coworker talks about her sex life and my weight, questions for phone interviews, and more

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

1. My coworker talks about her sex life and my weight

My coworker has no professional boundaries. She talks in depth about her sex life, and I try to ignore her or change the subject but she’ll keep trying to get my attention and doesn’t get the hint. She also makes comments on how thin I am and will try to guess my weight. I think she thinks it’s okay because I am thin and she is fat, but it is deeply uncomfortable. We have an unconventional work environment, there is no HR, and my boss is not helpful. When and how should I address this with her?

When: the next time she makes one of these comments!

How: “I’m not comfortable talking about sex at work. Let’s change the topic.” If she persists: “Whoa, I’m really not comfortable hearing this. Please don’t discuss it around me.” You might have do this a handful of times before it sinks in. But say it directly; don’t rely on hinting or ignoring her since that’s not working.

When she next comments on your weight: “I really don’t want to discuss my body at work — thanks for understanding.” And then if she persists: “I’ve asked you before not to comment on my body. It’s weird that you keep doing it.”

If you’re worried about seeming chilly, make a point of having a warm, work-appropriate interaction with her soon afterwards, which can help reset things after any awkwardness. (You shouldn’t need to worry about that — you’re well within your rights to ask for both of these things and she’s way out of bounds — but I’m mentioning it because often people worry about that so much that they end up not addressing the thing that’s bothering them.)

2. What is a work day when you’re teaching remotely?

I’m an elementary school teacher in a city that has been hit hard by the pandemic, and we recently shifted into a fully remote model of teaching. My overall workload has not decreased, but I am finding that my work is now more self-paced than in a traditional setting. Because of this, I am struggling to understand what is expected of me as a remote employee.

Before the pandemic, necessity dictated a very regimented schedule. I had to be in my classroom working from arrival to dismissal because those were the hours that children were physically inside the building. Everything was time sensitive because constant coverage was required.

Now, I only have live lessons pre-scheduled at certain times throughout the week – typically for one or two hours per day – with one weekday left completely open. Our principal has been very insistent that we keep to our old hours, but I don’t understand why. She has no way of knowing if I am actually working during those hours, since they’re mostly used for materials creation and feedback, and I don’t sign in or out anywhere.

For context, our workday starts a full three hours before my earliest live lessons are scheduled. My lunch is scheduled for 10:00 AM, even though I nearly always have an unstructured block of time at some point later in the day. It just feels … silly, I guess. Am I off base in feeling this way? I have a very difficult time starting my day so early when it feels like there isn’t a point, especially living in a small apartment with roommates who are still sleeping. I am the youngest teacher on our staff, so I am also very afraid of appearing unprofessional by voicing these concerns.

I am always awake and reachable during school hours, but sometimes I’m not productive at all until later in the day. I get all of my work done, but I usually write my best lessons after the traditional workday is over. Is this behavior I should be working to change? Or should it ultimately not matter as long as the work is done?

I don’t think it should matter as long as your work is done, done well, and on time … but your principal seems to disagree, and ultimately it’s her call that matters. That said, you can certainly be realistic about how much she sees your process versus how much she sees your output/outcomes and make decisions accordingly.

You might also try checking in with other teachers one-on-one about how they’re handling this. You might hear that everyone ignores those instructions and works the schedule that makes sense for them, or you might hear that there’s a downside to doing that which you hadn’t been aware of.

3. Are some questions too intense/specific to ask in a phone screen?

I’m a college student studying marketing and communications, and I’m currently going through initial phone screens for summer internships. All the internships and jobs I’ve had so far haven’t required phone screens, the employers have gone right to longer face-to-face or video interviews where I’ve gotten to ask more in-depth questions about what exactly the role would look like if I got it.

Are questions about project timelines/stakeholders in other departments/metrics used to measure success too intense and/or specific for an initial phone screen? If they are, what are better questions to ask? I always ask about day-to-day responsibilities and what makes excellent interns stand out from the ones that are just okay. Today I had a phone screen and felt like it got rushed towards the end, to the point where the interviewer stopped asking if I had questions and just moved on to the next steps. I want to make sure I’m not screwing myself!

