employee says “kind of” and “you know” constantly, requiring references at the application stage, and more

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

1. My employee says “kind of” and “you know” constantly

I recently on-boarded a new team member who I’m very excited to have in a long needed role, “Jane.” Jane’s interviews went fabulously, with myself and other managers agreeing she was the best fit of the three final candidates. But one thing stuck out to me and our HR director: her use of verbal fillers.

Jane adds an abundance of the following three terms when she speaks: “I suppose,” “kind of,” and “you know.” By “abundance,” I mean practically every few words. She often strings them together, such as, “The data I have, I suppose, kind of, you know, is good enough, you know, to start with.”

I’d like to help coach her out of this habit as I think it will help her build more credibility and confidence and help her keep her answers shorter and people more engaged. Also, our team’s stakeholders speak different languages and though we do business in English, we have to be mindful of how we speak to ensure people can follow. Do you have any advice on how to approach her in a positive way and to help her follow through with practice, without offending her?

Name the issue, explain why it matters, ask her to work on it, and offer whatever resources you can. The “explain why it matters” step is really important and one people often skip. There are jobs where this kind of speaking pattern doesn’t really impact the person’s work, and making a big deal about it can feel like nitpicking or overstepping. But this is a job where it does matter, so make sure you explain the reasons why.

Sometimes just naming the issue — drawing the person’s attention to it as a thing to be more aware of and to work on — can lead to real progress.

From there, ideally you’d give her some room to work on it herself, rather than you formally coaching her and practicing with her. You’re presumably not a speaking coach and not equipped to do this kind of training —I’d rather you offer her other forms of support like public speaking classes or even a coach (who will do things like videotape her and play it back, help her practice, etc.).

2. Colleague keeps asking if I’m “comfortable” with work I’ve agreed to take on

I am a woman serving on a special committee at work. A senior male colleague charged with leading the committee keeps asking me in front of the group if I am comfortable taking on tasks I have just agree to take on (usually related to pulling information together and presenting my findings to the group). It really frustrates me, and it’s embarrassing. I don’t see this question asked of other committee members. I feel like he thinks I either don’t have enough experience “to be comfortable” or I am not willing to speak up if I need help. Neither are true. Am I being overly sensitive? I feel like there are better questions he could ask, like “is there enough time allotted,” “is there anything you need from the group to complete the task,” etc.

It’s possible that he’s asking because you seem hesitant in some way, but unless you are sending out clear signs of discomfort, this is obnoxious and very likely rooted in sexism.

One option is to just respond in the moment and say in a tone of dry amusement, “Yes, I’m perfectly comfortable” (ideally your tone is politely conveying, “Why wouldn’t I be?”). Feel free to throw in a slightly befuddled look that he’s even asking.

But another option is to talk with him privately after the next meeting and say, “You’ve asked me multiple times whether I’m comfortable taking on the tasks I’ve just agreed to, and I’m wondering why. Do you have concerns about my ability to do the work I’m committing to?” Unless he responds with something that changes your assessment (like that usually that work is done by much more senior people or people with a background in X), then you could say, “I’ll speak up if I have concerns about any work I’m taking on, but otherwise I’d ask that you assume I’m as comfortable as any other committee member.”

3. Employers that require references at the application stage

I am mid-career, recently unemployed, and applying to new jobs. I’m finding more and more companies using application forms with required fields, including expected salary and reference contact information. I don’t want to provide references before I’ve even had a first interview, and I don’t know why employers would possibly need them at this stage. These forms require name, email address, phone number, and relationship, so it’s not as if I can fill in a “references on request” line and call it a day. Should I prepare my references for the possibility that they will be contacted by an employer with whom I have not even interviewed? Should I take this kind of rigidity in the hiring process as a red flag?

It’s obnoxious, but it’s not necessarily a red flag. Lot of companies that are decent places to work have ridiculous application systems. (Which is frustrating! It would be much easier if it were a reliable sign that you wouldn’t want to work there.)

Be aware, though, that most companies that collect references at the application stage don’t call them until you’re a finalist. They ask for them early on because it saves them a small amount of time later — they won’t have to wait for you to supply them later because they already have them. It’s still a terrible practice; people want to know when their references will be contacted so they can prepare them, and they also should have the chance to decide if they even want the job before consenting to reference checking. But the majority of the time, employers who collect references early won’t contact them until the end of the process — reference-checking is hugely time-consuming and it doesn’t make sense to do it until you’ve interviewed people and have some idea of who you want to hire. (Some fields can be weird exceptions to this practice, though.)

As for what to do, most of the time it’s safe to assume your references won’t be contacted until after the interview stage, and so you don’t need to alert them every time you apply for a job, just when you’re later in the process. But if you do get an odd employer who contacts them early, you’ll still be covered by the fact that you (hopefully) touched base with your references when you kicked off your job search and gave them a general heads-up then that they might be getting calls. (Generally when people agree to be a reference, that covers you for at least a few months; you don’t need to provide separate alerts about every individual job that might contact them.)

4. We returned after a layoff — but our benefits re-set to new employee level

I was part of a mass layoff due to COVID-19. They have slowly began the re-hiring process, which luckily I was a part of, which is great. However, on the morning of my first day back I received an email stating that for all full-time employees, our seniority would be set to zero. This means we have no PTO for 60 days, then we would receive three days. After a year, we would be eligible to begin accruing our full benefits again.

I am an hourly employee and I have worked for this company for 12 years and had been earning four weeks of PTO a year. As a part of the mass layoff, they had to pay out unused PTO.

My main issue is that this was never discussed in the rehiring phase. I feel like it was a bit sneaky and dishonest. Is it okay for me to ask my manager why it was never brought up?

You can ask that, and you can also push back against it, ideally with a group of coworkers so your voices carry more weight.

It’s reasonable that you don’t still have the accrued benefits that they earlier paid out in cash (because they paid them out so you’re squared up there), but it’s supremely crappy to say you’re essentially brand-new employees who will begin accruing benefits at the stingy rate that new hires do, when they are benefitting from your institutional knowledge and lack of training time/ramp-up time. You should be accruing at the same rate you were at when you left.

5. Can I ask to leave early when work is slow?

I work in a very small architecture firm with about six people total. Since COVID-19 started, there has been less and less work coming through our office. I am a somewhat new employee and have been here 9 months. Due to not having new clients, there is very little work that need to get done. So today I came into the office knowing I had no projects to work on, and it has been two hours and I haven’t done anything — just sat at my desk on social media until my boss thinks of something for me to do. Is it okay for me to ask him to go home today because I’m getting paid for nothing at this point? (I’m hourly and would take the time unpaid.)

In theory, yes. On occasion it’s fine to say, “Since my projects are very slow right now, would it be okay if I left early today?”

In this situation, though, it doesn’t sound like it’ll be any different tomorrow or the next day or next week. And if you do this regularly, you risk highlighting that there’s nothing for them to pay you for, which increases the risk of them deciding to lay you off. So it’s arguably in your best interests to stay, continue to get paid, and not inadvertently make the case that they don’t really need you there.

{ 334 comments… read them below }

  1. MollyG*

    I have run into jobs that require letters of reference at the initial application stage. It is disrespectful to my letter writers for a company to ask for them to spend time letters when the company is at the initial weed out stage. I do not apply to those jobs.

    1. hbc*

      I wonder if they’re expecting general letters, like “MollyG is a hard worker who shows up on time.” I had a couple of ex-employees ask me for letters of reference at the start of their job searches, because I guess those kind of generic references are common in my field.

    2. BethDH*

      This is common in academic jobs, unfortunately. Luckily those aren’t expected to be quite so specific and people who have written one will just keep it on file for you, but if you’re applying to a range of types of places they’ll have to write different ones (R1, liberal arts college, community college). In an ideal world you then stay at the same institution for a while, but these days it’s likely to repeat every year as you move through visiting professorships and adjunct roles.

      1. Not This One*

        It’s also common for new job candidates (as in, people just starting out in the field) in K-12 public education in my geographic area. (I’m not sure about private/independent schools.) I was asked to provide letters of recommendation during my post-graduation job search, as well as my first job search after that (when I’d only been in the field for a year), but I’ve never been asked for them since.

        Like BethDH and others have said, these were generic and I used the same ones for every job. I also had the same people who wrote letters listed as references. (For me, those were my university student teaching supervisor, and the classroom and special education teachers who I worked under during my student teaching.)

    3. Alli525*

      I think I would probably just fill in the name fields with “(will provide later in hiring process)” and then fill in my own contact info for the email/phone fields, if they’re required. Like a modified version of the “References available upon request” line that we used to list on our resumes.

      1. Iron Chef Boyardee*

        I like that. Semantics are important here, because if you filled in the name fields with “Available on request,” the company might come back with “Okay, we’re requesting them now.”

    4. RussianInTexas*

      I have too, and I applied, because I had few months of unemployment behind me already.
      You only have a privilege not to apply when you are already working.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          I cannot afford not to. I had 9 months of unemployment, and I will do whatever is required.

    5. RussianInTexas*

      Also, the OP did not mentioned the letters of reference, but “contact info”.
      Many, many applications ask for it. More often than not.

      1. MassMatt*

        This must be specific to your field or region. I cannot recall ever being asked for reference contact info except after an interview.

        I do remember once going through a brief initial HR phone interview and being asked for references before interviewing with the hiring manager, and even THAT seemed premature.

    6. That Tree*

      I had a professor from grad school who after saying she would write me a generic letter decided a couple days later that it wouldn’t, in fact, be helpful since it couldn’t be specific to the job I was applying for. And while, yes, I agree in theory (general letters aren’t super helpful) when you’re talking about a field as competitive as academia and the job application REQUIRES 3-5 letters and you don’t have them, your application is getting thrown in the trash in favor of those who do. She knows this, she even mentioned to me once she was hiring for a part-time position at another university and received nearly 200 applications……

      So I didn’t end up applying to that job and I didn’t bother to apply anywhere else that had that requirement either. And now (because I’m burnt out) I’m just leaving academia entirely.

      1. Paulina*

        Additional insanity of this is that there’s no way that a hiring committee of academics are going to read reference letters at the 200 applications stage. Here we cull on our criteria, then check references. And the committee members usually need gaps between review stages, so insisting on reference letters early saves no time and is thus just gatekeeping based on how much work your references are willing to do for you. Plus ensuring that very few reference letters will be at all tailored to the position.

    7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’ve never run into that, but I do think it’s odd. Most places can’t be bothered to reach out to reject you after an interview, so I’d be surprised if any are willing to spend the time to speak to references before you’ve even interviewed. I personally think it’s obnoxious to require anyone to fill out an application if they’re only applying for a job. It takes a lot of time, and IMO is totally unnecessary until you’ve reached the stage of “we want to reach out to this person”. A company should be able to determine if I’m worth a phone screen by looking at my resume.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        While I have applied to many, many jobs that require reference names and contact information (up to six types of working relationships: current boss, past boss, peer colleague, peer colleague at another institution, current direct report, past direct report), it’s only been a couple of times that the institution has contacted references before I actually interviewed with them. And in those cases, they indicated up front that they would be reaching out to references ahead of time, so I was aware of it and able to prep my references.

        Now, I assume for the sake of efficiency, there was still some kind of internal review/paring down process of applicants. There is NO way they would contact 3-6 references each from 40-50 applicants .

        1. MassMatt*

          It still seems extremely inefficient to approach references before interviewing the candidates. Really it seems employers that do this are spending more time interviewing references than candidates. You’re not hiring the person’s reference.

  2. Willow*

    OP5, I suggest finding some free online courses in areas related to your job to pass the time. You don’t have to bring it up proactively, but if your boss starts expressing concern that you aren’t doing any work you can frame it as gaining skills that will be useful to the business when clients return.

    1. Lena Clare*

      Yes, great idea.
      OP use the time to upskill, read a book, study – make use of it. You’re getting paid! This won’t last forever, and maybe pretty soon you’ll be thankful for a bit of breathing space when it gets busy so make the most of it now.

    2. Casper Lives*

      Good idea. I would find something to do to look busy. And please be aware of the possibility of being laid off for lack of work. I’d get your resume in order and send out applications while you’re doing courses.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        But not AT work. Don’t work on your resume at work. Two exceptions
        1. If your manager has suggested you apply for an internal transfer.
        2. If your company asks you to do it. (Not common, but possible as part of an employee development initiative, or a way to introduce everyone to a new executive or business partner or owner.)
        Remember that even if you see no one for hours, you’re on their equipment and everything is theoretically theirs.

        1. What's in a name?*

          I think using downtime at work to get new skills related to your position is fine. You shouldn’t be working on learning things to move to a totally different industry, but when the alternative is social media, no one can blame you for growing your expertise.

        2. chalk bag*

          This isn’t a hard and fast rule, it definitely varies. I would not hesitate to update my resume while at work, nor would I think much of seeing others do it. But it’s not uncommon to be expected to submit resumes along with publication or conference proposals, etc., so I like to keep it very up to date.

    3. T2*


      Downtime is always a time for self improvement. There are always tasks and projects that get put off because no one has the time. Well. Now you got it.

      That could be as simple as cleaning your desk to optimize your work area, working on your portfolio, studying up on new trends in your business. Looking at new certifications. Figuring out what social distancing might mean for new new architecture and so on.

      In other words, develop your skills.

      1. Just J.*

        +1 to figuring out how COVID-19 will impact architecture going forward. THIS IS A HUGE DEAL. Our firm is seeing this already. ( I’m a senior PM in the Architecture / Engineering / Construction world.) There are a ton of articles on this online and every webinar and on-line conference / round table is discussing this. Ask some of your senior staff to point you to where to find these.

        Here are some other suggestions (and we are trying to find similar things for our junior engineers as we are seeing a cut back in projects as well).

        First, ask your manager if there are any skills they think you should learn. I’m sure they have ideas.

        And here are some suggestions to take to your manager too: Do as much on-line Revit training as possible. Rebuild old project models so you can learn the ins and outs of Revit. Do you do site visits at all? Get your OSHA 10 certification. Read the ADA Standards. Get up to speed on the life safety sections of the code and within NFPA 101, NFPA 13, etc. Look into what goes into physical security for projects (access control, designing for a safe site, etc.). Etc. Etc. Etc.

        BTW, what are you passionate about in architecture? Green design? Urban planning? Learn about that!

        And finally as a plea from an engineering subconsultant: look into what structural, HVAC, electrical, plumbing and site civil engineers do!

        1. Bree*

          This is like the perfect Ask A Manager comment: an expert in the exact field coming in with specific, actionable suggestions. Love it! Work here is done, everyone else can go home now.

        2. Generic Name*

          Relatedly, if you are into sustainable design, look into LEED certification.

          This is really an opportunity for you to get trained on topics you might not otherwise be able to do. Ask what overhead tasks you could do while you’re low on project work. Show your value in willingness to do tasks that have gone undone for a while. Do they have anything that needs cataloguing or sorting or organizing? I would go beyond what Alison said and show up AND find something to do that’s not browsing social media. Management will likely see you aren’t doing anything work-related and may still decide there’s no reason to have you around. But if you keep busy learning and doing tasks that need to be done that’s less likely.

