we have to share our feelings on a color-coded scale, how to demote someone, and more

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

1. We have to share our feelings on a color-coded scale

My manager has started asking our team to go around the virtual “room” and share our state of mind at the beginning of each meeting. We are supposed to to share how we’re doing on a color-coded scale of red to green.

This has been explained as a trust-building exercise. But as someone who suffers from chronic illness, I find it to be quite difficult. We’re told that this exercise is meant to allow us to bring our whole selves to work, but what about when your “whole self” is in much more pain than other people? And what if you don’t want your coworkers to know when you’re having a bad day? I don’t feel comfortable answering these check-ins honestly, because if I did I would be giving away how unwell I feel on a regular basis, which would almost certainly impact how my colleagues think of me (whether it ideally should or not). Because of this, an exercise that is supposed to make people feel welcome instead makes me feel alienated. Not only do I have to do my usual masking to get by, but I now also have to lie about how I’m doing. It seems to me like an open ended “how are you doing” question would be so much more authentic, and then people can answer if they want to, or not, to the degree of detail that they want to include.

My question for you is whether I’m being a grump and should get over my personal misgivings and accept this as the charade it is and play along and just tell people I’m green or whatever, or if this really is something that managers should think more carefully about before assuming it will have a positive impact on everyone.

It’s something managers should stop doing, full stop. It’s invasive and boundary-violating, and it’s not the point of work. And as you point out, it’s particularly problematic for people who can’t answer honestly without revealing info they shouldn’t feel obligated to share at work and which could open them up to discrimination.

In some cases, there can be value to knowing what mindsets people are bringing to a meeting. In meetings where you need people actively participating, it can be useful to know if people are distracted, stressed, tired, upset, etc. (although if you want to inquire, you need to already have done the groundwork to create trust and a reasonably healthy environment). But requiring this info of everyone every time and with this weirdly blunt instrument (colors?!) … no.

Ideally you — or even better, a group of you — would speak up at the next meeting and say, “We’re not finding the color exercise useful. It feels intrusive, and would be particularly difficult for anyone who’s dealing with health challenges that they don’t want to share at work. Can we skip it and focus on work?” But if you’re not up for that, then yeah, just say “green” or whatever color represents neutral every time and roll your eyes internally.

Also, about their claim that this builds trust — the way you build trust is by working to create a transparent, fair environment with open communication without violating anyone’s privacy. You don’t just make people reveal personal feelings every time they sit down to meet.

2. How to demote someone

My company is a young and growing start-up. We are in a period of rapid growth that is leaving all of us stretched to the brim. I am on the leadership team, and we have a situation with an employee who we (maybe carelessly) promoted to a key position. They have been in the position for six months and it’s just not working out. It is absolutely our mistake. We put them in the position out of necessity rather than carefully considering who would be a good fit.

Now we are being forced to reckon with our mistake. It is just not working out and it’s time to replace them. We would like to move this employee to another position where they have a greater chance of success.

The debate we are having is about how we should go about this. I am advocating that we tell the employee, hope they still want to stay on with us, and allow both internal and external candidates to apply for the position. I want to allow our internal candidates the opportunity to move up.

My colleague is arguing to hire externally for the position and not tell this employee what is going on until we have found a suitable replacement. We are short-staffed and need to hire more people regardless.

Both of us are concerned with the employee quitting before we have found a replacement. It is a vital position to our organization and not having someone there for any extended amount of time would place more work on our already overburdened team. I am very concerned about what it would do to trust and morale if we are not transparent in this situation. What would you recommend that we do in this situation?

Have you been talking to the employee about your concerns with their work all along? Ideally this will already have been an ongoing conversation, and so the next stage of that conversation can be transparency that it’s not working out and a discussion of where to go next (including the option of moving to another position if they’re up for that). That’s honest, it’s fair to your employee, and it’s just good management, because ongoing feedback should be a regular part of managers’ relationships with employees anyway.

If you haven’t already been giving the employee that sort of feedback, then you’re in a harder spot — but transparency is still the way to go. Your other employees are likely to hear about how this went down, and “they secretly hired a replacement and then sprung it on everyone, and Employee didn’t even have the chance to know about their concerns” can become a (bad) defining mark about your culture.

But yes, your employee might move on before you’ve found a replacement. They could move on regardless though, especially if they’ve already realized the job isn’t a good fit. People can move on at any time, and you can’t make major management decisions based on that fear. If you want to minimize the chances of that happening, you can do that by sweetening the pot for the employee — offering a bonus to stay for X amount of time, or even simply ensuring you’re treating them with respect, dignity, and appreciation. But don’t secretly replace someone before they know what’s going on — that’s not the culture you want to be building.

(Also, especially as a young company, make sure you’re doing the necessary postmortems here and drawing lessons for next time. Especially when you’re short-staffed, hiring too quickly, and possibly because someone was already on hand, is an easy mistake to repeat.)

3. Should I tell an internal candidate that I’m secretly planning my escape from our organization?

We recently got approval to fill a key position in my department, which took several months and many hoops jumped through. We will have several internal candidates, one of whom is phenomenal and will almost certainly be in our group of finalists. This person once told me that they wouldn’t want to stay at our organization if I were to leave.

…but that’s exactly my plan, and nobody knows it yet. My boss is horribly toxic and emotionally abusive, and I am planning to put in notice as soon as this position is filled, new job or not (I don’t trust my boss to not use my departure as an excuse to screw my department out of a key position, and I also don’t trust my boss to not show me the door immediately upon receipt of my notice). I have reason to believe that having me as a boss is part of the reason this internal candidate is applying for the job, and it feels icky keeping this to myself for that reason. Do I confide in this person and let them in on my secret, or just keep this to myself until I’m ultimately ready to pull the plug?

If you absolutely trust this person to keep what you tell them confidential, it would be a kindness to have a discreet conversation with them about it, especially since it sounds like you plan to leave as soon as they accept. Otherwise, though, you could be less direct about it, possibly just pointing out that no one stays forever and before accepting that job they should be sure they’d want it even if you weren’t there.

But also, do your internal candidates know your boss well enough to know they’d be signing on to work for someone emotionally abusive? If not, it would be a kindness to find a way to share that too.

4. Disclosing my family’s pandemic schedule when interviewing

I’ve been actively interviewing during the pandemic. The standard advice is not to disclose any personal details during interviews, not only because it is illegal for companies to consider them, but also because it may hurt your chances to get a job due to potential bias and discrimination from the interviewers.

I wondered if this advice is different now. I’m interviewing for a fairly senior level, and I have children distance learning at home, and a husband working from home. I am personally curious how the hours will be for the role, given my additional responsibilities with my family. Will it hurt my chances if I explain I have children at home and most days, need to stick to a schedule that will allow me to manage home responsibilities too? I feel like any hiring manager will view this negatively, yet I need to know, and I don’t want to spring my personal responsibilities on them after I get the job.

Wait until you have the job offer and raise it then. I know it feels more efficient to raise it earlier, since if they can’t meet your scheduling needs, then there’s no point in going through the rest of the interview process. But if you raise it earlier, you do risk it biasing them (consciously or unconsciously). With anything that has the potential to cause bias but which your interviewer can’t legally consider (kids, religion, disability, etc.), you’re actually doing them a favor if you wait to bring it up until the offer stage. That way it can’t subtly influence their thinking — and they don’t need to deal with you wondering if it might have influenced their thinking if they reject you.

Your situation is potentially a bit different, because it’s possible that the sticking point could be not that you have kids, but the schedule you need as a result … but if that’s the case, you can deal with it at the offer stage. The benefits of not muddying the waters before then are still greater.

5. What to do about a promising job opening that’s dragging out

I had a great interview for a dream position that went very well — so much so that they immediately asked for and contacted my references, all of which my reviewers said were “glowing.”

This was almost a month ago, and the workplace told me they would get me a decision the next day, and then I was told a week later that the decision would take “a few more days.” A week after hearing nothing, I emailed to follow up and was told that there “were more steps with HR than they realized.”

That was two weeks ago, and I don’t know what to do. Should I email and check in for a status? Is this a red flag that indicates that I maybe don’t want to work for this place even if a job offer comes up? It’s been almost a month since my reference checks.

The biggest issue is that this job would require moving to a different city, so I had put my apartment search in my current city on hold. I’m okay in my current work and living situation — they’re not ideal, but for being in the middle of a pandemic, I feel lucky.

Should I check in again? Should I be even more patient? I’m always very polite in my emails but am afraid they will think I’m being too pushy and rescind any kind of job offer. My field (museums) is very small, and good jobs are difficult to come by, so I’m really anxious to hear about this one.

Wait one more week and then check in one last time, specifically asking if they can give you a sense of their updated timeline. After that, though, put it out of your mind — assume you didn’t get it and move on and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do contact you. If assuming you didn’t get it means you’d resume moving forward on a local apartment search, go ahead and do that. If you want to be more cautious, you could wait a few additional weeks before you do … but I wouldn’t keep your life on hold longer than that, since the job may never materialize. (A stronger candidate could have emerged, they could be rethinking the position altogether, etc.)

As for it being a red flag about the job itself … eh. It would make my job easier if I could tell people that a disorganized or longer-than-anticipated or low-communication hiring process always indicated problems with the job, but the reality is that it doesn’t. Definitely pay attention to other cues you’re getting during the process, and if this seems like part of a pattern, put more weight on it — but the details in your letter aren’t damning on their own (and this kind of thing is really common).

{ 303 comments… read them below }

  1. OP #2*

    Thanks Alison! We are having a meeting to discuss this Friday afternoon and I really appreciate your input on this. I’ve been having a lot of anxiety about this. The manager that I’m fighting this with is very very assertive and slightly scary. The meeting later today is most likely to be a fiery one. This is giving me confidence to go into that meeting to advocate for what I believe is the right thing to do.

    Yes, we have had multiple conversations with the employee about the issues for several months. They are very aware of the issues taking place. We just haven’t seen the change that we needed to see.

    Time to have a really hard conversation with this employee. Thank you so much for your advice!

    1. anon73*

      Stand your ground and good luck. You should always be prepared for anyone to leave at any time and not make bad decisions based on the possibility that someone may go and leave the rest of your struggling to get the work done.

      1. Legal Beagle the OG*

        And you’ll almost certainly lose good employees if you engage in secretive, underhanded management practices like hiring a replacement before telling someone they’re being demoted! That kind of stuff destroys morale very quickly.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      My HR at a former position was big on stealth replacements for “business continuity” purposes, and they never, ever went well and were a terrible hit to morale because people got paranoid every time a new hire started that it was the person there to replace them. Frankly, I think the insane HR lady kind of enjoyed that culture of fear, but I thought it sucked.

      Best of luck pushing back on the stealth hiring plan, and I’m glad to hear that the current employee has gotten feedback. I’m sorry you’re in the situation, and good luck with your meeting!

    3. TeaTime*

      Do I work at your company? Is that employee my boss?

      I report to someone who isn’t working out. We’re short-staffed, but this person is definitely making everything harder by not being good at their job.

      From the view of the employee’s team, here’s some things that could make life easier if the employee leaves before you’re ready:

      – Know the employee’s job. What are all the projects they are on? What ongoing responsibilities do they have? Since you are closely managing them already, it will make sense to ask about this or even have them list this out.
      – Have a succession plan. You don’t have the staffing to have a single person replace the employee, but what if you divide the responsibilities? Play to each team member’s strengths and take on some tasks yourself. Know which responsibilities will be put on hold. It will be tough, but it will usually buy you 4-6 months to fill the role.
      – Move the employee sooner rather than later, even if it leaves a vacancy. The longer they are in the role, the more they will impact future work and demoralize team members (who may already be looking to leave). Sometimes having no person is better than having the wrong person, especially if you have a strong succession plan.

      Good luck in your meeting!

    4. OP #2*

      Thanks everyone for your words of encouragement and advice. I advocated for it but I don’t know if it was received. My boss agreed with me but the owner was not so sure.

      We will see.

    5. Anonforthis*

      I’m several days late and for that I am sorry. Of course big concern is business continuity so can see why recruiting from the outside is an option. The effectiveness of that will depend on the quality of the recruiter and the person currently in the role not being plugged in (not sure how niche the space you work in). If the person finds out s/he will likely quit with no transition plan in place. The question I see for your management team is whether you want to a) retain the employee long term in a new role, or b) retain them in the old role until you’ve found a replacement and have them help with on boarding. In scenario a), you have to make sure pay is just as good in the new role, ideally with an equal title, and make sure s/he can say it was their choice to make the move. In scenario b) completion bonus + generous severance package + good reference may get your over the finish line (with a NDA). Compensation, title, and letting the employee control the external narrative to colleagues and future employers are all good cards to play to get what the business needs – which is for this employee to continue in the role until a suitable replacement is found, and then transition without drama. If you have to deliver the news, be frank, respectful, and honest, take responsibility for the mis-match and if you can offer a commitment to helping this person get to their next great fit – even better. Have a witness when you talk with them. Good luck.

  2. Squeakrad*

    For LW 3 I would never tell an internal candidate that I was thinking of leaving. But I would tell them or suggest to them that if my staying on was part of why they wanted the job that nothing is forever. Something very general like that.I would never go so far as to say I was contemplating leaving or planning to leave. It’s very hard to keep a secret like that unless you have incredible willpower. In my experience most people aren’t.

    1. allathian*

      This is true. I might only consider telling a coworker who was a true friend that I’d spend time with off the clock, as opposed to a work friend I wouldn’t even consider calling outside of working hours. Otherwise, if the internal candidate ended up getting the job and I’d leave within a few months, it might risk losing the friendship. But I definitely wouldn’t take the risk of the news that I was planning to leave to get out for a coworker that I have just a professional relationship with, even if they told me they’d only want the transfer if I stayed.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t say that I was planning to leave. But I would point out that I will not be in this role forever, whether due to promotion or a job offer elsewhere that’s too good to pass up. Everyone moves on, so make sure you want the job for the job itself, not just to be on my team.

    3. MK*

      Ideally, the OP would have said this to the candidate back when they made the comment about not wanting to stay at he company without the OP. I am afraid that now they are in the middle of a hiring process for a position thta reports to the OP (if I understand correctly), even a vague statement about nothing lasting for ever will read as a warning.