Typically phone screens are shorter than full-fledged interviews and so candidates ask fewer questions in them. I’d say it’s typical for most candidates to ask no more than four to five questions in a phone interview, and they’re usually fairly broad. The idea at this stage is to get a sense of what the role is all about and any logistics that might be deal-breakers (like if you absolutely can’t start before April and they’re looking for someone to start in January). It’s not supposed to be the time to learn every detail so in most cases, I’d save stuff about project timelines and stakeholders for later in the process. Really, the questions you want to ask at this stage are ones to (1) ensure you you have a good understanding of what the job is all about and what it takes to do it well, and (b) help you decide if you want to move forward. Nitty-gritty details about project timelines probably won’t do that (although there could be exceptions).

Good questions to ask in initial phone screens include:
* “Can you describe a typical day or week in the job?”
* “What are some of the challenges you expect the person in this position to face?”
* “How would you describe the culture there? What type of people tend to really thrive there, and what type don’t do as well?”
* “What’s your timeline for next steps from here?”
* “Whatever question(s) you really care about — this will probably be specific to the job or the company.”

4. I’m not getting jobs friends refer me to

A friend recently referred me to a position and told me I was a shoo-in to get it. I was still rejected after the final interview. This would be bad enough under Covid, but it’s not the first time. A while ago, a nonprofit that another friend works for reached out to me and asked me to apply with them. The interview went just fine but I was still rejected, to my great surprise. I have no job and am getting worried that I look like I’m not putting my best foot forward. I always prepare as much as possible, and interviews usually seem to go well from my end. So how can I keep these rejections from damaging my personal relationships? And should I go back to press them for the reasons I wasn’t hired?

I think you are reading more into these invitations to apply than you should. True, one friend did say you were a shoo-in — but that’s not something anyone should ever say unless they’re the hiring manager (and maybe not even then, depending on how hiring works in their organization and what the rest of the candidate pool is like). Generally speaking, when someone encourages you to apply, it means “this could end up being the right match; let’s learn more and see,” not “you will definitely be offered this job.” So it sounds like there were some expectation mismatches.

Because of that, rejections shouldn’t damage your personal relationships (they didn’t promise you anything, everyone knew from the start it might not work out, etc.), especially if you make it clear that you don’t feel awkward or resentful about it.

It’s okay to ask for feedback the same way you would with any employer, but don’t press them harder just because you know them personally. “Is there anything you can share with me about how to position myself better in the future?” is fine. “What happened?!” is not.

{ 216 comments… read them below }

  1. Katrinka*

    LW #3: ask about how the job will be different due to the pandemic (since it’s an internship, it could look nothing like it did during the before times). Ask if they’ve done any internships during the pandemic/shutdowns. Ask if there are skills or opportunities that you would normally be taught that won’t be a part of this internship (so that you can work on them during your own time – employers often have certain expectations based on where you interned).

  2. Autumnheart*

    If I hear about an opening at my employer that someone in my network would be suited for, I’ll tell them about it and answer questions about how to apply, but unfortunately I have zero influence after that. I try to make that clear to people when I suggest the job, but unfortunately there’s no way to convince someone that just because I told them about the job doesn’t mean I can weigh the outcome in their favor. I just think they’d like the job if they got it.

    Maybe it would serve to manage expectations a little better if you know whether these friends are the ones doing the actual hiring or not, but chances are that unless they’re literally the hiring manager, all they can do is maybe send along a copy of your resume and say nice things about you. It’s up to the hiring team to decide who gets hired. And these days, there’s a lot of qualified competition. It’s not something to hold against these friends for encouraging you to take a shot.

    1. MK*

      My impression is that the OP isn’t blaming her friends for not getting the job, she is worried that she isn’t presenting herself well and that this might reflect badly on her friends. Which I don’t think is the case, since she is making to the final stage.

      The problem as Alison said is that she is reading too much into a friend’s recommendation. And the friend who said she was a shoo-in was probably just being supportive and enthusiastic, not guaranteeing the job.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Maybe the question is more about these are the only interviews OP is getting?

        It’s tough out there, OP. You can be a great candidate but so are the 900 other people who applied. Keep going, at least you know you can get interviews.

      2. LQ*

        Yeah, it sounds like supportive friends trying to help. “You’re great, they’ve got to hire you, you’d be fantastic, you’re a shoo-in!”

        But that doesn’t mean they actually know anything other than that you are their friend who they’d really like to succeed and apparently work with.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Exactly. This is why I train my corporate recruiters to keep their feedback neutral, no matter how excited they are about a candidate/applicant. Whenever I’ve heard those words in my job search, I tried to take them with a huge grain of salt.

          It feels awful when you douse the enthusiasm you helped to build, and it’s a terrible thing for the candidate/applicant to go through. Even if you’re 100% sure of the outcome, please don’t tell someone they’re a shoo-in. Life is full of last minute surprises.