        3. Amanda*

          OMG, the last paragraph! Please architects, if you have downtime, do this, every engineer you ever work with will thank you! After my last couple projects, I know I’d be ready to worship anyone who did!

        4. Snoopy Clifton*

          I’m an office manager at an architecture firm and I second these suggestions! Use the time on the clock to improve your professional development skills. If/when you need a break from that, ask someone if there is anything you can do to help around the office. Most firms I have worked for have a TON of project “stuff” (paperwork, samples, drawings, etc.) that needs to be archived and sent to long-term storage. Or the sample libary needs to be cleaned and organized. Ask if someone has the time to mentor you on the business side of the firm and how it is managed. You could learn a lot that way and you may find that you have an affinity for that side of the industry. (Heck, I’d have loved to have someone working with me on our professional liability insurance renewal. That thing is a royal pain – but necessary to our work. If someone had been available to assist me this year, I would have snatched them up in a hot second.) Ask if you can help put together some marketing materials. When the office is busy, no one has the time to create these valuable documents. Now is the time to build that marketing library. You can probably find some previous examples and use those as templates. Those materials will come in handy as the firm is actively searching out new work opportunities.

          This is the time to make yourself invaluable to the firm. Don’t sqander the opportunity.

          1. Donkey on the Edge*

            Just commenting that this is GREAT advice (and to me, applies to anyone facing a situation like this). Showing that you want to learn new things, and asking if you may help someone with a project is not only helpful for that person, but shows you are interested in learning. Which is invaluable!

          2. gsa*

            Organize the sample library. The OP could learn more about the materials they spec. Are all the samples up to date, are outdated samples?

          3. chocoholic*

            My husband works for a fairly large architecture firm and they have been using this time to update their Revit Standards and some other projects that they never seem to have time for. Maybe you can ask if there is anything like that that you an work on.

            Also, if you are licensed, you need a certain amount of CE to renew your license. At my husband’s company, you are expected to do the CE’s on your own time, but maybe your company will allow you to do those on company time. If you are not licensed, I’m not sure what the CE requirements are but I remember he had a bunch that he had to do in order to get his license.

          4. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

            This is great advice! Getting more familiar with the products or services your company offers, down to the specs, can also be a good way to be useful that serves the company. In this limited, it’s a good idea to be proactive to show your value.

        5. Jules the 3rd*

          Maybe even draw up some project plans and proposals for local buildings, things that your company could shop around as a new line of business? Even if they don’t use them, it’ll really grow your skills.

        6. T2*

          Not in architecture. I am in IT. But I do love the idea of redoing old project using modern tools. Basically, if you had to do a project today, how would you do it? That kind of thing applies everywhere.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Be careful what you do on your downtime at work. Some companies fire people for being on social media during work hours, especially if it is on your company-issued computer. It’s happened where I work and within the past 5 or 6 years.

        In downtime when I am at the office, I do things like organize files on my computer, make sure my tracking log is up to date, archive e-mail, read all the company newsletters we get weekly and don’t always have time to read closely when they are sent, try to see if I can improve any procedures, update documentation, etc. Working from home is a little different, but I still wouldn’t be away from the computer too long or go on Facebook on my work laptop.

    4. Doc in a Box*

      While I’m generally in support of using downtime to upskill, I wonder how this advice relates to the fear expressed earlier about whether future employers would penalize workers who don’t take professional development courses etc during a pandemic.

      I mean, it doesn’t sound like the letter writer is anxious or anything, but if in 2022, candidate A used their pandemic downtime to gain XYZ and candidate B did not (whatever the reason), candidate A is just going to look like a stronger candidate.

      1. EPLawyer*

        There’s always going to be something that might make someone look like a stronger candidate. Could afford to do unpaid internships when someone else could not. So the person who could afford to do unpnaid internships shouldn’t make themselves look like a better candidate because it’s not “fair?”

        If you have the energy to improve your skils do so. If you don’t well you don’t. But don’t NOT do it because it would be unfair to other job candidates.

        1. Doc in a Box*

          I guess I’m thinking about it from the POV of the hiring manager, rather than the candidate. My university does implicit bias training where we talk about how things like race and SES affect ability to get prestigious unpaid internships (or in the case of medicine, spend approx 7000 hours every summer shadowing or washing lab glassware), so a rubric that just assigns points to “Things The Candidate Has Done” perpetuates inequity in science and medicine. I think we’re going to have to add “pandemic resilience” to our list.

      2. Colette*

        There’s a difference between someone learning new skills at work and expecting people to learn new skills in their personal time. Yes, the employed person will have an edge, but that’s usually the case.

        1. MassMatt*

          Skills are skills. In the end, it doesn’t matter where or how you got them. The more you have and the better they are, the more valuable you are to an employer. This is what employers should be looking for, as opposed to whether they like someone or went to the same school.

      3. Generic Name*

        This is an interesting point. I guess my thoughts are that when a person is at home, not working, during a global crisis, there are likely many other priorities that take precedence (caring for family members, looking for paid work, being ill/recovering from illness, surviving…..) over learning to code or whatever. You can’t do any of those other things during slow periods at work. It sounds like this person is physically at an office, and I think it makes sense that they find work-related things to do.

        1. the Viking Diva*

          Important distinction, I think – especially since OP5 is not gaining any work accomplishments in this time, either. Recognizing that you should find something to do at work when you’re not busy seems like basic employee competence, not superhero material.

        2. Doc in a Box*

          This makes sense for the most part. I think my perspective is skewed because in academic medicine, there has never really been a distinction between work and home (grants and papers always get written after the kids are in bed or on the weekends, anyway). So we’ve always had to juggle family responsibilities with clinical care and research; it’s just been dialed up tremendously during the pandemic. I recognize that’s not true for most industries.

      4. MassMatt*

        “but if in 2022, candidate A used their pandemic downtime to gain XYZ and candidate B did not (whatever the reason), candidate A is just going to look like a stronger candidate.”

        Why are you phrasing this as though it were a negative? Yes, candidate A is going to look like the stronger candidate. That is the point. Adding to/strengthening skills SHOULD make someone a stronger candidate.

    5. gsa*

      Online courses is an excellent suggestion. My wife is an architect and by the end of the month she will have completed all for continuing education required for the year. She’s inundated with webinars. So many that she can pick the ones that look interesting, as opposed to taking one because it’s December and she has to finish up CE classes.

    6. Steveo*

      Or even paid courses! Classes on Udemy are like $20 and that can be for a 20 hour class. Investing some money in yourself (if you can afford it) is such a great option.

    7. The Rural Juror*

      I’ve had a lot of downtime at the office, too. Brushing up on my Spanish with Duolingo!

  3. I'm just here for the cats*

    #5 look to see if there are any professional development type of things you can do. Perhaps reach out to your boss to see if your company has a subscription to some online training. If not you can always find stuff on your own. This would show your employer that your willing to learn new skills and expand your knowledge to help the company.

    1. SweetestCin*

      I’d bet there is plenty. I’m in a related field and I am picking and choosing what I have time for and don’t, because there’s THAT much out there!

      1. Lemon Meringue Pie*

        Oh and stop using social media or doing anything that’s so obviously not work.

  4. Kevin Sours*

    I thing that something glaring was overlooked in the answer to #2. Even in the vanishingly unlikely case that there was a legitimate reason for asking, there is none whatsoever for doing it in public. That’s simply bad manners.

    1. MK*

      I don’t agree that manners is an issue here; this is not some private thing that shouldn’t be discussed in front of others, and this is a committee that is supposed to work together. Also, speaking to the OP privately would make this a much bigger deal.

      1. designbot*

        It has to do with the ‘praise in public, criticize in private’ mentality. This is a thinly veiled criticism.

        1. Eukomos*

          I’m not sure that’s true. “Are you comfortable doing this” can be asked for a pretty broad range of reasons, and it sounds like OP2 is only guessing at what this guy’s reasons are. Pointing out to him that it comes across as critical might be a good addition to the private conversation with him that Alison recommended.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            If she’s guessing at the reasons then so are the team members that witnessed the exchange. Which is why you don’t do this sort of thing in public.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        Yes this is a committee that was supposed to work together. They did that. And she agreed to take on tasks. If she wasn’t comfortable doing that she wouldn’t have done it.

        And if a senior member of the committee doubts either her ability or sincerity in doing so, that, emphatically, is not a discussion that should take place in front of the committee.

    2. Prof*

      OP2, is there any chance you’re in academia or another field in which there has been discussion of how women often end up with disproportionately high service loads (like committee work)? If so, I could see this being a clumsy attempt to make sure you’re not being unreasonably bogged down by an aspect of the job that may not be well rewarded, particularly if you are junior (say, pre-tenure). Many departments strongly value “protecting” younger faculty from excessive service and might see double-checking with them as good form.

      To be clear, even if all of this is the case, repeatedly asking only you is still sexist and you’re absolutely entitled to shut it down. But it might feel a little less grating if it’s a response to systemic conditions rather than something about you specifically. (And if this doesn’t apply to your situation at all, apologies!)

      1. Avasarala*

        Agreed, it sounds like this guy got a talking to about asking female peers to do his copying or get him coffee, and now he’s not sure what he can ask female workers to do. He’s passed feminism 101: we’re not your secretary and is now on 201: you can ask your secretary to do secretarial work.

        1. Jennifer*

          This is where my mind went too. He’s trying so hard to not appear sexist it’s having the opposite effect. It’s okay to ask people to do the job they were hired to do.

        2. cmcinnyc*

          My boss asks me if I can “do him a favor” and then asks me to do something that is fully and appropriately part of my job. He is a great boss and manager otherwise. But it’s a tic with him to frame every request to me as if he’s asking for a big favor. I joke with him about it and but he is stuck in this habit.

      2. I can only speak Japanese*

        In that case, making it about her comfort (= feelings) instead of logistics seems even weirder.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Because you know wimmin can’t handle difficult things like pulling together information and then (gasp) presenting to a whole bunch of manly men. it just causes us to have the vapors at the mere thought.

          This isn’t misguided concern, this is flat out sexism.

      3. Ann Non*

        I was thinking along the same lines. It’s not clear from the letter what kind of job OP2 is being assigned in relation to their actual job, but it sounds like maybe the boss is less worried that they will be capable of doing it and more worried that it is beneath them. It’s still a terrible way of addressing this, of course, and if this is indeed what the boss is thinking, OP2 should not be getting assigned these jobs by default!

      4. RoseDark*

        This was my initial reaction too: it’s not that he doesn’t think she can do it, it’s that he’s worried she’s only volunteering out of a sense of obligation. “Are you comfortable” doesn’t scream “are you capable” to me, it mildly hints at “are you sure you want to take on th secretarial work it’s okay if you don’t I don’t expect you to just because you’re a woman”

        Of course, we aren’t in the room and is entirely possible there’s something in his manner that points to it being a demeaning question that IS about her capability. But that wasn’t the first place my head went.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          In some fields, gathering information can be highly technical and/or require contacting customers or upper management — which brings me back to this guy questioning OP’s ability in a really really strange way.

          1. Prof*

            It’s possible that there could be two dimensions at play here: the technical complexity of the work, and how much it’s valued by the workplace. Again thinking about an academic setting (and then I’ll stop going down this rabbit hole since we have no evidence that’s the situation here), there are lots of situations where preparing a committee report would require major competence and expertise, but where that work wouldn’t be seen as part of someone’s core job responsibilities or rewarded in their performance evaluations. That’s really the basic question I’m trying to unpack by asking about the context, I think–is this a fundamental and expected aspect of the OP’s role (in which case this guy’s behavior is extremely weird), or is it seen in some way as voluntary extra work that’s less important than her primary responsibilities (in which case this behavior is still very weird, but may be driven by legitimate questions about how to allocate such work equitably or by expectations that senior folks will be conscious of how much of it they ask junior colleagues to take on)?

            I think this question could be worth considering because it might inform the OP’s response–e.g., “do you have concerns about my ability?” vs. “do you have concerns that I’m taking on too much of this kind of work?” (Her next statement could 100% still be “Knock it off” either way, but it might be helpful to the OP career-wise to figure out if there’s any additional context behind the colleague’s questions or if this is just garden-variety sexism.)

      5. BethDH*

        I was wondering whether she was replacing someone who had left because of being overloaded? Sexism is certainly likely enough (especially that “mild” version that is worried about doing something wrong but doesn’t figure out what is right) but keeping other options in mind won’t hurt. She can mention the pattern without attempting to ascribe a definite reason for it.

        1. Sparrow*

          Yeah, I had a boss who would ask, “Are you comfortable with that?” with this kind of intention. He basically meant it as, “Given your current workload and demands on your time, are you comfortable taking on this additional task, or would you need additional resources or to deprioritize other things to get it done in the timeline we discussed?” But, critically, he didn’t target anyone in particular with that question; he used it with everyone at some point. If OP is finding that she’s the only one he’s asking, I’d follow Alison’s advice to ask him about it one-on-one after one of these meetings.

      6. Prof Ma'am*

        This is a really great comment (I got an Academia vibe as well). I’ve had senior faculty protect me from overloading on service. There are two big differences though: they directly told me that’s what they were doing and they never did it in front of others.

        I hate to go negative here but when I read this post I didn’t read “helpful” I read “old man doesn’t believe junior female is capable”. The question is, are there other junior level people in these meetings that aren’t getting questioned? Do they happen to all be men?

        1. Bluesboy*

          I had the same vibe, honestly, it’s difficult to really assess without knowing the gender of the other members of the meetings. It’s clear that if there is an even gender split sexism is less likely than if all the others are men…at the same time, the fact that the letter writer felt it necessary to specify her own gender, as well as the senior colleague’s, so I suspect that the majority of committee members are men.

          I would also be interested to know what is meant by ‘pulling information together and presenting it’. That’s something that can be low-level work (inputting the data into a spreadsheet and explaining what came out) or high-level work (collecting data of different types from diverse sources and thoroughly analysing it). If OP is being asked to do high level work with limited experience the behaviour is more understandable (although I would think it could be better managed privately, asking in public could undermine her in front of her colleagues).

        2. designbot*

          Even if he thinks he’s being helpful, you’re right on how it comes across. It probably comes across that way to the younger men in the room too, so they’re effectively being taught that they have to tiptoe around women’s feelings and avoid giving them work.

      7. Nesprin*

        Hmmm- I’m also in academia and this read like good old fashioned sexism to me, without the need for reverse sexism (women always get tasked with X, so let’s make sure no women have to do X) to come into play. I’ve had bosses/committee leads ask whether I was comfortable doing/knew how to do task Y, even though I was hired on to do task Y, and had been doing task Y for years.
        I was younger then and less assertive. My response now would be to probably send the committee chair my publications/awards relevant to task Y.

      8. OP2*

        Not academia, and each committee member has been assigned an area to work on going into the process. The question has come up each time a day is set for me to report my findings to date.

