut with shaved sides when I’m able to visit a salon again, and this is giving me some great ideas!

      3. ...*

        I would think you could also get a clip in extension or hair piece depending on how bad it is

    2. MayLou*

      I have trich too, although it’s much better now than when I was a teenager. For me it’s localised to my face, specifically my eyes. As a kid I pulled my eyelashes but I managed to reroute it to my eyebrows (less risk of infection or serious injury). Mostly I just have really well-plucked thin eyebrows but when I’m under stress I pull an entire patch or even half my brow from the thick end.

      I’ve been into the office with half my eyebrow missing (usually I use mascara to paint it in but I didn’t have time) and honestly, my colleagues didn’t notice until I pointed it out. People see what they expect to see, usually. I found it hard to believe but then again it took two full days before my dad noticed I’d pierced my nose when I was a teenager living with him. I guess my point is that people are unobservent and we care much more about our own appearance than anyone else’s, so do what makes you feel most comfortable and assume other people don’t notice unless they say something.

      1. 2QS*

        Agreed all around.

        I also have trichotillomania. It affects mainly my body hair, which I deal with mainly by covering it up at work. But in private I find myself going after patches of hair on my arms, legs, occasionally face, etc., and there were parts of my skin that are constantly infected, sometimes in visible places. I often have a lot of Band-Aids on my skin. I also started compulsively pulling at my outer eyebrow hairs, sometimes in meetings with others, which horrified me a little bit. And you know what? There could be some luck here, but no one else has ever said anything at all.

        I also have what I thought was a large, oddly shaped, oddly colored birthmark in a prominent place, usually not covered by clothing. My dermatologist kept making remarks about it, and I finally asked a longtime friend for a blunt opinion on whether laypeople were just being nice about it. The friend said, “What birthmark?!” and I had to point it out.

        Which is not to discount the possibility that a bald spot will catch people’s attention, especially if you have darker hair. But in general safe to assume that people are either busy thinking about their own appearance, or are noticing only a fraction of information across hundreds of other people’s.

        1. Clorinda*

          Maybe people are noticing and not saying anything because manners. I mean, how rude and ridiculous would it be to come up to someone and say “do you know you have a birthmark?” Obviously there are a few people who do things like that, but very few relative to the number of people you encounter in a day. Most people who notice bald patches or whatever will just think a sympathetic thought, probably not say anything, and continue with the business at hand.
          Please don’t be ashamed of your bald spot, OP. Wear a wig if it makes you feel better, but don’t do it because you are afraid of what people will think.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            I forget I have a birthmark on the side of my face (near my ear) until little kids are around. I’ve been asked by many children over the years about it. I have a lot of freckles, so I usually tell them it’s one really big freckle (which usually gets a giggle).

            I also have psoriasis, which I’ve dealt with it since I was a kid. I have several scars from it where I’ve lost the melanin in my skin in places where I used to have constant flare ups. I’ve had a few people ask me about some on the backs of my legs in the summer when I’m in shorts, but those people have been friends who are very close to me and see me often. Those same people have never once asked me about the birthmark on my face, the scars are just more noticeable because they’re WHITE.

            You’re right, most people won’t say anything even if they notice. Most people are sympathetic.

        2. anonanna*

          you’d be surprised. i skin-pick and i’m always shocked when another adult asks me what happened to my ragged hands. it usually gets pretty awkward. sometimes kids will ask me and i don’t mind it as much– one little girl at the ministry i volunteered at kept touching my fingers and telling me i shouldn’t do that, which was kind of sweet!

      2. Dahlia*

        I have a friend who, when we first went into lockdown, shaved her eyebrows off and waited to see how long it took her husband to notice.

        He didn’t.

    3. N*

      Op #4 I too suffer from trichotillomania and have struggled with how to handle it in a professional setting. Since I’ve been working from home I frequently wear a hat which works both to cut down the urge to pull but also serves as a great reminder when I go to pull. While it might not work for you, I find wearing a hat or bandana to be supremely helpful. But most of all remember it’s not something to be ashamed of, it is a health condition.

      1. DuskPunkZebra*

        I was going to ask about doing this – no trich here, but I had this slouchy beret-style crochet hat that I wore CONSTANTLY in college and have made similar ones in recent years to wear on and off purely because I think they’re cute and can be very polished-looking if styled with the outfit. (My college one was black and went with everything, but I’ve made colored ones too.)

        I also sometimes veil for religious reasons and no one’s said anything so far, although I’m not a practitioner of a religion most would associate with veiling nor of an ethnicity where that would be an assumption.

        If you’re particularly self-conscious of it where you might want to just cover it, I feel like this is a pretty accessible option.

    4. New Job So Much Better*

      If you tell them it’s medical, knowing how people react, I’d add “It’s not contagious.”

    5. Librarian of SHIELD*

      OP4, I don’t have trichotillomania, but I did have scalp surgery a few years ago that required shaving off almost half of my hair. My workplace dress code normally has a “no hats” clause, but while I was recovering from my surgery and waiting for my hair to grow back in, I got permission to wear hats and scarves to work. If you think you’d be more comfortable coming to work with your head and hair covered for a while, try talking to your supervisor or your HR rep. If you tell them you’re dealing with a medical issue that affects your hair and scalp and that it would help if you were allowed to wear head coverings while you’re treating the issue, you may find that they’re willing to help.

      Of course, as other people have said, you don’t have to cover your head or your bald spot if you don’t want to. This is entirely about what will make you more comfortable when you’re back at work. I’m hoping all the hopes for you, OP4.

      1. Deanna Troi*

        Seconding what Librarian said. If you don’t want to wear a wig, hat, or scarf, don’t let any of us make you feel like you should. I just wanted to mention that I used to work with a woman who used to wear fabulous beautiful scarfs on her head to work every day. She matched them to her outfits, and the front part of her hair was visible. After we’d worked together for a few years, she mentioned having this disorder. I had no idea, and just thought she was uber fashionable.

      2. TardyTardis*

        I knew someone who was bald from chemo, and she had this fabulous jet black beaded headpiece she wore for New Year’s Eve. With diamante accents (still wish I had one like it).

    6. emmelemm*

      Another trichotillomania sufferer, albeit a fairly mild case, offering you support. It’s hard when people don’t realize how involuntary it really is. Hopefully it will be a non-issue for you.

    7. President Porpoise*

      Wow, there are a lot of us on this forum. That is really heartening, actually.

      1. ..Kat..*

        It is also heartening to me how kind people are being. Beyond the anxiety and pulling, there is the feelings of shame for not being able to control it. And the feeling of being ugly and less than.

    8. ArtsNerd*

      Add me to the roster of people with trich! My skin is super sensitive so I can’t do wigs. A product I’ve tried (but couldn’t stick with because my skin is sensitive) is “HabitAware by Keen” — it’s a wearable that you can train to buzz when your hand is reaching for your BFRB spots. I had the first generation, which was accurate enough to be helpful, though prone to false positives for me. It seems to have only gotten better in the interim (it’s been out for years.) I’ve stayed on their email list because it’s so affirming of the condition and helped me shake the stigma for myself. No affiliation, I just like them.

      When I get bad enough, I buzz my hair (as I have now.) It’s still extremely obvious, but I pretend not to give a shit and that’s worked out shockingly well! I had already established a mild punk rocker reputation, which I’m sure helped.

      One more comment is that for me, another major trigger is seborrheaic dermatitis, which also flares up during stressful times. I’m mentioning it here because for YEARS I assumed the inflammation was my own fault from pulling. The pulling does contribute to the inflammation but it’s only part of the equation. Treating the dermatitis to the extent that I can helps, just in case anyone else is going through a similar vicious cycle.

  2. Vichyssuave*

    LW3: I had an internship at the District Attorney’s office and so obviously did not have enough clout for anyone to ask me for any such favors. But I make a whole lot of copies of and filed away lots of requests from lawyers to have offenses dismissed or downgraded (I was in the DUI/Traffic division). Possibly you could suggest that as an alternative when people ask. You could even phrase it with something like “my office generally only handles those types of requests when they come from a legal representative” which could take some of the blame off you in their eyes.

    This was quite a while ago and I have no idea how things are run now or if it’s location dependent though, so any commenters who wish to correct me or tell me this isn’t great advice, please do!

    1. Vichyssuave*

      And actually, as soon as I hit send I realized LW’s industry may in fact be a law office, in which case my suggestion is entirely moot. Though in that case LW could probably say they are not able to donate their employer’s time to personal requests.

    2. Half-Caf Latte*

      I’m reading the letter as colleagues asking for favors moreso than acquaintances, so I don’t think the white lie about duties will work here.

      1. Vichyssuave*

        Ah, I missed that! Hopefully LW’s boss would be okay with her redirecting any requests right to Boss in that case. It’s not an ideal solution* but it does at least remove LW from the equation.

        *Ideally of course we’d shut down the requests and inequality. But LW likely does not have the power to do so on her own and people would go around her to the Boss anyway, and in a way that is much more risky to LW’s continued employment.

        1. Sue*

          In general, I don’t think telling people to go through legal representation is a good idea unless you’re talking about criminal cases where attorneys are appointed if someone is unable to afford their own. For things like noncriminal traffic tickets, it perpetuates inequality to give special favors to those who can hire a lawyer.
          My other concern here is whether this is a governmental activity. If so, it’s hard to understand these types of favors as other than corrupt practices. No one should be treated differently as a result of working in the system and every effort should be made to avoid handling things where a conflict of interest exists. Is there an elected official involved here? A Clerk or Judge? I would be very careful not to get caught up in questionable situations if this is
          a governmental office and hope you are able to seek out guidance from those ultimately responsible.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Yeah, that’s really the issue. Is this actual government corruption? Then yeah, concerning. Are we just talking “family of airline staff get free tickets” or “ice cream store workers can give people free ice cream?” Well, since the supervisor says it’s ok, go ahead and share the bounty.

            1. Chinook*

              This is an important distinction. DH looks at this type of thing as the “employee discount” when it is freely given but not demanded (and no lives or property were endangered.) The reality, at least in law enforcement, is that there is room for “officer discretion” and, as long as there is no general pattern of discrimination, it can lean one way or another. It is sort of like letting your mother use your employee discount at Target when you are there with her vs. Her demanding to use it when she is there alone and the employee doesn’t recognize her.

              The flip side to not doing this is that you, and any family members that are known to your colleagues, may find that the letter of the law being applied to you instead of the spirit of it. Or that it is done with such attitude that you wish they would just give you the damn ticket instead.

              Ex: I never asked for leniency when I got caught rolling through a stop sign but was given it when the officer was told over the radio who I was married to (which DH was asked to confirm but didn’t ask why). She belittled me so badly for the favour she gave me that I drove a few blocks, pulled over crying and called my on-duty DH to come and get me. All because DH was not all warm and fuzzy when he pulled over other cops’ families and never gave leniency to anyone who uttered anything implying “do you know who I am.” I still don’t regret that he doesn’t bow to wider leniency with the “employee discount”, but also know that there are consequences.

              1. Chinook*

                Let me add that not issuing a ticket is very different from making one go away. The officer writing the ticket knew what was going on whereas the person making it disappear doesn’t. The latter are actually sitting in judgement that the ticket is wrong without oversight or paper trail while the former may have to defend their judgement of a law being broken in a court of law and give evidence in support.

                I see that as corruption because making a ticket go away is implying the the original police officer is wrong or overstepping their duty or that the law doesn’t apply to the ticketed. Not issuing the ticket in the first place is allowable as the officer can let someone off with a warning, which can happen for many legitimate reasons (up to and including being called away to something more urgent) but may still feel to the unticketed like they got a favour.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            “For things like noncriminal traffic tickets, it perpetuates inequality to give special favors to those who can hire a lawyer.”

            Let me start with I agree with you !00%. Hang on to this thought.

            Here in NY if a person cannot figure out on their own how to handle a ticket the court officials MUST tell them to seek legal counsel or the court official will face an ethics charge (and maybe jail time) if they give advice.

            Remember, I actually agree with you. Our system sucks in this regard. The law books are loaded with legalese that an average person cannot follow. This excludes entire groups of people. I personally think this is wrong-wrong-wrong. But this is what we have.

            I saw someone use the phrase “hidebound bureaucracy” in regard to a totally unrelated situation. But that phrase just keeps coming back to me in discussions like this. Laws are not accessible to the average person with an average education. Eh, if lawyers argue among themselves, this is how stuck we are.

            I agree that the way our system is set up average people having average lives cannot participate without paying for additional advice. This is wrong.

            1. EPLawyer*

              The reason for telling someone to seek legal counsel rather than the clerks telling them what to do is to avoid BAD legal advice being given. If someone who is not trained starts handing out legal advice, it will only perpetuate the suckage of the system. Someone with bad legal advice will most likely face more severe consequences than if they went it on their own.

              1. Anononon*

                In my experience, that’s not fully accurate. Not So NewReader is correct in that there’s an ethics issue in a non-attorney giving legal advice. It’s not just the concern over giving bad advice (usually the official knows exactly how to handle the problem) but it also creates major liability. The prohibition on giving legal advice isn’t to help the person asking for it but to protect the person who is being asked.

              2. pancakes*

                That doesn’t make sense. There’s nothing intrinsic about clerks that prevents them from giving good advice. This is a funding issue, and has little to nothing to do with the letter.

              3. Littorally*

                Yeah, this. It’s the same as me (as an investment advisor) telling a client to speak with a CPA if they have tax questions. I’m not a licensed tax advisor, but because I’m a finance professional, statements from me about tax issues have professional weight behind them. Ethically, I can’t give advice I’m not licensed for, even if I do know more about taxes than the average person.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      If this is actually a court, then OP could be in serious trouble for an ethics violation. OP, give everyone the same level of advice/attention – this goes for strangers right though to besties. These people are asking you to jeopardize your job. If the offense is serious enough you could find yourself on the other side of the judge’s bench.

      It will die back if you are consistent. Don’t answer some people extensively and answer other people briefly. Give consistent answers across the board. Redirect people to the appropriate person, such as a person who wants a reduction on a traffic ticket should talk to the judge or the prosecutor for that court. They may need to know the appropriate way to do that so you can tell them to call/write/appear in court, how ever that is handled.

      If this is indeed a legal setting, then you know that in law there are exceptions, then the exceptions have exceptions, and so on. It gets really encumbered really fast. On some questions you can just say, “I don’t have a law degree and I am afraid of giving you the wrong answer. That would not be fair to you.”

      1. MK*

        I cannot know how things work in the OP’s organization, but where I am from court employees are usually less likely to do these sort of favors, probably becaused they are influenced and supervised by judges, who are borderline paranoid about even the remote possibility of a vague appearence of impartiality. It is more common in municipal authorities.