    2. Language Lover*

      People sometimes hear the “it’s who you know” mantra and assume it’s the be all and end all of hiring. They also conflate the recommendation of a friend or family member with the recommendation of a professional colleague and assume they hold equal weight. They don’t. A hiring manager is usually going to see the recommendation of a former coworker as more relevant than someone recommending a friend. People who don’t hire also might not realize that there are usually multiple people out there with the right skills for the job opening. They just know about you so they say stupid stuff like “you’re a shoo-in.”

      Knowing someone is a great way to get have your resume and application seen by the hiring manager but it won’t replace the full hiring process.

      You probably did nothing wrong, especially if you’re making it to final interviews. And don’t make the mistake your “shoo-in” friend made and assume they have more say than they actually do. Keep your friends, especially if they’re willing to recommend you to their company. Just because it didn’t work out so far doesn’t mean it never will.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yeah, I talked to someone who had been convinced by an influential friend at my workplace that a particular job was definitely his. It ended up being mine.

    3. Momma Bear*

      We had a recent hire where three top candidates were referred to us by employees. The one hired had specific experience we were looking for that edged them out over the others. It may simply be that there are a lot of applicants and even though you are a good fit, you aren’t the best fit within that pool. I’m sure it’s frustrating, but it’s not easy on the other end to turn someone down, either, esp. knowing that their friend/employee was involved.

  3. MissGirl*

    OP3, it can also depend on who’s conducting the phone screen. If it’s a recruiter, you probably won’t get into what the position details too much. Most of your conversation will be around if you check the basic boxes and information about the company itself. I usually limit my questions in this instance to about the company. It seems like lately I don’t learn much about the position itself until the second interview.

    1. Nikki*

      Came here to say this. A lot of times, especially at larger companies, the initial phone screen will be conducted by someone in HR. They have limited ability to answer detailed questions about the position because they work in a different department performing a different job role. You’ll get better answers to questions about culture and job functions if you save them for the second interview when you’re more likely to be talking to the hiring manager or someone else on the team.

      1. Natalie*

        Yes, that’s been my experience. I’m actually not sure if I’ve ever had a phone screen that wasn’t conducted by someone in the HR department.

    2. gbca*

      I came here to say this too. The recruiter will typically know very little about the job itself. They will give notes to the hiring manager on the conversation and may note if you seem particularly enthusiastic about the job, but they are not going to be able to answer specifics, nor are you expected to ask a lot of questions at that stage.

    3. OP3*

      Hi! I’m OP3. Thank you all so much for your thoughts – that’s a really good point that the phone screens could be with HR. The companies I’ve spoken to so far are small enough that I’ve spoken directly with the person who would be my supervisor, but I’ll definitely keep this in mind as I (hopefully!) hear back from some bigger companies soon.

  4. Barbara Eyiuche*

    #1 I am easily embarrassed by sex talk, and I’ve run into this situation several times: someone finds out I am embarrassed and then takes delight in talking about sex more and more, deliberately trying to make me uncomfortable. They think it’s funny. So I would be afraid to ask a coworker to not talk about sex, simply because I would expect them to then start talking about it more.
    #2 Could you just start working a schedule that suits you? Your boss doesn’t know when you are working, so maybe you could start a bit later, and take your lunch at a reasonable time, without her ever knowing.

    1. ev*

      About number 1 you need to talk to HR, thats hostile work environments and you coworkers are immature.

      Also I wish we could literally turn around and say “I have no wish to talk anything but work with you, stop trying to draw me into other conversations” with out being treated badly. Their personal opinions about anything are utterly irrelevant and my body or life isn’t their business.

      1. ev*

        *assuming the increase in sex talk has ever come, or ever does come from a coworker instead of just a person you have to spend time with. You shouldn’t have to be afraid of asking for respect, and a change of conversation because of those people, whatever role they play in your life.

        And sure, every office needs small talk to some degree. I just happen not to be interested in their kids, dog or other pets or personal time. It is however very hard to be “allowed” to say that I’m not interested without being considered antisocial and unfair on the constant chatters.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well … not being interested in anything about your coworkers’ lives is anti-social! Relationships matter at work, and some amount of social conversation (not about sex, obviously, but about the other things you listed) helps workplaces be more pleasant and generally function better. If you find that not to be true for you personally, that’s of course your prerogative — but it’s important to recognize that that’s a pretty extreme/outlier stance, and one that can hold you back professionally.