    3. Artemesia*

      This is almost certainly sexist and really undermines the LW. I doubt the subtle approach will work with someone so clueless as to do this publicly. Unless you know he is the type to explode at the hint of criticism then a frank conversation that this sort of comment is undermining to women in the workplace is in order. If he is however the explosive jerk type then Alison’s first suggestion is better finishing with a request to raise the issues privately. What a maroon this guy is.

  5. Drag0nfly*

    OP #1,

    Another kind of support you can offer Jane is to let her know that it’s okay if she doesn’t know the answer to whatever questions you’re asking. I say this because the “kind of, I suppose, you know” fillers makes me doubt her own certainty of what she’s saying. She may think she needs to respond right away even if she doesn’t know yet know the answer to your questions. This habit is an excellent way for her to kill her credibility, so it’s good that you’re addressing it.

    Reassure her that in your office, it’s okay for her to say, “I’ll get you back to on that. Or, let me check my notes. Or, I believe it’s X, but I can double check for you.” She’s new and still learning; let her know that you don’t expect her to have complete mastery of her domain just yet.

    On the flip side, if she’s the type who’s overawed by authority, let her know that if she does know the answer — even if it contradicts what someone senior to her as said — that it’s okay to firmly say, “Actually, it’s X. We changed it from Y last week.”

    She’s still going to need help breaking her filler habit, but it may be good to let her know that she’s in an environment where it’s safe for her to not use them.

    1. MissGirl*

      Speaking with more confidence with leadership is a constant battle for me and I’m well into my career. I was presenting data to VPs, and I kept saying, “The impact will be 200K.” At least that’s what I thought I was saying. It was probably more like, “I think the impact will probably be 200k” in a quiet voice. I stated the figure about three times, and at the end of the meeting, one VP still said, “MissGirl will get back to us on the impact.” I wanted to be like, “That’s what I said!”

      Speaking with confidence is a great skill to teach and and to work on because we don’t realize how we’re coming across.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Toastmasters helps with this a lot. Ok these days, it is all on Zoom, but you should be able to find a club in your area. Hopefully when fall/winter comes around, we will be off Zoom and back to meeting in person. I’ve been in it for about a decade now. When I first joined, I was too shy to speak in a meeting of even 20 people. I’ve since spoken in front of groups of 50-80 people. It helps.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I came here to recommend Toastmasters, too. I was on speech and debate teams in high school and college, so you could say I was forced into speaking without fillers or softening my message.

          Even so, Toastmasters was a huge help once I was in the workforce. I learned techniques for everyday communication that they did not teach me in Honors Oratory or forensic speech. Also, the members have been where the new members are, and they help people with all kinds of communication styles and needs.

    2. Dan*

      I happen to agree with you on all of this. nnn below speaks to a gendered component, but I’d give the same advice to a young male. If the speaker, in particular a junior colleague isn’t confident in what they’re saying, why should I be? In the long run, that’s detrimental to their career progression. Often, when people are asking questions, they think they probably know the answers or at least have a good idea. I work in a multi-disciplinary field with subject matter experts in a variety of fields. Sometimes, and I hold no particular authority, I’ll just say “I think we should take Path X for the following reasons.” If someone objects, they need to do so in a way that conveys confidence or credibility — because the reality is, I’m going to proceed my way unless there’s convincing arguments to the contrary. And arguments prefaced with softening language just aren’t going to cut it.

      Heck, just the other day, I was in a discussion with someone over a technical matter. I didn’t believe the results he was showing me (this is a person who is somewhat senior to me and an expert in a different field than me.) The stuff he was showing me wasn’t quite right, and I told him so. He said my technical arguments weren’t compelling enough. I said fine, but with my domain expertise, I can tell you that your conclusions are off, even if I can’t give you a compelling technical reason why. He came back to me the next day and said, “you were right. I transposed a couple of things in my code. How does this look?” I muted myself when I said “see I told you so.”

      But the point is, speaking with confidence *matters*. Who knows how long we would have been working with buggy code if I would have just said, “you know, I’m not sure, but something doesn’t look quite right…”

      1. MK*

        I agree with this. Often I find that it’s better to speak with confidence, even if what you are basically saying is that you have no idea about something. “I don’t have any reliable information about that” or “I won’t hazzard a guess” comes across better than being uncertain.

        1. T2*


          I wanted to respond to you specifically on that point. I recommend being very aware of the facts you have. It speaks to preparation in how you present your information.

          The moment people go beyond the facts to start to speculate or expound on what you do not know, the ice gets thinner and thinner under your feet. There is always the possibility that someone in the room will be in possession of facts that you do not have. And the further you go, the larger the risk that you go into BS territory.

          1. MK*

            I am not sure I understand how your comment relates to mine. Also, it’s very often not a case of facts vs. speculaation, but being asked to offer a judgement or opinion; my point was that it is better to state bluntly that you aren’t sure than to use language that makes it obvious you aren’t sure. Per the OP’s example: “The data I have, I suppose, kind of, you know, is good enough, you know, to start with.”, I believe it would come across better to say “I think that the data I have is good enoughto start with, but I am not sure about it.”

          2. AvonLady Barksdale*

            That’s not what MK was saying. What MK said– and I completely agree– is that if you don’t know something, it is better to say “I don’t know” with confidence than to start hedging. That’s something a lot of people have to work on because we are so often trained to believe that “I don’t know” is not acceptable.

          3. EventPlannerGal*

            MK isn’t saying that you should speculate or go in without the facts – quite the opposite, actually. The point is that if you don’t have the facts for whatever reason, it is better to just say “I don’t know” with confidence than to um and ah and hedge.

            1. T2*

              Guys, I agree with MK. My point is that I have seen a LOT of people who when they are asked to do an on the spot analysis or give an opinion, try to cover up the fact that they are unsure or don’t know with an abundance of words.

              The point is that if you are prepared to give an opinion, then give it in confidence, well supported by the facts. But if you aren’t sure, then as MK implies it is better to get back to them on that.

              1. EventPlannerGal*

                Okay! Your initial comment didn’t really read like that, which is probably why several people responded in this way.

      2. T2*

        In my company, we are paid to be the subject matter experts. People come to us and say I want to do goals 1, 2 and 3. And I then say ok. That means task A, B, C and D. It will take 80 hours.

        Mentally, I can quickly jump to D without visible means of support. But if I just tell you it will take 80 hours without the supporting arguments, then it might appear that I didn’t do my homework.

        I once developed an innovative way to use much cheaper hardware to do a job that ordinarily costs tens of thousands of dollars to do. I worked and worked on it. Then presented it to my team. To show how simple it was, I asked our intern to come up and turn it off. He instead unplugged a cable and broke it in a way, I never considered. Ended up have to completely redesign the product to eliminate the chance the intern factor.

        The point? You never know where good ideas come from. Lol

      3. Perfectly Particular*

        I agree with you that speaking with confidence improves credibility, but the type of language you describe above can be career-limiting for women. I have personally experienced this.
        I work as a Quality Engineer, and part my job is to review other engineers’ work, making sure that analysis is correct, conclusions are supported, and that documentation is compliant for multiple regulatory authorities. When I was new to this job (but with 15 years industry experience), I used very direct language in my reviews, and got peer feedback that I was too rigid and that I was blocking project progress rather than working collaboratively. It came from multiple sources, and affected my merit increases and eligibility for promotion. Based on this, I changed my language, and I now use phrases like, “I think you need to take another look at this – I’m not sure it is compliant” (it definitely isn’t!) and “ Can you recheck your data, something doesn’t seem to be lining up” (because you pulled it from the wrong file) The end result is the same – the changes get made, the docs are correct & compliant, but my peer reviews talk about teamwork, and flexibility, and thus I make more $$$$.

          1. JustaTech*

            Seriously. I thought the great benefit to being in Quality was being able to say “no, that is not in compliance” without endless hedging around the edges. Heck, in my job I often rely on my Quality departments to be able to say “no, that is out of specification” when no one listens to me.

            I’m all for teamwork and collaboration, but when there are hard stops everyone needs to respect them.

        1. T2*

          I hate it too. I would never do that.

          In my view, the issue is the incorrect work. not the person who discovered it. If I don’t like how a mistake would be pointed out, then the obvious solution would be don’t make the mistake.

          1. Aria*

            I would do a combo. I’m fine with the second phrase because it’s nice to give people grace, but I wouldn’t say the first because it’s inaccurate and there’s a very real problem.

        2. juliebulie*

          Well that was lousy feedback. If I worked with you, I would definitely want you to be more direct. If it’s not compliant, I want you to say so. I have a few colleagues who routinely give review comments like “I’m not sure about this” or “check with Dave” and I never know whether they mean “this is wrong” or they really don’t know and are expressing doubt just to cover their own asses.

          And by “routinely,” I mean they literally never give me a solid yes or no. It is very frustrating. Maybe I will post about it on the Friday thread.

          People who are working with a Quality department should absolutely be receptive to direct feedback on their work. It is very annoying and sad that you have to be so delicate with them. (And it’s probably just one person.)

          1. Dan*

            Same. I’ll ask what’s not sitting well with people, but I’ll also just directly say, “if it’s flat out wrong, tell me so I can fix it and move on with life. If you just think it’s wrong, that’s not very helpful without further context.” If I’m giving hedged feedback to someone, I’ll often explain what I don’t think looks right, and what I would expect to see instead.

        3. Nesprin*

          Sad to have to state that I’ve experienced the same phenomenon. I’ve had to rephrase all my criticism into the form of a question to avoid sounding too harsh/aggressive.
          BTW verbal fillers are common signs that you’re trying to hold the floor and keep others from interjecting while the speaker is mustering thoughts. It might be worth considering whether this speaker has a harder time maintaining the floor than other colleagues.

      4. Guacamole Bob*

        I think this is sometimes true, but it’s also a suggestion that women adopt a more typically male approach, rather than that men (or maybe all of us) learn to listen to things said in a more typically female way.

        When I qualify what I’m saying, it’s sometimes because even as a a subject matter expert I don’t have full confidence that I know the answer, or the answer is unknowable, and I think it’s important for whoever I’m speaking to to understand that. I’ve often had “I think it’s X, but that’s based on unreliable data so it might be Y” conveyed up the chain by my confidently-speaking department director as “It’s definitely X”. Sometimes that’s okay, but sometimes it creates problems or makes me look like I hadn’t considered Y or whatever, and it’s very frustrating.

      5. CM*

        Dan, I’m assuming you are a man from your username.

        When you say, “Sometimes, and I hold no particular authority, I’ll just say…” that’s completely different from my experience as a woman and POC.

        I have authority, training, and experience, and it doesn’t matter whether I speak in ringing declarative sentences or say “I believe X based on my past experience.” I am still questioned, often by people in a different role who have no expertise in my role.

        I cannot say, “This is off, even though I can’t give you a compelling reason why.” Even if I back up my assertion with several compelling reasons, I am still questioned.

        I would like to be able to be straightforward about my degree of certainty. Unfortunately, it comes across as “softening” and as you noted, “I’m going to proceed my way unless there’s convincing arguments to the contrary. And arguments prefaced with softening language just aren’t going to cut it.”

        But I don’t want to state something as unassailable fact; not only is it inaccurate, I will be immediately challenged on it.

        The same advice does not apply to everyone, because when different people speak the same words in the same tone, the reaction is very different.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          I once did as you said (backed up my assertion with compelling reasons, in the form of a manual of legal guidelines) and got the manual thrown at me.

        2. Artemesia*

          There is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence as well on this. Women are questioned and doubted consistently especially in technical fields regardless of the way they express their advice.

        3. Avasarala*

          I have noticed this as well. I know so so so many men, especially white men, who will speak authoritatively about things they know nothing about. And women, especially WOC, will speak deferentially about things they know lots about and still get doubted. It empowers men to speak authoritatively on everything because they always get the benefit of the doubt–that’s why Reddit is full of arguments of dudes talking out of their ass.

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yup I read a thing about a man who had to fill in for a colleague, signing emails with her name (don’t remember why). He was amazed at all the times his word (disguised as hers) was called into question.

          Another article too about a couple of smart women trying to find investors for a smart business idea. Nobody was interested until they pretended to have a man on their team.

      6. anon for this*

        The problem I run into is that I am getting the impression that I need to speak confidently about my findings in a way that’s very different from my former field. I came from academia, and we’re trained in my STEM field to state the confidence intervals, shortcomings of the model, areas for future research, etc. Now I’m in business, and I’m realizing that if I say any of those things, I look “unconfident”. Someone else will come out and proclaim their crappy linear regression on highly dependent variables is the Word of God and then that’s what will win the day. This is not about quite about filler words, but instead about things like “confidence interval” — a technical term that indicates there exist things one might not be confident about in a numerical sense, haha!

        I’m still working my way through how to deal with this. It’s requiring a total change in mindset about what I’m being paid to do. I thought I was being paid to come up with nuanced models that reflect reality, but I guess I’m actually paid to do that modeling and keep the nuance secret, and then decide the right business direction from that and announce it with no nuance. I’m sure that varies by company and position.

        1. PX*

          Lol. I feel you on this, but as someone from STEM who also enjoys dabbling on the business side, you are very right. You can think of it this way if it helps: in my experience in business, you want to start off projecting complete confidence, and only when questioned go into the nuanced details.

          Good companies will want the nuance and detail (and love you if you can do both), but only once they are interested in your idea if that makes sense.

    3. T2*

      I have had public speaking training since I was 3 years old. I am still only ok about it after 40+ years.

      The key is to calm down and slow down. Simpler more precise language and practice always helps. Most of what we see as public speaking (particularly in politics) is really the result of speech writers behind the scenes who work on draft after draft while the public speaker simply reading off the promoter.

      If you want to help this person, encourage them to write down what they are going to say exactly as planned. Have them practice in a mirror. They might also record themselves so they hear how they sound. But most important, all help should be positive. Putting pressure on them is likely going to lead to increased nervousness.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            And with most of the Kindergartens I’ve had experience with it’s called “Show and Tell.”

            1. Part Cheesy*

              That sounds quite a bit less formal than “I have had public speaking training since I was three” though.

              Almost everyone goes to Kindergarten. The statement above is worded to sound like T2 had individual, focused training in public speaking since age 3, which seems wild.

              1. T2*

                Part Cheesy, I actually did. no one pushed me, but I was not someone who stood around and waited to learn things.

                In elementary school, I no joke, systematically read every single book in the school library, including the encyclopedia. Even today, I am a serial collector of skills. My latest hobby learning how to make my own shoes from youtube.

                I was and still am, in short, a nerd of nerds.

            2. wittyrepartee*

              Interestingly, that’s apparently something introduced by the british school system. Show and tell is something you see in places where the brits colonized.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Lots of kids have acting or theater classes from a very early age. People put their 3 year olds in lots of activities to boost their self esteem and entertain them.

          1. Part Cheesy*

            This sounded much more specific and focused than this. If I said “I have had artistic training since age 3” I don’t think it would make sense if I later revealed “I meant fingerpainting in Kindergarten” (which usually starts at age 5) or “I was in a Mommy and Me toddler arts craft when I was three.”

            This is why I was accused. The sentence sounded much more formal than something like these examples.