        1. schnauzerfan*

          We sometimes find ourselves in the position of being asked for “favors” Not to be coy, people wants their fines waved or want us to discard materials in their direction rather than sending them to the surplus property auction. We decline, politely. If the person persists, I have no problem in telling the asker that I’m not interested in losing my job or going to jail for them. If they still persist I mention a local case where a man of my acquaintance got jail time over a relatively small sum of money inappropriately discounted from a fee and also the police chief who was fired over personal use of a city camera. I keep if friendly and light but…

  3. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A note that I removed a couple of details from letter #3 that the LW had included in a follow-up and which I realized right after publishing may not have been intended for publication. I also removed two comments that included them. (Please feel free to repost those comments without that piece.)

  4. Aglaia761*

    LW#4. You might want to look into clip in extensions. They’re fairly inexpensive and can be put in and taken out as needed. You can find them in all hair colors and textures. Wearing them might help with the anxiety of being back at work, while you still work with your therapist.

    1. Gen*

      There are half or 3/4 wigs that blend in with the natural front of your hair – a friend of mine used one for a year after a bleaching mistake destroyed the hair along her parting at the back. No one at work noticed until she stopped wearing it and had her now-regrown hair styled into a shorter cut.

      1. MistOrMister*

        I was going to suggest a wig as well, if that might make OP feel more comfortable. I had a coworker who almost always wore a wig. Once in a while she would come in wigless (she had plenty of hair, just preferred wigs), but most days it was a wig. She had so many styles and it was kind of fun to come in to see what look she had going that day. One thing I like about wigs if you don’t mind everyone knowing you wear them, is how you can switch styles and colors so easily. I wore them for a while when I dyed my hair colors not allowed at work and it was great playiny around with them. Or you can stick with the same style of wig and most times people won’t be able to tell you’re wearing one.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I had a coworker going through cancer treatments who bought a high-quality wig and shaved her head to get ahead of the hair loss. She came in one day with the wig and I honestly just thought she had gotten a new hair cut. I told her I like the new style and went about my day. It wasn’t until later when I overheard someone make a comment about how they wondered where she bought her new hair, because they thought their mother-in-law would want to visit the same store, that I realized it wasn’t her actual hair! Totally fooled me. Some days she would come in with a head scarf because she felt like doing that. She always looked very pulled together and I liked seeing all the patterns and colors she would get. She had a fun style.

    2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      There are some good resources at the National Alopecia Areata Foundation that can help if the OP wants to go the route of covering with a full or partial wig. However, I want to stress that they are in no way obligated to do this. If you show up to work with a visible bald spot, everyone will be fine, and so will you. Allison’s script is a great one – act like it’s not a big deal, and everyone will move on very quickly. It’s the anticipatory anxiety that is harder.

      1. Colette*

        And it’s also important to remember that there are a variety of medical conditions that can cause bald spots. It’s something a lot of people are self-conscious about, but the person with the condition thinks about it way more than anyone else does.

    3. TardyTardis*

      I fully aware that this sounds stupid, but can you transfer a trich tic to the wig? Or does it not count unless it’s actually pulled from your skin? (seriously, do not know and hope this request is taken as ignorance).

  5. EPLawyer*

    #4, Keep in mind most of us haven’t been to the hairdresser/barbershop in months. All of our hair looks pretty grotty. While Alison is right you can you can just be matter of fact, feel free to wear a turban or something*. If people are coming back in ball caps to hide their hair, feel free to do that. Then you can say “Yeah my hair got bad during the lockdown.” Which is the complete and total truth.

    Unless your therapist says otherwise, of course.

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

      This. My hair is super thick and grows incredibly fast, I was lucky I had my life-or-death cut in Febuary. I was thinking the other day about one of my favorite skaters who has super puffy hair, I wish he could trim it before barbershops and salons shut down.

      1. TardyTardis*

        This reminds me of the movie SHAUN THE SHEEP and how the shearer became a fashionable hair cutter…

    2. Gruntilda*

      I will share this story in case it is helpful to OP in some way–
      My company had hired a llama groomer several months before I joined the llama care team, and she moved to another company before I joined, so I never met her. I had heard various stories about her, her work, how the llamas were handled, etc.

      I met them at a llama grooming networking event, and at first I was very surprised because of her hair. It’s not very kind but it’s best described as stage 3 Gollum. It was incredibly thin with bald spots and stringy bits that were almost shoulder length. She had nothing covering her hair or head. But it was clear something was going on hair-wise, since she looked otherwise healthy, alert, cheerful, etc.

      I did my very very best to conceal my reaction, and to avoid staring at her hair (I hope I succeeded because that would have been so rude). We had a pleasant conversation about her time at my company, and then parted ways. She interacted normally with everyone else and never mentioned her hair or anything, and I didn’t see anyone else react as if there was anything unusual about her hair. No one in my company had ever mentioned her hair (if it was an issue then) and when I reported I met her at the event, I didn’t mention it either.

      I bring this up to show what may be going on in the minds of your coworkers. It would have been horribly rude to bring up what is obviously A Thing for this person, and it was quite irrelevant to whatever we were talking about. I assume your coworkers would default to this behavior, and/or follow your lead.

  6. PNW Dweller*

    #4 if you love your coworkers without meeting them, they are probably awesome people that will be understanding and accept you however you appear. If you do decide to address it, the only thing I would add is that your condition is not contagious. I have eczema that is prominently visible when it’s bad and it’s something I add when I can tell people are uneasy. My sympathies to the circumstances that has caused a flare up and I’m glad you are seeing improvement.

    1. Persephone Underground*

      Similar to this, might add “minor” or “not cancer” to Alison’s “medical thing” comment, simply because we popularly think of hair loss as a chemo side-effect, so well-meaning colleagues might worry it’s something life-threatening but not want to pry.

      1. Annika*

        I would add the not contagious, too. I have a skin issue that took a turn for the worse a few years ago. It took some time to get a medicine that actually worked. It was not contagious, not a serious threat to my health, but I did look absolutely awful.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I have had psoriasis all my life and had ups and downs – times of clear skin and then months of flare ups. Most of my coworkers have never blinked an eye, and those who did say something would tell me they have it as well or have eczema. You’d be surprised how many people know exactly what you’re going through.

  7. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    LW#1: Hearing angry outbursts every day isn’t just jarring, it can also be triggering for people who have been through episodes of violence in the past, perhaps from a partner or a coworker or someone else in their life. Someone who gets that angry that often has the propensity to perhaps escalate if they are especially set off, and for past survivors of violence, it can seem like a constant tinderbox about to blow and cause immense anxiety. I’d inform that person’s manager of what’s happening and that you’re concerned enough to report it as a situation that needs addressing. The angry outburst person needs to reign it in and stop doing that at work. And probably get some anger management counseling.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      While I agree this behavior could be jarring for people who have experienced violence in the past, it seems like a big leap to go from hearing frequent outbursts of swearing from a colleague to reporting him to his manager. The OP says he is otherwise great to work with, and a simple conversation about his language should be the starting place. If he doesn’t take it well, then OP can determine if there is a bigger problem. And if so, I would take that to my own manager for guidance before I would take it to my colleague’s manager.

      1. JayNay*

        Well, this person is hurling profanities around multiple times an hour (!) in earshot of their coworkers. Being “great to work with” doesn’t just mean you do your job well and timely, it’s also about the work atmosphere and team environment you create. It shows this person has poor control over their temper, and a coworker is right to not want to be subjected to that.
        I’d speak to the person, but also loop in my manager that I’m finding it difficult to concentrate next to Cecil’s profanity-laden outbursts.

        1. JayNay*

          Ugh sorry should’ve finished reading …. I agree with WoodswomanWrites on the process to address this, just framing the situation a bit differently.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Yes, I would not call this person great to work with. I would describe them as unreliable, perhaps not trustworthy. Meltdowns at work send a covert message that this is okay here. Then more people have meltdowns, it just keeps rolling.
          Perhaps it is because I have had to work with this behavior for years and years. It’s really worn on me. I could blow it off in the beginning but as the years went by it was EXHAUSTING to listen to. I felt like saying to them that “You are not the only person who encounters difficulty during the work day. The rest of us are not screaming and or cussing, you need to stop. Now.”
          We are being compensated to handle difficulties. That’s part of the job. A meltdown indicates to me that the person cannot handle the job.

          1. EPLawyer*

            This isn’t a meltdown. I curse A LOT. Where is this f’ing file when I am going through the file cabinet, dammit why is the printer jammed, etc. Doesn’t mean I am a violent person. I am not. I have never as an adult struck someone in anger (I have an older sister okay, we fought as kids). Coworker is probably just frustrated and uses curse words to express the frustration. He probably doesn’t realize it bothers others since it is subconsious on his part what he is saying. If you talk to them they will most likely knock it off. IF they react badly then you have the datum you need.

            1. caps22*

              I agree with talking to the co-worker. However, multiple outbursts of noticeable frustration per hour is not a great work environment, cursing or no. And verbal outbursts aren’t ok simply because they aren’t violent. Coworker needs to deal with his frustration in a better way.

              1. Yorick*

                Nobody’s arguing that the coworker’s behavior is good. But I think since he’s cursing at his computer and stuff, not at coworkers, it’s best to start by talking to him rather than reporting him as though he’s being violent or threatening.

            2. Blueberry*

              IF they react badly then you have the datum you need.

              And maybe a black eye or worse.

              It’s interesting. When we have discussions of people crying the response is a pretty much unanimous “they must stop crying now by whatever means necessary, this is the most unprofessional thing ever”, but someone yelling loud angry curses is considered to probabbly have his reasons and he’ll probably stop if someone just tells him.

              I have had enough physically painful experiences with people who started out ranting and cursing, both people I nominally ‘knew’ and complete strangers, that I would not at all be inclined to approach a coworker yelling curses. I am unconvinced that this is fair behavior from a coworker.

              1. Anononon*

                “It’s interesting. When we have discussions of people crying the response is a pretty much unanimous “they must stop crying now by whatever means necessary, this is the most unprofessional thing ever”, but someone yelling loud angry curses is considered to probabbly have his reasons and he’ll probably stop if someone just tells him.”

                That’s not true at all. Either, it’s the person who’s crying who writes in, and the advice is generally sympathetic and understanding, but people also give advice on how to cope/handle the crying. Or, it’s a person working with a crier, and the advice is generally to just ignore it if possible and maybe ask if there are ways to help alleviate the issues that cause the crying.

                1. Littorally*

                  Nah, there are plenty of commenters who will jump in assuming that anyone who cries at work is either completely out of control or is being deliberately manipulative.

                2. Jules the 3rd*

                  Or maybe there’s some confirmation bias going on, it happens.

                  I lean towards Anononon’s perception. I’ve seen the ‘they need to stop crying’ comments, but I’ve also seen a lot of ‘I’m also a crier, I do a/b/c’ and ‘we’re human, if you want to stop try a/b/c’ comments.

                3. Anononon*

                  Not sure how long this comment will be in the queue due to the link, but here are some prior crying posts. The first one has a comment thread of over 70 comments, and the majority are very sympathetic:

                  Here’s a post all about crying at work, and most of the comments are also either sympathetic or sharing that they have cried at work before:

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Nope, I’ve written many times about how crying can be disruptive and how to approach that as a manager.

                  But it’s also true that crying isn’t usually spewing intense hostility into the environment, so they’re different things with different treatments.

                5. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Eh, there’s both. There are always very kind, understanding people making comments, but there are also always plenty of comments from people who say that criers are manipulative and people who say that its unprofessional.

              2. Going anonymous for this one*

                It bugs me that “he” is cursing on an ongoing basis, OP is loathe to say anything, and peoplea re justifying him. But when I (female) cursed once at myself in my cubicle with no one around, my manager got a complaint and had to formally write me up. (Worse irony is that I picked up my 4-letter word habit from that female manager….and now I do wonder if the complainer didn’t know we weren’t the same person.)

                1. Observer*

                  I don’t think most of the commenters are justifying it. They are simply saying that the place to start is to just talk to him rather than assume that he’s a violent time bomb about to be set off, and reporting him as such to management.

                  If it turns out that he either reacts badly or refuses to rein it in, then the OP should go to their manager. But step one is to have a conversation with the coworker.

                2. Observer*

                  Oh, and your manager did NOT “have” to write you up – she CHOSE to do so. And it’s pretty rich, considering that she did the same thing all the time.

                  Also, think about it – wouldn’t it have been a LOT more sensible for the complainer to actually ask you to keep the language clean? (Although given that there was a complaint based on ONCE incident, I don’t think you were dealing with someone very reasonable.)

                3. Curmudgeon in California*


                  If I curse around the wrong people, even if I don’t see them, they go whining to HR that I’m “unprofessional” or “hostile”, when I haven’t said a thing to the person. I’m AFAB, but actually enby. But people still typecast me as “female” even though I don’t dress like it or talk like it.

                  But I’ve been told of people who read as male who curse so much in meetings that if they had a “swear jar” they’d be buying lunch every week.

                  The double standard about who can cuss on a “professional” job is so outrageous that it defies reason. That “professionalism” gets used as a bludgeon against AFAB people on the topic is infuriating, IMO.

                  My previous career involved field work. Most of us swore like sailors. The rule was you don’t cuss around the client unless they cuss first.

                  I realize that for some people, swearing always means “angry and out of control dangerous”. I am really sorry that you have had the life experiences that make it that way.

                  But quite frankly, it isn’t reality. People don’t need “anger management” because they cuss, FFS.

                  If you smack your thumb with a hammer and cuss you don’t need “anger management”, you need an ice pack and better aim. If a machine keeps locking up and you cuss from frustration you don’t need “anger management”, you just need a better machine.

              3. Eukomos*

                Uh, what? It is a major leap from someone cursing at his computer to hitting his coworkers in the face. I don’t think it’s at all fair to assume this man is physically dangerous.

                1. Blueberry*

                  It is a major leap from someone cursing at his computer to hitting his coworkers in the face.

                  I could tell you about my experience with someone who made precisely that leap, but you would just call me a liar, so never mind.

                  I also very much appreciate the distortion of my position from “it is not an overreaction for someone who experienced violence in the past to be wary of it in the present situation” to “anyone who curses is automatically violent”, but whatever. I shouldn’t even still be commenting. And you can enjoy copy pasting that last line and appending ‘the only worthwhile thing you’ve ever said’ or some such witty comment.

              4. nonegiven*

                Is he yelling swear words, muttering them, or saying them in his normal tone? It probably makes a difference.

              5. Curmudgeon in California*

                IMO, this “they must stop crying now by whatever means necessary, this is the most unprofessional thing ever” reaction is so demeaning and abusive that it makes me angry to think about it. It reminds me of the “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” reaction from some adults when I was younger.