          We’re getting off-topic from the letter so I won’t go on, but I worry I haven’t pushed back enough on this sentiment when it’s been expressed here in the past so am doing it now.

            1. LQ*

              Agreed. I’d really like a good, productive conversation around how to be warm and pleasant at work without the idea of it getting shot down entirely.

          1. Gloucesterina*

            Yes, I was wondering about suggested approaches to cultivating this capacity (and/or willingness) make a context- and culture-informed judgment about what is appropriate to discuss and disclose in group and one-on-one workplace interactions, what can be understood on a context-appropriate spectrum and what is better understood as an on-/off-switch.

            This underlying question came up for me in the letter fairly recently by an OP who currently works in a mental health related field but didn’t start their career there (I think they were reporting back about an employee who had been having sustained crying episodes at work).

            Thank you all for discussing this, it is super helpful :)

          2. TheseOldWings*

            My mom shares an office with someone who refuses to engage in any sort of conversation and my mom says it makes everything so awkward and makes her feel like she’s walking on eggshells in her own office. There is no reason not to engage in short pleasantries with coworkers even if deep down you don’t care!

            1. Quill*

              Sometimes the best way to handle small talk is to let someone else tell you what their cousin’s sister in law’s dog did, say “aww” and then dump it right out of your brain as soon as you turn around.

              To fill the minimum of social interaction at work, imagine your conversation is an etch-a-sketch. Let them doodle and then give your skull a good shake. :)

          3. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Thank you. Sometimes I feel like the comments section here takes an extremely prickly stance on any kind of sociable aspect at work — not everyone, but it’s enough of a minor constant to kind of set an overall tone.

          4. SimplytheBest*

            There’s a lot more to being social than just talking about your co-workers pets and kids though. I think you took ev’s comment to mean they don’t want to talk about anything, but I think it’s more specific they just don’t want to talk about those things. I think I would *hate* to work at a place where the only topic of conversation was my coworker’s kids and pets, especially since I have and want neither.

            1. other girl*

              Ev said dogs, kids or personal time. They mean they dont want to talk about any personal subjects with their co worker. And even if they dont want to specifically talk about dogs, I promise you it takes less time and emotional bandwith to just smile when the co workers mentions their dog and go back to work then it does to think about it constantly and in ways how to avoid The subject.

            2. Shan*

              They literally said they want to be able to tell coworkers “I have no wish to talk anything but work with you, stop trying to draw me into other conversations.” That’s pretty clear cut to me.

            3. SemNome*

              I’ve used, “I only want to talk about work at work” when faced with a boss who repeatedly tried to discuss and speculate on other people’s deeply private information (really, there’s nothing you can imagine here that wasn’t fair game). It was academe, with all of the “they’re just quirky” hand-waving, plus she was very careful to only do it one on one. (Though if you walked in, she’d grin brightly and say, “we were just talking about you,” while the other person squirmed in a way that confirmed that, yes, they had indeed been doing exactly that.)

              She also liked to start provocative conversations during excruciatingly tightly-timed procedures involving difficult-to-replace source material, and responded very badly to, “please, not now.” The work was fascinating, compelling and important enough to make up for it (an under-acknowledged risk in academe!).

              I also had (and have) concentration issues (diagnosed) and eventually got pretty BEC over the whole situation. So for all those reasons, gray rocking her made complete sense…but NOT because I don’t (generally) like to be sociable.

              Ditto the coworker whose very different social presumptions and politics were extremely evident in the word choice of every sentence. I didn’t have the stomach or the skills to unpack why “lifestyle” (specifically, as used) and “morality” (specifically, as used) and “thankfulness” (specifically, as used) and “Patriot” / “American”(specifically, as used) and a host of vague negatives were a problem for me. But dang, they would surface over the naming of a dog, the contents of a sandwich, drinking or not drinking cola, what sorts of sports one did or did not follow. I felt like I did a whole lot of de-partisanization of my speech in the name of professionalism, felt he wasn’t holding up his end of the process, and kept our interactions as brief and professional as reasonably possible.

              Which is to say, if there are many, many times in a day that one finds oneself “walking on eggshells,” maybe it’s worth wondering,

              a) whether many times a day is, actually, a pretty high frequency for personal chat?

              b) whether the problem could be the phrasing, not the topic;

              c) or the timing;

              d) r some other factor that’s not “sociability” per se.