        2. T2*

          I was a very early reader. Sort of taught myself. (I have always had the ability to pick up skills simply by watching someone do it. Anyways in my church, there are weekly Bible readings. I really wanted to do that, so my first one was when I was 3 1/2. Had to stand on a box to see the audience.

        3. T2*

          I should say, it was a formal program. Clear and accurate public speaking and reading was emphasized. it was not enough to read, you had to express feeling and emphasis in the proper place. I also learned how to maintain audience contact, how to use notes. and so on.

          My Grandfather was the leader, and I wanted to do what he did. So he told me that if I am to do it, I have to do it right. It never occurred to me that I was any different. But in school when I had to give presentations I was always last. Now I know why.

    4. Original Poster #1*

      Thank you, Dragonfly! My concern is exactly how you’re understanding it: that I fear it may create the sense (to others) that she (Jane) is not confident (or certain, as you state) in her statements, which could create doubt in the receivers. As to your suggestions to empower her to take a beat and offer to “get back to you on that” – I like this as it’s similar advice I’ve received from a coach and therapist. Totally makes sense!

    5. Butterfly Counter*

      I am a lecturer at a university and speaking so often in front of my classes has really opened my eyes to the filler I was using in my conversations. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the answer to a question, it was that some words or even where I was going with my thought wasn’t immediately on the tip of my tongue.

      I thought that having pauses in my sentence as I formulated what I was saying on the fly would sound terrible, so my mouth would make a lot of filler noises until my brain caught up. I have a colleague that does the same thing and there are times when he says “you know” every other word in the sentence. He’s intelligent and knows his stuff, but seems deathly afraid of a pausing in his sentences. (For him, I believe it’s because he’s ESL and worries that pausing will make people think he’s not fluent, though he is.)

      Personally, what worked best for me was a little pause before I started talking to actually “visualize” my sentence before speaking. And also not panicking if I lose my thread and need a pause. I just take the pause catch up with my sentence, and move on. Having the pause can also help me punctuate my point, so it’s a strength rather than a weakness.

      I agree that the best course of action is to help her find someone to coach her on speaking.

  6. nnn*

    For #1, if I were in your employee’s shoes, I would find the “stakeholders speak different languages” point far more compelling than “I think it will help her build more credibility and confidence”.

    Women – particularly young and recently-young women – are often told that our natural speech patterns lack credibility and confidence, when it’s really just a question of people perceiving the feminine negatively. (This is often paired with being seen as brusque or rude if you depart from your natural speech patterns.) If someone told me to suppress my natural speech patterns in order to build my confidence, that would be detrimental to their credibility in my eyes. There’s a lot of cultural/sociological baggage here.

    However, the problem of people whose second language is English perhaps struggling to understand fillers is more practical and doesn’t come with that baggage. It’s not “You’re being yourself wrong”, it’s “let’s adapt to our ESL audience.” I myself remember how disconcerting it was to my Anglophone ears the first time attended a conference in Quebec and one speaker’s presentation was peppered with “faque”, so I could easily get from there to adjusting my own speech for a multilingual audience.

    1. nnn*

      Also, as a practical tip for Jane: if, for whatever reason, a sentence comes out fumbly, simply immediately restate it smoothly, using your tone to convey the fact that you’re restating the previous sentence.

      So if the sentence comes out “The data I have, I suppose, kind of, you know, is good enough, you know, to start with…” the next thing out of your mouth would be (in a reiterating tone) “The data I have is good enough to start with. However, for our next round of data collection, we should…”

      1. Original Poster #1*

        Thanks, nnn – all good suggestions. I think especially the reiteration one can be a great way to model clarity in speaking. As for the gender issue… I will certainly reflect on that a bit. I’m not sure that would be an issue here, as it’s super apparent that these are filler words. To me, it’s akin to training to be a speaker, reducing “ums,” “ers,” and other extraneous content. And, my concern about confidence is external more than internal. That is, I know she knows her stuff, but if she’s using a lot of these fillers, the customers may not feel confident in her.

    2. Tau*

      #1 – be very, very cautious here, and be open to Jane rejecting your suggestions.

      I have a speech disorder, and part of how it presents can be an overuse of filler words as I try to finagle my way past a block or reword the sentence on the fly. If someone took me aside and insisted it was a big problem and I must do coaching or whatever, I’d be furious. There might not be a disability involved for Jane, but there *could* be… and even without one, how we speak can be a very private and touchy matter. Here be dragons.

      Like nnn, I find the issue with the ESL stakeholders more convincing than “could hurt her credibility”. However, I’d be really honest with myself here: is Jane’s speech pattern likely to cause a real problem, or are you singling it out because it annoys you anyway? There are a lot of things you have to potentially avoid when speaking with someone ESL, depending on their language level: speaking too quickly, too complex vocabulary, particular forms of grammar, use of idioms and slang… Filler phrases can be part of it but definitely not all, and other things can form a much bigger barrier. Are you bringing up those too? If not, I’d take a close look at why you think Jane’s fillers are different.

      1. MayLou*

        Yes, I used to work with someone who had a speech impediment (I think a stammer would be the right term but I don’t know) and she had particular difficulty saying her name on the phone. She used fillers to sort of loosen the words up, and once she’d got past that initial barrier it was fine. It was an adjustment for me to be patient and wait until she had said her name when she called, instead of immediately saying “Oh, hi Griselda!” at the first repetition of “like” but it wasn’t a problem. I can see it might be for non-native English speakers, but on the other hand, other languages also have fillers and people have speech impediments. It won’t be totally incomprehensible.

        1. Original Poster #1*

          Hi MayLou – I don’ *think* she has a speech impediment, but I will do my best to be wary of this point. I definitely don’t want to put her in an uncomfortable spot. However, as her manager, it would be good to know these things so I can support her in the right way. Of course, I recognize that a speech impediment is very personal and I’d leave it up to the person to be open about it if they wish. Yet, if I’m able to approach her as Alison suggests in her answer, kindly and compassionately too, then I’d hope Jane would open up if an impediment were in fact an issue. Thanks so much for the input!

    3. Avasarala*

      Totally, totally, totally agree.
      I work in an international team and wish I could do a lecture series on how to speak English for ESL speakers (so that I don’t flip my desk in frustration every time I have to translate)!

      Here are some common things you could address and slip in “filler words” while improving everyone’s English:
      – Speak slowly and clearly, and signal the end of your sentences. Different cultures signal turn-taking differently, and it’s hard to tell when to jump in if your sentences never seem to end.
      – Stop. The. Business. Speak. Just today someone said “I recognized Amos” meaning “I praised Amos”, not that they saw him in the store and knew who he was. That’s not what “recognized” means! That meaning is so culturally specific and not in any dictionary!
      – Put things in writing and share them in advance. It is very difficult to read and listen to different things at the same time. Often English-speakers are taught to present with minimal words on the slide–this doesn’t help if you need to share critical information and only speak it, so if your audience doesn’t catch it, it’s gone.
      – Use meta signals to indicate that you’re repeating something for emphasis, moving onto a new topic, sharing a reminder, listing different factors, etc. This helps everyone follow the conversation, even if they only understand 80%.
      – Try to limit your fillers. Or limit yourself to “um”/”er” which is more obviously filler than “I suppose” or “the fact of the matter is” or “so, it’s just, that, like,” or other longer phrases.
      – Use every other piece of advice about improving your speaking and writing–think about the audience, value clarity, etc.
      – Study another language. It will help you understand what is difficult about English, and will hopefully give you empathy for what your colleagues are going through. I cannot emphasize how hard it is to become fluent enough in a language to conduct business with native speakers. And everyone else in the world who wants to be successful has to work twice as hard because they have to learn their field and then learn English. I find people respect you more and find you easier to connect with and understand if they know you speak another language.

      1. Avasarala*

        Addendum that if you can, I recommend you study a language very very different from English like Chinese or Arabic. It will break your brain but once you begin to understand, it’s like stepping out of the Matrix into a whole new way of understanding the world. Nothing shows you the importance of communication skills like a different writing system!

        1. RoseDark*

          I’ve dabbled in Hebrew. New alphabet, minimum vowels, written in the opposite direction I’m used to reading. Oh MAN is it exciting the first time you can spell a word by the sounds instead of just spitting out a memorized sequence of squiggles. Or the first time I recognized the phrase “shabbat shalom” written in Hebrew even though I’d never been taught it? Stepping out of the Matrix is exactly what that feels like.

        2. wittyrepartee*

          I studied Mandarin after becoming mostly fluent in Spanish. It was amazing, and totally different. Strongly recommend.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        Definitely on the text on slides. In giving talks with non native speakers in the audience, my advice is that if a piece of information is important, it should be written down on a slide.

        The other thing I would add is to pay attention to your cultural allusions with international audiences. If you’re using a Goldilocks metaphor to signal “just right” it’s going to go completely over the head of anyone not familiar with the story. Folktales, pop culture and religious and literary references are all very culture dependent.

        1. Khatul Madame*

          In the States, it’s important to be aware that references to baseball and American football may stump any foreigner, even a native English speaker. Golf, to a lesser degree. It is more popular globally, but is played mostly by wealthy men.

          1. juliebulie*

            I am a native English speaker, and I still don’t understand why people say “below par” when they mean “less than average.” I mean, yes, it’s a lower number, but…

            1. JustaTech*

              Golf=business in the US. Also, specifically “below par” means “less than average” in a good way, rather than in a bad way. But there are much clearer ways to say that than referencing a game most people don’t play or watch.
              -Someone who’s parents love golf and therefore has picked up knowledge of the game by osmosis, even though I’m a terrible player.

            2. Captain Kirk*

              So apparently “below par” actually originates from British financial markets, where it was a reference to the face value of a security. And so, when we use the phrase today, like when we say that we’re below par, we’re referencing our condition not being great compared to our appearance.

              The golf meaning of the phrase came later.


          2. Oldbiddy*

            I am a scientist and when I edit my student’s research papers I have to edit out some many ‘Americanisms’

            1. wittyrepartee*

              When editing work by people who learned ESL, it’s amazing to notice how many unspoken cultural norms there are in formal writing.

              “The data showed a magnitude of something like 5” is both too idiomatic for formal writing, and completely equivalent to “The data showed a magnitude of approximately 5” in meaning.

          3. Avasarala*

            Oh my goodness I wish my American colleagues would stop talking about football. No one cares about football! Just because US championships are called “world championships” doesn’t mean the teams played any other countries, or that anyone else even noticed.

      3. LDF*

        Good points here, especially speaking clearly and having things in writing. I don’t think using “recognize” to mean “show appreciation” is corporate speak though. It’s used in many contexts and is in every online dictionary I checked. Personally I’d suggest that if anyone actually puts together a guide like this for their workplace, it would be simplest to focus on the big ones and avoid these smaller, more subjective ones.

        1. Anon for this*

          And that is the problem of corporate speak / institutional speak: if you know what it means, you don’t recognize (ha!) it as problematic.

          In our (over 100,000 employees) organisation, ‘mission’ is travel for business, ‘foresee’ means prescribed by law, etc. Everyone around me knows what I’m talking about, so it’s very easy to think this is obvious and widespread. And yet, external people are confused when I say I’m on a mission (the implocation being not in the office, but how would they know?).

          On the other hand, we don’t use recognize for showing appreciation – I would be very confused by this if I heard it spoken, and online dictionaries don’t help a lot in the situation.

          1. Ariaflame*

            It’s more often used in the sort of phrases where we talk about giving someone recognition for their work. Their efforts have been noted and appreciated in a public domain.

            1. Anon for this*

              I think it’s fine – not ideal, but perfectly fine – if it is used in a complete sentence such as ‘Frank was recognised at the morning meeting for closing the deal on X’.

              I recognised Frank is… not self-explanatory for a lot of people. (Boss, I recognise you every time we see each other, is this something I should be putting in my self-eval?)

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yes, I think recognized and praised are not necessarily the same thing and I don’t think swapping the word for praised would make a lot of sense in that context. Using “recognized” specifically means sort of formally talking about their contribution to an audience, making sure other people know what they did. “Recognizing” someone is different than just saying “good job, Amos.”

              That’s a normal use of the word, not business jargon, and is definitely listed as a definition of the word in dictionaries.

              1. Avasarala*

                Yes, what I mean is it’s usually “We recognize Amos’s contributions” or “recognize the effect that Amos had on X” or “Recognition” as the title and then “Thanks Amos!”
                I have never heard “I recognized Amos and his team in the meeting” to mean “I praised them”.

      4. Grey Coder*

        I used to work for a multinational company and our office had regular contact with colleagues in Japan. We had cultural training which covered the use of International English exactly as you describe. Worth looking into something like that for your team. It’s hard to break some habits (like the text on slides) but if you’re really focussed on communicating to your specific audience then it makes sense.

        1. Original Poster #1*

          Thanks, Grey Coder – I’ll see if we have anything already that I hadn’t been introduced to.

      5. Tau*

        These are excellent points! Honestly, I think it’s extremely difficult for a native English speaker who doesn’t have much experience communicating with ESL people to get this right. Heck, I know my English is still sometimes too complex or too fast if I don’t pay attention, and I’ve worked, lived, or studied in heavily ESL environments for decades (I’d say 95% or more of my colleagues are ESL). And my Spanish has reached the point where I can talk with non-native speakers all day long… but native speakers are still a wholly different story.

        So if part of the job is communicating with ESL people, especially ones whose English is not near-fluent, that’s worth really addressing and working on in its own right. It’s not just about fillers, it’s about much more.

      6. Smithy*

        Such a great list, and I do think that part of the overall advice of speaking slower and stripping jargon from your language, is also removing the general English idioms you might use. We use a lot more of them than we think we do, and making it a practice to drop them is a process.

        I work in an international organization, but for years I lived abroad and did the majority of my work speaking English to ESL audiences. And as often as I did it, during the times when I was asked to speak slower or needed more frequent interruption because I wasn’t being clear – it did throw me. It’s no different than showing up to a presentation and finding out your slides won’t load or the microphone won’t work. Sure, you do your best to adjust and adapt, but it can be difficult individually. as it is for your audience.

        Therefore presenting this as a larger skill that can be prepped as a unique way of thinking of communicating to ESL audiences can be helpful as a way to present why something is important.

      7. Original Poster #1*

        Thanks, Avasarala! Your list is wonderful, grateful for the time you’ve taken to type that up here :)
        I never thought about the PPT (slide) thing from an ESL perspective! So much has gone into my US professional experience to only put text on slides to support talking points. But you do make a good point on the value of more text for multi-cultural/language audiences.

        Also, I myself have been trying to be mindful of ‘business’ jargon, mostly because I think it sounds ridiculous. This is difficult to do, but as Alison said in her answer, sometimes just being aware is enough to create a change.

        1. Avasarala*

          Glad it helps! I think focusing here will not only help your issue with Jane’s speech but improve communication as a whole in your organization.

    4. Nela*

      Sometimes that is the case. I question whether it is the case here. “The data I have, I suppose, kind of, you know, is good enough, you know, to start with” (quote from the letter) is something that would be problematic regardless of gender.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agreed. Feedback on speech patterns can be gendered. It’s not always gendered.