                “Professionalism” is not an excuse to try to control the feelings of others. It is abusive to try.

                Yes, you can ask a person not to cry in front of a customer, but telling a person to “stop crying” is just as idiotic as telling them to “calm down”. It doesn’t work, is demeaning as hell, and is waaaay outside anyone’s lane.

                Regarding the cussing: I cuss. A lot. Usually at recalcitrant machines. I try hard to do it silently when other folks are around because too many people are sensitive about it – for reasons already mentioned.

                But if someone goes to my manager before talking to me directly about it? They just walked on to my **** list for being a backstabbing coward.

                A simple “Hey, I know things are frustrating, but could you quiet it down because it is distracting?” works just fine.

                Instant escalation to a manager or, worse, HR, is like swatting an ant with a sledgehammer. You’ll likely miss the any and hit your own foot.

            3. Actual Vampire*

              You know you are not a violent person. Your coworkers don’t know that.
              One of my Life Rules is I don’t give the benefit of the doubt to people when they have chosen to display anger in my presence. I don’t care if you are yelling at an inanimate object, swearing at an animal, flipping off another driver on the road, slamming a door closed, etc. Anger is anger and violence is violence.
              It’s not my job to control my discomfort about your angry behavior. It’s your job to control your discomfort about the printer not working.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Wow. I’m glad I don’t work with you. Pardon me for being human.

                It must be nice to be such a paragon of virtue and patience that you never get irritated, frustrated, or, horror of horrors, angry. Such wonderous stoicism. I don’t want to be around when you do lose your cool.

                Your black and white labeling “Anger is anger and violence is violence.” denies the many varied expressions and nuances of human emotion. You have left justifiable irritation and anger out of your permissible emotional repertoire, and I feel you will end up the poorer for that (unless, of course, it’s just a double standard that you hold.) You can ask that people don’t express their negative emotions around you, but you have no right to tell people not to feel them.

                I am not required to control my irritation at the printer not working because it makes you uncomfortable. I can still get as irritated as I want, and no amount of demanding or Karening on your part will change that.

                What I can legitimately be asked to do is to not express that irritation in a way that makes you uncomfortable.

                What’s the difference? The first is you trying to control my emotions. That gets an instant f*** o** from me. The second is asking me to be considerate of your feelings by not verbalizing my frustrations around you. That is a legitimate request.

                You might see that as splitting hairs, but it’s not. One is trying to control a person’s feelings (a big red flag IMO), the other is asking for different behavior.

                1. Actual Vampire*

                  I agree that it is futile and insulting to try to control someone else’s internal emotions. My comment is about the emotions one displays – I am sorry if that was not clear. The point of my comment is that if you express angry emotions it is reasonable for others to assume you are angry and react accordingly based on their own previous experiences on the receiving end of anger. When I see someone expressing anger, I remove myself from the situation because I do not want to get hurt. There are people in my life who constantly act angry but are genuinely surprised and confused when others express discomfort around them, because they do not understand how they are presenting their emotions. I was warning OP not to be one of those people.
                  Also, I am literally and figuratively not a Karen. I find your name-calling, and the implication that I am inhuman, hurtful and confusing in the context of your comment.

            4. pancakes*

              It’s extraordinarily self-regarding to subject coworkers to little outbursts this way. Pretending to be alone in a room while surrounded by coworkers isn’t ok, it’s very inconsiderate. I worked with a guy who was like this and hated it. It’s distracting and uncomfortable to be around.

            5. Blueberry*

              Also, you’re a lawyer. Only another lawyer can approach you about this. I’m a secretary. If I approached you about this you’d fire me immediately.

          2. Eukomos*

            I don’t know, it could just be a verbal habit. Some people have a lower threshold for swearing than others, and there’s often an accent or cultural component to that. A kid in high school my was constantly scolded by the teachers for profanity but he wasn’t getting angry, he was just in the habit of using f-bombs as adjectives. And it was definitely connected to his socio-economic background, so it was always really uncomfortable watching teachers embarrass him in front of the class about it.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        The thing about having big angry outbursts is it’s going to make you less approachable to some colleagues. Some people just aren’t going to be comfortable (me included) criticizing someone who gets very vocally angry all the time. Maybe the OP would be ok to approach them, but maybe there are other people upset by the outburst who’s flight or fight response is telling them that this person is not safe to upset.

        1. pancakes*

          Maybe it’s also a question of what is going on in this person’s mind that allows them to forget they’re alone, or allows them to think coworkers want to hear them talking to themself. That would be a question for me even if there was no concern about safety. It has been a question for me, when I worked with a guy who did this. I have no problems whatsoever with swearing and he wasn’t even big on that, just on muttering angrily and anxiously to himself. I didn’t have occasion to think he was dangerous but there were multiple occasions I wondered if he was confused about where he was or about how to get along with other people.

      3. Sol*

        I agree that swearing is not always an indicator of strong anger, especially when expressed in what your colleague might think is a private setting. My husband is a lovely human being who has never once sworn at another person that I know of, but he has appalling potty-mouth when writing code. Generally this is because no code is ever perfect the first time and it’s cathartic to swear at one’s mistakes, but if your colleague is at all similar than saying “Hey, I can hear your language and it distracts/disturbs me” once should get the message across.

        1. Quill*

          There’s also going to be a difference between visibly going “shit fuck ow” when you drop a file on your foot and swearing at routine computer slowdown, in that one hopes that the first is an unusual situation, and you’re probably getting more leeway.

        2. Gruntilda*

          This is where I would draw the line.
          I tend to swear pretty liberally in my private life–it’s just never bothered me–and it’s not always an indication of anger or frustration or other strong emotions. Like when a vendor told me, “I’m not gonna B.S. you about this,” (uncensored) they weren’t angry, they were actually being very accommodating and personable. But I choose to avoid it in my professional life because it’s not what my office culture considers professional.

          I wouldn’t necessarily be bothered by someone routinely swearing at their computer/desk. I closed the wrong file, “Crap.” I deleted the wrong file, “S–t.” But since my office culture isn’t OK with it, these should be quietly muttered under one’s breath. And if these frustrating events are so frequent maybe I should try to mess up less or find a different way to deal with the ups and downs of the work day.

          Someone routinely expressing anger and frustration, audible from another desk, regardless of swearing or content, would be extremely distracting and frightening to me. Someone angrily pounding their keyboard and sighing, or yelling “Stupid computer!” or whatever, had better have a damn good reason for being so upset and displaying it.

          And I don’t blame people for confusing the two–after all, many people save their swears for when it’s really deserved.

    2. Traffic_Spiral*

      I had someone right next to me in an open office who did that. I just started asking “what’s wrong?” after each time. He eventually stopped.

      1. blackcatlady*

        Agree 100%! When your office mate has big outburst stop and look over: Bob! What’s the matter? Sounds like you’re having a major problem! Repeat each time. Note that I talk to my computer but do so very quietly. And yes I swear but try and remember to say oh fudgesicles instead of the actual word. Sure my coworkers know what I actually mean – LOL! My guess is he does not realize either volume or frequency of his outbursts and is oblivious to how disruptive the outbursts are to people around him.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          My partner is a software developer and apparently developed the bad habit of snarling curses at his computer when things weren’t working right when he had a private office with a door. Occasionally he does it at home and I’ll poke my head in the door and be like, “Are you okay in there?”

          Then his entire team moved to a shared work space and he had to knock that off right quick because it is indeed distressing to bystanders.

        2. Alli525*

          I live in a big city where cursing is normal, and for several years worked in an industry where it was frequent. I’m planning on moving to a smaller city soon where the culture is a good deal more conservative, and I’ve been trying to mentally shift to The Good Place curses – fork, shirt, etc. – in anticipation of that.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        but he could have given you an answer and expected you to sort it out for him, too!

      3. schnauzerfan*

        I once set up a swear jar for a coworker (different situation in that the coworker brought up the fact that he had a swearing “problem”) Those of us who sat near enough to hear would (with his encouragement) pop in and remind him to feed the jar. Once he hit enough $$$ to buy pizza for the whole office he did so. Took a lot longer to get the second pizza party, and there wasn’t a third, so it worked for my coworker.

    3. Mbaye*

      This is very true. I grew up in an abusive home with dv against my mom and my mom in turn beating me. Swearing was always the prelude to a beating so even in my late 30s I still become afraid when male colleagues in particular start showing anger or agression in the office. I tried telling my male manager of this issue once and instead of showing sympathy or trying to change the way the team behaved, he told me he would have to inform HR becuase I just made a disclosure! Since then I never tell colleagues about my issues because they get weirded out or avoidy.

    4. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      The thing about particular needs, like anxiety due to past violence, is that not everybody has them. So it’s reasonable to make accommodations for people who actually have them, and at some point a you hit a critical population mass where somebody probably has them so you might as well go ahead and make accommodations anyway, but if nobody needs such accommodations, its not sensible to make them just because.

      If Janice is vegetarian, it’s reasonable to go to a veggy friendly restaurant. If everybody likes meat, then it’s totally reasonable to go eat at House of Meat.

      If Bob is mourning the loss of his newborn, it’s really kind to put a lid on the baby talk around him. If nobody has lost a child, you’re helping nobody when you avoid the topic.

      If there is an actual person getting flashbacks due to angry outbursts, its a great reason to make the swearer stop. (If there are other people who aren’t getting flashbacks but are annoyed due to the outbursts, that’s also a great reason.) But if nobody’s actually getting flashbacks, potential flashbacks are a bad reason to make someone stop doing something.

      There are too many people with actual problems that need fixing to spend time fixing problems that people don’t have.

      1. Blueberry*

        If this coworker were a woman crying rather than a man swearing everyone here would be in agreement that she needs to stop yesterday because of her disruptiveness.

        In order to know if someone is having flashbacks due to angry outbursts that person has to disclose the flashbacks — the comment right above yours is an example of why someone would not want to disclose them, and as someone else with a bad reaction to angry outbursts I can tell you that the results of disclosing my reaction ranged from nothing to increased and personalized harassment.

        It would be nice if loud outbursts of swearing were considered generally unacceptable and unprofessional, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they are considered just fine.

          1. Blueberry*

            I think in this comment section people would at least pay lip service to it being ‘equality’, but would continue to write up their female employees for levels of swearing that male employees get a pass on.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Huh, I’ve not seen signs of that here — but I also don’t recall letters about women having profane outbursts (not because it doesn’t happen — of course it does — I just don’t think I’ve had letters on it). And frankly, that might be because when men do it, there’s a cultural landscape that makes it more threatening to many.

              (I also want to ask you to stop making sweeping pronouncements about the comment section take on this that are demonstrably wrong, if you look at the links someone else posted.)

              1. Blueberry*

                With respect, I saw those links, and I am not going to spend an hour classifying comments. I remember seeing many comments which I felt were excessively condemnatory of women crying at work, and they contrast here with how many people are saying it’s ridiculous to be upset by a man cursing.

                I feel strongly about this issue in part because I’ve been verbally abused and even physically assaulted, both in my youth and at previous workplaces, and not least because of both my jobs and my demographics have always known I’m someone people can attack and abuse without facing repercussions. I also know I’m not the only person in the world to have strong experience-based reactions to loud angry ranting and cursing. So I point out that this is not something that people, especially people with less power, should be expected to silently absorb as part of the cost of employment.

                But I have said my piece and I will never be convinced that I and other people deserved to be abused or that we are lying about it, so I will stop commenting on this issue.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I agree that no one should be expected to silent absorb this, and I don’t think anyone here has suggested that. I certainly haven’t. You speak up and ask for it to stop, and you escalate it if that doesn’t work. If you’re in a situation where you cannot speak up, that is wrong and the sign of a toxic environment.

                  But having read years worth of debates about crying here, people who are excessively condemnatory of women crying usually get roundly disagreed with, and it’s generally a minority viewpoint. (Unless it’s truly wild — like the person who cried daily or the person who cried for a month about her haircut)

          2. Alli525*

            At my last job, I HAD to curse in order to make my boss and teammates stop apologizing for cursing in front of me, a woman. I already swore like a sailor before that phenomenon started, and my industry was one where swearing happens a lot, so it was weird that my coworkers felt the need to apologize. An occasional “I really don’t f*cking care if you swear in front of me, a**holes” did the trick for a few weeks at least.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          I actually think a similar distinction applies — someone quietly crying at their desk out of frustration that their code is broken (or whatever) is less disruptive than someone crying in a meeting with other people; similarly, exclaiming “aw, $h!t, this tax return is a mess!” is different from swearing at another person.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        It doesn’t have to be flashback-worthy to be inappropriate. I don’t get flashbacks when someone bellows out 18 verses of “I’m Henry the 8th,” but if you do it in the office I *will* ask you to cut it out so that I can focus on work.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*


          IMO, it’s just like music that is too loud, or that irritating thing some folks do clicking a pen when nervous.

          It’s a disruptive behavior, and the usual first pass at a solution is to talk to the person directly. If the first impulse is to file a complaint with HR and their manager, it doesn’t say good things about the complainer, IMO.

      3. Actual Vampire*

        Lots of people actively enjoy eating meat and talking about babies. Nobody actively enjoys listening to their coworkers swear at their computers. If your way of dealing with annoyance is swearing, you should find a different way of dealing with discomfort rather than transferring the annoyance to your coworkers.

        1. pancakes*

          Exactly, yes. “I’m unhappy so everyone else with the misfortune to be around me should be too” is infantile behavior.

      4. D'Arcy*

        Angry outbursts in the office are unreasonable even if no one is being directly traumatized. It’s extremely unprofessional and a demonstration of poor self-control.

  8. Aggretsuko*

    God, I wish we’d skip performance reviews this year.(As far as I know, management was told to do their performance reviews, then was told they aren’t getting any after all, but us plebes still haven’t had them canceled, just postponed a few months.)

    I do not have the hours of time to spend filling the pointless thing out. We’re also going to get no raises, layoffs, etc. anyway so there’s literally no point in having any reviews and no matter how well you might have done, it no longer matters. Also I am going to get a shitty review due to the pandemic, because they weren’t feeling too fond of me even BEFORE I had to start trying to hide that I’m having a nervous breakdown every day.

    So uh…I’ll trade you? But seriously, performance reviews are several hours of work for both employee and supervisor, and if they are literally going to make NO difference for you this year, why waste the time and brain space?

    1. Jackalope*

      I like having reviews because it helps me know that I’m more or less on track. Otherwise I could miss out on important stuff that needs fixing.

      1. EPLawyer*

        You should be getting regular feedback through the year from your manager. If you only find out once a year what major things need to be fixed, that is not good. You shouldn’t be blindsided at your review that something important needs to be fixed. You should have been told all along. Your performance review should be a summary of the good and bad feedback you received all year long and then goal setting for next year.