        2. A Name of Requirement*

          You don’t have to say you’re uninterested- just act like it. Don’t ask questions, excuse yourself, redirect back to work.
          To tell someone outright that you’re not interested in them, nor are they worthy of basic social interaction is pretty hostile. If you said that I would do my best to avoid you unless work required it, but I would wonder why you didn’t like me specifically and be uncomfortable in your presence -your comment makes it seem like humanity as a whole is the problem, so maybe not your intent?

          1. London Student*

            Yeah. You can refrain from asking questions (and train yourself not to ask reciprocal questions if someone asks you first), you can refrain from issuing invitations. You can explain that you have trouble switching your focus between work and small talk.

            But to just tell people that you’re not interested in their lives will probably have a higher reputation cost than it’s worth (at least for most people).

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          “I wish we could literally turn around and say “I have no wish to talk anything but work with you, stop trying to draw me into other conversations” with out being treated badly. Their personal opinions about anything are utterly irrelevant and my body or life isn’t their business.”

          “ It is however very hard to be “allowed” to say that I’m not interested without being considered antisocial”

          But… you are. If you aggressively do not want to speak to your coworkers about literally anything except work then you are not sociable. That’s the point. People on here often seem to be confused or mad about not being able to exempt themselves from all social interactions with their coworkers without it having any effect on their relationships at work, which confuses me in turn. People are not obliged to like you or think of you as a not-antisocial person when you are presenting them with direct evidence to the contrary.

          1. peasblossom*

            One thing I’m struck by is the way social interactions get framed as an (often innate) like or dislike. As a person whose natural state is curmudgeonly hermit, I sympathize. But social interactions are a skill—and a valuable skill at that. Framing even basic sociality in terms of natural preference, misses the fact that building rapport with people is a developable skill.

            1. Mookie*

              Great comment.

              No one is born with charisma or the social skills that precisely fit the prevailing standards of etiquette, much less those governing niche subcultures / workplaces. As a rampant self-conscious introvert, knowing this is so offers both solace (through solidarity) and hope (from inspiration).

              Adults are rarely failed or grievously harmed and almost always benefit from learning how to balance their own natures and needs with the skills and social performances that enhance cooperation and collaboration, especially professionally. I marvel at easy, magnetic socializers whose behavior never rings false or as if their public personas present ethical dilemmas that require compromising their values. NB: listening to people in one’s work and social circles chat / ramble / share as an engaged listener is no compromise at all. It can be exhausting for people like me, but that’s life; be true to yourself at home. It’s okay to make an effort for the sake of humanism and camaraderie, which, when they work, are fulfilling like no other collective human endeavor I can think of.

            2. London Student*

              I’m bringing some personal bias here, since I work in mental health, but I think a lot of this is that we can’t help but bring our past experiences into our current interactions.

              So some people (due to a combo of temperment, culture and personal history) automatically examine their interactions for signs of rejection. Some people feel compelled to make sure their colleagues like them. On the other hand, some people are primed to feel like certain personal overtures are insincere or even uncomfortable or threatening.

              None of this is necessarily right or wrong. None of this is a personal failing on the part of the individual. We often can’t “turn off” these reactions without years of hard work, so most of us have to work on a manuel override…..which can become exhausting. That’s a big part of why people find work and large gatherings tiring. (Personal, non-research-based aside: I often wonder if extroverts experience these differences as more of a game, whereas introverts experience them more as a test….but with the caveat that I do think the extroversion/introversion dichotomy is often over-simplified.)

              We’ll never wind up with an easy rule or a universal standard because people’s backgrounds vary so greatly, and the different contexts we find ourselves in vary so greatly.

              It really can be exhausting though.

              1. Forrest*

                I’m an extrovert and generally pretty socially confident and capable, but I definitely do still have anxieties around workplace interaction! I think I just have the opposite ones–I worry that I’ve shared too much, talked about myself too much, asked too many questions, or tried to turn what should just be a functional “hello human” check-in into a real conversation!

                1. London Student*

                  Oh absolutely — I didn’t mean come off as though I was implying that extroverts don’t feel social anxiety. I feel personal anxities and temperments are quiet distinct from each other.

              2. anonanna*

                I just started therapy (!!!) and I’m trying to unlearn the years of processing literally everything the way you’re describing- through negativity, criticism, and guilt. Any tips or strategies I can work on? I’m still early in visits so next week’s my first ‘homework’ session.

                1. London Student*

                  Good luck! I would talk it over with your therapist (depending on their style, they might have a different answer to “how can I get the most of out of our work”).