      That said, this kind of statement is often a sort-of compliment instead of an actual intention to leave as soon as the OP leaves, even assuming the candidate is in a position to do that. More important by far is warning them about the toxic manager, if they are not in a position to know. In a way, that serves as a warning for the OP’s potential resignation too: if the candidate knows the manager is problematic, they should also get the message that the OP leaving is a possibility at least.

      1. Mockingjay*

        When discussing the toxic Grandboss, please try to frame in useful context – meaning the top 2 or 3 things the candidate needs to know about Grandboss’s working style to meet expectations.

        “When you encounter a problem, make sure you have a good description of the issue and at least one, preferably two, potential solutions before going to Grandboss about it. She likes to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the spot. Grandboss expects us to do our homework before coming to her. Bring only serious issues (costs time or money) to her attention.” [Translation: Grandboss is extremely irritated by what she considers minutia that you should solve on your own.]

        1. LW #3*

          I am actually Grandboss in this situation; MY boss, the director of the organization, is the toxic one, and this new hire would not regularly interact with them. There’s enough of a buffer there. However, this person has also privately complained about our culture and org structure (which I think is valid, because these are other reasons why I want to GTFO out of this job ASAP), so maybe my approach is simply “think about this carefully before you decide”.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            So, I think I might give them a meaningful stare and saying “I think you need to consider accepting or rejecting this role completely independently of my supervision. The concerns you have about certain elements of the culture are things that would likely transfer to your role here, please think very carefully before you decide.” *another meaningful stare*

      2. GothicBee*

        Yeah, I think giving some warning about the toxic manager is pretty important here. Most people understand you can’t tell them if/when you’re planning to leave (though a hint would be nice if you feel comfortable with it). But as someone involved in the hiring process, you’re kind of selling them on the position, so I think it’d be pretty understandable if the person who gets hired is upset at being blindsided by a toxic situation that you immediately jump ship on as soon as they’re hired.

        1. GothicBee*

          Actually I just saw the comment from the LW above, so I don’t think this is as important if the toxic manager is not someone they’d be interacting with regularly.

      3. Annony*

        Is this job actually a great fit for the candidate and their career goals? It may be possible to discourage this candidate from pursuing this job by pointing out any potential negatives as far as job fit and career progression goes and telling them to make sure that they want to job, not just to work on OP’s team. It sounds like the OP is at least somewhat of a mentor to the candidate so that conversation wouldn’t be more normal than directly saying that no one stays forever.

        1. LW #3*

          On paper, yes, it’s a great fit. This person has become skilled at putting on a happy face at work and playing by our org’s “rules”, but privately hates it and thinks there are a lot of things that need to change (as do I).

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Yep. I have gone with something like this, “In my own life, any time I have taken a position because of just one person, it has not played out well. There has to be more to the job than just this one person, as this tends to be putting all eggs into one basket. And that puts a lot on that one individual. ” The segue into an “easy out for them”,
      “I think when you said that you meant it as a compliment and perhaps did not mean it literally. On the off chance you did actually mean it literally, I hope I can encourage you to look at the job as a whole instead.”

      This way they can just say, “Oh, I was speaking figuratively.” And privately you KNOW you got your point across.

      I had a work friend who stayed because of three people, I was one of the three. One person left. Then I gave notice. My friend said, “This narrows it down to ONE person for me. It’s time for me to move on, because there is not enough holding me here any more.” Wise. Very wise.

      1. Mel_05*

        Yeah, I think they could present it as, “If you’re only wanting the role because of me, this may not be the right fit for you. You need to like the role.” and avoid alluding to the idea of them leaving.

  3. Observer*

    #1 – You are not just being a grump – managers should NOT be doing this. But, if you can’t get a group together, you may just have to treat this like the charade it is. Because I can guarantee you that there are others who also don’t want to share their state at each meeting, especially with this kind of color coding!

    If you do push back, I would pretty much use the verbiage that Allison provides, but I would not specify mental health challenges, because the reasons why someone might not want to share a sooo varied. And that means that no matter what misconceptions your boss may have about mental health, they should be able to see that this will be a problem for at least some of their staff.

    To managers – you don’t build trust by forcing people to expose themselves. You MIGHT get people to expose themselves when and IF it makes sense if you have done the work to build trust.

    1. RB*

      I’m sorry, but I didn’t even get past the headline on this so maybe my comment is off topic. I’m tired of all these “we have to share our feelings” letters. Forced intimacy is never the solution. What if you had just lost someone close to you and were barely holding it together? I think being made to come up with something appropriate to share during a difficult time, and trying to communicate it to people you’re not that close with, just makes a tough situation that much harder to deal with. I can be extremely vague when needed, so that’s my go-to for these things.

      1. Mel_05*

        Yup. I’ve had so many different private things in my life that were tearing me up, but I put a good face on it at work and cried in the bathroom if I needed to.

        It would have made it a thousand times worse if I’d had people at work trying to make me share my feelings.
        Also, I would have lied through my teeth, which I don’t normally condone, but if you force a situation like this, that’s what you get.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          People who make intrusive demands for information that’s none of their business don’t deserve the truth.

          1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

            Came here to say the same: if an employer is reckless enough to ask such an invasive question, it is totally okay to lie. Let your responses be green, green, green green green.

        2. I Need That Pen*

          My thoughts exactly. I have plenty of things I’m trying my damndest to hold together, and would likely resort to lying to shut things like this up, and I suspect many of us who are being subjected to this “how do you feel” method of management are doing exactly that.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I agree completely! Honestly, sometimes when things are difficult in my personal life, I appreciate getting to go to work and put on the cloak of professionalism for a while. It allows me some respite from whatever else is happening, at least for a little while. I honestly do not want to bring my whole self to work in those situations. I want to shed off that part of myself for a while and focus on feeling productive and in some control of at least this one small part of my life, my work. I personally would talk to my boss if she started something like this and try to push back, maybe even send her links from this blog. But I have an amazing boss who is open to feedback, and who would never recommend a practice like this anyhow! I can understand if OP prefers to just say “green” or whatever color is the equivalent of, “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”

    2. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

      The manager should just buy mood rings for all the employees so she can really know how they’re feeling. And then some pet rocks for companionship while working from home.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I’d be very inclined to offer a Pantone color chart number – something along the lines of “I’m having a 415” when I’m feeling a bit gray and depressed.

        1. LW #5*

          Can you just say you’re a blend of red and green, so a neutral, muddy brown? I’d be willing to bet that many of your colleagues feel the same way you do and would appreciate a light jab at this ridiculous exercise.

          Hopefully no one on your team is red/green color blind.

              1. I am Jack's Something-or-Other*

                I was JUST coloring with razzledazzle with my niece last night, haha!

      2. SchrodingersCat*

        Hah! I can see myself becoming bitter/sarcastic enough about this sort of thing that I might get myself a mood ring or a color wheel, something like that. When its my turn to answer, hold up my fist+ring to the camera, or spin the color wheel in frame right next to me. “Hmmm, seems I’m feeling yellow today. Cheers!”

        1. EPlawyer*

          I would just say “red” all the time. When asked why I would say I am going to be red as long as we have to do this stupid exercise.

          Okay I may THINK about saying that, not sure I would ever have the courage.

          1. AKchic*

            Or directing the question back to the manager running the ridiculous exercise (in futility).
            “What color do you want me to be today? What do you want to hear that will get me through this with as little interaction as possible because I am here to work, not here for group therapy/share time.” Or “you pay me to work, I don’t pay you for group bonding in a therapeutic setting.”

            But, I’m old enough and secure enough in myself and my position to push back if this were ever to arise in my job site, and outright refuse to participate.

      3. Rainbow Connection*

        We actually had something like this go down. Our company issued “mood stickers” you wore on your wrist. It was supposed to be an indication of your stress level. They are based on body temperature and when I was in my hot office I got one reading and in the colder part of the office another. My manager would go around and ask your color. Thankfully that was a passing fad.

      4. Little Bobby Tables*

        Or how about saying you’re feeling H.P. Lovecraft’s color out of space? When they ask about that, tell everyone you can only explain by reading them the entire story.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      If managers want to build trust there are many other activities they can do that actually work.
      Be transparent.
      Encourage people.
      Don’t backstab people.
      Advocate for your employees.
      Explain. All the time, explain what is going on, what you are doing, etc. Give them explanations daily.
      Keep private matters PRIVATE. If an employee confides that they have illness in their household, they are grieving, they are having financial difficulty, etc., keep this information TO YOURSELF. On the outside, do what you can as a boss to help them.

      So here is what things look like in a workplace that I know of:
      Person #1 SO is dying.
      Person #2 SO is probably dying and they suddenly lost Pet.
      Person #3 Their problems in their work setting are mind-bending.
      Person #4 Serious financial issues

      I could go on. NO, no one wants to sit around and talk about this stuff. Absolutely NO. And do NOT ask how things are, the only thing that keeps people from running out the door and never returning is because NO ONE asks how things are. Things were terrible yesterday and things remain terrible today. Move on.

      Objectively speaking, when people are facing crisis there is no time for “sitting around and talking about it”. Action is the only thing that works in times of crisis.

      OP, I would sorely be tempted to say, “I am miserable today because we need to take action and we are just sitting here only talking about it instead. I firmly believe that I could have put this time to better use by working at things that are concerning to me.”

      1. cubone*

        A great list of actual trust building exercises!!

        I had a boss who did “everyone go around and say how they’re feeling”… half the people passed (and she would glare at them or express shock, so yeah that whole “you can pass if you don’t want to share!” was clearly a load of crap), or when people did share, the responses were just “oh… that must be awful”. “Oh, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that” and then on to piling 15 new projects on the same person who just said their parent is gravely ill. I’m still at the same place and weaseled out from under that boss but frankly, I think she’s actually just a deeply manipulative and cruel person who loves these exercises because they give her nuggets of information she can pull out later to undermine someone. I can’t help but wonder how many of these managers might be the same.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          It’s like internet bullies who keep records of every conversation they ever have with their “friends” so they can post humiliating screenshots later. Or cult leaders who demand nudes or incriminating secrets from cult members for future blackmail in case they ever want to leave.

      2. Girasol*

        Yes! There’s a difference between building real trust and requiring activities that demonstrate a level of trust that doesn’t actually exist. If OP doesn’t feel like participating, then the trust level isn’t where the boss would like to think it is, and faking that trust won’t work.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      We had a colour coded thing at a software firm I worked at, but it was strictly (at first) for your workload. Green: I’m ok, might be able to help others. Yellow: waiting on other departments/working at capacity. Red: dear god help.

      But we got a new boss who tried to make it about emotions. Next meeting the entire tech team put blank white stickers on, because they didn’t know what he boss meant, or what he was going to do with that information. He said he was ‘disappointed’ (no idea what colour sticker that was) because he felt we should start each day with a board of green and have meetings first thing in the morning to ‘fix’ issues of any member of staff if they’d not put green that day.

      He didn’t have answers aside from ‘be more confident in yourself!’ for anyone who was not ‘green’ either. He didn’t understand that things like my chronic pain, disability etc don’t cure themselves by feeling ‘good about yourself’

      1. WFH with Cat*

        Oh, dear. That manager definitely didn’t know what he was doing. That said, I think the response of all white stickers was pretty brilliant.

        The color of disappointment … ? Maybe we could do a poll. I vote gray.

          1. I edit everything*

            I propose the lightly speckled bright red of a red delicious apple. Looks amazing. Tastes like worms.

        1. AKchic*

          baby poo yellow. That is such a disappointing color to see anywhere, even if it isn’t baby poo specifically, because it reminds you of a child’s blow-out that you’ve had to clean up, or that you’ve witnessed at some point. And you’re just so disappointed that you still remember the smell and *everything* about that encounter.

        2. Coffee Bean*

          I just googled this. The response I got is that grey is the top color associated with disappointment, followed by black, then dark yellow. Personally, I think sounds would work better. No vote for the Archer Fail sound. This is actually the sound that is played when someone loses a game on “The Price is Right”. Da da da d ahhh.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            And gray has been the main color in home decor for at least 8 years. I literally went into a furniture store and they had nothing that wasn’t black, white, or gray.
            Are they trying to depress people?

            1. BookMom*

              A house I used to own went back on the market recently so I was looking at pics online. Every single room had been painted the same shade of grey. It used to be such a cheerful house. Makes me sad.

      2. Yorick*

        I was gonna suggest that people focus these kind of exercises on work. I’m green because I have everything I need for this project and it’s going well. Or I’m red because there are serious issues keeping me from progressing.

    5. Anne Elliot*

      What jumped up at me is the whole “this is to enable you to bring your whole self to work” thing, as if that’s something employees should want to do or be expected to do. My immediate reaction was “my work is not entitled to my whole self.” I’m really bothered by the implicit assumption that boundary-erasing is expected and that work should be central to a person’s existence, such that we’re actually expected to have discussions about how our larger lives impact our work, instead of privately deciding about how work should impact our larger lives.

      I love my job and I STILL don’t think my coworkers or boss are entitled to access “my whole self.” You get my work self and and as much of my personal life as I feel comfortable sharing, limited to whomever I am comfortable sharing it with. That’s it.

      1. JustaTech*

        I think the original idea of “bring your whole self to work” was that people shouldn’t have to pretend to be homogenous with their coworkers to succeed at work (ie you shouldn’t have to ignore that you’re a woman, or gay, or Black at work).

        But it seems like way too many people in management take it to mean “but utterly transparent about every aspect of your being” in ways that don’t help you, or your work.

      2. Kyrielle*

        This! My work is not entitled to my whole self and, honestly, I’m not sure they want it either. My love of computer roleplaying games would bring…what to my job exactly?

    6. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This is making me think of the letter from the person who lost a parent and was having trouble because their boss kept asking “how are you?” and getting upset because she would answer with stuff about her grieving process. In that letter, most of the commenters suggested answering as if he had asked “how’s work going?” That’s exactly what I’d recommend for OP1. When they get to you, choose your color based on how you feel about your workload today and nothing else.