    2. AnonForThis*

      The other factor right now is that a lot of people’s performance has tanked due to COVID related issues – illness, childcare, adapting to working from home, lockdowns, worrying about family, economic stresses, general feelings of existential doom. Trying to put together performance reviews when people are performing way below normal, have very good reasons for it, and the situation is not going to change soon, is a very different task than normal reviews.

      Directly asking for more informal feedback is quite different though, and something that doesn’t need to be limited to once a year.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        Another thing to consider is that your manager has also been affected by the pandemic. Some people have reacted to the stress by getting really inflexible (so an employee might get unfairly harsh criticism for doing the best they can in a pandemic) while others have lowered expectations to a problematically low level to be accommodating (see, the maybe she has a twin debate). An employee in the latter case might get a glowing eval this year and blindsided next. Neither are great.

    3. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Concur. I’ve never gotten a bad performance review, but I find them pretty much the most emotionally exhausting thing ever to have to write about myself and how I’m doing. Worse than working on a resume even (also something I hate). I usually spend a full day paralyzed at my computer desperately trying to think of some words.

    4. Red Tape Producer*

      I’m in the same boat, I work at a government organization that has had a wage freeze for the last decade. We also had all our training and continuing education funds slashed to basically nothing this year, and those were always the biggest items on our performance agreements (mostly to justify why government should continue funding them, guess that didn’t work out well…). I don’t understand why we are continuing this farce.

    5. Wilbur*

      I disagree-even if you don’t get a raise or promotion, it’s still a way to document your performance. Regular feedback from your manager is great, but usually doesn’t get saved in your company record. Having a good review this year could help in the future. If you get a poor review next year, there’s nothing to say your performance hasn’t been poor for the last two years.

      I wish companies were implementing furloughs rather then suspending raises and promotions. It still saves the company money in the short term, but doesn’t affect your long term earnings or career development. When I guesstimated this for my company, and 1-2 weeks of furlough would negate any raises this year.

  9. Zoe*

    LW #4, can you not wear stylish hats or wraps? Also, to be blunt, won’t you have the compulsion at work? Mine manifests as picking my eyebrows and eyelashes. I basically have none at this point of ye ‘ol 2020 and since I usually don’t even realize I’m doing it like you said, it’s not like I can stop. It’s all your own comfort level but all of my immediate coworkers know I have it, easier for my personally than stressing about it. In fact my boss will even say thing like “you have half an eyebrow, what’s going on?” That being said, I’ve worked at my job 14 years, so there’s a comfort level there that is a privilege.

  10. Wintermute*

    #3– That sort of thing can be a source of inequality, but it can also be a powerful source of EQUALITY. As a resident of Chicago, and of Irish descent, the only way that Irish immigrants ever got any clout in politics was when a lot of them started joining the police force. Suddenly they had access to the same sources of patronage and minor bureaucratic favors that more entrenched groups had all along. Of course this was in the environment of the 1900s, but it is worth thinking about.

    Ultimately this is going to be controlled by the culture and you’re not going to be likely to change it if it’s entrenched. I second asking a trusted mentor, these cultural things you just can’t know until you’re told. It’s also worth cultivating a mentor in such an environment, someone you trust whose moral code you admire to help you navigate the informal politics.

    1. Gumther*

      Personally, I really wouldn’t use the privilege and clout of the Chicago police force as a good example right now. And I also probably wouldn’t use the example of the whitification of the Irish at the expense of black and brown people as a good example, like, ever.

      1. Casper Lives*

        I also don’t see how that’s a measure of equality. It’s moving people of Irish descent into the privileged realm of WASPy Chicago. There’s still other tiers of groups of people that aren’t equal.

        That said, I agree with Wintermute’s 2nd paragraph. I wish it weren’t so.

      2. Wintermute*

        I was talking in the context of the turn of the 20th century, moving forward another 80 years to when those interests are no longer the outside party but are now the entrenched power structure themselves is missing the point. Fact of the matter is, power speaks to power, when people that don’t have power start becoming part of the power structure that’s when they gain the ability to negotiate with power.

        1. caps22*

          Nepotism and patronage isn’t the answer to inequality. It just shifts it around. Saying no and refusing to engage in such favouritism is the only way to promote equality. You know, by treating everyone equally.

        2. Blueberry*

          Fact of the matter is, power speaks to power, when people that don’t have power start becoming part of the power structure that’s when they gain the ability to negotiate with power.

          I was going to write a *really* long essay, but I think I’m going to just say I wish it were guaranteed to work this way. Or in other words, some groups will never be able to become White. Anyway, as others pointed out, nepotism is not the road to equality.

          1. D'Arcy*

            The logic of nepotism and “becoming part of the power structure” is exactly why there’s a significant chunk of the gay/lesbian political lobby that actively promotes transphobia.

            This morally bankrupt strategy is why New York has full rights all the way to marriage for gays, but *zero* legally protected civil rights for trans people, not even basic employment protections that gays have had for literally decades (trans people were literally edited out of the law to grant those protections to gays). Empire State Pride explicitly pulled the ladder up behind themselves by declaring that civil rights in New York were “mission over” as soon as gays got marriage and telling local LGBT advocacy groups to *disband* because there was nothing more to do except elsewhere.

          2. Gruntilda*

            Yes. I’ve researched the history on Irish immigrants using the political machine and public office/public service jobs to gain power, and it’s important to realized that 1) this did not grant them equality, it granted them a measure of power, and we know this because of JFK’s loyalty being questioned and “Officer O’Malley” being a stereotype decades later; and 2) the Irish were able to do this because they spoke English (or most did) and were visibly white. This road was not open to other European immigrants like the Germans, the Polish, and the Italians, never mind groups that were neither white nor Protestant, or not even Christian at all, like black people/African diaspora descendants, indigenous Native Americans, and Asians like the Chinese.

            The Irish got police jobs that led to public office. The Chinese got the Chinese Exclusion Act.

            This is not a good example of how to combat inequality.

        3. Actual Vampire*

          Look, I barely know anything about Chicago history, but I guarantee the Irish were not “the outside party.” They were one of many outside parties, most of whom are still outside because they have never gained the ability to truly negotiate with power, even when they started becoming part of the power structure. How many Black cops are there? What’s the highest office a Black person has held in the US? Is systemic racism over yet?

        4. Observer*

          Even in the context of the early 20th century, it was not about equality, but about changing which group(s) had power. If the Irish move into the police force had lead to a cadre of people saying “We know how it stinks to be sidelined, and we are going to help everyone get equal access to the law” you would be right. But that is NOT what happened. Instead it was “Now, WE have power and we’ll use it to our benefit, and we don’t need to include anyone else.”

          Understandable, for sure. But TOTALLY not in any way an example of “equality”.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Chicago has always had a corrupt police and political background, I would not glorify it.

      Meanwhile the POC within the police force today are not given this same “equality” you are so proud of the Irish for unearthing. Hmmmm…

      Black, off duty police officers, have been murdered by their “own” supposed “blue” brotherhood. Just saying. They have also been hazed and segregated.

    3. Sue Wilson*

      It’s really telling that you think all your ancestors one day just decided to join the force and you don’t consider that maybe the power structure allowed them to join the force because it upheld the power structure to do so (as a tool against other underclasses), and nothing about their joining did even a little bit of damage to the power structure.

      Like how Scarlett O’ Hara of you.

  11. Laura BC*

    I have trich too- I honestly just tell people if they notice. Usually along the lines of “oh yeah, I pull it out. Started when I got bullied at school and I’ve never been able to fully stop! Dont even notice I’m doing it :)”. Nobody ever really says anything, and I’m rarely judged – that being said, I’m a cis, able bodied, slim white woman so that comes with a whole lot of privilege. I wish I could rid you of your shame, you have nothing to be ashamed of.

  12. Casper Lives*

    #3 I’d be careful. Without knowing your industry, I’ll say that I agree with your philosophy about special favors and access being a privilege. But if it’s normal in your industry, going against that norm could cause trouble for you. You’re already a minority in your own words. IME anyone who is other can be the first to get laid off, less promotion opportunities, etc. You’ll want to carefully observe the culture before making any statements or refusing backscratching. E.g. I wish ADAs didn’t get away with traffic violations in all jurisdictions, but they usually do. It’s trading favors for political gain.

    1. NYWeasel*

      This is what struck me as well. The answer shouldn’t be “Swallow your pride and hand out the favors like everyone else” but legitimately if it’s such an ingrained and encouraged perk, it’s very difficult to change the culture by yourself (or at least earn a dispensation to ignore it). And if you’re already an outsider, it’s hard to gain support. Even the fairly innocuous perk of dog-friendly offices has become contentious when ppl are positioned on the wrong side of the office majority. Using the parking ticket example, if you are already an outsider, even going along with the flow still leaves you at risk for being the sacrificial lamb when management wants to make a show of “cleaning up” the office behavior. I second Alison’s advice, but I also think you are heading out on a very narrow tightrope (regardless of what you decide to do about the perk), and while it’s not impossible to navigate it successfully, its very VERY challenging. I hope you succeed, as it’s what *should* happen!

      1. MK*

        Not to derail, but there is nothing innocuous about having dogs in your work space if you are allergic/don’t like/are afraid of them.

        1. NYWeasel*

          I meant in terms of legality—obviously fixing parking tickets is clearly not above board, but having a dog at an office isn’t necessarily a problem. Yet if you’re the allergic person asking for it to stop, it *does* become contentious and ugly.

      2. kt*

        Just going to share my own experience here: sometimes careful ‘story management’ or ‘seizing the narrative’ can help. There is some work in psychology on ‘schemas’ (basically stereotypes, or tropes, but with more nuance) and how going against aspects of schemas are used against people and how one can also use them to one’s own end. I’m a white woman in a STEM field and one of the most interesting talks I ever attended was about this: the schemas for certain types of white femininity conflict with the schema for mathematician in particular ways, and if you’re conscious of the conflict, you can play up ways in which the schemas match, or conflict, or whatever depending on the goal you have. We all do this anyway, it’s just interesting to become conscious of it. Someone could take the Elle Woods route for instance and very much match “white femininity” of a certain sort while challenging the “dumb” part (yeah I know it’s a silly example).

        Stupid as it may be, this could be a route to not doing the favors. Are you of a religion that you’d be willing to point to in order to justify treating everyone equally? Maybe that’s not cool with you, but for some people it’s a way to make the medicine go down and think well of you (f-ed up as that is; I know it feels performative to me but I’m getting old enough that I’ll use the tools I’ve got). Are you willing to play the friendly clueless person? “Oh, are you asking for a favor? Is that allowed? Could you spell out what you want?” Is there some other way to redirect these conversations or head them off?

        If you are going to deflect these requests, picking a script and practicing a bit so you can deliver it smoothly and like it’s a foregone conclusion that “of course I wouldn’t do that and I’m sure you understand why! ” will help. And if it’s not feasible to deflect, then try to spread the favors to others who wouldn’t have access. I’ve come to realize in academia for instance that I cannot stop unfair practices that entrench privilege, but I can open up opportunities to others in ways I find ethical. Good luck.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      In NY if a court official of any description tells an officer that they are a court official, it is recognized that by the statement ALONE, the official is seeking special treatment. IF a court official gets pulled over by an officer they are not supposed to identify their job occupation. Of course they have to give the officer their name and address, etc. But if the officer does not recognize the name, the official is not supposed to tell the officer because the expectation of special treatment is implied by that action.

      1. MK*

        Well, one’s prefession is hardly something one brings up for no reason when being given a ticket.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          Ohhh, I think there are plenty of police who feel free to mention it. The two guys I know who were cops would not hesitate to let other cops know when stopped, so they could get a little “professional courtesy.”

          For them, special treatment is the reason to bring it up.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            I think that’s MK’s point, though. Why else bring it up *unless* the individual is expecting special treatment?

        2. pancakes*

          Nope, it is very common for people trying to weasel out of tickets & etc. to bring it up. Maybe the nexus of privilege tends to be elsewhere in small towns where having gone to high school with someone can stand in for having a fancy job, but that’s just a regional variation.

      2. Alice*

        And yet… NYC city employees park everywhere, misusing real placards and using fake placards. I’m sure they follow ethics policies scrupulously in every other situation though…. I mean, you’re right in everything you say; I just don’t believe that the officials and officers actually follow the rules.

      3. Alli525*

        As a corollary… last night I watched a video of two policemen realize that the black woman they pulled over (they couldn’t give her any reason for that action, even though she asked several times) was a state’s attorney. It was schadenfreude at its best, and an example of when mentioning your job might be a GOOD idea.

  13. CupcakeCrusader*

    LW#3 does your work have any ethics code that would prevent such favors or any outside authority that you could cite to? I work in a field that overlaps with traffic tickets and there is a lot in place that bars favors (if anyone found out there would be severe consequences and I’d be appalled by a coworker even asking). I’m guessing there isn’t anything as you mentioned your supervisor has mostly backed up your colleagues requests. Is it something you could do for everyone, not just when a favor is requested? That might be a route to equity, though I think Allison’s response is more likely to be viable.

  14. capedaisy127*

    Fellow trich person here, had it for 30+ years.
    Most people will look but not say anything. In 20+ years of working, I’ve had 1 person ask me outright what it is. My answer is it’s a stress related thing I’ve had most of my life. And that’s it, you just answer however you feel comfortable.
    My hair is shaved super short which sort of helps with the pulling. Putting hair oil on after washing helps with the not pulling as well.
    I’ve not gone down the hat, wig, wrap route as I don’t really care what other people think, but totally get why other people do.
    Do whatever you feel comfortable with.

  15. treee*

    My close family member is largely bald from trich, while mine is currently well-controlled but used to be more noticeable. Based on my experience, I would consider not mentioning it being treated, because it could give people the impression it should be getting better soon. This is a chronic condition and sometimes people will have visible effects for years or decades. I usually just stick with “yep, I know. what’s good is that it’s nothing to worry about.” Congrats on the new job, and good luck!

  16. Erika22*

    LW4 – I feel you! I’ve had trich for almost eight years (eyelashes and brows) and there have been points it’s been so bad I wanted to vomit at the idea of seeing people and them potentially noticing. The current situation is also making my pulling much worse than usual so you’re not alone in that either. Most people won’t say anything, if they notice at all, and the few who are blunt enough to point it out can be brushed off with a script like those suggested. A few people have mentioned wigs or clip in extensions – another option is a topper if you have more hair than a wig warrants and not enough near your bald spot for extensions. There are clip on ones, or if you want something long term (and can afford the cost and time) I’ve seen hair stylists sew them in! I highly suggest looking at the hashtag for trichotillomania on Instagram for ideas and solidarity.