                  That said, I recommend looking for away to ‘hold on’ to the sessions. Personally, I kept a journal (nothing special, just a google doc) and after sessions I would jot down bullet points. I have also heard REALLY good things about recording sessions and then playing them back for yourself later (just ask the therapist before you record, obviously). You can often hear things in your own voice, or see illogical thinking with a little distance and time. Of course, most of us hate the sounds of our own voice, so it can be difficult.

                  The paradox of therapy is that we go in wanting to ‘better’ ourselves, but often in order to accomplish that goal we have to accept ourselves where we are first. This can mean that goals we enter therapy with aren’t always condusive to good therapy (for example, one of my colleagues had a client who wanted therapy to change his sexual orientation, or a lot of clients come in with incredibly high personal standards and are hoping therapy will eliminate anxiety/sadness/fatigue so they can set even higher personal standards). It can be helpful to work with your therapist to identify some goals and to reflect on HOW you’ll know you’re making improvements. You may want to feel less anxious –but how will you know that you’ve achieved growth in that area? Because no therapy will (or should!) eliminate anxiety altogether.

                  This paradox also means you should keep an eye on your own desire to “be good at” therapy or to be a “good” client to your therapist. If you have a tendency to people-please, especially if you’ve sought help in the past and found yourself nodding along to a therapist/doctor/friend who totally misunderstood your request but whom you didn’t want to disappoint by telling them that, you might be in danger of this. If that is the case for you, then I strongly recommend keeping a section of your own journal for doubts/concerns/questions. Write down things as they come up (such as if it seems the therapist is pushing an angle, or if you lied and said a technique was helpful but really you didn’t try it). If you can, try to bring up these doubts in a later session. It can help to practice with a loved one. Ideally, speaking up for yourself and course-correcting can be a great opportunity to build trust with your therapist. This is especially worth paying attention to if you find you really like your therapist. (And don’t be afraid to consider switching if a few weeks go by and you’re not feeling like the therapist is right for you.)

                  It’s very common for people in therapy to feel uncomfortable recieving earnest care and positive attention. For example, a therapist might say to a client that their body is acceptable just as it is, and they might feel annoyed/scrutinized and think the therapist doesn’t know what she’s talking about. These reactions aren’t good or bad (or wrong or right), but it’s good to notice them. It’s also often worth sharing them with your therapist.

                  Lastly, I’d say that for most people, good therapy will be work. (Some people do go to counselling to reflect and vent for stress-release, but if you have specific goals, it’s likely to be hard). It’s not dissimilar to physical therapy in that regard, I think. You trust in the relationship, and you need evidence-based theory….but also you need to do the work. Most theraputic interventions and strategies take at least a few weeks to see if they’re have an impact. No way around that part, unfortunately.

                  Good luck, I hope the work is helpful! Curious what others think.

                2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                  @London Student-

                  Thank you so much for this! I went to therapy in high school and found it didn’t work at all for me, and it took until recently to realize that the problem might be that I’m such a people-pleaser that I didn’t want to say if something wasn’t helpful. I have an EAP now and am sort of reluctant to use it because I worry the four sessions I have won’t be enough to realize that it’s happening again, even though I know I could use it to work through some of my demons. It’s nice to hear that that’s a real thing!

                3. comityoferrors*

                  Co-signing everything London Student said, as someone who is now a few months into returning to therapy and loving it. I want to piggyback to recommend doing some mental prep shortly before your appointment. I meet with my therapist weekly, so she always asks how my week has been…so 10-15 minutes before my meeting, I will sit and reflect on how the week has actually been. Was yesterday particularly good and it’s minimizing the anxiety or anger I felt earlier in the week? Or vice versa? Did anything we discussed last time resonate throughout the week? If I wasn’t able to completely do my ‘homework’, did I spend some time in the spirit of the homework, thinking about the root goal of that work or finding other ways to incorporate those lessons?

                  Try not to ask these questions in a judgmental or accusatory way – you’re just trying to explore where your head is at, and maybe identify some trends or thoughts that you want to work through with your therapist. Whether your therapy is very structured or more freeform and exploratory, it will always be better if you show up as actively as you can manage that day.

                  I also highly recommend stockpiling self-care options for yourself–whatever sounds good to you–so you can treat or comfort yourself as needed after your sessions.

                  Therapy is hard, but it can be so beneficial! Good on you for starting, and I wish you a meaningful journey to wherever you’re trying to go.