    7. JackieD.*

      OP #1: Our new boss has taken to calling employee’s ‘my yellow’s . . . my blue’s.’ UGH

    8. Jzer*

      Anyone consider that this question might be your state of mind with what’s on your work plate? My very large manufacturing company does this across most departments at our daily huddles. It’s less about someone’s personal mood and much more about whether anyone’s running into some obstacle/barrier with any of their tasks or if one person has too much on their plate that someone else could help with. When this was rolled out to us, an example was someone who was ‘green’ every day was one day ‘yellow’ – so, no prying, but the leader of the group said, ‘oh is there anything we can help you with?’ The person could have easily just said ‘no thanks,’ but responded truthfully that they had just had a really rough morning getting their child out the door to school (which had just started) and were rushing to make it to the meeting on time. So of course – they all agreed to move the meeting time back a half hour right there. Problem solved – without someone having to agonize over it for weeks and go to the manager on their own with the issue. I manage people (and am managed by someone) so I am on both sides of this. We routinely have people that are ‘yellow’ because they’re concerned about meeting a deadline. We use it to see if we can help relieve that stress – either by reprioritizing, adding additional resources, pursuing an extension, etc. I do see it as an open-ended ‘how are you doing’ question. I made it through 4 months working full time with no childcare and a cancer diagnosis still answering ‘green’ every day. Part of that is just my personality – but part of it is framing it about work. I don’t assume that when someone asks how I’m doing in the workplace that they’re prying for my life story. But if I need to escalate an issue in order to resolve something work-related, I’ll definitely use the tools the company has offered me – even if it’s a silly red/yellow/green smiley face chart.

      1. CorruptedbyCoffee*

        I feel like you can have that discussion without stickers or charts or color combos. You do that by being the kind of boss people can come to when they’re overwhelmed. You do that by making sure everyone knows that you’re trustworthy and helpful. That yellow person in your example could have just….asked if they could move the meeting back. No sticker required.

    9. Don't want to lie here*

      I am grateful that my most recent ex-boss never did try to gage my stress level. It wasn’t like she could or would realistically do anything to reduce the workload since for 3 years she has been fighting for additional staff and a promotion for me that never materialized and likely never will. Looking, but things are quite bleak in my field.

  4. Naomi*

    I’m starting to think the whole concept of “trust building exercises” is putting the cart before the horse. The idea seems to be “if employees would only do/say this with someone they trust, then if we make them do/say it with their coworkers, they’ll trust each other!” Except putting it backwards like that just leads to forcing inappropriate intimacy between coworkers.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      More likely lots of lying about how “engaged” and “passionate” they are about the company’s mission statement.

      1. Mookie*

        Yes. Does this sort of meet a loose but literal definition of the term? Sure, if you squint. I don’t really know how professional colleagues make any hay, though, after Milton confides in us his stapler woes. Am I meant to feel more warmly towards him now? Okay. My temporary mini-warm doesn’t feed or clothe me or somehow get my work done faster and better for our clients. And now I am uncomfortable around staplers. Great use of my time and Milton’s. And what an efficient means of solving his or anyone else’s hypothetical mental health issues. Surely now that that cat’s out of the bag, his output will triple and we’ll ace our next fire readiness test.

        Certain segments of our society view remote working with narrowed, skeptical eyes about how inefficient it all is, these freeloaders in their skivvies sort of deal, but Color For the Day tailgate astroturf existed before the whole of the white collar world became zoom proficient. This is a good opportunity to cut the fat from these initiatives that somehow seem designed to look absurd in order to poison the well of an actual conversation about addressing real toxicity in the workplace.

        1. Mookie*

          Also, it infantilizes and overly formalizes normal human interaction that already is permissible and prolific, like mentioning weekend woes, a late night, poor traffic, etc. This kind of lowkey venting feels good, is not generally off-putting to others, is not obligatory, and those who partake choose when and with whom to engage. This, on the other hand, is a performance and in the manner taught, as other commenters say below, to children.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            Your comment sheds a different and really insightful light on what these kinds of trust exercises do to “lowkey venting” in particular. By creating a weird separate space for that kind of interaction, it’s almost as if these exercises are designed to make lowkey venting not permissible in everyday workplace life. No wonder some people get so handwringy about displaying their lives as anything other than unrelentingly positive and eventful.

        2. EPlawyer*

          ” an actual conversation about addressing real toxicity in the workplace.” is the whole point.

          See, see, we REALLY care about our employees’ whole self. We CAN’T be toxic. Nope, there cannot be anything wrong as long as we “trust” each other and bring our “whole selves” to work.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      All the trust building exercises in the world do nothing if:
      Sue still repeatedly refuses to get me her reports on time.
      The boss still does not make decisions in a timely manner.
      The company is wishy-washy about remaining in business.

      I could be here all day adding to this list. You can’t synthesize trust. You can’t go to a chain store and pick up a box of Plastic Trust. There is no such thing. People either have trust for each other or they don’t. If they don’t that has to be fixed in actual day-to-day problems, not by sitting in a room talking about Life.

      1. Beth*

        I love the idea of Plastic Trust in a box. For even more convenience, get the Extruded Trust Product in a handy squeeze tube! Guaranteed 100% ineffective!

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Example story: My boss is a very “we’re all in this together!” sort of person. But at one point, I disclosed a serious event from my personal history to her. Less than a week later, a colleague I’m close with mentioned something about that event, and my boss went “Oh, goodness, did something like that happen to you?” As if I’d never told her in the first place. There is no trust exercise anyone could assign to me that would fix the loss of trust that happened in that situation. If she wants me to trust her, she needs to actually pay attention to the things I say to her and integrate them into her understanding of me. Having me put my feelings into colors or any of the other kooky games managers play doesn’t fix that if my boss isn’t actually doing the work of creating a trust filled environment.

      3. Paulina*

        Oddly I did start to trust a colleague as the result of a paired-up “confessional” trust exercise… because he reassured me that the exercise was completely inappropriate and we shouldn’t do it.

      4. Bumblebee*

        My old job paid for some sort of trust training that was literally a chutes and ladders style board game mat and cards. It wasn’t actually a terrible training, as it listed ways trust can be built and trust can be destroyed in a pretty succinct and accurate manner. But it wasn’t helped by the head of HR announcing at the end of an hours long training about how trust is EARNED that now that we “graduated” we should all trust management more… :|

        They let us keep the cards though and those were good for laughs for months. We’d secretly pull them on managers like red cards.

    3. Brooks Brothers Stan*

      The problem is in exactly what you pointed out: forcing inappropriate intimacy. I’ve pushed back on some of these team building and ‘trust’ exercises that just seem to be some New Age Woo Oil by stating I’ve literally huddled with other guys for body warmth while in the military but not a single one of them ever needed to know what color my mood for the day was. What mattered the most then, and in every job I’ve had, is trust that the people on my team could do their job.

      There’s nothing wrong with icebreakers when people are getting to know each other because the Big Awkward needs to be broken. But that doesn’t mean putting people on the spot to bare their soul. It means getting people just far enough out of their comfort range that everyone can share in the awkwardness and then move past it, but also still feel safe that they aren’t overly exposing themselves.

    4. Ray Gillette*

      This was the upshot of the discussion on the “bring your whole self to work” letter that Alison linked to – companies are co-opting an idea that was originally about it being safe to be yourself in some pretty basic ways (like not penalizing Black employees for having natural hair) and instead are putting the onus back on employees to make themselves vulnerable without actually making it safe for them to do so.

    5. ursula*

      Yeah. The easiest way to build trust is by being trustworthy. That means respecting boundaries and treating everyone humanely. Not whatever all this is!

    6. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      There is only one way for me to gain trust in my coworkers. They have to demonstrate competence.

      That’s it. It’s easy, and it’s simple, and it’s straightforward. If you demonstrate to me that you are competent in your job, then I will (wait for it…) trust you to do your job.

    7. Ooh La La*

      Exactly. I think in some cases it’s genuine, but misguided, and in some cases they know there are problems and this is an attempt to say “look, we’re fixing it!” without actually making any changes.

      I worked in a place with a pervasively terrible culture (terrible management, low pay, rampant gossip and backstabbing). Management told us there was no budget for pay increases, and then spent $$$ on touchy-feely culture consultants who came in to make us play team-building games and find our enneagram type. Needless to say, that pissed people off even more. The turnover was ridiculous; I’ve been gone for a year and everyone I worked with has left besides a few upper management people.

    8. Apt Nickname*

      I was thinking this exact thing! Some managers/employers think if trust = talking about feelings, then talking about feelings = trust! When it’s really trust -> talking about feelings.

  5. Jennifer Juniper*

    LW#1: Technically, you’d be telling the truth if you always said “green.” I mean, puke is green, right?

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

      This would seem like an appropriate occasion to provide feedback in the form of a puke emoji.

    2. Double A*

      I’m very early in a pregnancy and was going to say I could honestly answer green every time. Blerg.

        1. JustaTech*

          For several years I chose my cat’s food based on the fact that it was the *exact* same color as our carpet.

  6. Amy Dancepants*

    I teach at an elementary school and many of my students have trouble identifying and managing their emotions. There is a very popular curriculum called Zones of Regulation that is supposed to help children identify what “zone” they are in and a socially acceptable response. By the time they get to 4th or 5th grade (9-11y.o.), most are pretty tired of saying “I’m in the Blue Zone” instead of just saying “I’m kind of tired today.” Also, with a few exceptions, they are responsible enough to manage their own emotions most of the time.

    I assume OP#1 is older than nine (or has truly spectacular writing skills for a primary student) and is therefore a little old for Zones of Regulation. That being said, I also feel like it is my duty to tell the OP that part of the curriculum is Zones Bingo and they would be my hero forever if they emailed out the bingo cards before their next meeting. Maybe they could offer prizes! I guarantee the color-coded emotion-sharing time would be much more tolerable. It might even become the best part of the meeting.

    1. Observer*

      By the time they get to 4th or 5th grade (9-11y.o.), most are pretty tired of saying “I’m in the Blue Zone” instead of just saying “I’m kind of tired today.”

      That’s exactly the point of the program. In young kids, it helps them to learn to identify and develop tools to manage their emotional state before the have the verbal sophistication to describe the problem well.

      I assume OP#1 is older than nine (or has truly spectacular writing skills for a primary student) and is therefore a little old for Zones of Regulation.


      I also assume that their employer is not violating labor laws :)

        1. Liane*

          It is a joke based on Amy Dancepants writing, “I assume OP #1 is older than 9…”
          Because if the OP were 9, that is, a child OP’s employer would be violating US law against employing those under 18 for most job types.

    2. Pennyworth*

      I have never understood the point of replacing words with color zones. What is wrong with them knowing it is OK to say ‘I’m a very tired today and also a bit sad’? Some of these schemes just seem money-making exercises by companies wanting to sell educational materials.

      1. MJ*

        It was originally for children with neurological and mental health disorders, to help them communicate their emotions when otherwise they couldn’t. Its use has expanded to children in general. And, apparently, now to adults who have managers who haven’t a clue how to manage adults…

        1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

          THIS! I hated this program from my very first day of kindergarten – and I refused to use it as a teacher myself. For adults? This is tremendously patronizing. I get how a manager might want to “cover their bases” and be ready to help an employee by forcing clearer signals of struggle, but dang.. trust your employees to come to you!

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Exactly! Color-coded signs are great for when you’re walking by and need a quick assessment, but words, people! Let us use words and name the actual thing! If nothing else, it allows us to use nuance.

          2. KoiFeeder*

            When I was an autistic kid (I am now an autistic adult, presumably) I never found the color thing much use either. I assume it’s useful in some situations, but the absolute last thing I wanted to do while nonverbal was be interrogated about everything that’s going on.

            Given that I was a hide-under-the-table-and-bite autistic kid, you’d think someone would’ve figured out that I just needed to be left alone for a bit without needing fancy boards anyways.

        2. UKDancer*

          As a child who enjoyed finding synonyms and learning words, I would have found trying to define how I felt in terms of colours very annoyingly limiting as it sounds like it restricts you to feeling one thing at a time. I can understand why it may help children with neurological or learning difficulties, but I’m not sure that makes it a great idea for other children especially those aged 9-11. By that age I’d expect most children to have a sufficiently developed vocabulary to talk about their feelings.

          1. Amy DancePants*

            My students sometimes say things like “I’m kind of a turquoise today because I’m a little tired but I am also happy.” And I let them because if they understand emotions well enough to express all that and creative enough to come up with their own colors, who am I to force them back into an ultimately meaningless 4-color system? To me, it’s evidence that Zones did what it was supposed to do.

      2. Thankful for AAM*

        My son literally had tired and hungry mixed up when he was little. The solution was not to color code his feelings. That would have just added a layer of complexity.

        It took me asking a few times if he felt like sleeping or eating to solve his problem and then telling him the right word to us.

        1. JSPA*

          Ugh. There are times as an adult where that’s been a challenge to decide. (Answer often being, neither one, I’m actually thirsty.)

          1. JustaTech*

            I’m amazed how often my rage and despair at the world is actually being thirsty. I keep telling my body “this is not helpful, thirst is a thing I can feel, let’s use that” but no, at least 30% of the time it comes across as the exact same feeling as doomscrolling.

            1. Filosofickle*

              When he sees me drinking water, my other half sometimes remarks — in an amused and mystified tone — that he never feels thirsty. I rarely feel it either! But I have learned that fuzzy-headed and cranky often mean dehydrated. So I drink water even when I’m “not thirsty”. Especially if I feel off and I don’t know why.

              1. Lucien Nova*

                Fun fact: in a majority of people, the thirst mechanism is so weak it’s mistaken for hunger!

                …I often feel like I have no thirst mechanism at all. It takes my entire mouth being a cottony, envelope-glue-flavoured desert for me to realise I should drink a thing.

                1. JSPA*

                  I only feel it, and then incredibly intensely, when I start burning energy very actively while exercising (heart rate up, turning red).

                  I know I have mutations (or let’s call them variations) affecting lipid storage and (especially) retrieval. My hypothesis is that while the normal pathway is blocked, there’s another induced pathway that uses plenty of H20, and when it kicks in, it’s like flipping a switch. No clue if it’s a brown fat thing or something entirely other.

                  But indeed, not everyone can identify their state of being equally well.

                  I don’t think it’s a follow up to sweating (?) or panting. It cuts in within seconds of upping the activity level (long before even someone who sweats heavily would have lost much water).

        2. Malarkey01*

          I struggle with this very question at least weekly if not daily. When I’m both hungry and too tired to go to much effort is when I hit the angry zone too.

      3. Observer*

        The concept is intended for children with language issues or children who are too young to really verbalize things with that kind of specificity.

        As AmyDancepants noted, by 9-10 years old kids in well run programs DO move on to using more specific language.

      4. CorruptedbyCoffee*

        It’s part of a larger trend of replacing words. My new boss refuses to use the word “minuses.” For months, we’ve had to fill out a “pluses and deltas” chart every day as a group, every day with her reminding us that deltas “are things that can be fixed.”