    1. juliebulie*

      Just wondering – if you get extensions or something like that, won’t you end up pulling on those too? Or is that different?

      I’m a twirler, not a puller, but I usually twirl in a specific spot. If I twirled the hair out of that spot and replaced it with an extension, I can imagine twirling the extension too.

      1. ThatGirl*

        As pure anecdote, I had a coworker who pulled on her eyelashes, so she regularly went and got extensions – she explained that the time and money spent on them made her want to protect that investment. Now, I don’t know if she was formally diagnosed with trich or not; she mentioned OCD once – but it could be that extensions are different/time consuming/expensive enough to disrupt that behavior.

        1. JanetM*

          On a possibly related note, I have heard anecdotally that for some people, getting regular manicures helps them not bite their nails / pick at their cuticles.

          1. Nailbiter here*

            I think everyone is different but I would just chew at the manicure after the first day!

            1. Em*

              I do my own nails, and find that painting them helps me not to pick at them (I’m not a biter, I’m a peeler) — not that I don’t get the urge, but I paint them very bright, distracting colours and it helps me to notice that I’m doing it, because “Oooh, purple!” It’s not the investment (like I said, I do my own, so it’s cheaper), it’s the interruption.

              1. UKDancer*

                Me too. I do bite my nails when I’m stressed and find that painting them discourages me. I like the way they look when they’re done and don’t like chips so it seems to stop me doing anything in order to preserve the manicure as long as possible.

                Obviously everyone is different so I can’t speak for anyone else but it works for me.

                Which reminds me, I need to repaint them.

          2. Dahlia*

            For some people, skin picking can be helped by specific types of false nails – they’re much thicker and blunter and it’s very hard to actually pick.

          3. Lierre*

            I’ve been a nailbiter my entire life, so about 5 years ago I started getting manicures done with acrylic nails. Obviously, I haven’t been able to get a manicure for a few months, so I removed the acrylics myself, painted my nails, and have never once had the urge to bite them. Odd, but a pleasant surprise!

      2. Erika22*

        I’ll wear false lashes if my urges to pull are particularly strong – for me it’s a deterrent because it doesn’t feel the same as when a lash or hair is connected to my skin, if that makes sense, so it’s not nearly as satisfying to play with. I’m also much more aware of what I’m doing because I know the fakes are there – pulling a strip of lashes off in public is far more noticeable than a single eyelash, especially if I’ve got nothing underneath!

      3. Armchair Expert*

        For me (another trichie) it’s different. The pulling urge is not just how the hair/lash feels in the fingers, it’s the little pop of pain/endorphin that you get when pulling it out. Falsies don’t feel the same at all.

  17. Lady Heather*

    OP3, does your agency (or even your state/country) have an ethics code? A corruption hotline? An inspector general-type person tasked with looking into these things?

  18. Anon for this one*

    OP1 (colleague swearing angrily) – thank you for writing in with this, as I have a similar problem and I’m so curious to see Alison’s answer and also any comments people add.

    My angry colleague does the swearing (about things like our computer systems but also about other people and situations), bangs his hands on the desk in frustration, gets hostile and confrontational with colleagues, etc. These outbursts also happen a couple of times an hour.

    I suffer from anxiety and have a history with violence in the family & find my anxiety is triggered by these incidents even though rationally I realize they are not a threat to me but it doesn’t stop that surge of adrenaline every time!

    Lockdown and having to work from home has been a massive relief in this respect, and now I feel quite anxious about going back and being next to that again.

    1. Koala dreams*

      Violence against objects is already a step up from angry words, I would be worried the behaviour would escalate, and I don’t share your family history. I’m sure other people who don’t have any experience with violence would also be worried in your shoes. Is there a manager or a HR representative you could talk to?

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have learned to read these meltdowns as incompetence. “I don’t know how to do my job without a temper tantrum.”
      But I so agree with you that people can end up walking on eggshells and praying for no meltdowns today.
      I do think that it is worthwhile saying something. Depending on the situation OP may want to go directly to the boss. From what OP has said here, maybe OP can just say something to the cohort. But there may be additional factors/concerns that OP did not mention, so OP would have to make that call themselves.

      Personally I have zero patience for this crap. Get an action plan OP and follow that plan however you see fit.

    3. Yorick*

      Since he’s hostile and confrontational to you, I think you should talk to your (or his?) manager about this, or HR.

      If he were just swearing at the printer all the time but always nice to others (which is the vibe I’m getting from OP), I’d suggest talking to him first and letting him know it’s disruptive.

      1. Rose Tyler*

        I agree, and this is actually the perfect time to bring it up. You realized when working from home what an impact it was having on you and your work and you would like management or HR to address it with him when he returns as well, and on a go-forward basis.

        1. Anon for this one*

          I didn’t mention it above and perhaps I should have, but I have ‘alluded to’ Mr Angry’s behaviour to my manager (who already knows about it as we all sit in the same desk area). Manager’s response was essentially “Mr Angry doesn’t deal very well with stress does he!”

          1. Observer*

            That’s an idiotic answer. Not that you should say that… Just that it’s good for you to know it.

            Either go back to your boss or to HR and be explicit. Your issue here is not how well Mr. Angry does (or does not) handle stress. It’s about the fact that his behavior is extremely stressful and disruptive, and his hostile behavior creates a threatening environment.

          2. J.B.*

            I basically had the same response from my boss about someone. I responded back to him “no, he yells and it sets me on edge. I should not be treated like that. You need to deal with it”. This was with a generally very good boss so he got the point and addressed it.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              Yeah. The yelling needed to be dealt with. How he deals with stress isn’t the issue, it’s the yelling.

    4. Blueberry*

      I hear you, as another person with anxiety and a history with violence. You shouldn’t at all have to put up with this ridiculous behavior from him. I don’t have advice, unfortunately, but I had to tell you this.

    5. Jules the 3rd*

      Your situation is a full step more… serious? intense? than LWs, because of the physical actions and ‘hostile and confrontational’.
      1) Document every bit – Date, time, situation / quote as closely as you recall.
      2) Take that to his manager
      3) If manager does not act effectively, take it to HR

      OP1 didn’t mention ‘confrontational’, so maybe direct conversation will work. But with your coworker, you have evidence that direct conversation won’t work, it’s fine to take it up the chain of authority.

      Example of documentation – word doc or even just notepad file on your desktop.
      June 1st
      9:45am “F* this” quietly
      12:30pm Yelling at co-workers because all microwaves are in use
      2:10pm “Oh Sh*!” loudly and banged on the desk; when Other Coworker asked what happened, explained their spreadsheet crashed.
      4:25pm “Da* Sh*!” loudly

      You can go back in time and write down some of those ‘hostile’ interactions for extra impact.

      If you can point to even one or two verbal outbursts every work day, and any aggression towards co-workers, the manager / HR may be overwhelmed enough to take action.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Forgot to list – include witness names in the documentation.

        I personally would not ask the witnesses to join you in discussing it with management; a good manager should go to them and ask once you bring it up, and I’ve mostly had good managers. But that really is up to you and your comfort level / situation. If everyone talks about how sucky this guy is, it’s an easy and probably ok step to say, ‘want to come with me to talk to the manager about it?’

    6. Observer*

      If he’s also getting confrontational with colleagues, you have a different situation than the OP. I think that in that case, going to your manager and saying that you have not spoken to him because you’ve seen how he reacts to people who he doesn’t agree with.

      1. Anon for this one*

        I think what particularly is disconcerting is that he seems to have quite volatile moods, not much emotional stability (without wanting to “armchair diagnose” as to why that may be). So the same situation/response from a colleague could be handled totally differently on different days (or even the same day!) and I can’t really predict these angry outbursts or “defensively aggressive” (I’m sure people will know what I mean by that) responses as the usual ‘cues’ don’t seem to be there… he can go from 0 to 60 in a few seconds on the spectrum of “everything’s fine” to “Why the ^”*&^£ isn’t this working – I JUST NEED TO ATTACH A G-D DOCUMENT and it always CRASHES at the WRONG TIME and what IDIOT designed this system!!!” and so on.

        I do use a bit of profanity myself and it’s accepted in our environment, but it isn’t ‘aggressive’. I’m likely to say something like “I looked at this excel sheet and I’m wondering wtf they did to come up with these numbers” or things like that.

        Interestingly as a cis female I wonder how it would be perceived/action taken if I were to start shouting about g-d documents not attaching, bashing my hands on the table etc! Based on my experiences I bet it would be put down to female petulance and/or reprimanded!

        1. Observer*

          I think it may be worth mentioning the issue of his volatility when you bring to you manager / HR. As in, “it’s unpredictable, so I can’t even mentally prepare, and I also can’t even tell if and when there is anything I can do to avoid setting him off.”

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          As a cis female I would bet you’d be written up for “aggressive behavior” so fast it would make your head spin. Cis men get away with a lot of stuff that cis women get landed on like a ton of bricks for.

        3. Gruntilda*

          He sounds not right. Very unstable. Whatever the reason, I totally understand why you feel unsafe around him and you absolutely can bring this up to your manager and push them to do something about it.

    7. Curmudgeon in California*

      Swearing about things and situations is common. Even sometimes about people. But banging on the desks is a problem. Being hostile and confrontational with colleagues is a bigger problem. But it isn’t yours to solve.

      If they were around me, and I’d noticed someone else being upset by it, I’d ask the person to tone it down because it’s interrupting my and other people’s work. But I’m a fairly large person, and not as worried about being hit.

      It is perfectly reasonable to ask that a person minimize disruptive behavior. The emotional source of it is their issue, you can’t control that. You can ask that they not disrupt others with its expression.

      1. Crass*

        Agreed. I had an issue with a co-worker (female) who would swear loudly and slam her phone down, stomp through the office swearing loudly and yelling at the top of her voice. Although she sat on the other side of the office, people I was on the phone with would complain they could hear her (and not me). I also have an ongoing anxiety disorder from childhood abuse and it would wind me right up to the point where I needed to take medication. I was in the lucky position that while she doesn’t report to me, I am a level above her, so I felt I was in the position where I could talk to her about it. She was very defensive about it at first, but I also had the support of other people in the office who were also disturbed by it but didn’t feel they had the standing to address it. Her first response was that she couldn’t control it, but would try (as a favour to me???). Amazing how quickly she got control once I told her I considered it a violation of our Code of Conduct and I was prepared to pursue it as such. I am not against swearing (I have a potty mouth myself), but aggression in an office environment I think is completely unacceptable.

  19. Not Australian*

    I’m not necessarily advocating on behalf of the ‘swearing co-worker’ here, but I would just like to point out that there are wide variations in what is acceptable at different workplaces. Some years ago I worked in a legal office that was honestly the foulest-mouthed environment I’ve ever been in; everyone, from the senior partner on down, was so severely over-worked and stressed that we all swore continually (as long as there were no clients/open phone lines around). It was actually a pretty good way of relieving our feelings and helping us to face the challenges of the job – although it was no substitute for actually sorting out our problems, which would have been much better. At any rate, it took a little while to un-learn that behaviour when I eventually moved on.

    So maybe the swearing co-worker has been used to a different set of coping mechanisms in the past and hasn’t noticed that things have changed and it’s not socially acceptable any more. Office culture can change subtly with each personnel change, and we’re not always as aware of nuance as we should be. I know that if I was that co-worker I would be very embarrassed to have this pointed out to me, but I also know that – eventually – I would be grateful.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I went from a profanity filled workplace (a kitchen) with yelling and casual creative insults to working with young kids overnight. I learned immediately to conform to the culture of politeness and soft voices. It can be done.

      1. Not Australian*

        Of course it can. But one needs to notice that there’s a problem, and I’m not sure this co-worker has.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Just my opinion, but being around people who lose their patience all day long also shortens my fuse. I get fed up with listening to the meltdowns and I end up on edge from bracing myself for the next meltdown.
      It’s just too hard to work that way.

      I do agree that the culture of the place is a consideration. I have worked places where cussing was the norm. (It’s not the cussing that bothers me, it’s the anger behind the cussing that gets me.) But in those cases, I could simply move to another area and continue working. I did not have to be around that person or around anyone. When people are tied to a desk, this is a captive audience and everyone has to listen to the meltdown.

    3. Raven_Smiles*

      I tend to swear a lot. Most of it is under my breath, but sometimes it’s at full volume level. When I moved into a new cube area last year (after having been in the same location for about 5 years) I told my coworkers that I tend to swear and to please tell me if it bothers them. I’ve said it a few times now and hope that they believe me when I say it. I have curbed my swearing over the years, but it’s definitely still part of my vocabulary.

      Of course, now we’re all working from home anyway, so it’s a moot point for me. But if we ever go back to office life again I’d hope that they would tell me if my swearing was bothering them, especially as I asked them to!

    4. Fikly*

      People finding something acceptable has little to do with whether or not it has the potential to escalate and become even more dangerous, and whether or not its current form is harmful.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Not everyone who curses a lot is going to escalate. But we are also not mindreaders. If something bothers you, you have to use your words. Most people will not know which coworkers it triggers. A simple “hey can you curse a little less” will do the trick with most people. Without disclosing anything you don’t want to disclose.

        1. GD375*

          Having verbal outbursts at work is incredibly unprofessional and immature. People shouldn’t have to ask you not to do it because you should know better not to do it in the first place.

          1. Asenath*

            Since no workplace is entirely composed of professional and mature workers, it will sometimes be necessary to deal with verbal outbursts at work, and one of the first and simplest steps is to ask them to stop.

            1. GD375*

              Right, obviously if your coworkers do have verbal outbursts, you should ask them to stop, but my point is that this isn’t one of those things that is ok unless it’s bothering your coworkers, which is what EPLawyer seems to be saying. It’s not ok at all.

              1. EPLawyer*

                I never said that. I said that those making the outbursts are not mindreaders. if no one asks us to stop we don’t KNOW it’s a problem. The same with every other workplace issue. If no one says anything, no one knows its an issue.

                1. GD375*

                  You don’t have to be a mindreader to know that verbal outbursts are inappropriate at work. This isn’t one of those things that you can assume its ok unless someone says that it bothers them. It just shouldn’t be done to begin with.

                2. Blueberry*

                  You’re requiring the person bothered, possibly because of violent experiences in their past, to approach someone emitting verbal violence into the air and ask them to stop.

                  Based on my experiences with people who curse loudly, I would have a very hard time approaching someone who appeared so dangerous, and would expect the coworker to scream in my face or maybe hit me if I tried.

                  Maybe it’s not too much to refrain from creating an atmosphere like that in the first place?

                3. Traffic_Spiral*

                  Eeh… it’s basic common sense that you don’t start randomly screaming profanities in the air.