            3. EventPlannerGal*

              Yes, absolutely. I sometimes wonder if it has something to do with the type of work people do – in my line of work (and in all the customer service/retail/hospitality type jobs I’ve had before) interpersonal skills are treated very much as a work skill to be evaluated, improved on and practiced. Being able to hold a pleasant conversation with someone I’m not very interested in is quite literally something I am paid to do, and I don’t view it as some kind of imposition on my personal preferences any more than having to learn to use a new feature on Resdiary. Whereas I could imagine that if you aren’t used to that then perhaps making small talk with your coworkers feels like a more personal demand on your real self, even though that isn’t really what’s being expected.

            4. OrigCassandra*

              Yes, yes, yes.

              It was a proud moment in my life when my boss told me how effective I was at small talk in departmental events. For some people, that’s so ingrained that it’d be weird to be complimented on it — but for me, it took a lot of work and learning (plus noticing that I was really bad at it and feeling shame over that) and having it recognized was HUGE.

            5. Firecat*


              And not only that but this sentiment that social skills are innate and not learnable actively harms people. I struggled a lot with this when I was younger – no surprise given my childhood – but all my managers just tossed up their hands or would have unexpected outbursts reeming me for months of “slights” that I unknowingly did.

              I finally got a manager at 29 who coached me on this. She invited me to observe high emotion meetings and then we would meet to discuss them. How were people feeling in that meeting? How did the presenter manage the message? Would you have done anything differently? What impact would that have? As well as independent learning like crucial conversations. In a short year I went from being considered a problematic professional to considered one of the most polished in our department.

              And I feel it’s important to note, as I doubt I’m the only one experiencing this, but by actively coaching me and reviewing each misstep with an open mind it was discovered that I was the problem only about 1 in 3 times and others problematic behaviors were being masked when folks assumed “oh that’s Firecat stepping in it again.”

              1. Chinook*

                It is also important to realize that small talk skills can be lost if not used. I went from being regularly chatty to forgetting how to do small talk when I taught English overseas because most of my conversations were with people still learning English. I didn’t notice the loss in skill until I ran into another random English teacher who was showing her mom around. Her mother commented that she could tell immediately my occupation (and that I wasn’t a random tourist) based purely on my slow, but fluent, speech and lack of elaborate small talk. It was eye opening to have it described that way and it took years to regain that skill after only 2 years of not using it regularly.

                I am terrified of what I am going to be like with strangers after the pandemic. Luckily, this will be a skill that everyone else will also have to be relearning!

                1. UKDancer*

                  It’s also interesting that it’s definitely a learned skill. The first time I went to France on a school French exchange I found conversation very difficult. GCSE French was very heavily functional so I could buy croissants, book hotels and get around but I had no vocabulary for small talk or discussion. So I found actually chatting to the host family over dinner very difficult because I had not learnt it.

                  By the time I did a second exchange 2 years later we’d actually started reading books in French so I could chit-chat more effectively. Reading books containing conversations helped me understand how to participate in them in a way that learning the grammatical structures and functional vocab had not.

                2. GS*

                  I learned this skill when I had a job where I interacted with clients for about 5 minutes each sequentially all day. Everyone wanted to chat, and I started by asking the questions previous clients had asked to me (!) which worked well. Over time I got a sense of what was right to say.

                  Then I went on to work alone in a big office, and now to telework, and I can’t figure out what to say when I am chatting with the cashier in the grocery store or any other normal human small-talk situation.

            6. Dust Bunny*

              Yeah, I am not at all a people person but, man, I love boilerplate small-talk! I mean, not for its own sake, but because it gives me a template to interact without having to put so much energy into it. Just pick something off the list of Socially Acceptable Questions and then sit back.

              I have one coworker who is completely fine with me not asking anything personal but another one clearly expects a little more chat. I’m not interested but she’s a fine person so it’s easy enough for me to ask how her grand-nephew is doing or whatever.

            7. Annie Moose*

              Definitely think this is a “you are in charge, not your base impulses” situation. I sometimes find myself naturally thinking “ugh, do I care about this? does this conversation have a point?” in small talk when I just want to do something or be somewhere else. But I can’t let my thoughts end there. I’m the one in charge, and I’m the one who gets to tell those impulses, yes, actually, we do care about the person we’re talking to, and there is a point–maintaining or building a good relationship with another human being, which is a positive thing for both of us!