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      These tools are very powerful for adults. They really are. Being self-aware is something many people fall down on. Doing it well means you can use your emotions as information to help you act the way you want, rather than as things that control you.

      I’m not saying it’s appropriate to have to share this information with others, but as a tool in life this kind of thing can be very very useful.

      1. anon again today*

        Yeah, I think some commenters aren’t appreciating the extent to which some people struggle to pinpoint their own emotions, either because of mental health struggles, neurological differences, and/or social skills issues, or because identifying and accepting emotions wasn’t modeled for them when they were growing up. I’ve definitely found myself going to a feelings chart as an adult when I’ve felt sort of generically “stressed” or “upset,” and it’s helpful sometimes to have a jog to say, ok, this “stressed” is actually sad, and now I have a clearer sense for how I can deal with that feeling.

        Still not appropriate for work, of course, but this kind of social-emotional curriculum exists for a reason, and it’s because these are things you have to learn.

        1. Tau*

          +1 – I admit I squirmed reading some of the comments because actually, I do have a significant amount of trouble knowing what I’m feeling. I’m autistic, so alexithymia is par for the course and I’ve mostly learned to cope with it, but… no, most of the time I *can’t* communicate what I’m feeling in the sort of detail people here are taking for granted. (Or, y’know, at all.) I haven’t done much work with feelings charts but I could see them being useful especially because “how are you feeling” is a completely useless question for me about 95% of the time.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            I have done work with feelings charts, and I didn’t get much out of them because it’s all muddy and occluded in there. Am I angry? Am I happy? Am I bored? Who even knows! Not me, that’s for sure.

          2. Amy DancePants*

            I have students who genuinely don’t know what they’re feeling but they don’t seem to get much out of the color part of Zones, which still requires some understanding of how you feel. How do you know if you’re in the Red Zone if you don’t know what “out of control” feels like? Honestly, it’s not my favorite program because of that. For my “emotional regulation” lessons, we study pictures and videos of people and talk about how their faces, bodies, voices, etc. give us clues into how they’re feeling. We try to find those clues in ourselves, too—instead of being able to say “I feel mad,” we start with “My hands are fists and my forehead is scrunched up. That kid took the last chocolate milk and I didn’t like that because I wanted chocolate milk” and then I coach them towards identifying they’re mad.

            I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do. It just kind of evolved out of working with so many kids who struggled with identifying how they were feeling.

            1. Tau*

              That’s fair, and on thinking again probably where the whole thing falls down for me, too – I was comparing “feelings charts” to “just ask ‘how are you feeling'” like people were talking about upthread, and I’d rather choose between N distinct options than try to answer an open-ended question like that, but there’s still a lot of guesswork and triangulating based on external evidence involved.

              I’m not a trained educator by any means, but what you’re doing sounds a lot like what I’ve learned to do – “OK, so I just had a weird spontaneous conversation with a random guy which I wasn’t prepared for, and now I’m breathing fast and my arms are kind of tensed up and I’m having more trouble filtering out sound, I must be upset/stressed out and should get home to destress ASAP”. Use external happenings + own body language + certain mental patterns (are my thoughts going in circles?) to figure out what’s happening wrt my emotions – it’s the only thing that works consistently. Still fairly patchworky, especially with the body language (I had some bizarre interactions with a former coworker who was better at reading my own body language than I was and therefore sometimes knew how I felt when I didn’t), so a more structured approach like yours strikes me as potentially very helpful! Getting it wrong can be… a bit of a mess, but that’s probably true for any method.

  7. Observer*

    By the time they get to 4th or 5th grade (9-11y.o.), most are pretty tired of saying “I’m in the Blue Zone” instead of just saying “I’m kind of tired today.”

    That’s exactly the point of the program. In young kids, it helps them to learn to identify and develop tools to manage their emotional state before the have the verbal sophistication to describe the problem well.

    I assume OP#1 is older than nine (or has truly spectacular writing skills for a primary student) and is therefore a little old for Zones of Regulation.


    I also assume that their employer is not violating labor laws :)

  8. Artemesia*

    Absolutely. It is crazy risky to share this. No secret like this ever gets kept and the second person who hears it has no allegiance to it being your secret.

    1. Artemesia*

      NOt sure why this didn’t thread but of course in response to sharing you are leaving with someone looking to work with you.

    2. Ex-Teacher's Wife*

      LW#5- Our last hiring round took a lot longer than I expected because we had to figure out salary for an internal transfer. Then had to wait for that person to accept the position. This took a few weeks longer than I’d hoped, so the few other finalists were in limbo for a bit. I hate to say it, but if you haven’t heard anything by now, move on.

      1. LW #5*

        Thanks. I’m learning that a reference check is not as good a sign as I hoped…other AAM articles have been helpful.

        1. Ooh La La*

          In my experience it often is a good sign, but some places do check references very early on, before they’ve narrowed it down to final candidates. Personally, I think that’s a bad practice and inconsiderate to candidates, but it is something that some employers do as a matter of course. Good luck, OP5!

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            I have seen too many online applications request references up front. I hate that. You haven’t even let me ask you basic questions that let me rule your company out. It’s just another example of the power imbalance in the hiring process.

  9. JSPA*

    OP #1
    The exercise works better with a touch of reservatio mentalis. Silently add, “relative to my running average,” or “due to external factors relevant to work,” and it will become a far more reasonable exercise.

    And, in fact, that assumption is sort of built in to the purpose of the color check in, which (as I understand it) is to encourage people to speak up if something external (or at any rate, externally addressable) is pushing them in the wrong direction, long before it reaches the level where they feel comfortable complaining.

    Catching problems at the “caution light” stage rather than the “full stop” or “crash and burn” stage is helpful, and using a familiar visual metaphor can normalize speaking up, especially for peopl who are philosophically or emotionally stoic, or shy, or have been raised with the motto, “complaints are a display of weakness.”

    1. allathian*

      Yes, but this becomes a problem when the factors causing stress are at least partly due to a less than ideal work environment and employees don’t feel safe sharing. Mandated color codes don’t make employees feel safe if they’re otherwise afraid of consequences unless they flag green every time, no matter how they’re really feeling.

      I have a good relationship with my manager and she realizes that we’re all human and that giving someone a bit of grace when things are tough will pay off later when things are going well again. I’ve felt comfortable sharing things like “sorry I’m a bit less productive today than usual, I was up all night with my sick child” (that time she told me to take the rest of the day off and to come back rested tomorrow) and “my father’s in hospital and I’m not sleeping very well, so I’ll be working shorter days the rest of the week, unless something urgent comes up” (we have flexible working hours). It helps that I have a coworker with the same role as mine and that we’re able to outsource some of our work when necessary, and we have the mandate to make the decision to do so ourselves up to a certain euro limit without involving our manager.

      1. Metadata minion*

        Same here! I have a very supportive work environment and generally feel pretty comfortable sharing if I’m struggling, but I wouldn’t want to have to do it in a group setting and have it be mandatory. If I’m having work-related stress, that’s potentially my manager’s business so she can adjust workloads or mediate an interpersonal conflict or whatever, but otherwise the only thing that I want to hear from my workplace about dealing with stress is maybe a gentle reminder that the EAP exists and that it’s ok to take a day off if I need to.

        And even with workplace stress, so long as I get stuff in on time does she really need to know that I’m feeling grumpy and unmotivated about the project I’m working on? It is my job to find a way to push through that, or to have a much broader conversation about career goals if I find that I’m stuck doing more of the annoying stuff than I used to be. Or there are busy times of the year when we’re all kind of stressed about the workload but sharing that every day/week would probably just feel like an unhelpful gripe session.

      1. JSPA*

        To clarify: I’m using “external” relative to the person. Not relative to the workplace. “externally addressable” thus means, “the workplace can address the situation, or make it possible for the person with the issue to address the situation.”

        “I’m pregnant” is internal and private.
        “I’m queasy a lot when our 8 AM meetings start” is internal and private.
        Being able to say, “I’m in yellow-to-red due to the time of our meeting in combination with life circumstances, but otherwise green” is shorthand for, “I don’t want to say why, but it’s high priority to move our meeting time.” Done right, it encourages people to share their needs, and the intensity of their needs, rather than the details of their problems.

        1. CorruptedbyCoffee*

          That’s needlessly messy. We’re adults. We can just ask to move the meeting. As someone forced to use this system, it was not helpful at all.

    2. NYWeasel*

      But, even if OP answers based on her “adjusted” range, what do they do if someone says “I’m RED today.” My guess is that it’s an awkward pause and then a lot of expressions of pity. I can’t imagine that a manager who puts people on the spot like this is fully prepared to deal with helping address the factors causing the employee to be in the red, especially if it’s 100% out of their control.

      For the OP, I would mentally shift the question to “how do I feel about my workload”, and if the answer is still going to be red, I’d take some time to think about what 1-2 things would help me out. So I might say “I’m red bc I’m so tied up with reviewing the Alpaca reports, I haven’t been able to kick off the Llama Outreach program. Would someone else be able to finish the reviews so that I can get things moving on the program?”

    3. Mackerel Sky*

      My workplace tried this, and continues to try it in different areas but it’s failed spectacularly in ever group I’ve seen it roll out in. My favorite was describe yourself as weather – to a bunch of snark filled scientists and engineers who were already overburdened and at their wit’s end. We all got a course on climatology and meteorology.

      The goal, as you state, was to catch issues before they become critical – we were supposed to say why we felt what we did as relates only to work. This was so our managers could remove the road blocks to getting our work done. Except… the road blocks were always somewhere else, in another department so the manager couldn’t do anything, and the managers/directors that could wanted us to sort it out among ourselves, but we couldn’t or we wouldn’t have had the problems. Eventually everyone just lies through their teeth and says I’m fine. I’m green. I’m sunny and clear. Why mention it if no one is going to solve the problem? It became another meaningless metric but upper management liked it because it “Proved” everyone was happy.

    4. anon73*

      Nothing about forcing people at work to share their feelings in a group setting is reasonable. NOTHING. If my behavior has become a problem, then my manager should have a PRIVATE conversation to find out what’s going on, and even then the conversation should focus on that behavior and NOT on my mental state unless I’m comfortable enough to share it..

      1. anonager*

        I’m a manager, and my team and I do the red/yellow/green check in weekly. It isn’t meant to pry into your personal life. I’m trying to model the appropriate response to reds and yellows. For example, one person said they were yellow, because they were looking at a long weekend of work to catch up on an urgent problem and it was his daughter’s first birthday party. So we talked and someone else volunteered to help him. One person said he was red because three projects were upping in intensity simultaneously, so I took one of them off his plate and stepped in myself. One person said he was fine, but his team was yellow because of a specific lingering Covid question that hadn’t been addressed yet, so I attended one of their staff meetings to explain the company’s response if an employee’s spouse or roommate was positive. It can work – IF you act reasonably on yellows and reds.

        1. Observer*

          And *IF* you limit it to WORK stuff. All of your examples are work stuff – even the first one was primarily a work issue.

        2. CorruptedbyCoffee*

          Why don’t any of these people feel like they can communicate when they need help? Without colors? Let’s get real here: there are plenty of problems that cause reds and yellows that just aren’t solvable, and nobody wants to be forced to go through that with the group.

          I’m a worker, and my bosses sometimes use this. While a few people struggle to participate, pretty much everyone privately agrees that it’s useless and annoying.

      2. JSPA*

        This is a very combative take on what the metric is supposed to capture. If that’s how it’s being used, that’s a horrible perversion of the concept.

        It’s not about mental health assessment.

        It’s not about management having problems with the person who declares they are in “red” mode, let alone punishing them.

        Its purpose is to combat the default assumption that you’re supposed to suffer in silence when things like workloads, work communication, bad infrastructure or bad work processes that poison interpersonal interactions at work are wearing you down badly. The goal is to address those problems, if they’re addressable, to improve your experience at work.

        We’ve heard nightmare stories about people reaching the point that either thei break, or someone calls them in for inadequate performance on some task…only to find out after month of hell that two departments have been routing all of their X work to them, when one of them was supposed to be routing through Judy in the Satellite Office (who’s nearly as frustrated, because she has so little to do, that she’s been worrying about being let go).

        Then there’s, “the trucks are parked by the air intake, so I’m queasy from fumes, daily, when I come in early, and the plant manager said there’s no alternative [but turns out, there is, the trucks are not even legally allowed to idle].”

        Or, “I found out that my predecessor relished being the point person for personally informing everyone about their leave requests, and interceding in cases of conflicting requests. In figuring out why I feel ‘yellow’ today, I realized that I find it hugely distracting from my core function. It’s an odd carve-out to have that be part of my duties. If it’s no more than a historical hold-over, could this be done by an automated system, which would also be more transparent and fairer?”

        It’s using “the effect on our people” to spot problems with process or infrastructure.

        1. anon73*

          As we’ve seen on this blog, these are definitely used to assess people’s mental health in a group setting and that is 100% not okay. If it’s done to talk about and resolve issues with work that’s fine. But if it’s done to see how people are generally feeling, that’s not productive and it’s invasive if done in a group setting.

        2. RussianInTexas*

          Yes, except I do not ever trust my employer not to make it about personal and not just work related. “How are you feeling” is very intrusive and personal, and really asking people to lie, because being put on spot like this, in a public meeting, will absolutely NOT make me want to tell the truth.

        3. Observer*

          Maybe that’s true in theory.

          But in practice, that’s not what is happening in the OP’s workplace.

          Here is what the OP says:

          and share our state of mind at the beginning of each meeting. We are supposed to to share how we’re doing on a color-coded scale of red to green.

          This has been explained as a trust-building exercise

          (I put in the bold)

          Nothing you describe is about “state of mind” but about specific issues that are happening in the workplace and that the workplace legitimately has standing to look at – and in general a RESPONSIBILITY to look at. This is not even apples to oranges, it’s more like fish and trees.

          Also, the company has actually made it clear that this is not intended to spot issues that can be fixed. It’s intended to “build trust” by forcing people to disclose their feelings. That’s not how you build trust.

    5. Observer*

      These check ins are supposed to be about WORKPLACE stuff, and workplace stuff ONLY. Not about “feelings” or general “state of mind.”

      Things like workload, project status and access to necessary resources are appropriate. Feelings are not.