                4. Crass*

                  I am not a mind-reader either, so I don’t know if you are likely to escalate from loud swearing to violence. Asking vulnerable people to put themselves in harm’s way because you don’t have an internal filter is unreasonable.

            2. Blueberry*

              Once I get done throwing up from the sick fear of an impending beating, sure, I’ll go confront the person screaming curses and expect they’ll stop rather than begin to scream more curses in my face while backing me into a corner.

              Meanwhile, of course, if I burst into tears in the bathroom instead/afterwards, I’m going to be threatened with firing for my unprofessional behavior, while the loud curser continues to be told what a great employee he is.

              I remain unconvinced that the above is a fair position to have been put in, having been put into it several times in my working life.

          2. Scarlet2*

            I don’t think there’s some universal norm around swearing. Like EPLawyer said, some work environments are very sweary.
            Also, I’m a bit disturbed that some commenters seem to imply that people who swear a lot are ticking time bombs of pent-up violence. Sometimes you swear at your computer, etc. because you’re under stress or frustrated and it’s a coping mechanism. Swearing to yourself is quite different from verbally abusing your coworkers.

            1. GD375*

              I’m not talking about just swearing. I’m talking about verbal outbursts– expressing anger and frustration with swearing, which is usual accompanied by an aggressive tone of voice. It’s inappropriate and it can be a precursor to more abusive behavior.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                So now no one can be angry or frustrated? What world do you live in?

                Seriously, I’ve never worked in a place that didn’t have irritations and frustrations. Only a zen master could possibly be expected not to get angry or frustrated on the job, and even they might.

                “Aggressive tone of voice” from a female for a lot of people is anything above a sweet, soft comment.

                My go-to is a growled “Arrrrgggh!” when frustrated, but I bet that would still be too “aggressive” for most people because I’m AFAB.

                Maybe if people didn’t get their panties in a bunch when people expressed frustration we wouldn’t have so many people bottling it up until it explodes.

            2. Xavier Desmond*

              Agree with this. There is a massive gap between swearing at your computer and swearing at a person. If the co-worker is ok otherwise (as the OP specifically says) it sounds like a bad habit rather than sign of anything more significant

            3. Blueberry*

              Maybe some of us have the life experiences that indicate that someone who swears loudly is going to escalate to violence. I even have a couple scars on my back as a reminder of one particularly delightful incident.

              Or are you going to come back and tell me I must have brought it on myself somehow?

              1. Scarlet2*

                Not every person who swears is going to be violent.

                Since you’re basically accusing me of telling victims of violence they’re “bringing it on themselves”, I’ll just say I’ve been victimized by people who abused alcohol and yet I don’t think every person who drinks alcohol is a potential abuser. I’ll leave it there.

                1. Crass*

                  But the point is, we don’t know until the violence has (or hasn’t) occurred. It’s amazing how many of these aggressive people manage to have control if someone higher in the hierarchy is around, but none if it is just colleagues.

              2. blaise zamboni*

                Some of us have that life experience and can still recognize that not everyone will behave that way. Of course you didn’t bring those experiences on yourself. But it’s not victimizing you to suggest that OP confront her coworker as a first attempt at solving this problem.

              3. Gruntilda*

                Blueberry, I think you are projecting a lot on this thread. No one I can see is trying to tell you your experiences were deserved or didn’t happen, or that your reactions and opinions are invalid.
                But also not every situation of someone swearing angrily is going to lead to what happened to you, and every time someone points that out, you accuse them of victim blaming and encouraging violence. That’s not what anyone is saying.
                If every comment is starting to look to you like it defends violence, maybe take a breather?

            4. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yeah, there’s a lot of projecting going on here blowing this letter way out of proportion. Certainly there are plenty of violent people that swear a lot, but I don’t think someone muttering “god dammit” at their computer is reason to suddenly fear your coworker may give you a black eye.

              I sat near someone who did something similar but instead of swearing it was just really loud frustrated sighs multiple times a day. It was very annoying not because of the language, but just because it is 1) distracting and 2) just kind of filling the area with negative feelings even if they weren’t expressed in words.

              So if OP does want to talk to the coworker about it, I would focus less on the swearing aspect and more on the fact that they are just being disruptive. Something like “hey, I don’t know if you realize this but it seems like you are venting your frustrations out loud a lot throughout the day and it’s kind of distracting.”

              1. Blueberry*

                Certainly there are plenty of violent people that swear a lot, but I don’t think someone muttering “god dammit” at their computer is reason to suddenly fear your coworker may give you a black eye.

                And, as you’ve just demonstrated, there’s a hell of a lot of minimizing going on in the comments. Do you really think a single muttered ‘god dammit’ is what LW#1 is talking about/objecting to?

                Honestly, I’m looking at the comments here and wondering who here has backed a coworker into the wall whilst screaming in their face, and who has eaten popcorn whilst watching someone else do so.

                1. Malarkey01*

                  I mean the LW doesn’t even call them outbursts- just a lot of profanity. She doesn’t say they are screamed p, just that she can hear it over the office wall. They also say he’s nice to work with… I think jumping from someone in my office curses in their cubicle a lot to violent outbursts and attacking and leaving scars is a GIANT leap and you’d look very out of touch in the workplace if you said “Ferguson curses at his computer and I’m afraid that means he’ll hit me”.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Agreed with Malarkey01. If the outburst is “shit shit shit,” that’s still very jarring, but it’s not likely to make the average person fear an otherwise nice coworker (which the OP says he is).

          3. Mockingjay*

            It’s unrealistic to think that people will never have an outburst at work. Even the most even-tempered person can get frustrated with a work problem and express that frustration in some manner.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*


              And I have actually been wondering whether temporarily switching to working from home may lead to this sort of thing being more prevalent for a while when people go back to their offices. I feel like I personally have been talking to myself more working alone at home and if other people have too it may take us some time to readjust to sharing a space!

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Agreed. Honestly, given some of the things I say to my animation software when it crashes, I think people would prefer swearing if they heard me!

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              But we’re not discussing a single outburst, or muttering cuss words at your computer.

              We’re talking about multiple rounds of swearing *daily*, loud enough for people in the next cube to hear what the words are. In an environment where that’s the only person who’s doing it.

              Totally unprofessional and inappropriate, and it is the responsibility of the person who is doing it to recognize that they’re out of line with their environment. Swearing is something that people *should* understand has different social norms and deploy… thoughtfully.

              Teaching my kid the ins n outs of swearing has actually been fun, but I am emphasizing that it is the swearer’s responsibility to assess appropriateness and NOT just get into a mindless habit.

          4. Eukomos*

            That’s not universal though. OP’s coworker clearly stands out as unprofessional in his environment, but no one’s going to accuse a carpenter of being unprofessional or immature for swearing after dropping a hammer on their foot.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Exactly. Some places are more sweary than others. Some places the rule is “Don’t swear in front of the client/customer.” These places are not “unprofessional”.

          The idea that “professional” means 100% control of your emotions, no swearing, no irritation, always pleasing and never cross is such baloney that it defies comprehension. Sure, most “professional” people accomplish the same thing by passive-aggressive gossip and bullying, but at least they’re being “professional” about it and not saying any bad words, right?

          I have to admit, I wonder what universe some people live in.

    5. revueller*

      There’s a big difference between swearing because it’s part of the culture and swearing to express anger. I worked in an industry where an f-bomb every day was expected, but being seething angry on the job was absolutely not acceptable. But yes, the first step is to ask the coworker to stop. I hope her has as positive a reaction as you would to being told this.

      1. Anononon*

        Yes, I think much of the disagreement/debate on this post is that people are using the same words to mean different things. Is an “outburst” a single f-bomb when your computer freezes or the printer jams? Or is it a multi-sentence tirade filled with curses, ranting and raving at the issue?

        1. Malarkey01*

          Agreed- I also think that although a cubicle is hardly private, sometimes it gives the illusion of privacy and people forget they can be heard. So a muttered curse word at your computer in a cubicle is very different than shouted f bombs in an open office. If the person was yelling “WHAT NOW!!” Every 5 minutes it would be just as bad (or worse) than me hearing a solitary curse word from over the wall.

  20. Ms. Cellophane*

    #5, my firm is in the same boat. You have my sympathy. Our raises were always meager but it was nice to get the feedback. When the fit hit the shan, reviews were immediately put on the back burner and forget about raises. Attorneys all got pay cuts. My boss explained that all their energy is going toward keeping the business going.

    1. OP #5*

      Thank you! :) And many thanks to Alison, too, for answering my question. I hadn’t really thought before about how much work annual reviews are for the higher administration of a company (I was just thinking it was more work other managers, like my boss). It makes a lot of sense that they’re busy dealing with all of the other business needs during this time. The higher leadership team at my job have been meeting daily for the last few months (!) to talk about any new financial developments as well as to talk about how to safely re-open our office during the pandemic, so I know they have so much on their plate. It helps to think about it in that context rather than just assuming they canceled reviews nonchalantly or something.

  21. IntoTheSarchasm*

    Regarding performance reviews, my employer is skipping them this year too. Out department has had full and partial furloughs of many staff and some are redeployed to other projects, so we aren’t even doing our regular jobs. It would be difficult to perform reviews with much value in this situation. Also, as a manager who has been furloughed to 60% of full time, I know my attitude is a affected and even the mildest criticism or suggestion is going to land exponentially harder than it should or is intended. Some employers are asking a lot of staff, reviewing them at the same can be tone deaf depending on the situation.

  22. Elsabeth Leenhower*

    LW #3 – when I served in the military, I was assigned to work in the White House for two years. People used to ask me for the CRAZIEST stuff. I found the phrase “I’ll see what I can do.” was magical.

    It allowed me to avoid giving or doing inappropriate things while still allowing me to keep the bridges with friends or family that needed to be kept.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Cautionary warning, OP. Know the ethics of your arena. If you say that you will see what you can do, people WILL repeat that comment. And it can take on a new form: “OP said she would make my ticket go away.” And that is totally not what you said. CYA, OP. If it’s not your job to “take care of x” then don’t say that you will take care of x.

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

    OP1, back when I had a coworker like these, I used to call him out in a friendly tone (“whoa!”) and escalated to a more stern one if there was more than one outburst during the day (“hey, you’re not alone in here!”). He had serious anger management issues, but people tolerated it because he was the only senior employee we had. Last thing I knew from him was that he left to take a sabbatical.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, some of these folks end up having a longer term problem because they just cannot stop the outbursts. I worry for OP in that regard. But one step at a time, OP. Maybe this person will listen and make a strong effort.

  24. 7310*

    Re OP# 1:
    Thank you, Alison, for my morning laugh: my husband’s name is Cecil and he could make a sailor blush with his variety and frequency of cursing!

  25. RecentAAMfan*

    Re the hair pulling.
    Dunno if it’s helpful, but there is a relatively common condition called alopecia areata that leads to isolated bald spots. So it’s not as though anyone will assume it’s from pulling your own hair. Good luck!

    1. Remote HealthWorker*

      Pet peeve time.

      My husband has Tourrettes Syndrome and there has only been one confirmed case of someone swearing in the history of the disease! It’s just not a thing!

      Most Tourrettes sufferers tics or trills are barely noticable with good speech therapy.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Tourettes also includes echolalia, right? I have a vague memory of it being with autism and ADHD there.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        Also, certain brain injuries to certain areas of the brain can turn on bucket mouth. It’s documented, but not common. I’ve had such twice, and I still have a hard time controlling the language that comes out of my mouth when I’m tired or stressed. It doesn’t mean I have “anger management” issues or other such crap. It means my swear center and my language center are shorted together. I also have aphasia, and sometime I substitute cuss words when I can’t find the one I need. I just try to cuss silently so I don’t upset people nearby.

  26. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP5 a dear friend had to go through the charade of a performance review when Covid-19 was peaking here. Her boss had scheduled it so it had to happen. My poor friend was trying to deal with home-schooling a petulant pre-teen and parent a busy toddler at terrible-two stage and WFH. When her boss asked her the question “how do you see your future with us” she just burst into tears and said that for the moment, she was just trying to stay alive. As an asthma sufferer, she was pretty sure she wouldn’t survive coronavirus.
    She resigned a few days later (NB it’s VERY rare for people to resign here because then you’re not entitled to unemployment benefit, and of course now is very much not the time to be looking for another job).
    You happen to be coping admirably during the pandemic, and deserve plenty of credit for that. But there are many more people in situations like my friend, who really don’t need to be made to go through the pantomime that is performance review. Asking for a quick informal appraisal as Alison suggests is probably the best way to get recognition. And don’t worry, I’m pretty sure your rockstar behaviour is not going unnoticed.
    As for your boss clamouring for positive reviews of her work, normally I’d say WTF but right now, she probably can’t handle anything else, she could be walking a very tight rope like my friend, for whatever reasons that you may not be privy to.

  27. WantonSeedStitch*

    LW #1, we had a colleague like that in my office a few years back. He never yelled or swore AT people, but he would have loud outbursts at his e-mail, the printer, his voice mail messages, etc. Fortunately, when people used a similar approach to the one Alison suggests, he was always quick to quiet down. It was easier when we were in a location where we had offices with doors, because we could go over and discreetly close his door when he was being loud, but even after we went to a cube farm, a quick “Hey Cornelius, can you keep it down over there?” generally got an abashed “sorry,” and quieter behavior.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      My mother used to swear like a trooper at the cupboards, the saucepans, the ironing board, anything that didn’t immediately and smoothly obey her. Once she was cursing in the kitchen with the windows open while Dad was chatting over the fence with the neighbour. The neighbour kept glancing at the open windows and finally asked “who is she yelling at”, because he’d always assumed she was yelling at Dad. Very awkward moment that.

      (As were the moments when I used the same swear words outside the family, not having any idea what any of them meant. Now that I have found out, I’m not sure my mother knew exactly either!)

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Sounds like my mom. What’s worse is the day I cussed around her, and she hit me saying “Who the fuck taught you to talk like that?” Discretion being the better part of valor, I did not make the obvious answer.

    2. Persephone Underground*

      (off-topic)+1 for correct use of discreetly on the internet. Made me very happy .

  28. Miss V*

    #5- We had performance reviews in March and I HATED it. I actually thought it reflected poorly on my company that they were doing that when so many people are not doing well (and overwhelmingly my company has handled things well.)

    I know I’m not performing as well as I have in the past. Some of that isn’t my fault (I’m essential and still come into the office but about 90% of the people I need to get me stuff so I can do my job are WFH and slowing things down) but a large part of that is the fact that I’m just trying to make it through the day without crying in the bathroom.

    If you want feedback yes, of course you should talk to your manager about it- Maybe even ask her to put some of it in an email you save so that next year during performance reviews you’ll have a record? But I think is actually a good thins your company canceled their regular reviews.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Ah I hadn’t seen your comment when I wrote mine, just below. My story illustrates your point perfectly.
      Just do your best with the emotional energy you have. The home-workers are not slowing things down at you, they’re probably struggling too.
      Yes, your company made a wise decision.