        The manager would do this employee no favors if she shied away from giving feedback on this. It’s something that is very likely to impact her professionally as she tries to advance to higher level positions.

      2. jlr*


        We can acknowledge that women sometimes receive feedback with a lot of baggage connected to gender without assuming all feedback in a particular category falls under that umbrella.

        This isn’t about women being told their natural speech patterns lack credibility and confidence. This is an objectively distracting habit that will make her harder to understand. I have known 2 men with this particular speech pattern and in at least one of those cases people found it so aggravating that they went around him when they could.

        1. TechWorker*

          I still go back over emails and remove ‘I think’ when it doesn’t add anything. I disagree that sounding unconfident is not a problem – specifically you need your speech to at least vaguely match your actual confidence level. If two people are disagreeing and one lays out their case clearly/confidently and the other hems and haws over it… can you really blame the listener for assuming the person who spoke with confidence is you know, more confident in their conclusions?

          1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            I speak confidently when I’m not confident about the facts. I don’t sound wishy washy about the fact that I don’t know something. I own it. I think this is the best approach.

        2. Myrin*

          Also, saying “I suppose, kind of, you know” constantly is neither a natural speech pattern nor a feminine thing but a habit and/or possibly a (subconscious?) expression of insecurity.

          1. Amy Sly*


            Honestly, the folks who treat every bad habit associated with cisfemale stereotypes as something intrinsic to all of us that cannot be improved upon without caving into the patriarchy seem at least as sexist as the good ol’ boys. Filler words are not feminine. Lack of confidence is not feminine. Giving into emotional manipulation is not feminine. Not doing these things doesn’t make one masculine; it makes one effective.

        3. Shad*

          Additionally, part of the reason women’s speech patterns are often interpreted as unconfident is that we are socially trained to soften statements with things like “I think”, “my understanding is”, or “I believe” so we aren’t perceived as bossy!
          Sexism drives the perception (and actual use) of these phrases as more feminine, not the loss of authority by using them.

        4. Original Poster #1*

          Hi jlr – thanks for your input. You reflect my own concerns (and thus, why I wrote to Alison!). Contextually, this situation does not appear to me a gendered one. And, as I read all these replies and think more about that aspect, I’d be concerned if I weighted concern over ‘gendering’ (word?) the feedback that could actually introduce an issue that didn’t exist. To me, it’s very clear that she has this ‘tic’ in her speech that is likely just a reflection of either nervousness or confidence. As I mentioned in the original letter, I was not the only person to take notice of this. In fact, I didn’t even mention it until others did. Not that it annoyed them, but as a point of mindfulness to help her excel in her role.

      3. Mookie*

        I’ve met a few donnish male academics who could get away with this and more so long as they gave it a philosophical tone with drawn-out and poignant pauses and ended by steepling their hands or stroking their chin. Granted, they did this to seem important while talking a lot of long-winded bollocks, but there you are.

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

          Oh dear! I know exactly the ‘type’ you are talking about — I’ve come across people like this who aren’t necessarily actual academics, but do have that ‘deep, weighty and ponderous’ air about things they say which if you wrote them out on paper, are actually quite mundane!

      4. Ann O'Nemity*

        There’s a misconception that verbal fillers like “um” and “you know” are viewed as “women’s talk.” Although they are widely used by other speakers regardless of gender or age, they are often only noticed and stigmatized when the speaker is female.

        I agree with Alison’s advice that the OP can address the issue with the new employee, because there is a real business issue here. But I encourage the OP to ask themselves if they could be falling into gendered stereotypes, and to really consider if there are any men on the team who would benefit from the same advice.

        1. Vina*

          Absolutely true.

          There’s also studies that show that more educated people use more fillers when they speak off the cuff. Why? They have more vocabulary to chose from, so they often use fillers when selecting which one.

          That being said, it doesn’t sound like what’s going on here. It sounds like this is pervasive and a speech habit.

          I would caution, however, that one can be authoritative and use fillers. I have an acquaintance whose a national level politician who uses them a lot. He’s a man with a reputation. No one cares.

          1. Vina*

            Also, FTR, Justice Scalia was infamous for using verbal fillers. One the two occasions I met him, he did so both times.

            Absolutely no one thought it didn’t mean he was authoritative.

            The issue is often verbal fillers plus another issue such as grammar, vocabulary, pitch, tone, or conveyance of certitude.

            As someone who had a childhood speech issue and works a lot with kids with disabilities: I would strongly hesitate trying to retrain someone if you aren’t a speech therapist. You might address the wrong issue and might make it worse in the long run.

            All LW should do is flag the issue and offer support. She should not attempt to retrain someone.

            Speech therapy is a skilled profession for a reason.

            1. Original Poster #1*

              Vina, this is a great couple points. In Jane’s case, it is definitely more about the habit and will it get in her way of creating a sense of trust and confidence in her stakeholders? Your second point about it being perhaps a combined issue is really interesting. It would be one thing to speak as President Obama does, “ers” all around – but his tone and demeanor conveys confidence and authority. While other people may use fillers with a more “shy” tone/pitch/delivery, and thus people may tune them out. Definitely good food for thought, thanks!

        2. Jennifer Juniper*

          I hear the excessive use of “like” and think “teenager.” Not a good thing for any adult in the workplace.

      5. Original Poster #1*

        Thanks for the input here. This is definitely more an issue of a habit that I think is not unlike other verbal ‘tics’ that I know I’ve had and known others (including men) to have had in my career. But, I do like the earlier replies to be wary of gender – I do get that and will keep it in mind.

    5. Ann Non*

      One thing to be mindful of is whether Jane’s first language is English. I learned English from watching 1990s high school movies, so I use a lot of filler “like” which I gather from this letter is probably bad. I personally have no idea how I come across in a professional setting because I don’t have that cultural background.
      I also don’t have the bandwidth to check my use of fillers – it’s stressful enough to form sentences in English and get my points across. If someone told me to use better English, I would try to work on it, but I would also be annoyed — at least I managed to learn another language well enough to communicate in with you; now you need me to get the nuances right?!
      If anything, presenting in front of an international audience while using a lot of fillers probably helps make the others comfortable using English imperfectly themselves.

      1. Original Poster #1*

        Hi Ann Non – Jane’s first language is definitely English :) Her habit reminds me of the “like” syndrome so many people of my generation (and younger, as I’m in my 40s) have.

    6. Bostonian*

      But, presumably the OP wants the employee to speak more clearly in general and not just around the stakeholders who speak different languages and might have a harder time following her. This is why it’s important to express the “build more credibility and confidence” reasoning, as well.

      I totally get where you’re coming from, though. Speaking with less fillers “so our stakeholders can understand you” does sound more functional than doing so “for credibility and confidence”.

      1. Original Poster #1*

        Yes, I think Alison made a great point there which will be the crux of it for how I proceed: “why it matters”. And, this why, I do think, is important. Thanks!

  7. DragoCucina*

    Perhaps because most of my applications have been academic or government related, they’ve all required three professional references at the beginning. Usually none were contacted until after the first or second interview. I was shocked that my current employer didn’t contact them at all.

    I wouldn’t presume that it’s a sign of a bad workplace. It’s more cookie cutter approach. Sometimes required by corporate policy or even state law. One state, where the minimum degree for the position was a masters, required that I provide proof of my high school diploma.

    1. Dan*

      Speaking of cookie cutter…. I applied for a data analytics job at a railroad. This job required a MS in a technical discipline. As part of the interview, I had to take an hour long pre screen test that every applicant to the company had to take, even the guys who work out in the rail yard and don’t require a college education.

      I had to laugh when part of my pre screen had me doing grade school math level questions.

    2. Budgieman*

      I’m on the board of a not for profit preschool (not in the US), and we ask for “3 references, including one from your Church” at the application stage.
      It is a good way to help us sort the applications we receive, as how they respond to this enables us to see whether they follow instructions, how serious they are about the job, and whether they are from a faith based background – as being able to work within the Ethos of a Christian organisation is a must.
      Whilst the presence of references are not the be-all-and-end-all of our selection criteria, if we are interviewing (say) 6 people out of 100 or more, having high quality/professional referees (without talking to them) may make the difference between someone getting an interview or not.
      A candidate with professional referees will always be preferred over one with none (or worse – only having friends as referees) where all other information looks to be equal – because sometimes that’s all the information you have to work with.
      And for the record, we don’t contact referees until after the interview process, when we are at the stage of confirming they are as good as they claim to be, and we are ready to make an offer – and we only do that after consultation with the candidate – I don’t want to burn anyone’s bridges for them.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I don’t belong to a church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or any other religious organization. But I worked for a modern orthodox private school. They apparently felt I could work within the ethos of their religion.

        My point is, you don’t have to be a specific religion to work with or respect it.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. If your question is “can you work in a Christian-based preschool” there are much better ways to find out.

          Plus, my partner is a minister and he has DEFINITELY had congregation members who could get a glowing recommendation from someone in the church but have no business teaching children.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            I would also want to know what they consider the ethos of a Christian organization to be! Christian organizations run the gamut from people who think I’m bringing about the downfall of civilization to groups I would stand at the barricades with.

            1. Harper the Other One*

              My partner’s denomination is very liberal so he regularly gets to horrify smug conservative Christians who are SURE he’ll agree with them. His church has been involved in pretty well every social justice initiative in our country for 100 years!

        2. Budgieman*

          I agree – but it is a point of differentiation, where there may not otherwise be one.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Yes, that sounds as though you are working pretty hard to exclude a lot of people . There are many people who would be able to work well in the ethos of a Christian Organisation but who may not personally attend church, or may not have the personal relationship with the pastor or priest which would mean that asking for reference was appropriate .

        Budgieman, if you have any say in your preschool’s hiring practices then I would suggest that you propose alternatives – maybe ask for a personal reference and 2 professional ones, for example, and (if you don’t already be very clear in your ads and at first interviews what you actually *mean* when you talk about working ‘within the ethos of a Christian organisation.’ If what you mean is that you require staff to actively participate in prayer meetings / church services at school, say so. If you really mean is that no-one who is not a regular churchgoer in your particular denomination will be employed, then (assuming that it would be legal in your jurisdiction) say so. And if it wouldn’t be legal to say so directly, then perhaps the board needs to examine whether it is ethical to try to achieve the same effect by the back door.
        If what you mean is that they need to be happy to (say) tell bible stories and make cards / gifts / specific foods with the kids for Christmas and Easter, but not to do the equivalent for Diwali or Eid or Pesach, then again, that doesn’t require a reference from their church, or even for you to know whether, or which, church they attend.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          See, as an atheist, I have no problem with the application as described. It would tell me this is not a place for me, even without the points you mentioned.
          I don’t have a problem with religiously based non-profits only hiring members of that specific religion.

        2. Anon Anon*

          I wonder how they manage potential employee’s who attend a mega church, where it’s almost impossible for the pastor to know their attendee’s? Especially if they are not heavily involved in other aspects of the church. Then how does that person get evaluated? By what they put in the giving plate?

          1. dragocucina*

            It’s difficult, but not impossible. We have over 2,000 families in our parish, with 5 Masses. There are lots of opportunities to be involved, even if it’s being scheduled to help take the canned goods after each service to the community food pantry.

        3. dragocucina*

          What are the responsibilities of the position? If it includes teaching a class in the this denomination’s beliefs, then it can be important. Teaching a second grade class at a Catholic school, where preparation for First Communion is a major part of the year, would require knowing the teacher is knows the faith and is in good standing. I was a Catholic school librarian for ten years. We had several teachers who were not Catholic, but none of them taught the “religion class”. One of the best literature teachers wasn’t Catholic.

          We tried it once with a non-Catholic kindergarten teacher. She had a solid early childhood background. The principal thought, “It’s basically God loves you, your family, your neighbor, etc.” It should work. It was a disaster. She spent her time talking about how bad our Church is and they needed to get their parents to go to her church. She didn’t last long.

          1. Budgieman*

            It is absolutely important in the same ways you list above – and you have obviously seen the types of problems we face.
            We have a portion of our staff who are nominal, as opposed to practicing, Christians, as well as some who are Catholic (we are a Protestant organisation) – but our expectation is that you sing to our songsheet. After all, Coca-Cola would sack a salesman who went round bad-mouthing the brand, and actively pushing Pepsi to everyone within earshot… why should we be any different?
            All that said, when someone brings in a personal agenda that is against your Church teaching, including content that is not age appropriate for 3 and 4 year old children – there is a big problem that you have to deal with – and we have legal consequences if we don’t manage the situation correctly. It is better to have hired the right person in the first place…and for us, this is part of the process.

      3. anon for this*

        When you say, “having high quality/professional referees (without talking to them) may make the difference between someone getting an interview or not,” I think you’re basically screening for rich and/or well-connected employees. You do you, but ought not a Christian organization be trying to cast that net a bit more widely?

        1. Budgieman*

          OK – I may have worded that part badly. Yes, we are screening – of course we are – but not for rich and/or well connected employees. We are in a relatively low socio-economic area, so that’s not even close to being a consideration.
          By “high quality/professional referees” I specifically mean a supervisor from a recent job, and not (as we have seen) a work colleague from a job 20+ years ago, or someone who appears to be a friend or relative. For example, giving us one of your parent’s details as the only reference (even by people who are currently employed) isn’t going to get far with us…and it has happened multiple times over the years.

  8. Anono-me*

    OP 5

    A long time ago somebody told me, “Never show your boss how well he can get along without you.”

    I’m sure you wouldn’t be considering taking unpaid leave, if you weren’t in a fairly stable financial position right now. However, as Alison said in another recent post; everything is uncertain right now. You might want consider trying to work your full schedule as much as possible to build up as much of a safety net as you can.

    Online classes and training are great. Be sure you record any CE credits and certificates you earn.

    Beyond that, if any of your coworkers also seem underutilized, maybe that means they have time to do their project/s and mentor/teach you at the same time. (For example: Always round up the number of restrooms for Client A. The Springfield city engineer always asks for the original Whatsit Report. Client B is 6’2″ and likes 4″ heels and is not a big fan of the F. L. Wright low/cosy entrance.)

    1. Anon234*

      Exactly this!

      For example, my company has asked if anyone wants to reduced hours because we’ve been affected by Covid. I’d love an extra day off over the summer but would hate to demonstrate they don’t need me! (Of course they need me, the wheels would fall off this company is I wasn’t full time. Hmm…)

      OP – I’d do what the other commenters said and enhance your learning in that time and try and see if there are extra projects.

    2. Just J.*

      HVAC engineer here with a ton of architecture credits. Hahahaha on the FLW reference! That made me laugh out loud.

  9. Casper Lives*

    #1 hits a chord with me. Not exactly the same. I know Allison said to leave it to Jane to figure out. But it might be nice to give her some pointers instead of “just fix it.”

    My boss’s boss has given me feedback to be more concise. It’s hard to break the habit of giving too much detail. Sometimes I don’t know enough to know which facts of the case are important to focus on because I’m early in this area of law. I don’t know how to trim the fat, and no suggestions have been given on how.