  10. Dan*


    While it’s nice to feel good about an interview, you’re trying to read too much into the tea leaves. My read from the flowery language you used in your opening sentence is that you feel as if you were being offered the job, but waiting on “formalities.” However, your next sentence says that all that was expected the next day was “a decision.” While it sucks to be strung along, if you *need* that decision now in order to make other plans, I’m pretty sure you have it.

    The reality is, offers can take forever to put together for any number of reasons, some of which the people you are interacting with are privy too, and some of which they’re not. I’ve been in your shoes, had a promising interview, and hoped to “get a decision soon” and then… crickets. That job offer did come a full month later, and I did accept it. That place was great the first three years I worked there, but I always shuddered at the thought that our HR department was the first line of contact with prospective employees. It wasn’t that our HR department was bad or anything, but unless you were being hired to work in HR, your interactions with that department simply weren’t reflective of what the day to day life of the technical staff would be.

    Random side story: When I was on the market a few years back, I sent out several resumes. A few months after I started my current job, I received an email from a company that I had applied to *months* prior. They asked to set up an interview and asked for my most recent resume. I sent them a current one, but left off this job, which at the time I had just started three months ago. Why? Because there were exactly zero resume-worthy accomplishments at that point, and that company specifically didn’t ask if I had found a job/was currently employed. So I took the call, and got through the interview, which went so-so. Somehow the topic got around to my current activities and I told them I had just started a job. TBH, they were kinda pissed and wanted to know why I took the interview and left the job off my resume. I told them four reasons: One, theirs was an industry I was new to, and it was reputed to be a great one to work in. Second, they never actually asked if I was currently employed. Third, I wasn’t putting a job on my resume that I had only been at for a few months, because what was I going to put? This type of work can take *years* to build out a good resume. Fourth, I applied for the job six months ago, and did they really think someone with this skillset would be on the market long? (And for that matter, it was just an hour of my time. What did I have to lose, when I had potentially everything to gain?)

    1. BRR*

      I had to go reread the letter because in my pre-coffee haze I thought the LW was waiting on an offer. If I understand the timeline, it’s been a month so it’s time to move on mentally and logistically. While you can’t always read the tea leaves correctly as an applicant, there are enough signs to not count on an offer here.

    2. LW #5*


      Thanks. It’s good advice to mentally move on, and it’s what I was prepared to do. But I will write at the end of next week to see what’s up. I have only ever been offered one other full-time position (my current job), so I don’t have many benchmarks to compare this scenario to. I think they had several interviewees for the second round of interviews, and again, my field is small and competitive, so I never got my hopes up until they checked my references.

      My current workplace is struggling because of the pandemic, and although they are trying hard to save jobs, I would not be at all surprised if layoffs come around the corner next year. I am trying to read the tea leaves in my current position to see if my head might be on the chopping block, but I guess there’s no telling what the future holds.

      Thanks for the advice!

      1. Malarkey01*

        I’ll also add that we are a great place to work, well organized, projects have reasonable but aggressive timelines that we meet, we focus on clear and transparent communication….. and it can take us 2-3 months from interview to offer. It’s so frustrating, but there are a lot of HR hurdles, documents and hiring reports to write, and justification briefings with senior leaders, and then someone is on vacation for a week, and someone else has to get a project wrapped. If someone based their impression of our company off that we’d be screwed, but on the plus side if you aren’t involved with hiring you never see that yucky side.

        I agree don’t put your life on hold, but there are good places with horrible hiring timelines.

      2. Dan*

        Ok, that additional context is useful. There’s no way for me to know whether an offer will be extended or not, but unless you were the last person interviewed, it’s reasonable to assume that it would take a bit of time to finish the remaining interviews, figure out the selection, and then get the offers out. If they have to do all of that, then a month isn’t unreasonable. Undesirable from your perspective? Sure. Just not unreasonable from theirs.

        Which makes me wonder why on god’s green earth somebody told you you were getting “a decision” the next day. That was just dumb on their part. This doesn’t change the advice at all (it’s always best to do the interviews and put things out of your mind) but it does point to sloppy messaging on their end, which does you no favors.

  11. Amphian*

    #1 Work isn’t entitled to “my whole self”. They pay me to do a job professionally, not to have complete insight into my personal life, which isn’t for sale. This is also an introvert’s nightmare. I’d pick a place on the scale that didn’t stand out and make that my baseline, regardless of reality – so if they use a 1 to 10 scale (I’ve no idea how a color scale works.) and everyone is usually 6 to 8, make 7 your new base for whatever is normal for your life – even if that’s objectively a 3 compared to everyone else. Anything from you being a little more blue than usual to despair you don’t want to share makes you a 6. Anything from a little upbeat to gloriously happy but don’t want to talk about it makes you an 8. You can always share more if you want, or just keep answering “7”, but this gives you away to play the game without having to think too much (“Am I normal, up, or down today?”) and teaches nosy people (who might mean well), “My life is boring. Go find something else to focus on.”

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      I would automatically say, “I’m at a perfect 10, because I’m so excited to be in such a wonderful place working with such wonderful people!”

      The leadership would be stupid enough to buy the psychotic cheerfulness and everyone else would be scared and leave me alone.

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          The alternative to “psychotic cheerfulness” is to say the same thing in a completely deadpan tone of voice, a la Wednesday Addams, and let them try to reconcile your comment with your tone of voice. Works best if you know you can maintain the tone of voice when challenged.

    2. allathian*

      I’m not sure what being an introvert or extrovert has to do with not wanting to share your private life at work? I’m a chatty introvert and I’m also pretty happy to share quite a lot of things with my employer and coworkers, at least on a superficial level. But because I’m an introvert, I’m usually pretty peopled out after a day at the office. I’m enjoying WFH because I don’t have to suffer from the distractions of just having so many people around me. I have to admit that I do miss talking to my coworkers occasionally, but when I talk to them, I prefer if I can do it on my own terms as much as possible.

      I know extroverts who can’t stop talking and who relish the company of other people, the more the merrier, but who nonetheless are very private and difficult to know on a deeper level.

      1. Tau*

        Also, things like chronic illness and disability – something a lot of people will prefer to keep the details of private, and the main reason OP states she’s uncomfortable with this – don’t discriminate based on your ‘vert status.

      2. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I don’t have much truck with Myers Briggs but when I do it I tend to type as extrovert. I’m quite happy to talk on a superficial level about myself, my hobbies etc but I view my feelings as a private matter and not something I want the world to know about. In my previous job I had a colleague who always wanted to talk about peoples’ feelings and I used to avoid them whenever possible because it made me want to grind my teeth.

        In this situation I’d pick something broadly positive but non-committal and just keep giving that. I mean it’s not like they really want to know what you feel so I wouldn’t feel a compulsion to be honest. If green or blue equates to broadly content and with no problems I’d pick that on a daily basis. If you have something work related that’s giving you some concerns, maybe change it to reflect that as necessary.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yup, I’m a major introvert, very few people I work with know much about my private life (I barely mention my husband). But additionally I love public speaking, can be a right pompous twit at times (a flaw) and have done stand up comedy.

        I just need a lot of spoons to do it!

      4. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “I’m not sure what being an introvert or extrovert has to do with not wanting to share your private life at work?”

        Good point.

      5. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        +1. I haven’t been down with sharing my personal life at work for a while, because it’s barren to the point that I have little relatable superficial stuff to share anymore, but this isn’t because I’m an introvert. When I had an acceptable surface-level life I was more than happy to share things with colleagues, because it helps build rapport and, well, I like people who I can connect with.

        Also, the not-work-safe or non-super-happy-fun-times stuff that’s going on in my life? Sharing that at work would have a negative effect for introverts and extroverts alike. Extroverts might be chattier, but it’s not as if they don’t bother with impression management.

    3. 7310*

      Nor are they entitled to my “authentic self.” That got trotted out in a Town Hall this week. WTF?

    4. Policy Wonk*

      This is ridiculous – but I have colleagues who would definitely jump on stupid things like this to “promote” teamwork. Were this implemented in my job I would probably give them TMI: I am feeling largely green today but there are streaks of magenta and a strong undertone of deep blue flecked with yellow.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I had an annual eval with the same silly questions each year. So I gave the same exact answer each year. I found this really helped my sanity. And it saved me huge chunks of time. My thought was if the company can’t be bothered to change the questions OR come up with thinking questions as opposed to silly questions, then I did not have to put effort into answering either. They asked the same questions, I gave the same answers.

      So I tend to agree. Pick a color and you are that color every darn day.

    6. Mockingjay*

      We have to rate our weekly team meeting between 1 and 10. It’s a company-wide thing; all teams have weekly meetings that start by sharing a Personal Best and Business of the Week, then at the end we do the rating on the effectiveness of the meeting.

      I’m not crazy about the format, but my supervisor and teammates handle it pretty well. If we don’t have “Bests” to report, we say so. In COVID time, most of us are leading humdrum lives and we generally pick innocuous stuff – gardened, saw a movie. If work is not functioning well, we talk about the problem and whether the issue can be fixed at the team level or needs to be elevated.

      All that is to say: a decent supervisor can turn one of these “corporate bonding ideas” into something useful.

    7. Archaeopteryx*

      Besides penalizing people whose colors says they are struggling, I could see this stupid system biting people who say they are green/happy/average too. If you then express that you’re struggling or having difficulties, couldn’t the boss say that you must not need that much help because you’re green? This just seems like a no-win situation.

    8. PVR*

      Also this extravert’s nightmare. I personally would just frame it in terms of work. I’m green today because X project will be completing under budget/early/whatever. I’m yellow today because project Y has hit these snags. Red today because I have completing deadlines between these 2 very important projects plus however many client meetings. If I’m asked but what about my personal life? I’d give a non-answer like, oh that’s fine/boring/etc but nothing relevant to work.

  12. Batgirl*

    OP1, if the common sense revolution fails, I would just reinterpret it to mean ‘what tone I want to express at the meeting’. Use green if you only have positive things to say, go for other colours if you have issues to raise or if there are so many problems you need to go code red. In other words, your ‘feelings’ about the work. I would certainly leave your personal medical information out of it. I would imagine, due to thoughtless ableism, they aren’t expecting you to disclose anything like that anyway. They probably believe they as your employers are totally central to your emotional wellbeing and are actually priding themselves on the discretion of a colour coding system!
    The other route to go is bland compliance. Every meeting is green. Everything is fine. This would be an obvious farce to an aware employer, but yours isn’t. But do try Alison’s suggestion first. The thing with ‘trust us’ companies is that automatically, you don’t. If you aren’t allowed to decide when to volunteer a mood, how do you know which moods you’re allowed to have without judgement? I’m sorry OP1, this sucks.

    1. hbc*

      Yes, this. Sometimes “bringing your whole self” is bringing the self who is not going to share every high and low to more than three people on the entire planet, none of whom are on this conference call. The self who will say whatever it takes to get through this exercise with a continuing paycheck but without revealing private medical info. The self whose color answer is related only to work-specific issues, whose yellow day is about a customer changing their requirements and nothing to do with where they fall on the pain scale this morning.

      Of course, we’re all rooting for the person whose “whole self” includes upending the table on this kind of scenario with a “red–my hemorrhoids are killing me today,” but not everyone can be that hero.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        My ‘whole self’ loves immature humour, fart jokes, burping et al. It’s why it’s best I don’t bring her to work!

        1. RussianInTexas*

          My “whole self” is very sarcastic with morbid sense of humor.
          I absolutely cannot bring my whole self to work.

    2. Antilles*

      I would imagine, due to thoughtless ableism, they aren’t expecting you to disclose anything like that anyway.
      100% this.
      Managers who run exercises like this aren’t thinking that the “whole self”/personal lives of their employees might include serious, life-shattering issues going on (major illness, marriage on the rocks, etc). They’re assuming that’s Stuff That Happens to Other People and don’t realize that yes, there might be awful stuff in the lives of the people you work with every day.
      So to the extent they get negative answers, they’re expecting to hear short-term trivial things like sadness over your sports team losing or irritation over getting a flat tire or whatever. Not actual major life issues.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        +1. They’re expecting people to have a lot of non-tedious superficial fun things to share about their lives, which not everyone has, especially when they’re preoccupied with something bigger.

    3. Sara without an H*

      This is very good advice.

      OP#1, I understand your irritation (because this really is ableism with boots on), but you’re not lying if you interpret the question as referring to work-related problems, rather than personal ones: “I responded yellow, because I can’t go forward with Project Bandersnatch until I get the Snickersnee data. Maybe Fergus could fill us in on the timeline for that?”

      Or you could just try deflection: “I’m always beige until my second cup of coffee. Where are we on Project Snickersnee?”

      In either case, it sucks and I hope your manager gets bored with the whole idea soon.

  13. The Other Nigel*

    For #1, I’d be tempted to say something like Plaid when asked for a color. And when pushed, say, “well, the longer we argue about colors, the closer to red it gets.”

    Or “I’m color blind, you insensitive clod” and let them figure it out.

    Disclaimer: I’m a fairly senior software engineer and have some political capital to spend. I’m also (I’ve found) more argumentative in Zoom meetings than in person.

    Briefly serious: don’t expend energy on this crap. As has been said, pick a color and stick with it, and that should be sufficient. Do not divulge true sensitive information—you do not have to.

    1. Mongrel*

      And when pushed, say, “well, the longer we argue about colors, the closer to red it gets.”

      I normally jump to the red end with a “Sharing my private feelings makes me very uncomfortable”.
      On a side note, can they (because it’s always the same people) stop saying “We’re in a safe place, no judgements”. Just because you can say it it doesn’t make it even remotely true

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I would not say it makes me uncomfortable, I’d work hard to make others uncomfortable. I’d say I was the bad color, presumable red, bc something was wrong with my vagina.

        Thats part of my “whole self.” I’d really do it bc I know my workplace and they would be horrified but not fire me.

        1. piper*

          Right. I mean, if you (meaning workplace) want to know about my vagina, I’ll be happy to tell you. But you can add sexism into this whole mess, because any menstruation-related pain/mood issues would be met with a loud LALALA.