      1. Miss V*

        Oh goodness, I certainly didn’t intend for that to come across as if I’m blaming people working from home. I fully understand that everyone is doing their best. I was just trying to illustrate that from a performance review standpoint yes, I’m not performing as well as usual, and part of that is out of my hands, which is why I think it was poor judgment for my company to do reviews.

        Thank you for saying this though, because if it’s coming across as if I’m holding that against people WFH or that I think they’re intentionally doing less I want to know so I can make sure that’s not the sort of thing I’m conveying to them.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      Do they talk a lot about your current performance in the March reviews? At my company, reviews are held in March and bonuses/raises paid in April–but the review is mostly for the prior calendar year.

    3. OP #5*

      Oh yes, good point. I hadn’t thought of this. To add to that, another thing my boss usually asks at performance review season is about my professional development and what new things I want to learn/try. Normally I have an answer for that, but if she asked me about my professional development today I know I would just look like a deer in the headlights. I’m just not focusing as much on my future goals and plans as much as I normally am, but I wouldn’t want it to look like I suddenly don’t care about my career or don’t have goals. Like you, I’m mainly focused on just making it through the day and navigating the strange new obstacles at work. I still plan to ask my boss for some feedback, but having all this in mind is very helpful. Thank you, Miss V!

  29. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP1 I agree that this colleague needs to learn about anger management. They probably also need more training in using their computer since they don’t sound like they’re on top of their game?

    1. AMT*

      I was picturing the enormous number of coworkers I’ve had who were constantly angry at their “stupid computers” because they lacked basic computer skills. I have no idea how to solve this type of problem short of the Ludovico Technique from A Clockwork Orange. I have seen these people in trainings and they do not listen or learn.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        For computer training, it really really really helps if you can tie the training to practical projects or ongoing job responsibilities. The best training I’ve had has people bring things from their jobs and apply the new skill to them in the class, and has a support person available for a time after the class to remind people how they did That Thing.

        If you don’t apply the new skill, it’s gone in a month or so.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      Yes, this thought occurred to me – if the computer is a specific trigger and he doesn’t seem to swear a lot about other matters, I’m wondering whether either a) he would benefit from a bit more training or b) if there really is something wrong with his machine and the IT department need to take a look at it? (I say this as someone who recently spent a few weeks getting more and more frustrated with my laptop which eventually turned out that it really did need IT to repair it – in this case the situation was magnified by the lockdown situation and having to work from home, also the fact that I had been trying to report that particular fault for weeks but just kept getting quick fixes that didn’t really get to the root of the problem and it got to the point of the laptop becoming unusable). I probably called it a few names, although I admit I felt freer to do so because I am working from home and it wouldn’t be heard by my coworkers.

      Has this been an ongoing thing for a while or is it possible the pandemic is magnifying things for Cecil too?

  30. Bob*

    LW2: Is the internal reviewer is trying to convince you to perform “well” or are they tying to sabotage you? Or are they just incredibly naive?
    Convincing you to perform is very strange, does this company want only yes men or is the recruiter deluded?
    Sabotage may be about making you appear too perfect hence don’t get hired.
    Naive is possible because they think this is a service to people.
    I don’t know which one it is, and i can’t think of an easy way to figure it out beforehand. Mexican standoff.
    Perhaps its best to take a hybrid approach, follow some of it as long as its not too outside your normal interview behaviour?
    If you don’t get hired it would be interesting if you have a contact there to find out more about this?

    LW3: I think you should have a personal policy of getting this in writing if you keep doing it. If your supervisor says go ahead and do it, get it in written form and print them off. Don’t assume e-mails or texts will last, IT could easily be cajoled into erasing e-mails.

    LW5: If they did the reviews then cut your pay then its a double gut punch. That said there is an informal saying, people don’t quit jobs, they quit their managers. That might be a good idea in the future once this virus is old news. Thats up to you to decide if this rises to that level.
    As for pay cuts they may try to keep them long term or even permanent and future pay rises may be from the reduced pay or the same pay, so if they happen next year they successfully skipped one year of raises into perpetuity Be ready for both of these.
    Also are the pay cuts because of actual downturns in income on their end?

    1. OP#2*

      Hi Bob. In the end, I do believe that the recruiter was incredibly naive, especially because this was for a senior-level position and I had already spoken with the team numerous times before. Ultimately, I ended up declining the final-round interview due to a few other red flags that came up.

      1. Bob*

        Hi OP. Thanks for the update, they are my favourite part of stories :)
        I am curious what those red flags were, if your open to telling us.

        1. OP#2*

          Totally! A few things happened that really turned me off. The recruiter kept asking if I was legally allowed to work in the US, not just once, but multiple times. My name is very European so I can understand why but it still was a turn off. They described their culture as a start-up, although they’ve been around for 20+ years now. They adamantly discussed how well their business was doing during the Coronavirus, however, I found out after that they frequently go through layoffs every few months. Finally, my second interview was subpar at best and I could tell they didn’t have a strong team dynamic, which is something I look for.

          1. Bob*

            Egads. You dodged bullets here.
            As much as they are interviewing you, you are also interviewing the employer. A fact well proven by your experience, and glad to hear you didn’t brush these red flags aside.

  31. Roscoe*

    #3. I don’t know your industry, but since you say its widespread, I’d really think how big of a stand you want to take here. That is just what is done in some industries. For example, in hospitality, its often assumed that you will do friends and family type discounts and you can ask for them too. Now, while I can appreciate your desire, I also think having a blanked “never” policy won’t make you look great. I think if you want to place limits on it, that is fair. But just saying you will never do it is a good way to alienate your colleagues.

    I’d also be wary of your “I’ll never ask for a favor either” stance. I’m sure you believe that right now. And who knows, it may actually be true. But I know a lot of people who have certain stances when they are new to an industry, and those stances change over time. I’d argue that makes sense. If you have the same opinions at 35 that you did at 25, its probably not a good thing. So, you don’t want to be that person who turned everyone down now, then a few years down the road, you need something and no one in your network is willing to help.

    1. Buttons*

      I a friends and family discount is different than making something go away like a traffic ticket. It is different than asking someone in the admissions office at a university to let this person in because they are your nephew. Discounts are very different and don’t tend to create a massive inequality that leads to privilege and advantages. Getting 10% of a room at a hotel isn’t preventing someone from succeeding in life.

      1. Roscoe*

        I understand, and its really hard to say much without knowing more specifics. I just used hospitality as a general example. But hell, even in terms of schooling, do I love it that having rich parents often just entitles you to better education? No. At the same time, I’m black, and I’d be lying if I said my grandmother didn’t use some of her connections to get me into a better school growing up. My point is just that sometimes, I don’t think helping people who need or even just doing a favor it is ALWAYS bad, nor do I think everything needs to be a social justice fight. I mean, we are on a work blog, and I’d bet a lot of people who are theoreitically against this practice wouldn’t have a problem asking someone to pass their resume along to a hiring manager, to help them secure an interview. I’m not really sure where the line is of what favors people find ok.

    2. Hillary*

      It can go the other way too. Ten years ago it was normal for someone in my role to take sports tickets, fancy dinners, or other excessive entertainment and gifts. I’ve gotten more rigid on this as my responsibility increased both because times are changing and because I’ve realized that the appearance of impartiality can matter more than reality.

      1. Gruntilda*

        Good point. I think it’s important for OP to be able to say no to favors, if only because many favors only work if you can do them discreetly. Even people asking for a favor don’t expect you to help out just anyone, otherwise it’s just part of your job duties. People feel good when they feel you’re doing something special for them, so even if you do end up offering special help, you’ll still need to be able to say, “No, of course I can’t do that” before you say, “Well, since you’re such a good friend…”

  32. Arbynka*


    I so feel you. Once upon a time I volunteered for a non profit. Small office, usually about 5 people there are one time. Financial manager would frequently burst into these loud (well, full blown yelling), profanity laden rants. With the added benefit of occasional various slurs. Now, I don’t shy away from profanities, but that absolutely crossed (more than one) line.

    I wasn’t there that much, about once a week. One day, while I was not in particularly great mood, he broke into a rant again. And I asked him to please stop. He then went on explaining how its healthy not to “bottle in” your anger and finished with “there are studies showing swearing helps to handle pain better”. Without thinking, I said :”Oh, you sound like you are in lots of pain. Have you considered pain killers ?”

    Dear reader, I was asked not to come back.

    1. Blueberry*

      Ugh. You were well out of that place. I hope they folded because of the atmosphere they fostered.

  33. Florp*

    #4, I don’t want to minimize the stress you are feeling, and other commenters here who also have trich can speak better than I. But you sound so enthusiastic about your job I can’t help but think your coworkers know you for that. You’ve already made a good first impression. There are so many reasons people lose hair–reactions to drugs, genetics, pregnancy and childbirth. It’s really no one’s business. I have a coworker who developed alopecia universalis–they lost every single hair, head to toe, in a short period of time. They are good at their job and nice to be around, and other than concern for their health when they had a number of medical appointments, it was just a non-issue. (But God help the stranger who asks one of us why they don’t have hair. We will remind them of their manners post haste.) I hope it will turn out that your coworkers are like mine.

  34. Now In the Job*

    LW#2: I got the same thing from an internal recruiter for my current job. I read it, had an internal chuckle, but mostly shrugged it off as overzealous recruitment efforts. I like Alison’s perspective on it though: it absolutely could be out of efforts to make the playing field a little more equal. FWIW, my company is pretty great and I love them, though they did have an EEOC thing come up within the last ten years (public information) so I’m almost positive it’s part of their efforts to handle the settlement arrangement made with the government.

    At my last job, I was sourced by a temp agency. I had an external recruiter do the same sort of thing, but it was even simpler and less helpful xD She had even included a piece of advice to research the company as best as I could, because they turned down the last candidate because they HADN’T looked up the company. Dual-edged sword: while I thought it was a silly piece of advice and made particular effort sure to do solid research, what I found was websites that hadn’t been updated since 1994 and had very little to no helpful information available online.

    1. Allonge*

      Yes, to me this sounded like a consequence of the following past situation: a hiring manager had a bad round of interviews with people who were not behaving correctly, and asked the recruiter to ‘do something about it’. And the recruiter, instead of using some weird and most likely disciminatory criteria to eliminate applicants before an interview, decided to share information instead. Weird? Yes, a bit. Immediately terrible? No.

      1. OP#2*

        I would think that if this is the case, they would have sent me the information before my two previous interviews with the team, instead of the final-round interview. Either way, I do think it was a poor way of handling it but I did end up turning down the final-round interview.

    2. OP#2*

      OP here. I think it came off as super bizarre since it was for a senior-level position and I had already interviewed with the team twice. I ended up not even taking the final round interview because besides this instance, there were a few red flags. Unfortunately, my suspicions were confirmed after I let the recruiter know and they had called me twice, e-mailed me twice, and had someone reach out on my Linkedin asking why I wasn’t interested…all in the span of one day. I was on a hike so imagine my surprise when I received all the notifications!

      1. Allonge*

        Wow, that recruiter is… just wow! Good riddance, I would say, and you are absolutely right – one red (or dark orange) flag is a maybe, but this is waaay too many.

  35. Buttons*

    #3 is corruption. I couldn’t do work there. Even if I was able to take a stand and not do it personally I would know it was happening. We got to where we are today by people feeling privileged and that there are different rules for different people. This has to stop. I don’t care if it is a $200 traffic ticket or daddy buying his kid’s way into a fancy school, or a president giving his unqualified children high-level government appointments- it is corrupt and continues the exclusion of those who don’t have that kind of network or resources. It makes all makes me sick.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      From what I am seeing we might have a ways to go on learning what corruption looks like and how it starts.

  36. Environmental Compliance*

    I’ve been known to swear a decent amount. So, I do have some bias that swearing does not automatically mean you have a violence problem.

    However – there is a difference between *swearing* and *outbursts*. My swearing consists of very quiet, under my breath, 90% of the time in a different language (and usually a mixture of a couple). If someone can hear me, they can’t actually hear what I’m saying, and think I’m mumbling to myself. Alternatively, random words get inserted. If my computer is yet again deciding it doesn’t want to connect to the server right when I need to save an important document or open a document, I’m probably going to tell my computer in a few different ways how much it sucks. But it’s important that this does not affect anyone else. *Outbursts* are not okay. It doesn’t necessarily matter what you’re yelling (barring really offensive stuff), you shouldn’t be yelling at anything. If I stand up and angrily scold my computer and am calling it a variety of not-technically-swears, that’s still not okay, and doubly so if I’m doing it on a regular basis. Swearing makes it worse, I will say that, but the bigger issue here IMO is that the coworker is having angry outbursts on a regular basis.

    (FWIW, my current favorite thing to mutter angrily under my breath is pus-bucket duck farts. If added emphasis is needed, it’s a mother of pearl pus-bucket goose fart. I’m really trying to not use actual swear words out loud, but sometimes my brain filter is slower than my mouth.)

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, if a coworker walks in a goes “fuck, it’s hot enough to fry satan’s ass out there,” I don’t care. If they’re randomly yelling every time they screw up their computer, that’s distracting and they need to cut it out.

    2. Blueberry*

      Yeah, I think that, just like sound volume is measured on a logarithmic scale, the volume of the swearing makes a logarithmically-sized difference as to the violence conveyed in it. I also curse under my breath sometimes (carefully where no one can hear me, since I got written up once for ‘muttering under my breath’), and I am totally borrowing your duck fart verbiage.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Yes! I like thinking about it logrithmatically!

        I’ve also been known to use random plant names. Bonus if it’s the latin. Extra bonus if it’s an invasive species.

        “Oh PHRAGMITES!” “POTAMOGETON CRISPUS!!!” “Crassula helmsi!”

        The extra extra bonus there is that then you sound like you’re both cursing like swearing but also cursing like magic, and we all know black magic is sometimes a workplace hazard. ;)

  37. Similar to OP*

    Re: #1. On the off-chance that Cecil isn’t aware of his cussing, I’d just say, “Hey, Cecil, you may not realize it but you cuss multiple times an hour and it’s really distracting.”

    I say this because I used to have a horrible habit of sucking air through my teeth. It drove my cube mates nuts and I had no idea I was even doing it. Finally, the guy who sat in front of me (on the other side of the thin cube fabric walls) talked to me about it. I asked him to help me break the habit and gave him full permission to kick the cube frame, throw wads of paper at me, or “Harrumph” loudly (whatever fit the situation — we were in an inside sales position so hollering over the cube walls was discouraged because customers would hear on the other end of the phone). With his help, I was able to break the habit.