    1. Dan*

      If your boss’s boss is giving you that feedback, I’m assuming he’s not “in the weeds” with your work as much as a teammate or your immediate manager might be. Your boss’s boss definitely needs a high level answer, which is probably something that can/should be expressed in one or two sentences. If you’re not sure how much detail your boss’s boss needs, one thing you can do is simply ask. Sometimes I’ll say, “at a high level, the answer is mostly X, but there’s some caveats. What’s on your mind?” That will give him the chance to ask for more detail if he’s going to bet the company’s future on your answer, or say, “nothing much, that’s helpful thanks.” With my immediate boss, I’ll just ask, “how much of the TL;DR do you want?”

    2. Allonge*

      If you work in a healthy organisation, this is something you need to take to your boss. ‘Grandboss said I need to be more concise, but I am not sure which bits are important and which are not. Can I talk to you / a senior colleague about my cases in first months/year to make sure I get it right?’

      I heard all kinds of horror stories about the law offices in the US, so I am not sure how it works. But what you describe is you not knowing how to do your job (you are new, this is normal) and not a speech pattern.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Definintely talk to your boss or someone you trust about how to break it down. But in general, it’s what most important to know that affects the outcome you are trying to get to. Hit the high points as I like to say.

        Remember the case in property law (I am presuming you are in the US), where the chimney sweep’s assistant found the jewel in the chimney? Now what facts were important to that case? The guy in my class who summed it up went into all kinds of detail about why children were used as assistants to chimney sweeps — THAT IS NOT THE IMPORTANT PART. The important part is where was the jewel found, why was the assistant there. I had that class over 15 years ago, I still remember how badly it was summed up in class.

    3. Mystery Bookworm*

      I disagree; I think if someone isn’t trained in this sort of coaching, it’s easy to be counter-productive.

      I’m particularly thinking of the intervention of stopping someone everytime they use a filler word, which, even if well-intentioned and consented to, often seems to have the impact of giving conversations a weird undertone and seems like it shuts the other person down.

      I think it’s best to allow Jane the space to decide if and how much she wants to deal with this. So the boss should share options for support (such as if the company will pay for a toastmasters registration or allow Jane to work on this during company time) but refrain from trying to be a speech coach.

      1. Tau*

        I admit this is where my mind went too, as someone who’s gone through a lot of speech therapy. The analogy may not work, because speech therapy for stuttering is likely to be one hell of a lot more invasive than anything someone without a speech disorder is likely to face… but I saw and experienced how easy it is to make someone just shut down completely by constantly nitpicking the details of how they talk. Eventually, you start to weigh whether expressing what you’re thinking is worth the hassle of needing to modify your speech and dealing with the criticism and come down on the side of “no”.

        I’m fully in favour of bringing this up with Jane, and giving her options such as Toastmasters etc…. but you have to allow the answer to be “no, I don’t want to work on this”, and trying to make her modify how she talks on the fly by playing speech coach could end really badly.

  10. Ping*

    #4 – I am inferring that because you have 12 years experience you accrue PTO at a higher rate than a new hire. So while a new hire would get 2 weeks per year, you get four?

    If that is the case then you need to push back with the other senior people. It’s a bait and switch on benefits that was not disclosed. It’s basically a salary cut. Bridging experience on rehires is common so their resetting everyone after the fact is egregious.

    1. Bostonian*

      Right? It’s not like they all chose to leave and then came back. And I’ve even seen companies that do that: re-hire people who had left at their previous seniority level (mostly because the returning employee negotiated for it). But in the case of a layoff of this nature, this should happen automatically starting the next year (since they already paid out for this year).

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree that the company did a crappy thing, but I wouldn’t put it solely on them. I think OP needs to take a bit of responsibility here in assuming everything would remain the same (if that’s the case..if OP asked and company lied, that’s a bigger issue). If I was laid off and then approached to be re-hired, I’d definitely ask some questions before deciding to go back. I may decide that in the current state of the country, job + new employee benefits is better than no job, but I would have made sure to at least ask if anything was changing.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        #4: I would be hesitant to view this as having a “right” to anything, whether it’s a job or a benefits package. A surprising # of companies are either downsizing or are specifically reducing wages through cuts.

        Yes, you were hired w/ a lower benefits package. But then again, you were laid off (not furloughed) so they had no obligation to rehire you… and yet you were rehired, rather than having them hire other, cheaper, people (and was everyone at the company actually rehired, for that matter?)

        Definitely ask! And if it’s something where you would rather return to unemployment than work at those conditions, definitely push as hard as you want. But I am not sure the base assumption should be to treat this as a “right” or “obligation” rather than a mere request.

      2. merp*

        I don’t know, I think it’s a pretty fair assumption they would accrue at their previous rate and because of that, I think it would be on the company to bring it up in advance and explain. This thing where the company is pretending these are new employees when they’ve been working there for years is absurd.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          It’s a really sucktastic method of penny-pinching, IMO, and will have a major impact on morale and long term retention.

          Yeah, they paid out the vacation accrual with the layoff. But when they rehired the OP, they re-acquired their knowledge and experience at that company, and that’s what the seniority benefits compensate for. So while they may not have their previously accrued, they should accrue at the same senior rate.

          Most places I’ve worked have had “rebound” or “boomerang” policies where if they rehire you within a year of the layoff, you come back with your previous seniority and benefits. Otherwise, if there’s no advantage to going back vs looking for a new gig, I would expect those re-hires to have really low “stickiness” regarding finding new jobs, because you are starting at zero on benefits seniority in both cases.

          I would expect a lot of those screwed over rehires to continue their job searches, because starting at zero seniority on benefits is a red flag that says the company really doesn’t value you or your experience, and just considers you another warm body. Yes, they’re doing it probably because it’s an employer’s market, but when the job market picks back up they will see an exodus. People remember petty shit like that.

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          One would hope, but if you know that finances led to the layoffs, assuming you’re being re-hired with the same salary and benefits is a little naive.

          1. Ping*

            The important point is that they didn’t disclose the new terms prior to acceptance. Expecting no fallout under those conditions is naive.

    3. Lord Gouldian Finch*

      This is definitely worth pushing back. I actually wonder if upper management specifically approved this change, or if someone in HR thought it would be “easier” to deal with all these returning employees by treating them as new so they didn’t need to spend hours making database adjustments or something.

      It “sounds” a bit similar to that Kroger bonus overpayment problem. Someone screwed up and thought they’d rather push the solution onto others than try and admit it was a screw up.

  11. If you know what I mean?*

    #1 – I have a boss who does this and it drives me nuts. It’s ‘you know’ substituted for every bit of punctuation, and ‘you know what I mean’ at every full stop. Quite often sentences just wander off into incoherence.

    No advice, just a fervent plea – please get her to stop now before she has anyone reporting to her.

    1. Dan*

      The filler I hate the most is “right?” It kills me, because it’s framed as a question, and I expect to think about it for a second and agree/disagree with the speaker. Without fail, everyone I know who does that doesn’t even *pause* before running on to the next thought. So while I’m thinking about what whether I agree with what that person just said, they’re now off on a completely separate thought that I’m not paying attention to.

      1. Mookie*

        Yes. The highly interrogative “right” kills me. The tic-ish one, that functions like “innit,” is not nearly so grating.

      2. BadWolf*

        Me too! Me too!

        An Ex used to use “right” constantly. When I was grumpy, I’d interject with “No” or “I don’t know.” Since it was filler language, this usually confused him (and definitely wasn’t the best communication on my end).

    2. WellRed*

      My boss does but but her frequency dropped way down at some point. I actually wondered if someone said something to her at some point.

    3. Bostonian*

      Ha! I feel you. My husband does this, and sometimes there’s so much filler that I want to say, “No! I don’t know!”

      He would be super sensitive if someone brought it up, though. I think that’s why it’s important for OP to explain the “why” of it, as Alison suggests. It makes it clear that it’s not a personal quirk or hangup of OP’s but rather a way to be better at her job/communicating.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      IMO there’s a difference between an annoying phrase filler, and saying “I suppose” and “kind of” all the time. If I worked with someone like OP describes, I would think they were incompetent. It’s okay not to know things, admit it, and let people know you’ll find out and get back to them. But if every piece of information I got from someone was peppered with uncertainty, I’d question if I could rely on them for anything.

      1. juliebulie*

        This is a good point. Speech that is full of fillers in general, sounds, let’s say, “inexperienced” to me, or suggests that maybe the speaker is uncomfortable about speaking. That can be tiresome. But speech that is full of qualifiers? I have no idea whether or not I should pay any heed to what is being said.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah, “Ya know”, “um”, “uh”, “like” are all fillers, that do not inherently imply lack of sureness, but the “kinda”, “maybe”, “I suppose” do, and when combined with more fillers enhances the effect of hesitation.

  12. Tintin*

    LW 2.
    In addition to Alison’s response, oftentimes I also say that “why wouldn’t I” or “Did I look uncomfortable?” -part aloud. Not in a sarcastic tone, but as a sincere question. (And I have also taken that as a hint to present myself more confident. But that is a personal choise, which may not be needed in your situation.) Usually that makes them drop the question. Obviously it depends on your relationship with them and the group.

    1. hbc*

      I’ve done the same, and I think it’s perfectly legitimate response when questioned in a group setting. If the answer to “Why do you ask?” isn’t appropriate for the group, than neither is the original question.

      Though the OP seems to have a sense of what the underlying reason is, in which case there can be an advantage to addressing the subtext. “Sure, and if it’s more complex than it looks, I’ll come back with questions.”

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I’d definitely go with “Why do you ask?” It’s not snarky, it’s a legitimate response to a ridiculous question, and puts them on the spot to justify them asking you and only you.

        1. Tintin*

          Haha, both of you are absolutely right! And it is proven: clearly I am still learning confidence in my replies :D

  13. Bowserkitty*

    OP5 – I’m in a similar situation. Like others have said, use this time to study certifications, educate yourself on current events (I recommend diving down a Wikipedia rabbit hole; I have learned so much), or sign up for your library’s eBook account! With Libby you can read in browser.

    Deskwarming sucks but at the end of the day YOU ARE GETTING PAID. Hold on to that!

  14. Is it Friday yet?*

    LW#1: One thing to do is to suggest Toast Masters, because fillers are one of the things they focus on helping someone eliminate while talking. (and maybe even offer to cover the minimal cost for the dues). I once had a boss suggest it to me because I was potentially going to be speaking up more at client meetings. I’ll tell you that it helped me a lot! It’s a very nurturing environment where things like this are brought to your attention, and you keep working on it every week. Just being made aware of how much I was using similar fillers really helped me to think about what I was saying, and reign it it. This hasn’t just helped me with public speaking, but with everyday chat as well.

    1. I Love Llamas*

      I was coming on to suggest Toastmasters as well. Right now they are doing all of the meetings through Zoom. I just re-joined my group that is located 70 miles away from me and it is the highlight of my week. Toastmasters is not just about public speaking. It is a wonderful resource for helping people develop their listening and leadership skills, lead meetings in addition to public speaking. Since it is not typically work-related, it is a very safe, friendly environment filled with people who want to learn and improve. Visit the website and I would suggest trying several different clubs as a guest because each club has a different vibe. It has helped me tremendously. We have several members who stutter, others who are non-native English speakers and they all use Toastmasters to help improve their speaking skills.

    2. MassMatt*

      +1 on toastmasters, was coming to say this and Friday beat me to it. I have recommended it to several people and they all found benefit. Lots of good practice for speaking but lots of other useful stuff also. Not to mention a good place to network.

      If TM is not available for whatever reason, try recording yourself and playing it back. I did this before going on job interviews and found it painful but valuable.

  15. I can only speak Japanese*

    Jane in #1 sounds like someone who was once told off for appearing overconfident, so now she qualifies everything with “I think” or “it seems” preemptively.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      + Definitely!
      It is partly how you grew up, but also likely being chided at some point in the workplace to “soften your tone,” or to “tone it down.”

  16. Bleah*

    For #4, make sure you ask about why the benefits reset. While it might be because it was some evil bait and switch, it could also be for purely financial reasons. If it’s a money thing, you might also try and negotiate for the PTO to be put in place after X time, or ask about restoring the PTO when the company is in a better financial position.

    Or it could be for some other reason, but if you know why they did it, you will have a better shot at being able to get the company to change their mind.

    1. Just Jess*

      Yeah, I’m also wondering if this has something to do with their payroll system/HRIS. The rules of the system may be that new employees accrue PTO at a certain rate. Or they may need to truly consider the re-hires as “new hires” on paper for some other reason.

      OP #4, none of this would make the situation OK, so please do speak up!

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Even if it is for a legitimate reason, it’s something they should have disclosed up front.

    3. Flora*

      A somewhat cynical interpretation comes to mind for me: what if the point of this is so everyone has identical seniority SO THAT when they need to lay people off they can just pick without getting into any kind of ruckus about anyone being newer/less senior than the person being laid off. Like, that would be some big gross, but even if the pay and benefits can’t go back, which, financial exigency, I can see it? It might still be a good idea to ask for original hire dates back.

      Also, if I were the person managing this return to work, I would tell people what they could expect going forward, anyway. We’re at three days now, and we don’t expect to be able to return anyone to four weeks a year for a while, but we hope to be able to articulate a timeline for how long it’s going to take by the end of the summer or year.

  17. Beth Jacobs*

    # 5 Some variants of the question have been asked here before. Usually, Allison suggests you do let your boss know you’re underutilised and volunteer some new projects or duties you can take on. I guess it’s different now because it’s not just OP’s workload, but the whole business and there’s not really anything the OP can take on?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nope, just answering a different aspect of it this time — this LW specifically wanted to know about leaving early, and less about “I’m bored, what do I do?” (The suggestions above about what to do with their time are good.)

  18. All Outrage, All The Time*

    OP#5 – work on upskilling and learning more. If you use computer programs, even just Word and Excel, find some online guides to learning more about them. Check the websites of architectural governing/certification bodies and see what learning you can do there. Read industry magazines, blogs etc. Listen to relevant podcasts. Develop some curiosity about the industry. Research the history of architecture. Learn about famous architects and current/future trends. There is a lot you can do that will fill up your time.

  19. Bob*

    LW4: They want to use the virus as an excuse to take away your benefits. This shows what they are really about. I suggest polishing off your resume and if you don’t get anywhere with your group intervention and things look more stable look for a new job.

    1. WellRed*

      Much as I’d like to think this situation was an oversight by someone who doesn’t think bigger picture, I suspect you’re correct. They probably looked at finances and decided employees are all so grateful to be hired back they’ll accept drastically reduced terms.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, it sounds like some petty cheese paring at the expense of long term employees. It will likely come back and bite the over the next two years. I wouldn’t want to stay somewhere that thought that was okay.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Agree, this move sounded very corner-cutting to me. It’s like they’d had a meeting to discuss all the financial losses from covid, and then somebody went “wait a minute, I know how we can get some of that money back!”