  14. Tau*

    I have actually done exercises like the red-green thing at work in a way I found OK, but:
    – they were explicitly about how we are doing at work, regarding work topics
    – they were done as part of a retro, which is a meeting to look at what happened in the team in the past X weeks and figure out what didn’t go so well and how to improve it for next time, so there’s a point to figuring out roughly how everyone in the team feels about that period

    OP, it might help to mentally rephrase the question as “do you feel ‘red’ or ‘green’ about the tasks in your upcoming workday/how work has gone this week” or some other way to explicitly scope it to an appropriate, non-oversharing level that leaves your chronic illness as far out of the picture as possible.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Yes, I was thinking similarly. I had a great project team that used a “name how you’re feeling 1-5” at the beginning and end of each huddle where we’d simultaneously throw up our number of fingers. It was really helpful to seeing where we were misaligned and raising issues that wouldn’t have been talked about — one time I threw a 2 on the way out and the fives were like woah what happened and we took a minute to talk about it. That was helpful. But it wasn’t how we felt personally, it was how we felt about the project and team. More about our progress and buy-in.

      1. Filosofickle*

        And I realize even that would be unwelcome for the many workplaces where it wouldn’t be safe or constructive to give a negative assessment. Frankly, I’m on one of those projects right now and would have a hard time with any exercise like this — I’d have to lie because nothing will change except my reputation if I keep repeating “this is a dumpster fire”. But most of the time, I’ve worked in constructive, collaborative environments where it was safe to say 1 or 2 and I could trust that speaking up would make things better and not worse.

  15. Malika*

    As someone who has struggled with her mental health for decades, my experience is that it pays to give a very edited version of your mental state at work. With the color codes i would always put myself somewhere in the middle, unless i was being impacted by issues in private life you can share on the workplace without being judged. It sucks that LW feels compelled to share information which they have no need to share. There is a time and a place to talk about your mental health, and by and large it’s not during working hours with people you only have a professional relationship with. You don’t need to hide sorrow, frustration or other negative feelings, but to be very judicious of what you share when. People can usually be understanding of struggles relating of external events, like nerves because your mum is going into hospital for an operation. Any internal struggles stemming from mental health stresses your coworkers out, and is best left outside the workplace until you have no other option. Any mental health issues are still seen as greatly impacting your performance, unfairly or not. The more unscrupulous colleagues can even use this to score cheap points off you. I hope LW finds a way to be truthful without giving up their boundaries.

  16. Kate, short for Bob*

    Re 1, nah. As a fellow chronic condition person I try to avoid questions about how I am in every circumstance but the Dr.

    To the lucky unaware – if you’re managing a pain condition it’s a lot like being strapped into a pair of stilts. Every day you’ve got to find your balance and do what you can with it, and every day you could be waking up to discover there’s sheet ice under you, or sand dunes, or boggy ground. On a great day it’s fresh asphalt and the stilts are shorter and that can lead to you overdoing it and falling straight off the much longer stilts first thing next morning.

    But every time you ask ‘how’s things’ in an intrusive way – no, how are you _really_ doing, analyse your condition on this scale – you’re asking me to look down at the stilts and the ground and you know what happens then? I lose my balance, or, at best, I get to remind myself of how much crap in dealing with just to be upright, which does nothing positive for my mood.

    So nah. Please stop it. Let’s have ‘how are you’ as a nice semi-meaningless invitation to talk about something new or interesting IF THEY WANT TO, and let people know separately that they can share information if they think it would help.

    And if you persist in asking how people _really_ are, may you be cursed with an employee that _really_ wants to tell you.

    1. Antilles*

      And if you persist in asking how people _really_ are, may you be cursed with an employee that _really_ wants to tell you.
      I always wonder what would happen if someone with real issues actually was fully honest. I just keep envisioning a scenario like this:
      Boss: And Jane, how are you doing?
      Jane: Well, I’m red right now, don’t really want to go into it, but it’s been a rough week.
      Boss: Now, now, we’re a family here, be honest, I want your whole and true self, the good and the bad.
      Jane: Okay. The reason I was out on Monday was because my son was getting a biopsy. It’s cancer, but it’s already spread too far that the doctor told me there’s no hope and he’ll be lucky to make it to New Year’s. (breaks down in tears)
      Boss: (Awkward silence). Wow, that’s awful, really sorry to hear that. (More awkwardness) So…uh…the next item on the agenda, company updates…

      1. Kate, short for Bob*

        Might be educational for them though – like if a supervisor challenged you on why you were going to the loo and you gave them all the detail on period-flooding :-D

    2. LW1*

      Thank you <3 It's also rough when other people's definition of what a bad day is is very different than your own.

  17. Release The Grand Tour Madagascar Special*

    Op#1: As someone with trust issues, I’d come up with a color that said my feelings are not up for discussion at work and would make sure everyone knew every single time it comes up in discussion. It’s none of anyone’s business what my feelings are that day.

  18. A.N. O'Nyme*

    Every time I see this “bring your WHOLE SELF to work” kind of things I’m wondering what I would do. In my case, “my whole self” includes a lot of swearing which I’m fairly certain is considered “unprofessional” in most contexts.
    As for you OP, add my voice to the chorus of “just say neutral” if pushing back doesn’t help/you don’t feel like you can do that”. It might feel like lying if you’re not actually neutral (whatever that means anyway) but maybe one of the above suggestions by other commenters of reframing the whole thing can help.

    1. Hotdog not dog*

      This exactly! Portions of my “whole self” are inappropriate for work. My colleagues don’t really need to know the full extent of my emotions, and I neither need or want to know theirs. For that matter, I don’t trot out much of my “work self” at home either. I suspect that my family doesn’t care about my skills with spreadsheets, they just want to know what’s for dinner.

    2. Elenna*

      “Bring your whole self to work”

      Ok, so I can spend the whole day procrastinating and watching Twitch streams instead of doing useful work? Sounds good! /s

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        And it seems like employers somehow expect people to bring their whole self to work and yet that wholesale still needs to be 100% focused on the job and being a good little employee who puts the needs of a job before everything.

        Mothers are still penalized much more harshly then fathers are for expressing that they need to flex their schedule or take any time off for family related reasons, even at jobs that explicitly have options available for the express purpose of allowing flexible hours for childcare and stuff like that. I doubt that women who are getting mommytracked into lower level careers are being rewarded for bringing their whole selves to work.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      Right? I’m in manufacturing, which is a bit more sweary than a generic office, but I can’t imagine anyone would find it appropriate to come back and find me in leggings and a loose sweater lounging in a hammock with work email technically open, but instead watching YouTube and knitting, swearing in whatever language that pops out when I inevitably drop a stitch or forget how to count to 4, covered in horse hair and dirt because I just came back from the barn.

  19. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW2, it might be worth having a think about whether your workplace is somewhere it is safe to fail.

    That is, is it a place where people are encouraged to stretch themselves, to try new things and innovate, but where if it’s ok if that doesn’t work out?

    If you manage this particular transition well – finding a more suitable position for one employee, finding a more suitable employee for that position, etc – then it will show all your employees that it’s ok to stretch, because management/the system pays attention to actual achievements, assumes best efforts, cares about the entire human, etc. They can try new things confident that if they admit to difficulties they will be supported with resources or training or patience or whatever it takes; and innovation comes from risk taking.

    So yes, absolutely everything Alison said: not just because it will be good for this employee and this position alone, but because it could be fundamental to the growth of the fledgling company.

  20. Donna*

    Employers who want to build social connections and help the mental health of their employees need to get some proper training. Unfortunately, the wealth of so-called experts writing articles on sites like Forbes are really muddying the water with their garbage. To encourage social interaction and building relationships without forcing intimacy your employees don’t want, look up “interesting conversation questions”. These are things like “what’s the last book you read that really stuck with you and why?”, or “if you could have anyone, living or dead, over for dinner, who would it be and why?”, or “would you rather have to eat 3 days’ worth of food in a day, or spread 1 day’s worth of food over 3 days?” Pick something interesting or slightly humorous or otherwise different from the usual “how was your weekend” *without* forcing your employees to share (or lie about) personal information about their mental health. There are great lists of these questions online, and a quick round at a meeting shouldn’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes depending on the number of participants, so no one feels resentful of a heavy workload with pointless long meetings.

    1. Me*

      I would hate that equally. I find those kind of hypothetical questions pointless so beign forced to participate would not make me a happy worker. It equates to a waste of time.

      Work is for work. We don’t need to have forced family fun at work.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        Same. This isn’t dating, this is work. In all fairness, I would hate these types of questions in dating too.
        Forced fake questions from some online list.

  21. ceiswyn*

    How exactly does telling other people what your feelings are, and hearing what other people’s feelings are, build trust between you? If Bob is currently peach, and yesterday he was aqua, how does that mean I can trust him more than I did last month?

    Colleagues build trust by doing the tasks they committed to do, and letting others know in good time if there’s a problem. Managers build trust by providing useful direction, and taking employee concerns and privacy seriously. When someone resorts to stupid pop-psychology like this, it makes me wonder whether it’s because they’re unable to build trust due to being rubbish at their actual job…

  22. Amy*

    I would consider the possibility the pandemic childcare schedule won’t land well, depending on what it requires of you.

    My husband just got a new job and they made it clear that they really need him mostly available during normal hours. (As in not dealing with our kids) My job, which was very flexible the first 6 months, now is starting to want employees to have childcare during the day.

    I’d probably tread carefully on the issue but also decide if needing childcare would be a dealbreaker for you.

    1. OP #4*

      Unfortunately I ended up had the hiring manager interview (Video fall) before Alison published her response to my question today. The hiring manager seemed really great. At the end of the interview she mentioned that she was a working mother, had two children, and really appreciated the company’s ability to give her work life balance. I made a spontaneous decision right then and there to mention that I had children as well. I framed it positively and told her that we had a lot of support from family nearby to help with the kids (which was true) as my husband and I have both had very busy jobs. She didn’t seem to react negatively. She continued to talk about the policies of the company and how it allowed flexibility, remote work, and the ability for people to have balance, which was personally important to her. Throughout the conversation she seemed to be framing the job very positively. I honestly don’t know if I shot myself in the foot by offering that I had children as well, but it seemed like an opening to be honest. I don’t need the job as I’m already working. I probably wouldn’t have mentioned I have children if I read this answer sooner. You’re right that mentioning it at job offer would have made more sense. Oh well, you live and learn. Thanks for replying!

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I probably would have done the same – you have to use your judgment in these things. If she has kids herself and was selling the flexibility, those seem like good signs. Good luck with the rest of the process!

        (I’m reminded of the time I told myself I wouldn’t mention my kids during an interview process, and then the hiring manager talked to a mutual connection about me between the first and second interviews and that person revealed that I had twin toddlers. Oops. I still got the offer, at least.)

        1. OP #4*

          I had such a good impression of her. Thanks for making me feel better about, I did go with my instincts so hopefully it wasn’t just a trap to disclose my personal situation. Thanks for the well wishes!! Haha, that’s always funny when the hiring manager knows someone you know, and pretty much reveals that they’ve checked up on you prior to the interview. It is such a small world!

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            It is a small world! In my case it wasn’t totally unexpected as the hiring manager and I were from the same grad program a number of years apart, and the interview process was scheduled around a conference that we were both attending since I was in the middle of moving to a new city. So she really did just run into my grad school advisor and have an easy opportunity to ask him about me without going out of her way. And he, being a little older and a very nice but slightly clueless academic, pulled out “and can you believe she did so well in grad school while she had infant twins!” as a positive, without it occurring to him that young women often don’t disclose family status during interviews.

            1. OrigCassandra*

              OH NOOOOOOOOOOOO

              On behalf of academia, I apologize! That’s horrendous and it should not have happened.

              (I’ve seen similar disclosures in recommendations written for applicants to our program — not always from academics! — and I always wince.)

          2. SarahKay*

            I don’t think it’s the sort of trap most normal people would use, so you should be safe. And if it was a trap so that she could weed out people with childcare limitations, then you might not want to work for that sort of person anyway.

      2. Reba*

        I think you did fine! It seems to me that this interviewer was sharing about her personal life with the intention of assuaging your concerns — even if you hadn’t spelled them out, they are completely reasonable and literally every family with both children and jobs is facing them! It seems like you simply took the chance to make a personal connection with the interviewer, when it was relevant.

        I don’t know if I would have done what she did or what you did — it could potentially play out weirdly I guess, especially for people who are very very private — but it is definitely more convincing to hear someone saying “this is how our company’s flexible options play out in my actual life” than, like, a list of the leave policies.

        1. OP #4*

          That’s true. From the moment the interview started, I could tell she was a very warm person. I wasn’t surprised when she brought up her personal situation at the end. I’m also warm to people who I’ve worked with and know, but weary to trust new people. I’ve been in some pretty insane and political work situations. I guess I did take a chance in revealing my personal situation but she did it first, and I figured it would be a good way to start off a trusting relationship if she did become my new manager.

      3. Voodoo Priestess*

        Good luck OP! I would have done the same, and in fact I don’t hesitate to bring it up. I know it goes completely against conventional wisdom, but I don’t want to get an offer and then bring up kids, flexible schedule, etc. They may still proceed but I don’t want to work at a place that will have issues when I need to leave for a sick kid, change schedules for pick up/drop off, or want to go see the Christmas program at 1pm on a Tuesday. I would rather not get the offer than spend a year or more in a job that didn’t want to accommodate working parents. I recognize that I’m at a senior level, in a specialized area where my skillset is highly valued which gives me more leverage.

        I feel like covid makes this easier. My kids are hybrid (or remote) so I need flexibility. I can’t dance around that. If you need some at their desk 8-5, I’m not the right candidate.

        1. OP #4*

          Very true. A recent interview I had, the hiring manager mentioned the team was all very young (and I’m assuming no kids, though he didn’t disclose that) and I heard that he was also single through the grapevine. I was worried about that job, as once he found out I had two children maybe I wouldn’t fit into the team culture. I didn’t get the job but it was a source of worry for me if I did get an offer.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      There are definitely jobs where it wouldn’t land well, but I think OP’s instinct that “any hiring manager would view this negatively” isn’t quite right either. In my office it would get a “yeah, me too” and an explanation of the flexibility we’re all bringing to the circumstances right now. Half my department has kids – those with pre-K and under have generally found full or near full time child care, and those with older kids don’t really need it, but several of us with early elementary kids have been muddling through by adjusting our schedules, sometimes with part-time care and sometimes without. I take 90-minute lunches most days to take my kids out for some exercise over their distance learning lunch break and it’s no big deal as long as I work the right amount overall and get my work done. And I blocked out a couple of hours this week on their Wednesday half day to do some child care, and didn’t even end up putting in for vacation time because I had a thing that needed to be done so I worked a bit that evening. We’re very lucky and not all offices are like mine, but some are, and we wouldn’t bat an eye at OP’s needs here.