    Now, of course, if OP1’s co-worker is a scary-angry person, he may not be interested in toning it down or stopping.

  38. Florp*

    #1, I work in an office where swearing is raised to an artform. We’re not in a conservative or formal industry, and it’s like a Tarantino movie up in here. We have rules, too–you can swear about stuff, but not at people. No name calling. When we are with a client, vendor, or even a colleague from outside the office, we are squeaky clean. We’ve known each other a long time and are comfortable being honest with each other. If we had a new coworker join us, we’d stop swearing until we knew for sure they were OK with it (you have to be careful–people who are new or low on the totem pole will sometimes feel pressured to go along with things they don’t actually like because of the power dynamic.) And if someone expressed discomfort, we’d be mortified and apologize immediately. In other words, we read the room and adjust our behavior like adults. It sounds like your coworker has not read the room, and having started swearing with no push back, he felt free to continue. You absolutely should say something. “I can tell you’re frustrated, but would you mind not swearing so much?” ought to be sufficient. Or tell him that when you’re on the phone, the other end of the line can hear him. If he has any kind of problem with that, then it’s an issue of professional behavior beyond just swearing.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      This is a good take.

      IMO, the first attempt should be a casual request.

  39. Lisa Large*

    #3 do the right thing. Making traffic tickets ‘go away’ is not ethical. One of the reasons our world is in such a mess is people perpetuate the idea that one must ‘go with the flow’ to get ahead. Saying no to being involved with corrupt people/endeavors is the only way to change the flaws in the system. Do you really want to be part of the problem?

  40. RussianInTexas*

    Previous job, large, international, publicly traded company. 2 reviews per year. Goals, objectives, self-evaluations.
    They meant nothing because no one would be getting promoted, or very rarely (your’s truly, got a “senior” in the title, and 7% raise, once), but not to the outside the department, not to the management, and without change in work done. Scale of 1-5. No one ever got more than 4, and 4 was “walking on water”, reserved for upper management. Below 3 and you do not meet expectations. The manager would have the raises budget set before the reviews. So they would basically rotate who gets a bump, from 2% regular raise to 3%. The whole department would get 3, and the person “scheduled” for the raise this year would get 3.5. The managers would actually write our self-evaluations, because no one would care otherwise, because they meant nothing.
    The goals were a massive PITA. They had to change every time, and how would they change if your work didn’t change?
    The annual employee survey was as useless.
    Current job: what are these reviews and raises and goals? We’ve never heard such words.

  41. Safely Retired*

    Regarding #1…

    I’m retired so my bursts of expletives when I’m at my computer are not inflicted on anyone else, but in my case they are rarely directed at the computer, or the program I am using. They are directed almost exclusively at MYSELF, because I’ve gone and screwed something up again. Get fumble-fingered, hit the wrong key, loose ten minutes of work, $%^~#@!!!

  42. Blueberry*

    LW #1 — you have all my sympathies and fellow feeling. Not least because of a history of violence in my life I have found that I really, really hate hearing extended loud angry swearing, especially in deep voices.

    People may tell you you’re overreacting and a wuss and to suck it up, but I wanted to say that they would be wrong to do so. A reasonably quiet workplace not full of hostility and verbal violence is not too much to ask for.

    I really hope that Cecil continues to deserve the moniker of a ‘good guy’ and that he responds to your request with grace and calmness, but if I were you, based on my past experiences, I would let my manager know first about the conversation I planned to have with Cecil. Lead with that — say something like “I wanted to tell you I’m going to talk to Cecil about his loud outbursts of swearing, because they disturb me and make it harder for me to do my job. I wanted to give you a head’s up in case it doesn’t go well.” That way, just in case Cecil turns out to not respond so well, your manager’s firrst knowledge of the situation isn’t coming into what may look from their perspective like a screaming match, or even god forbid physical fight, between you and Cecil.

    If Cecil pushes back or says “it’s not healthy to bottle up your emotions” or calls you a wimp, I’m sending you all my strength to stand firm and reiterate to him that a workplace where people can get work done benefits from a relative lack of loud angry outbursts.

    Good luck. I hope your coworker Cecil reacts better than the Cecils I have had to deal with in my life.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Oh, there’s a huge difference between bottling up your emotions and refraining pouring them on everyone in the vicinity. From your comments above, I don’t think that’s an argument you’d feel safe making, sadly.

  43. Nacho*

    I got lucky and had my yearly performance review and modest raise right before Covid hit. We’re still doing quarterly reviews though and associated bonuses, but those bonuses are basically part of our pay, and there would be riots if they were dropped.

  44. Jaid*

    LW1, S. is that you? I have a guy sitting on the other side of my cubicle wall who occasionally talks on the cell with his girlfriend and family members and is clearly frustrated with them. Bonus points for our department manager having her paper thin no-ceiling office right across the aisle.

    We don’t interact often, but I do worry about him because he’s already one of those guys with the red faces…

  45. LizM*

    LW3, if this is a government agency or a large organization, there may be an ethics hotline you can call for advice. Unfortunately, throughout my career in government, I’ve found that just because everyone is doing it isn’t necessarily protection when your program is audited.

  46. Toxic waste*

    Regarding #1, I’ve experienced this and it’s upsetting. It was to the point where I sat somewhere else. My coworker noticed and toned it down a bit. He’s switching departments at the end of the year, so that solves it, but it is definitely uncomfortable. My other coworkers seem used to it, which baffles me. My boss told him to calm down once, but that was it. I think that it’s accepted though because they like noise and it proves that they’re working. If you’re silent or quietly working, they don’t seem to like it. Maybe they think you’re not working or something, I don’t know.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Telling someone to “calm down” seldom works. It’s like pouring oil on a grease fire.

      Asking someone to not swear out loud in the office because it is disturbing others, however, is perfectly reasonable.

  47. Rachel*

    Regarding the crying versus anger discussion — background and perception matters. I, a red-haired fat woman, have been in some pretty toxic environments, but I have never been afraid for my physical safety. I have never worried that getting angry and stating my case will get me in legal trouble, nor will anyone harm me in any way except reputation. So I have to listen up, and in this case, I have to speak on behalf of someone else who looked at the replies above and was terrified to write her own answer. She doesn’t feel she would be believed.

    My best friend, a Black woman, has been afraid for longer than I’ve known her – since her teen years at least – that if she ever allows herself to argue with her bosses, no matter how calmly, no matter if she is sitting while the person she’s addressing is standing, no matter that she is five feet tall, she could be hauled off by police. She knows right down to her core that her fear is justified because she sees what happens to Black people who disagree.

    You might, if you look like me, say that she’s blowing things out of proportion. Well, I’m pretty sure that you’ve never worked with or gone to school with any Black person who trusted you enough to tell you. And they didn’t trust you because they’d heard you talk in a way that reminds them of people who have disbelieved them before. (If this is an attack, I aim it at myself as well. I haven’t been told things by most Black coworkers or classmates either.)

    So she can only let things out by crying… and she has gotten fired for it. And she has been unable to focus on what she needs to do because people who cry get micro-managed even more than other Black people get micro-managed.

    Sure, you can say “it’s a toxic environment if they make you cry” — but what if there’s no other place to go? What if you walk in and they see your skin and not your resume? What if that has happened so many times that you are afraid to leave, and just have to swallow it all until it bursts out? What if all of the managers who fired you over crying write particularly nasty references?

    All of this is at the back of her head when people claim that criers get more sympathy.

  48. Observer*

    #4 – Please don’t feel like you need to explain to anyone why you have that bald spot. A bland “medical issue” is all anyone needs to hear. You have a problem and you deserve to not have to defend yourself and convince people that you really cannot “just stop”.

  49. animaniactoo*

    LW5 – I think the biggest issue I have here is that your manager is looking for positive feedback only. If she wants feedback to replace that from above her, she should be seeking *any* feedback not just the positive.

    Towards that, maybe you could try something along these lines: “I understand we’re not having formal reviews, and I like the idea of providing informal feedback to each other. Would you be open to doing that so that I have a sense of where I stand, and can discuss both the positive aspects of where I feel I’m at and where my frustrations are?”

  50. Swamp Rabbit*

    #5 – There are some employers which are legally required to provide performance reviews at designated intervals. Sometimes this may be mandated by state government agencies, other times by private accrediting bodies. For instance, my state’s department of Health and Human Services require that healthcare facilities falling under certain categories conduct performance reviews at least every 12 months. They periodically audit employee charts to ensure compliance. If facilities delay performance reviews, they risk financial penalty and may be subjected to a corrective action plan. This is meant to protect patients and payers from employees who commit fraud, waste, and abuse. It also ensures that employees are getting the training and the support that they need to stay up-to-date with best practices. I don’t know what industry the #5 OP works in, but if you are in a tightly regulated field, I would definitely check with your state office/accrediting body. You may be able to file an anonymous tip and explain your employer is delaying performance reviews.

  51. Anon today*

    OP 4, As a fellow hair-puller I sympathize! Luckily for me, I have a less-obvious case, which restricts itself mainly to me pulling my eyebrows and below the waist areas. I think Alison’s advise is spot on.

  52. Stuck in the middle of reviews*

    LW5, I’m in a similar boat. My company was conducting performance reviews and was supposed to release/discuss them with us in the weeks following mass furloughs/layoffs (during which I was furloughed). I had already written mine up.

    This is (was?) my first time at a large company, so if I am actually laid off, is it okay to request my manager’s performance review of me?

  53. Alicia*

    For the writer with trichotillomania, I pull my hair too, right on the front part of my forehead and I use Caboki to cover the bald spot. It’s a colored powder-like substance that you apply to your bald spot and it nicely hides the bald patch. It makes it not so noticable. They offer free samples, just pick your color and pay shipping.

  54. J.B.*

    For #1 I think it might help to really nail down in your head what is the problem – the words or the intensity. I say that because there was a swearer at my old workplace who would talk very viciously to people, and swear about other employees in their presence (a real peach). He got a talking to and stopped himself swearing around me, said “oh I’m not supposed to say that” but would still be awful to and about everyone.

    I am the adult child of an alcoholic. Getting therapy and identifying my triggers would help me pinpoint what specifically is the issue and to address it in the workplace, with official-ish sounding words.

  55. CJM*

    I had a coworker, B, who sometimes swore and banged his keyboard down in utter frustration. (I had to code with the same crappy framework he did, so I understood his feelings but not his mode of expression.) Mostly he was LOUD in a quiet work environment, and it was jarring. Sometimes my immediate reaction was fear: What might he do next? He was a big guy who seemed to value physical power; he liked to talk about how strong and tough he was, and he sometimes suggested violence as good way to handle irritating people (e.g., he’d punch one of his hands into the other to demonstrate how he’d like to punch an authority figure at work whose decision he didn’t like). Nobody else on the team was even remotely like that. I sat about 15 feet from B and around a corner, and when he erupted I’d often turn and look meaningfully at the guy who sat right behind me. He was a good work buddy of B’s, and I know he sometimes engaged B and tried to calm him down. Mostly all he could do was stare back at me in sympathy and disbelief. As far as I know, our manager (nice but unwilling to handle tough situations) never told B to stop, although B sat right outside of our boss’s office (open door and all) for several years. I could tell that B liked and respected me, so I finally screwed up my courage and said something to B on chat like “Hey, that’s really jarring. Would you please knock it off?” He texted back with a “ha ha” tone to brush it off, but if I recall correctly he apologized and did better for a while. But he still did it sometimes, and I still hated it and resented him for disrupting my concentration and the professional setting. When he left the company, I wasn’t sorry to see him go.

  56. Malty*

    LW4, fellow trich sufferer here, just wanted to chip in and say that one time I worked up the courage to tell my, (very nice), manager about my trich, something I’ve told only a handful of people about despite suffering with it for 15 years, and after I made my dramatic announcement she said ‘oh yeah I think I have that cos I pull at my eyelashes sometimes’. (She didn’t, she was talking about an absent habit.) It was disappointing to bare my soul and have her so not Get It, but also kind of reassuring that this big thing I was worried people would judge me for just didn’t even register. I think within 30 seconds we were on a new topic. But to echo what others have said you are very much not alone

  57. chickaletta*

    #1 – I feel you. My boyfriend makes angry comments about other drivers more often than most other people, and over this past weekend during a day trip I finally said something when he got upset at the fourth person in a two-hour drive. His retort was, “Don’t YOU ever get frustrated?”. I said of course, but that life these days was upsetting enough without being constantly subjected to other people’s frustrations. Well, reader, I got an earful about how he spent time in therapy working on anger management and that I knew nothing about what real anger looked like and that “venting” was his way of controlling angry outbursts. Then I was told that I myself should settle down and not get upset at him because he didn’t want to be in another relationship where he fought with someone all the time. Oh boy.

    And that’s why it’s not fun calling out angry people about their anger.

    1. Gruntilda*

      “I knew nothing about what real anger looked like”
      “Then I was told that I myself should settle down and not get upset at him because he didn’t want to be in another relationship where he fought with someone all the time.”

      chickaletta, I am… really afraid for you.
      This sounds like a pattern where he can’t control his anger (if venting isn’t an angry outburst I’m afraid of what is) and doesn’t take criticism/feedback well.
      And it sounds like he has a pattern of fighting with relationship partners, and blaming them for the fight.
      I would feel unsafe just being around someone who blows up often, especially behind the wheel, and very unsafe with someone who turned that anger at me just because I pointed it out.
      I hope you can get to a safe place where you are not yelled at just for sitting in a car next to an angry person.

    2. Hrodvitnir*

      Oh man, chickaletta, I want to chime in as well that lines like “[you] knew nothing about what real anger looked like” (!!) and “you should settle down and not get upset at him [being upsetting]” are very not OK. He’s allowed to vent enough to be upsetting to you, but you’re not allowed to say you’re upset?

      I say that as someone who gets excessively angry driving, and in fact on bad days has got vocally angry with my good friend and coworker in the car. I feel so bad that I have ever exposed someone trapped with me driving to that, and blaming the other person for being upset is beyond the pale IMO.

    3. Actual Vampire*

      Chickaletta – I want to make sure that you are aware that angry/dangerous driving or road rage with someone else in the car is considered a form of abuse. When I learned this it helped me understand a relationship I have had in my life. I understand how scary it is to be trapped in a car with an angry driver. Someone who loves you and cares about you and your safety will want you to feel comfortable in their car.

    4. Observer*

      It’s not fun. But it also sounds like a signal you should not ignore. It’s good that he’s working on his anger management. But if he thinks that this level of anger is ok because it’s “nothing” compared to his “real” outbursts, and is making YOU responsible for his constantly arguing when his behavior is out line, that’s a major problem. Perhaps a relationship killer.

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