      1. Rebecca*

        I went right to this scenario. Let’s say there were 100 employees accruing 4 weeks/20 days PTO per year, that’s 2,000 days of PTO. I don’t know what their hourly rate is, but let’s figure $20/hour x 8 hours = $160/day or $320,000 in paid time off. They’ve already paid out what was accrued. Now, as “new” employees, they will get 3 days after 60 days for the remainder of 2020, totaling $48,000. I’m not clear on how long a new employee needs to work to get back to 4 weeks PTO, at my company, it would take 20 years to get back to that level (10 days for the first 14 years, 15 days at 15 years, then 20 days at 20 years).

        I think OP and coworkers need to find out the reasoning for this, as stated above. Honestly, if my company did this to me, I’d definitely brush off my resume and move on. If I’m going to be a “new employee” I might as well go someplace else with my institutional knowledge and be “new” there instead.

        1. Anon Anon*

          This. If my employer did this, I’d be job hunting right away. Part of the reason that I stay with my current employer, even though the pay isn’t awesome, is because I’ve got enough tenure to be at the top of the PTO scale and all my employer 401k contributions are automatically vested. If they furloughed me and then immediately upon returning told me that my benefits started as if I was a brand new employee, well I’d be looking for a better paying job.

          1. Rebecca*

            Oh, you reminded me about 401K match. Ours stopped 3 months ago. I wasn’t furloughed, but I’ve been able to take 1.5 days of my 20 days vacation time and zero of 5 PTO days so far this year, because I’ve been covering for other people. I want some time off. I asked about this, and all our manager could say was “management is looking at options, perhaps to pay out accrued time…” We have a use it or lose it policy. I want time off, away from work, not money at this point. And I’m increasingly concerned this heavier workload (on top of a full plate in the first place) isn’t going to go away.

  20. pandop*

    It is common in the UK for the contact details of references to be included in the application form, but they generally aren’t contacted until the interview stage. So at the application stage it is polite to ask your referees if they mind, but there is no expectation that they will have to do anything immediately, or at all if you don’t get invited for interview.

  21. Thankful for AAM*

    Letter 5 is a good time to tell everyone that Lynda.com may be free from your local public library. They may not be open to the public but their online resources are available. If they do not have Lynda, they likely have a similar learning resource.

    Also, getting a library card is a great way to support your library during covid. Like many places, libraries need the support and getting a card and using it is a simple and free way to help.

  22. Catherine*

    #1 is interesting to me–my bosses have asked me to use MORE filler when addressing ESL speakers in English. The rationale is that repeating the same piece of filler gives them a beat where they don’t need to listen and have a little extra time to process the previous chunk of information. Not sure how that holds up on a linguistics teaching perspective (I only ever took a class on how to teach Asian languages) but I think it’s an interesting data point.

    1. cosmicgorilla*

      That’s really interesting. As someone who has studied and spoken other languages, my brain wouldn’t say “I can ignore that” but would instead get distracted by all the extra verbiage. I understand better when the foreign language spoken is clear and concise.

      1. Drag0nfly*

        Same. Fillers introduce too much “noise” into what’s supposed to be a signal. They make it too easy to lose the thread of conversation.

        1. cosmicgorilla*

          I find the same thing in English. Too much noise. Plus, if someone you know, can’t say like 5 words you know, without, I dunno, using a filler, my opinion of their intelligence goes WAY down.

          Fair or not, I am silently judging you for your incessant use of fillers. Occasional ones, totally ok. We all do it. It’s using it in every few words in a sentence that raises my ire.

          See also – kind of and sort of. I really despise these as fillers. “Hey, let me tell you about Alison. She kind of writes this advice column about work situations.”

          Does she or doesn’t she? She doesn’t “kind of” write it. She’s not half-assing it. She flippin’ does it!

      2. juliebulie*

        Agree. Speak slowly, and pause rather than throw in a “y’know.” Someone above mentioned Obama’s “uhhhhhh”s but at least he only does one uhhhhh at a time!

    2. Gloucesterina*

      Interesting! There are certainly materials designed to teach language learners to deploy filler words in the target language in order to sound more like a native speaker.

  23. ADB_BWG*

    #1: My father would interrupte Everytime I used “you know” or “Like” or “well” or “I thought” with same phrases (“no I don’t; you’re telling me” or “like you? I love you!” or “a well is a hole in the ground and if you fall in and you can’t swim you drown and if there’s no water you break your neck” or (my personal favorite) “‘Thought’ thought he was in the bathroom and when he woke up his bed was wet”).

    I don’t use those fillers.

    Of course, you wouldn’t use those phrases or constant interruption with another adult, and definitely not in a group setting! However, working WITH your employee, you can find similar ways to remind her in the moment when the two of you are the only ones in a discussion – a desk tap, a cough, etc.

  24. angstrom*

    OP1: Toastmasters might be an option if there’s a local chapter. There was a chapter at one of my previous jobs and I saw it make a real difference for the folks who participated.

  25. andy*

    OP#5 Use the time for additional professional learning. Normally when one is under stress of ongoing projects, time to learn is hard to come by. This way you did not wasted the time and hopefully will be able to use new skills for employer.

    Even better, keep log of what you are learning. That way, if the company goes down, when you are looking for new job, you will know what to put into skills.

  26. Ranon*

    OP 5- Not sure if you’re in the US- if you are and you’re not licensed but are planning on becoming licensed, now is a great time to start studying, some ARE prep resources have been made available virtually

    Other things that sometimes need doing in a small architecture office (particularly if there’s no dedicated marketing person): updating or creating a record of past projects with relevant data/ details, updating firm resumes (not yours but the ones your firm uses to pursue projects), updating or creating portfolio/ sell sheets from past projects, updating the holiday card list, cleaning out the materials library, cleaning out hard copy records that are no longer legally required to be kept. If the firm could do/ does commercial/ government work another common thing in a recession is to start more aggressively tracking opportunities for projects from various local government entities.

    Good luck! I’ve been in your shoes in the last recession and I did a lot of marketing and record keeping/ cleanup to fill time- it’s not as fun as architecture but it did keep me paid.

    1. Llellayena*

      Yes, ARE studying was going to be one of my suggestions. Also, CAD or Revit training can be good to fill in time. And you can look for webinars or online conferences. Many product reps are offering their AIA credit courses on the web, I’m getting emails about it regularly!

    2. Ranon*

      Oh, and while this sounds like the most boring idea in the world, read through the local building code (or IBC if you’re in IBC jurisdictions, at least through chapter 10, although the rest of it comes up sometimes too). It’s a lot faster to look up code issues if you at least kind of remember seeing something about XYZ once. If you’re in an IBC jurisdiction and have access to the commentary that’s a particularly helpful resource.

  27. Jan was not robbed*

    #1, I think this is what Toastmasters does – help people with public speaking. Anyone here ever done it?

    1. I Love Llamas*

      I replied on an earlier thread. I am active in Toastmasters and it will definetely help. Meetings are all on Zoom right now. Very friendly, supportive community. Just try different clubs to find the right fit.

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

    OP1, as English is the official language, does your job offers public speaking lessons? I know those are super expensive, but if this is not an isolated case perhaps HR can organize group lessons. I also work in a company in the same situation, and as a ESL speaker a vocal coach could help a lot, considering some accents are either too thick to understand anything or give the entire wrong idea (like being scolded by your mother XDD). I still remember the embarrassment I felt when one of my coworkers said that we ‘were in the oven’ at a meeting with the European team.

    1. willow for now*

      Oh, come on, you can’t leave it there! What on earth was meant by “we were in the oven”?

  29. CoffeeLover*

    The sad reality of many office jobs is that you don’t really need 40hours a week to do them. There’s a book called Bullshit Jobs by anthropologists David Graeber where he talks about the busy work we’ve invented to justify the 40hour work week rather than taking advantage of our technological progress to reduce our working hours. (The book is more generally discussing the proliferance of meaningless jobs as a result of technological and societal advancement – it’s pretty interesting stuff.) All that is to say, I feel you OP #5 and it’s something I’ve struggled with. There are a lot of jobs with spare time year round and a lot with slow periods. I wonder how many of us would be working 40 hours if we all just went home when were done for the day.

    Anyway there’s a lot of value in finding productive ways to use this time. Both for your career and for your mental well being. Find ways to develop yourself – ideally in a professional capacity, but I see nothing wrong in general self development if there’s skill or knowledge you’d like to acquire. The caveat is the optics of whatever thing that may be – basically make yourself look busy.

    I’ll add a note – to avoid any ire – that there are office jobs that truly require 40+ hours. The fact that OP is asking this question makes me think they’re one of these people and are not as used to the free time as some of us.

    1. Lemon Meringue Pie*

      As a knowledge worker I can’t get my head around the idea that this is ‘sad’. That, rather than having every second crammed with things you have to do, you might have some space for things like personal development and reflection.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        It sounds like the LW has something like 6 hours/day worth of space, though. That’s too much.

        1. KRM*

          It also sounds like this particular state of events may be temporary and pandemic related, though. So for sure OP, use the time to enrich your personal professional knowledge, and hope that things will pick up in a few months.

      2. CoffeeLover*

        It’s sad for me because social norms are the only thing keeping me from a 4 day work week because I definitely spend at least 8 hours a week on busy work. But, to be fair to myself, it also takes me half the time of other people to do my work. Efficiency is a gift and a curse.

        If you don’t think that’s sad then you must love your work – which I can’t begrudge. I too hope to one day find a job where I’m not just there for the pay check.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, I’m hoping the general societal reassessments that are coming along with the pandemic can put some wind in the sales of the 32 hour work week movement!

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        More likely, it’ll put wind in the 29.5 hour work week movement. No benefits under 30 hours.

        1. willow for now*

          Especially by companies like the one that cut everyone’s benefits upon returning!

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Not necessarily. Lots of places have much lower thresholds for benefits. That’s just the mandated amount for ACA to avoid penalties.

          Everywhere I’ve had benefits it’s at 20hrs.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      +100 to the recommendation of “Bullshit Jobs”. I found it to be a valuable insight into why our work world is structured the way it is.

  30. Policy Wonk*

    Most people have verbal tics they use as filler and are often not aware of it. I have raised this with employees of both genders – it is not a male or female thing. Nor is it age-related, though I see it more in younger employees; I am guessing older ones have already had someone point it out and help correct the problem. When I have raised this, to a person my employees have been shocked and didn’t realize they were doing it. Correcting the habit is on them, but the often need help. (With one particular employee, I had a small hand signal to remind/caution when they were doing a presentation.)

    When working with an ESL audience it is particularly important to avoid fillers, but also to avoid cliche’s, acronyms and slang, as they do not translate (or at least not well) and will simply confuse listeners.

    1. Katertot*

      This- I was very guilty of using fillers and until a well-meaning coworker pointed out how often I used them, I did not realize how bad it was AND how much it distracted from what I was trying to convey. For a while after he pointed it out, I was hesitant to speak up because I was mentally tracking everything I said, but I was eventually able to adjust my speech patterns. I would caution the OP that it takes time to adjust that, so don’t continue to mention it, I guarantee once you mention it once it’ll be on their mind for a while.

    2. Bree*

      Many people have these tics, and sometimes they do need correcting. But there is also a well-documented history of speech patterns often used by woman – especially young women – being highly criticized (before they catch on among other groups and then suddenly they’re fine). “Like” is the most obvious example, but there are others. It’s really interesting research if you give it a Google!

  31. Remote HealthWorker*

    #1 Intern manager here, so I’ve dealt with this issue a lot.

    I’ve found success in tieing it back to my early years.

    “You may not realize this, but you say sort of a lot. I know when I was first starting out, I struggled with how to balance presenting my ideas against not seeming like a know-it-all. However using that language weakened my stance in the office and resulted in my peers and supervisors not taking me seriously.

    I don’t want to see that happen to you. Your work is excellent. We are thrilled to have you on the team. Let me know if you want any assistance nipping this habit in the bud.”

    1. Narise*

      My only thought on this topic is one experience that occurred in my office. A seasoned manager that I did not report to but worked closely with hired a new employee at what may have been their 2nd job in the industry- they had to have some experience to be hired but not much. After a presentation by new employee the manager spoke to her about her uses of fillers and ‘um’ and ‘got it’. For the manager this was maybe a 4 or 5 on the scale of importance and that’s how they presented it. I can help you but only if you want help. Employee continued to use fillers so I don’t think help was accepted.
      Manager leaves several months later new manager comes in and fillers are a pet peeve for them. They rode the employee hard and she ended up transferring to a different department because she was so sick of the constant corrections to her speech. I think if I had this conversation with someone I would tell them for some this is 4 for others its an 8 and you need to be prepared to work for both types.

  32. Bree*

    On LW#1, OP mentions that the filler words stuck out during the (otherwise great) interviews in particular. Does this tend to happen more in those kinds of high-pressure situations? Because I can see how fillers might be used more to buy time to think through an answer in an interview context. If so, are those types of situations common in Jane’s day-to-day work? If not, I would consider letting this go.

    Even if the filler words do happen during day-to-day work, is it only the OP and their HR Director (during the interview) who have noticed? Has there been any other sign that it’s causing a problem – like, have stakeholders indicated they’re having trouble understanding Jane, or has collaborating with them taken longer or gone less smoothly for her than others? If not, you may be anticipating a problem that doesn’t yet exist.

    With someone who is otherwise great, new in her role (which was difficult to fill), I think bringing this up now without solid indicators it’s affecting her work could shake her confidence and make her feel nit-picked, in addition to some of the gendered stuff around language we know happens. Don’t get me wrong – it does sound annoying. But I would hold off on acting on it until you’re sure it’s really affecting the work, until a structured performance review where you can present it as a positive opportunity for growth, or until you have a closer relationship where it can be part of regular, ongoing mentorship.

    1. foolofgrace*

      >I think bringing this up now without solid indicators

      If the OP has noticed it, others have too.

      1. Bree*

        Not necessarily? The OP mentions the HR Director specifically, but no one else, which makes me think it might be limited to them. Also, if the OP has been doing on-boarding, they may be having an unusually high amount of conversation with Jane right now, during a time when a lot of people can be a little extra nervous or uncertain as they learn a new role.

    2. juliebulie*

      People tend to notice a high volume of filler words if they have to wait for someone to finish their sentence. It is very noticeable.

      If no one else has mentioned it, that doesn’t mean that no one else has noticed.

  33. Van Wilder*

    I have a theory that women use filler words more than men do as a defense mechanism against being constantly interrupted. Who wants to sponsor my thesis project?

    1. Koala dreams*

      Interesting theory! I would think that women and men use a similar amount of fillers, but people notice and criticise women’s fillers more.

      1. revueller*

        I used to do transcription work and this is very, very true. I would count the number of “you knows” in a given interview (it was petty but helped me get through the work), and the record was 72 in a 15-minute interview. Both interviewer and interviewee were men.

      1. Littorally*

        Making it clear they aren’t done speaking while they compose the next part of their statement mentally. If you just pause, people are more likely to assume you’re done speaking and barge in, particularly if they read you as female (and therefore presume that whatever you have to say is not that important anyway).