  23. Guacamole Bob*

    Could OP4 ask about WFH schedules during COVID in general during the pandemic, maybe as part of a more general question about how it’s impacted the team?

    “How has the switch to remote work gone for the team? In my current job, we’ve really ramped up our use of Microsoft Teams chat, and it’s definitely affected some people’s schedules in ways that required some adjustment from everyone, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how we’ll the team has adapted overall. What has it been like here?”

    You wouldn’t want to count on the answer completely, but in my office you might hear something about how person X wasn’t starting work until afternoon most days due to child care for a while and that for me as your interviewer I’ve been working longer hours measured start of day to end of day but with some longer scheduled breaks during the day for kid reasons.

    You’d still want to discuss it formally at the offer stage, but the answer to this question might give you some idea of what reaction you might expect.

    1. OP #4*

      It’s a great point, that was actually going to be my plan before she voluntarily offered up the topic herself (see my previous response to another poster). I was going to generally ask how her team has been managing around work and personal lives during the pandemic, and gauge her reaction. Per my previous response, she actually offered up her personal situation herself. Hopefully it wasn’t just an alterior motive to just get me to reveal my own personal situation, though I did frame it positively.

    2. LadyByTheLake*

      I was coming to say something similar — ask about the job schedule. “Tell me about the job schedule — is it generally predictable, or is it about being constantly being nimble to deal with the latest issue?” “Is there flexibility in the schedule to start earlier or later?” — Trying to get a Guacamole Bob’s question. In other words, instead of laying your stuff out there for them, focus on questions about the job.

  24. aubrey*

    For 5 – I had to delay and give vague responses to a candidate we were on the verge of hiring once, and the reason was that two of the company founders got in a huge fight and one left, which made us struggle to meet our existing obligations with clients as well as just threw everyone off. We were a much better and more stable company after the dust settled, but it was just extremely not a good time to bring on a new person, and we couldn’t share any details or know how long this would take to shake out. Another time hiring got delayed because half the office including me got a terrible sinus cold and there was nobody not sick to do training and then we were swamped with everything else that got delayed due to everyone being sick.

    So, it could have absolutely nothing to do with you but be some kind of internal something going on that they don’t want to share with you. Maybe a yellow flag, but not necessarily a red one – all kinds of things could cause this especially if the company is small. I agree with Alison’s advice to wait a bit and try once more.

    1. LW #5*

      Solid advice. I was fully prepared to accept that I didn’t get it and move on BUT I was afraid of signing a lease and then somehow having something come through. I think I need to exercise patience.

      1. RecoveringSWO*

        Check out your local tenant laws to see if they’d help your timeline. Can you ask your current landlord to go “month-to-month” upon expiration of the lease? Would your apartment automatically roll to a month-to-month lease if your landlord forgot to give you a new lease? If you sign a new lease, what’s the penalty for breaking the lease early? In tenant friendly jurisdictions, it’s often just an extra month or 2 of rent.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          LW #5, Did you already tell the company that you would be relocating? If so, depending on the position I might consider asking on your final contact if they offer any relocation assistance.

          It’s probably better to instead not mention it YET, but do try to negotiate a lease-breaking fee as a hiring bonus if they do come back later and offer the position – at that point once you have the offer, it never hurts to ask. Tell them you were hoping you wouldn’t have to ask, but you understand that the hiring process often takes a lot of time. :)

          1. LW #5*

            That’s a good thought. My current landlord said I can go month-to-month though, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

  25. OP #4*

    This is OP #4. I should have explained what my work schedule had been like, which my current job allows me right now. I currently do the 9-5 (with often an additional hour either before 9 am or in the evening to make up other work). I am able to take a 1 hour break for lunch to take care of lunch for kids, husband and myself. Then stop at 5 to start dinner. I also have let’s say a 5-15 minute break in morning and afternoon to wrangle the kids a bit when they’re between online classes and need some help. I COULD potentially ask someone from our household bubble to come over and help 1 hour a day. I should also mention that my husband’s job is very very busy and way beyond 9-5. Also, my current job is a level down from the job I had prior to pandemic, and compared to the job(s) im interviewing for. What I’m hoping to know from this company and any company is whether the schedule will be so crazy that I would have to take lunch meetings and work past 5, very often. Occasionally is fine. Often (as in my husband’s job) will be a mess.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      This would not count as a “schedule adjustment for child care” in my office, though I recognize it would in some. I honestly wouldn’t even notice a schedule like yours as different from anyone else under remote circumstances.

      1. OP #4*

        I’ve had some pretty crazy busy jobs. You’re right that I hope this isn’t considered a schedule adjustment. My thinking on this is probably warped as I haven’t had very good life work balance in the past before the pandemic. Working through lunches often, not having having breaks, doing overtime without pay, was absolutely the standard. it’s kind of the reason I took a level step down even prior to the pandemic. I’m hoping this new job will be different.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Agreed. I think this very much depends on the type of job. In those that I’ve had– corporate, project-based with client services elements, no daily tasks or daily deadlines, no quotas, etc.– this type of schedule wouldn’t make anyone blink. Shoot, I have no kids and I work 8:30-5:30, take at least 30 minutes for lunch, walk the dog for 20 minutes in the afternoon, and on slow days do the laundry or even clean the bathroom. If I were to call that an “unusual schedule” it might come across as rigid or out of step.

        So it really depends. If you’re doing customer service work, especially the kind that involves a lot of calls, then the schedule is more critical to discussions.

        1. OP #4*

          I’m in corporate and in banking. I don’t think my schedule has been typical to my field, I guess I’ve just had bad luck with managers. My teams under me have always had good work life balance, enforced by me, and often to the chagrin and envy of other managers and my own management who tell them I’m busy too nice to them! That’s why I became a people manager in the first place. And was starting to become convinced that corporations just want to drive people to the ground. But there have been people in my field with manageable schedules. And that’s the kind of job that I’m hoping to find. Your job sounds great, do anything you can to keep it!!

      1. OP #4*

        Ahhh thank you!!! This past year (even before cover) has been exhausting and I took a step down as being a female leader + mother + wife of a busy husband was drowning me!! But I feel like if there’s any time to go back into the level I was previously in, it’s now, as everything is remote and maybe I can have some semblance of work life balance. I’ve had some insane jobs, insane had become my new normal. I’m looking for a normal kind of normal. I was thrilled to interview with this person, only to know that someone out there exists that cares about balance. I wasn’t sure if there was anyone still out there like that.

  26. Richard Hershberger*

    LW1: Earlier this week I got pushback on what was seen as my overreaction to the “what is your favorite breakfast” icebreaker. What we see in LW1 is the same kind of thing. The breakfast question is far less intrusive than the color-coded feelings question, but this is a matter of degree, not of kind. In both cases it is personal, intrusive, and irrelevant. Leave me alone. If you aren’t willing to leave me alone, don’t complain about my response. I am happy to check my email while the others talk about the feelings and/or breakfasts, but that doesn’t make my feelings and/or breakfast any of your business.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I’d be tempted to reply that my favorite breakfast is the dog’s. I learned long ago that sharing anything personal in the workplace was unlikely in the extreme to remain between me and the other person. So unless I’m comfortable sharing the information/feeling/whatever broadly, I keep it to myself. Add me to the list of people here who say “pick a bland/neutral/middle of the road response and keep it that way every time, regardless of your true feelings.”

      1. Mockingjay*

        “sharing anything personal in the workplace was unlikely in the extreme to remain between me and the other person.

        This is SO true. These days I discuss very little about me or my family, because the truth sounds like a soap opera. How do you explain to your coworkers that you have a husband with chronic illness due to the damage of radiation therapy for cancer treatment (cancer’s gone, but his innards are scarred); a mentally ill child (now adult, but who needs constant therapy and assistance); another child who was finally diagnosed with ADHD but hasn’t figured out how to help or manage that condition and who had to move back home because her hours were cut severely during COVID and she couldn’t afford to renew her apartment lease; elderly in-laws across the coast that I have to fly out to help because my husband can’t, including my mother-in-law who is at home under hospice…

        Even I don’t believe my life. I can only imagine what colleagues would think of my circumstances. “Oh, let’s not task Mockingjay with Project X; she doesn’t need the stress.” I welcome the focus of work – it’s a much needed break!

        TL;DR: lie. Everything’s green.

        1. irene adler*

          That’s a lot on your plate. Agree- “green” is the way to go with such foolishness.

          Folks have no idea what it’s like dealing with family members health issues -both physical and mental. It’s not like there’s a temporary inconvenience (like a daily changing of a bandage) that will go away in a few weeks. It just goes on and on.

          I have multiple things going on outside of work (family issues) that I do not want to discuss with co-workers. In fact, I don’t want them asking me about them either. And I don’t want folks deciding for me what tasks I would welcome or want to avoid. For me, work is a respite where I do not have to think about family issues.

  27. anon73*

    #5 – unless you’ve been on the hiring end of things, you have no idea what’s happening during the hiring process. There could be any number of things delaying it, and it’s not always about whether they want to hire you or not. Not to mention we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and things are probably taking longer than usual.

    1. LW #5*

      I have been on the other side of the fence, and I always tried my darnedest to stick to timelines. But, yes, you are correct re: pandemic and since I work in a field that is having a really rough go of things right now, it could be a million and one things. Thanks.

  28. PseudoMona*

    For Letter #1: While it’s not technically on the red-green scale, I’d be tempted to sing “I’m Blue” during the color-coded status check.

  29. irene adler*


    I work at a what was a start-up company many years ago.

    I can tell you what not to do.

    Upper management was notorious for NOT communicating their plans or decisions. They felt (and still feel today) that it is up to the employees to seek them out and ask about what’s going on. This is their version of the “open door policy”.

    So when people needed to be moved around, nothing official was ever announced. Nor were the affected people ever let in on the changes.

    One simply started receiving work from another project manager. That’s not so bad if you are a worker bee (like me!). But if you are already a manager and another manager (whom you view as being on an equal level) began assigning tasks to you, it can be very upsetting.

    This happened to one production scale-up manager. Upper management was trying to save his job by showing the venture capitalists (who owned the company and were insisting upon layoffs to cut the budget) that the company was not “management-heavy”. They told them that this scale-up manager was actually a worker bee, reporting to a project manager. He’s not a manager. VCs bought this and decided that he would not be laid off.

    But NO ONE told any of this to the scale-up manager! All he knew was that he’d been demoted without any explanation. His new boss felt it was the duty of his prior boss to inform him of the change. The prior boss felt that the new boss should have explained things as he would be establishing the on-going relationship. So neither one said a word to him.

    And upper management insisted that they would have been happy to explain things to the scale-up manager. All he had to do was ask them. In fact, they felt that he owed them thanks for saving his job.

    Upper management was surprised when scale-up manager suddenly stopped showing up for work. And (for reasons other than the demotion) brought in an attorney.

  30. Aquawoman*

    OP #4: It seems like there are some questions that might get at some of the information she needs. Is it a fast-paced job with “jump balls” (i.e. issues popping up suddenly–the director just got a call and needs to know what’s going on with X by noon) or a more structured job where your day is pretty well set in advance. I think you can get at this with “what’s an average day like” and those sort of questions. It won’t give a complete picture but it will give some indication which way the wind blows.

    1. OP #4*

      Great points. If and when I get a job offer I’ll ask those questions for this job, and any future job interviews.

  31. Lady Heather*

    Lady Heather would like to assert that she finds a colour system/traffic light system a helpful tool to use at work to determine a client’s mental state, but is not sure what it is doing in other industries than her own.

    For real, though – that’s awful. Employers don’t pay me for my whole self, why should I bring it to work?

  32. SomebodyElse*

    Oh dear… I have a lot of thoughts about #1 I’ll try to keep them somewhat coherent.

    First… Managers do need to stop doing this. I can understand (to a point) what the manager is trying to do, but they are doing it wrong and going to far. It is helpful, especially in a full remote work environment, to both solicit current state information and to have a virtual friendly indication of that current state. The thing is though, the manager needs to figure out a way to do this that isn’t intrusive and doesn’t put their employees state of mind on display to the world. Managers need to know their team well enough to pick up on the signs that their employees are sending out.

    Second… To both the employees and the managers who find themselves in these situations.
    Employees: just go with the tried and true bland answer if forced to do this. Pick a color, smiley face, 1-10 high rating, or whatever nonsense scale you are being made to use. Eventually the manager will pick up on the fact that they are not getting meaningful information from their attempts.

    Managers: See above you will not get meaningful information from your attempts… just skip the pain and don’t attempt this since it’s likely to be abandoned by you at some point.

    Third… Funny story time. An old boss that I had worked with was visiting my new location and drew a ‘meter’ on my whiteboard. It had a frowny/angry face one side and a happy/smiley face on the other as a joke while we were talking. Somebody asked if I was going to update it each day and I just laughed and said “Nah… I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but if you want to update it and warn your coworkers I’m good with that” I was surprised that it got updated regularly (and pretty accurately) long after I thought it would have been forgotten.

    I eventually came to appreciate it, because I would witness people coming up to me, checking it out, noticing the frowny face, and then walking away. (No this wasn’t a bad thing… I would go find them to see what they wanted so it didn’t stop communication or hinder work… It was taken in the light hearted spirit that was intended).

  33. irene adler*

    I’ve not encountered such things in my work life.

    And I’d be bewildered if I did. I’m not clear on what one is supposed to do as a result of a co-worker’s announcement of their color label for the day.
    Do I minimize interaction with those in the “red”? Do I maintain normal interactions with those who are “green”? “Yellow”? Not sure here. Are they sunny or are they signaling caution?

    Call me old-fashioned, but what ever happened to “Good morning, how is everyone today?” ?

  34. Jay*

    OP#4 – I was in a similar situation – I interviewed for a position which would be M-F 8-5 (some nights/weekends) in the office, I would be leaving a position that has become 100% Work from Home indefinitely (even when COVID is no longer a concern I likely will be able to continue to work from home). Currently I am not actively looking, I don’t necessarily need a new position but I’m at the point where it’s starting to be time to move on (title/salary reasons). I interviewed a few weeks before school started – between the second and third interview I emailed regarding my schedule – start time of 8:30 (so I could get my kids set up with virtual school) and Fridays either working from home or doing a split schedule – in the office from 8:30-11:30 and then work from home. I stated this would be temporary until school normalized more. I had a great third interview, they asked me to fill out a background check and then they ghosted me – six weeks later, two follow up emails (from me) and no response.

    Now I can’t say if my email regarding availability is what took me out of consideration, but it’s definitely a concern. I think Alison offers good advice regarding waiting until you receive an offer, however for me it really was a bit of a deal breaker and I found it was better to be upfront with them instead of wasting their time and mine. And ultimately if it was a factor in their decision, I’m glad I brought it up – the fact that they ignored my email regarding availability and then ghosted me after my third interview speaks volumes as to their company and how they operate. I could definitely see that if I was offered the position and they agreed to accommodate my schedule that once I started they may have changed their tune.

    1. OP #4*

      Ugh Jay – so sorry to hear about the ghosting. Well I guess you got your answer on how they feel about flexibility. If I don’t get this job, I’m still divided on whether it’s better to have the conversation about scheduling up front, or waiting until job offer. I do think job offer makes the most sense – they’re committed to you at that point and if they retract then you know they’re not for you! I think in your case, perhaps a phone conversation with HR about it could have helped rather than an email. I find that emails tend to become magnified and reread and read between the lines, and they could have taken it as “this person does not have a flexible schedule”. I don’t really know. I just know that I leave more controversial or difficult things for verbal conversations, so I can convey it differently than what might come across in writing. But honestly, you’re better off. Sometimes things work out for the best.

      1. Jay*

        Thanks OP#4 – The position I interviewed for, I never talked to HR. I was contacted by the Executive Director (hiring manager and would have been my boss), she did the first interview, second interview was with her and the team, and the third interview was with her and a manager from corporate. I had a feeling that they were not going to be as flexible as I currently have but I’m at a point where my kids are getting older (12 and 8, husband works from home) that I don’t have the same needs as I used to, but I still don’t want to miss out on things either.

        I do think you were right in your comment on how COVID impacts this, companies are dealing with the work from home and flexibility more now than ever before. I agree a bit with Jubilance’s comments below – you wouldn’t wait for a job offer before finding the salary.

        There though is a difference between after your first phone interview saying “I will need every other Friday working from home, Tuesday’s I need to leave a 2 pm but Thursdays I can come in at 6 am to make up for it” vs by the second/third interview saying something like “With COVID, what are your policies regarding working from home, flexibility, etc” maybe find a more generalized phrasing of the question?

        Best of luck to you!

        1. OP #4*

          Best of luck to you too! Thanks for the additional details. I take advice (here or anywhere) with a grain of salt, as sometimes ‘mistakes’ I’ve made have been absolute blessings in disguise. You seem to be in a similar stage of life as me, I have kids around your age, they’re no longer young but they still have needs from their most available parent (me), yet I don’t want to miss out on my career either. It’s an odd time with COVID all mixed up in it. I find at times in my life like this, where things truly seem uncertain and neither way seems to be the best path, it’s best to just jump into it and see where it goes.

      2. Mockingjay*

        Wouldn’t it be nice if companies are up front about schedule needs during the initial interview or in the job description? Retail and services are very clear about working hours/days – “Must be able to work weekends.”

        Why can’t professional environments do the same? “This job cannot be performed remotely due to really good reason.” Or “At Acme Corp., our preference is for all staff to be in the office. Occasional telework is permitted on a case-by-case basis.”

        It’s about making an informed decision on both sides.

        1. OP #4*

          Yes I wish corporate was more upfront. But rarely are they transparent, and rarely do they practice what they preach. That’s why situations like this are super tricky.

  35. Jubilance*

    #4 – I disagree with Alison, I think you bring it up earlier. You are evaluating the company the same way they are evaluating you, and if they don’t have flexibility & work/life balance, it’s important to know that before you invest a ton of time into prepping & interviewing. It’s just like wanting to know the salary range, or have an idea about the benefits – I’m not going to wait until you make me an offer to find out if the salary is inline with what I want, and I’m not going to wait until the offer to find out if the team/company culture allows for flexibility, especially during a global pandemic. If you really don’t want to reveal anything about your family at all, that’s fine, but there are still ways to ask about the working hours and work/life balance without directly referencing your family.

    1. OP #4*

      That’s true. I think that’s been the advice of the commenters here, is to bring up the topic but not necessarily in an overt way (I have kids and my personal life is crazy and I need you, company, to accommodate that!!!) I think it’s about gauging mutual fit, which is the whole point of the interviews. I do agree though with Alison, that it could ruin chances unintentionally as it *may* give the impression that the interviewee is bringing it up as a potential problem. I think her advice is to avoid that conversation until offer time, which is the least risky time to bring it up, if the intention is getting to offer. If the intention however is to weed out any potential jobs upfront that don’t have that flexibility, then bring it up earlier / during interviewing. But all of us job hunters know, especially now, that there aren’t that many opportunities to have these conversations. So I can see why Alison errs on the least risky time, because jobs are so sparse. I guess it totally depends on how badly you want or need the new job.

  36. Mannheim Steamroller*


    I would start by asking… “What is the SPECIFIC BUSINESS PURPOSE is of color-coding our feelings? How does it help the BUSINESS to increase revenues and/or decrease costs?” No answer, no participation.

    1. irene adler*

      Exactly. Will color-coding enable product to get out to the customer faster?

      And what am I supposed to do, as an employee, when a co-worker reports they are “yellow” or “red”? I’m not clear on that either.

    2. Batgirl*

      I’ve actually tried this and you get a lot of waffling about how good interpersonal relationships …something something … increases productivity… somehow? But keep them talking about it and you end up in one of three positions 1) I want everyone to be friends, especially with me, 2) I don’t know how to manage and I had to come up with something to tell the board about what I do all day or 3) I dont know, I hadn’t really thought about it.

  37. Haha Lala*

    OP1- My response would be “Today I feel purple.” And then if the manager asks what that’s supposed to mean, I’d respond along the lines of “That’s just how I’m feeling today, thanks for asking!” And then repeat at each meeting with different random colors that don’t fit on the red-yellow-green scale. I’d be fully participating, but not sharing anything personal, and it wouldn’t make me feel unauthentic.
    Bonus points if you can get more of your teammates on board so you all start answering random colors! Maybe then you can all get a laugh and get some sort of benefit from this exercise.

  38. HR Maddness*

    #5 – As someone who is in charge of hiring at my current company, I can tell you that particularly now; things are changing on a dime. I had the okay to hire for a role; I called for references, potential starts dates for my top candidate and then 4 hours later the big boss wanted to wait. I did get the official, official “green light” about a week later and could hire the person on, but I felt awful for getting the candidate excited and then needing to wait on the formal offer.

    All this is to say, we are a functional work environment – but the uncertainty around the pandemic as made every decision heightened. So I wouldn’t read too much into this one thing – look at it in combination with the rest of your interview process.

    1. LW #5*

      Got it. I had a couple people warn me that they might be trying to steal interviewees’ ideas (it was a “practical” interview in which we brainstormed about a current project of theirs) but that seems a far-fetched, the people interviewing me seemed genuine, and I think they would just tell me “no” if that was the case.


  39. Voodoo Priestess*

    Good luck OP#4! For some reason, I couldn’t reply to your comment above.

    I would have done the same, and in fact I don’t hesitate to bring it up. I know it goes completely against conventional wisdom, but I don’t want to get an offer and then bring up kids, flexible schedule, etc. They may still proceed but I don’t want to work at a place that will have issues when I need to leave for a sick kid, change schedules for pick up/drop off, or want to go see the Christmas program at 1pm on a Tuesday. I would rather not get the offer than spend a year or more in a job that didn’t want to accommodate working parents. I recognize that I’m at a senior level, in a specialized area where my skillset is highly valued which gives me more leverage.

    I feel like covid makes this easier. My kids are hybrid (or remote) so I need flexibility. I can’t dance around that. If you need some at their desk 8-5, I’m not the right candidate.

    1. OP #4*

      Weird, I replied to your comment but for some reason it disappeared?? Something glitchy is going on with the site. I’m glad you have a flexible job, I hope I can find one too. And thanks for the luck!!

  40. I Miss Museums*

    OP5, longtime museum worker here. We are… struggling. I would give a longer grace period than normal. Not sure what museum you applied to- size, type, or location- but museums have been decimated by the pandemic. Not to mention the increased amount of exposure recently on just how shady many museums can be, both in racist culture and in acquiring/displaying looted art. We’re more understaffed than usual, ridiculously overworked, fighting for more ethical practice, and very exhausted. Give them some more time. I’m sure they are still excited about your candidacy, but speaking from experience, it’s nigh impossible to meet all deadlines these days when everyone has had to become a dilettante octopus in order to fill in for the organizational holes created by mass layoffs.

    Yes, I still love museums.

    1. LW #5*

      “Dilettante Octopus” would be a great band name. And you make some really excellent points. My current position has slowed down significantly since we have no funds to do anything, so I feel like a sitting duck…not that I’m alone in this, I’m sure. So I was hoping I could benefit myself (struggling to support myself on my salary) and my current organization by jumping ship, but I wonder if, by going to another museum, I would be hopping from a burning ship into a whirlpool (let’s stick with nautical metaphors). Everybody is underpaid and exhausted, and we’re all worried that layoffs are the next step (we have already gone through salary/benefits cuts and furloughs, but I have to credit our organization for trying very hard to keep jobs intact).

      I have thought about switching fields, but I have 6-figure student loans specifically FOR museums (oops) and can’t afford to accrue more debt.

      I also still love museums.

  41. learnedthehardway*

    #1 – I would seriously start finding unique and memorable colour descriptors.

    “Today, I feel chartreuse with raspberry highlights. What!?!? – how can you not understand my feelings?!?!?!?”

  42. boo bot*

    I’m kind of weirded out by the fact that the color scale is green to red. Is it a traffic light? Like, green is “all good to go” and red is “stop I can’t take this job anymore”? Is it like the old terror threat levels, where green is “low risk” and red is “OMG PANIC”?

    Not only do I think it’s wildly inappropriate to be asking people to report on their emotional states at work, but I feel like the scale has bizarre implications; “red” just seems way more intense than some kind of number scale or feelings-word, and therefore open to serious misinterpretation.

  43. Nanc*

    OP1–Brown. Because this bullshit is absurd. Said/sung in my best Diana Morales imitation.

    OP2–don’t worry so much about your underperforming employee quitting before you can replace them. To be macbre: they could be killed by a bolt of lightning on their way out the door and you’d find a way to get their tasks done.

    OP3–same lightning scenario–they’d have to find a way to go on.

    Dang–I think I’m wearing my crabby pants today! Wishing everyone a green-colored lightning-free (real and metaphorical) Friday.

  44. boop the first*

    1. After years of hearing “leave your baggage at the door,” this whole “bring your everything to work thing” is just annoying. I sure wish employers would give up treating employees like we’re an entirely different species. The stuff that would make us happy is the EXACT SAME THING that would make employers happy: stability, accountability, flexibility, rewarding goals, reasonable scheduling, and most of all: the ability to have ALL of our basic needs met. It’s not that mysterious.

    1. Marie*

      Yeah but then they would have to acknowledge and reckon with the basic human dignity of their employees. Let’s not go overboard /s

  45. Hummer on the Hill*

    LW1: I worked for a large tech company for over 30 years, some of that in management. The best advice I got when faced with a situation like yours was “Wait six months.” That was the general lifespan of initiatives like this. Do as Alison says, give a bland answer, and this too shall pass.

  46. WarblerB*

    Speaking as someone who used to work in the museum field for over 10 years before moving on…I’ve found delays like this to be fairly common. I once was flown across the country for a final stage interview (myself and one other candidate) and then didn’t hear anything for six months before I got a phone call apologizing for the delay and telling me they went in another direction. Good thing I wasn’t holding my breath :)

  47. OP #4*

    OP #5 – I’ve found it best that whenever I haven’t heard back from a job, and I’ve done the standard follow ups and still nothing, that to move on right away. Easier said than done, but when I obsessed enough time where minutes were eating me alive when I didn’t hear back, I remember to just before I did the interviews. It wasn’t my job then, it wasn’t my job now. Move on just like they’re moving on with their lives. It really does suck to get so very close, even the references stage, only to have it not pan out. But there are a billion reasons as to why that happens. Some things are out of your control. The only thing in your control is the mental strength to move on and keep looking, keep going. Do not let this one situation discourage you. I’ve found any jobs that I didn’t get an offer to, once I followed up on what happened in the role a year or so later, often it would have been a disaster for me to take it (that person didn’t work out, management changes, person in that role is unhappy). So it works out for the better. You have to believe it will too. If this job is right for you, you’ll get an offer.

    1. LW #5*

      Thanks OP4! One my references was my supervisor, so it was actually an opportunity to talk to them about frustrations in my current position, which was helpful. And I actually like my current workplace, I am, again, just terrified of getting laid off.

  48. Rose*

    I’m a manager and I ask my employees to rate their stress on a 1-10 scale during our 1:1s. It’s usually preceded by talking about work load and it would never even occur to me that they’d take it to mean personal stress levels. OP is it possible your manager just wants to know how work stuff is going? Regardless, I would always answer based on how you’re feeling about work, not life in general. You won’t feel like your lying and that is the level/type of information that your manager really should’ve aware of.

    Do I need to be specifying “work stress?” It felt implied because this is a work meeting. Sometimes my employees will share something personal going on that’s effected their ability to work from home mid covid but I wouldn’t have guessed this would be such a controversial subject.

    1. CaVanaMana*

      Except when you’re having a day where you hate your job. You have to lie to your manager then.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Why not simply ask about their workload without the stress number?

      Rose: “Lucy, what do you need to deal with your current workload? How can I help?”
      Employee: “Well, I get a lot of last minute requests from Fred which he claims are high priority but disrupt my other tasks. I’ve had 5 from him in the last two weeks and I’m falling behind on my regular work. Can you help me with prioritizing? Can I refer Fred to you instead?”

      Review workload, make sure everyone follows a process or has clear instructions on how to handle things and when to bump things to your attention. Make the 1:1 environment comfortable for your employees and you will find out all you need to know.

  49. CaVanaMana*

    I hate the “bring your whole self” to work mentality. What’s so wrong with separating my work self from my real self? Separating my personal feelings from the ones I’m supposed to have? Am I always happy to be doing my job? Hell no, do I say I am? Yes! That’s what I’m paid for. I wish companies would stop confusing the two. It makes it harder to lie.

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