  34. ArchiHou*

    Letter #5, If you’re not licensed yet, now would be a perfect time to start studying for the AREs. Testing is not up and running yet (I believe), but you could get a jump start on your preparation!

    1. Applesauced*

      Seconded by another architect!
      Testing centers are currently closed/slowly reopening, but you can still get ahead of studying, or make a study plan.
      If you’re already licensed, use the time to take online CEUs – ArchRecord and HanlyWood both have free courses.

      But also maybe brush up your resume and portfolio….

      1. Ranon*

        There are also a lot of local AIA chapters that are offering virtual CEUs for free/ reduced cost and the content tends to be a lot higher quality than the thinly disguised promotion as education you get on Hanley Wood for the most part

  35. toots*

    OP #1, also please know that some people never get over this, and that’s OK. I have worked with very senior, very competent people who use verbal fillers all the time. I’m not saying it’s the best path to career success, but it’s only part of the picture and if these folks don’t jettison the fillers from their vocabulary, they still have potential and can be good at their jobs.

    1. Littorally*

      This! I had a grandboss at my old job (someone who was in charge of basically everyone in our wing of the building) who was atrocious with his fillers. But he had still risen on the strength of his other skills, and was quite successful at what he did.

  36. RoseClef*

    On the subject of verbal fillers being an issue for non-native English speakers, when I was training as a TEFL teacher 10 years ago, we were specifically taught NOT to try to clear our speech of verbal fillers. There were several reasons for this: one, verbal fillers are very easy to learn, and once they’re learned they fade into the background for learning listeners much as they do for native speakers. Two, the time verbal fillers take up in the sentence is time the listener can use to “catch up” and parse what’s already been said. And three…. well, people use verbal fillers. In every language. If your student is only able to understand English when it’s spoken “cleanly” with no fillers, or when it’s spoken with exaggerated enunciation or whatever, then your student is not going to be able to actually understand English as it is spoke by most people.

    So I think your worry about your non-native speaker colleagues is misguided and overblown at best. Her speaking style annoys YOU, and you know that it’s a fairly common thing to look down on (wrongly, I believe), and so you are extrapolating to a third unnecessary problem where there isn’t one. Coach her to tone it down if you must, but don’t make it into an international incident when it doesn’t have to be.

    1. Bree*

      This is a really interesting perspective – thanks for sharing. A really good example of the risks of making assumptions.

    2. LutherstadtWittenberg*

      She should still consider it; other people have noticed it and brought it to her attention, as mentioned in updates in other threads.

  37. Phony Genius*

    On #4, if they’re treating everybody like a new employee with PTO accruals, I’m surprised they didn’t also try to reset everybody’s salary to entry level. (And I’m not trying to give them any ideas.)

  38. Koala dreams*

    #1 As a non native speaker, I don’t have a good sense of which phrases signal certainty and which do not in English. I do however have experience with encountering confusing native English speakers. On one hand, many native speakers add more words and make longer sentences, when they need to use fewer words, shorter sentences and speak a lot slower instead. On the other hand, those specific fillers are very common and I doubt they are difficult to understand for non native speakers who are used to English at work. Before you speak to your employee, make sure that the words actually cause confusion. It’s possible that it’s your pet peeves but not a problem for other people. (As an aside, I’ve read a few articles about people disliking ‘like’ because it’s associated with young women. Those people would have a problem, but I doubt they would become less sexist no matter how your employee changed her speech.)

    #2 That question is just as perplexing to me as to you, and I hope the scrips you’ve got make the question go away, or at least give you an explanation. Sometimes favourite phrases really do cause confusion, as well as distrust and bad feelings. In your case, it’s very much worth it to speak up.

  39. MissNomer*

    LW #4 – I’m sorry your company is treating you like this, and I hope you have luck pushing back!

    You didn’t specifically mention a 401(k) plan, but your company is likely not allowed by IRS rules to treat you as a new hire for purposes of a 401(k) plan if they have one. The guidelines are pretty strict about how years of service and eligibility need to be handled. This doesn’t help with your other benefits (unless other people are aware of restrictions that I’m not) but maybe this is another angle from which you can push back? Good luck!

    1. Interviewer*

      I was coming here to say this. Grab a copy of your Summary Plan Description (SPD), which should be widely available on the company intranet, or if not, request it from the plan administrator along with all supplements, and check for rules on prior years of service. Rehiring you should automatically restart your benefits based upon previous years of service, with no waiting. They have to follow the rules in the plan document. If they are suspending 401k match or discretionary payments, etc. it should all be announced in writing to all plan participants with plenty of notice. Check your messages in your 401k online portal, too, to make sure they didn’t dump an electronic version and hope it would suffice.

      While you’re at it, if you have medical and/or dental, check that SPD too. Waiting periods might be waived. Ask your HR team if your deductible is reset to $0 or if the amounts already paid for 2020 have carried over.

      In addition to PTO, these benefits can be huge $$$, and the new terms should have been mentioned in an actual offer letter. Get the new things all spelled out in writing. If they tell you “only the PTO accrual rate has changed,” get that in writing, too.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Absolutely find out what is gone and if they mentioned anything before your first day back. Presumably there was some conversation about it. This is really smarmy of them and honestly I’d be eyeballing the door if my company did that. Companies have discretion – mine hired me at a higher rate of PTO than a newbie to sweeten the deal. It’s especially awful because people who received unemployment have to return or lose unemployment so they know they have you in a tough spot.

  40. Soontobephd*

    For letter writer #1:
    I used to have this same problem with ‘like’ and ‘um’. I always knew it was an issue but it seemed generally small and insignificant as nobody have ever actually mentioned it to my face. But when we moved to online teaching, I was suddenly having to film myself lecturing to upload the videos. And holy bananas, it was bad! Something that helped me was filming a short video clip of myself explaining something for 5 minutes. Afterwards, I watched the video and counted all of my ‘like’s and ‘um’s. It was SIXTY. In five minutes! Over the course of the semester, I made it a point to record myself each week for five minutes and count my filler words every time. The simple act of being more aware of my word choice drastically cut down on the frequency in each video. I dropped from sixty, to three, to finally none.

  41. Khatul Madame*

    LW5 – the company may have received a COVID assistance loan that requires keeping everyone on payroll regardless of how much work there is to do. Depending on the terms of the loan, a layoff may still be imminent if the business does not pick up.
    Agree with other posters that this is a great time to get new skills and relevant certifications.

  42. Anon Anon*

    #3 – I hate the request for references at the application stage. I like to provide references that can speak to my qualifications for the specific job. And I often don’t know that information until after an interview. Plus, I have some references who want to know more about the job, and I’ve found providing references in advance means that either I don’t know when my references will be contacted (if at all) or I have to talk to them about a job that I may not even get an interview for. I mean I still apply, because so many companies require references as part of their online applicaiton process, but it’s irritating and frustrating.

  43. memyselfandi*

    Years ago when my nieces were 7 and 9 I charged them 10 cents every time they said “like” when I was in charge of them. It was at the height of valleyspeak. I used the money to buy a six-pack of Coca Cola in those small glass bottles that make the cola taste so good. We went on a picnic and put the bottles in the stream to cool. Good memories. And, it did break them of the habit!

  44. Potato Girl*

    #1, there are often interpersonal/reputational consequences for a woman speaking in a masculine (certain, no-filler, definitive) way. If you coach her to sound less wishy-washy/more authoritative, you might also consider suggesting other tactics to soften her way-of-being (sorry, can’t find the right word). Personally, heredity gave me downturned mouth-corners so I put on a smile when I have to sound certain.

    Yes, yes, sexism is bad and I shouldn’t have to do that sort of thing. But we can’t pretend we live in the world-that-ought-t0-be — we have to use pragmatic strategies to get by in the world-that-actually-is.

    1. ampersand*

      I agree. That’s one reason I use fillers–and I am very aware when I use them both when speaking and in writing. I use them online (in forums like this) to soften my language and not sound like a jerk. It’s either that or using smiley faces to convey my tone. Sometimes both.

      When speaking, I use them to pause (to give me a second to think) or soften what I’m saying. I can be extremely direct, and that doesn’t always go over well. Conversely, it irritates me when people *don’t* use any fillers and sound like an authority on everything they’re saying, even if/when they’re not. So I think there are good reasons to use fillers. We shouldn’t just all do away with them all the time–it makes language sound bizarrely stilted. (I had to force myself not to add “in my opinion” to that last sentence…)

      I wonder if there’s a happy medium with using a certain amount of fillers. Fascinating as I find this topic, I do wish it weren’t an issue.

  45. Elbe*

    “I feel like it was a bit sneaky and dishonest.”

    This was absolutely sneaky and dishonest. The fact that they sent out a mass email on the first day back means that they knew that a lot of people weren’t aware of the change.

    I hope that the LW is able to push back with coworkers. Employers really should be aware, though, that this type of thing generates ill will that will follow them once the job market improves. I wouldn’t feel at all surprised if people leave once the economy bounces back. If you’re going to be treated as a new employee, you may as well use the time to actually BE a new employee at a better company.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*


      The company is shooting itself in the foot over the long term. If they don’t show any loyalty or value recognition for long term employees, then they should not be surprised when their long term employees abandon them for greener pastures. The cheesy way they handled makes it worse.

  46. KayEss*

    The one time I applied for a job that asked for references at the application stage, they called my references before even calling me for an interview. I found out because one of my references then emailed me, surprised that I hadn’t given her a heads-up that I was at such an advanced stage with a potential position, as she would have prepared a reference for me tailored to them. I was… not pleased.

    Since then, asking for reference contact info at the initial application definitely makes me reevaluate how badly I want the job.

  47. Madame X*

    As a non-native English speaker (who now has native-language proficiency) I think Alison’s advice is spot on. If I heard Jane speak as you’ve described, I would find her way of speaking difficult to understand. Jane’s way of speaking is not very clear, especially in a business context. She’s not going to be able eliminate ALL of the filler words she uses, nor should she have to, but if she is using so many of them that it obscures her meaning, then the goal should be to simplify and clarify her language as much as possible.
    In my job, I have to communicate very technical information to a broad audience, a mix of both native and non-native English speakers. Additionally, the information I’m communicating is very technical in nature and many of the people I interact with in my company are not proficient in the technical aspects of my job. I have found that simplifying my wording so that it is clear and to the point is very helpful (not in a condescending, way of course).

  48. RJ*

    I work in Finance and have been unemployed since February. A few recruiters and employers have requested references during the initial screening processing, all of them making it clear that my references won’t be contacted until after the interviewing process. In the past two weeks though, more and more have been requesting them upfront and one particularly aggressive one told me bluntly that they would be contacted before my resume had been submitted to their client! I immediately stopped working on this opportunity and moved on to others.

    If I’m comfortable that my references will be contacted after the interviewing process and during the regular background checks, I don’t have a problem submitting these early. I will not submit if they are to be contacted before I even have the full job details AND an initial screening interview with a hiring manager.

  49. not that Leia*

    OP#5: Gonna buck the trend here, but as an architect and project manager, there’s no way that your boss doesn’t already know your situation. You are presumably not able to bill your time to projects (if clients aren’t coming in), which means they are paying your salary completely out of their overhead. Typically, most architecture firms don’t have a big cushion and need the majority of staff hours to be billable work. While I think it’s a fine short-term solution to use the time for career development (studying for the AREs is a great idea), I highly doubt that there will be much difference in your job security prospects between those activities and asking for the afternoon off. So you should do whatever will help your own current health/career/family needs.
    Honestly, if your boss thinks that the dip in client work is a short-term situation, they may actually prefer that you take time unpaid rather than use up limited resources during a challenging time. (Similarly, if/when the construction industry ramps back up, I doubt that a few afternoons off now would change their need/desire to have you at a desk drafting…)
    Note that this advice relates strictly to architecture, where salary and billing are pretty directly and immediately connected. I imagine that in other industries the advice to make yourself useful/more skilled would still be relevant.

    1. Evergreen*

      I work in engineering consultancy for building design, not architecture but obviously very similar. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense.

      The only thing I’d add, though, is that having someone who is actively interested in developing new tools (e.g. parametric scripts, REVIT visualisations/plugins/scripts/reports etc) is more likely to have a future in the company than someone who is focussed on what time they can leave the office. I remember the financial crash and for us the difference between being one of the 3 who stayed vs one of the 5 who left did come down to what you could offer going forward: intellectual curiosity and a positive attitude isn’t everything, but if you can spend the time to show up now it could push you just over the edge.

  50. whistle*

    I once submitted references up front for what I thought was a legitimate job opportunity and then turned out to be an MLM type scam. As soon as I realized it, I figured they likely wanted my references to mine them for referrals for other chumps who might fall for their scam. I called my point of contact for the “job” and left a fairly unhinged voicemail about how they better not contact a single reference I gave them. I then called my references to apologize for giving out their info and letting them know not to engage with this company. It was so embarrassing! I don’t think I’ve provided references up front since.

  51. Sally Forth*

    OP 1. My son is accomplished, employed in a great job, and well-educated. He is also on meds for mental illness. His slow speech and insertion of words like “yeah” and “so” directly correlate to the med use.
    A speech and language pathologist can sometimes help with speech patterns such as this and are often covered by employee benefits.

  52. lazy intellectual*

    I’m paranoid #1 is about me. I’m not the most articulate person and use too many fillers but it’s almost like I’m on autopilot. I even annoy myself with it. Maybe I should just assume the letter is about me and work on this. (FWIW in-person interactions is not a HUGE part of my job, but we do attend events whenever there isn’t a pandemic and I would like to not make a bumbling fool out of myself.)

    1. revueller*

      If you’re really, really concerned, record yourself giving a presentation. Listen to the recording and count the times you use a filler phrase. It’ll be brutal but it’ll show you where you tend to use those phrases, why you use them, and how you sound in general.

      If that sounds too uncomfortable (heck, I’d be uncomfortable doing that myself), simply practicing phrases out loud multiple times (even if it’s as simple as networking questions like “So tell me what you do!”) can add that confidence and let you store certain phrases as muscle memory. You’ll have practiced saying those phrases without filler words so often that adding them feels worse.

      I’ll also add that people of all ages use filler words. Executives of all genders drop “you know,” “like,” “kinda,” and “sorta” all the damn time. And nearly everyone has a favored catchphrase or two that they default to. You don’t have to achieve 0% filler. What makes a difference is how often you use those words and how confident you sound otherwise. If you sound completely secure in what you’re saying, absolutely no one notices the “you know.”

  53. UKLu*

    I am in the UK and have never applied to any job that doesn’t ask for the details of referees on the initial application form. There is often a box to tick that says referees can only be cancelled at offer stage, although it is generally assumed that this is the case anyway. I would not have been able to apply for any jobs at all if I didn’t give referee details up front! Wouldn’t it be a waste of time for the company if they took you all the way to offer stage and only then found out that you don’t have any referees?!

  54. ainnnymouse*

    About the job reference thing. I applied to Subway and you can bypass the reference part. Then I got an interview for Subway and the guy over the phone asked for 7 references.

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