              It’s easy and comfortable to listen to those thoughts that pop into my head that say, “this conversation/person don’t matter” or “I just want to sit on the couch and stew” or whatever. But that doesn’t mean those are good thoughts that I should live my life by. At the end of the day I’m in charge–not the nasty little thoughts in my brain.

          2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            When you think about it though, there’s a sort of person who doesn’t quite recognize that having a right to make their own choices doesn’t mean that they get to control the impact of said choices. Someone who’s like this might struggle with understanding why people react to them in certain ways, and more often than not, they’ll assume that everyone else is off base.

            This, of course, is different from people who don’t socialize but who also acknowledge the costs of not being sociable upfront. They understand and accept their role in shaping the dynamic, even if it doesn’t change their behaviour. That takes emotional intelligence, though.

            1. NotsorecentAAMfan*

              “ having a right to make their own choices doesn’t mean that they get to control the impact of said choices”

              Nicely said! Applicable to lots in life

          3. tiny cactus*

            Another point is that if you really hate workplace small talk, it is possible to find jobs where it won’t come up much–either where you work remotely or just have a very solitary job. It’s not a complete dealbreaker, but it helps to recognize that it’s just your own personal preference and try to manage it in some way, either by accepting that it’s usually a necessary part of working pleasantly with others or by deciding that jobs with a lot of social interaction aren’t for you.

          4. Librarian1*

            This is a good point. You can not socialize at work, but it will definitely impact your reputation. That’s just how it works.

          5. JSPA*

            Two meanings of “anti-social.”

            1. a-social / unsocial / uncommunicative (morally neutral); does not participate, but bears no enmity.

            2. antipathetic towards society and the social order (morally negative). Disregard for others, for the good of others. Conceptually adjacent to misanthropy.

            Society is quick to presume meaning #2 in the presence of meaning #1.

        4. Forrest*

          I think you need to reframe this as a work/professional problem. “Small talk”, IMO, is much less about positively enjoying the topic you’re talking about and instead about demonstrating a little bit of care for the people around you. It’s totally OK if you don’t want to be intimate with with colleagues, but knowing and remembering a couple of small things about them (and vice versa, giving people some low-stakes stuff to know and remember about you) is how you build rapport and making a working relationship work.

          I don’t really have an interest in anyone’s dogs, either. But I’ve got a lovely sweet colleague who lives by herself, has barely seen her parents or friends over the pandemic, and whose dog has been her lifesaver. Remembering her dog’s name, saying, “how’s Bud?” and “awww!” when she posts a photo of him in the group WhatsApp isn’t about me loving dogs, it’s about me caring about Tracy and recognising what’s important to her and just recognising her as a person rather than a function.

          On the other hand, if you’re talking about people who aren’t just doing a brief check-in, but want to get into a long conversation in ways that are actually interfering with your work, it’s OK to set that boundary too! You can do a brief line or two of small talk and then say that you need to get on with work or move on to a work topic. If it’s something that doesn’t come naturally, then it’s OK to classify, “ask Sally how Sophie is getting on at school, listen and nod, share something low-stakes about my own life, move on to work” as part of you doing your work of being a good colleague.

          1. UKDancer*

            Definitely. It’s not about being deeply fascinated by your colleagues’ lives, pets and families. It’s about giving a societally accepted indication that you recognise them as a person and consider them sufficiently important that you bother to remember their preferences and wishes.

            There’s a line in Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth and Darcy dance and she points out that they need to have some conversation and gives him 2 topics to start with (size of the room and number of couples). Essentially she is reminding him that there is a societally expected form for conversation at balls and he is not complying.

            You need to have low stakes, small talk conversation to build up rapport with colleagues. That’s how you establish the relationship. I don’t care about football but one of my team does and I know that I get a better response out of him on Monday when I ask how the match was and let him spend 2 minutes telling me about it than when I go straight to work matters. He’s happier and feels valued so he’s more productive. Candidly it’s in my interest as his boss to sound engaged. Do I care about his football team? No I don’t but he does. I want him to feel I care about him because he produces better output when he feels valued.

            You don’t have to do any of this in the sense that’s perfectly legal not to make small talk, but you may find consequences in terms of how people perceive you and whether you can get on in the workplace.

            1. Reba*

              Yes, these are great examples!

              I sometimes see (in comments here and IRL) that some people have a strong sensibility about honesty or authenticity in interactions. Small talk or ritual greetings like “how are you” register as “fake” and people don’t understand how they are supposed to engage socially with someone they are sincerely not interested in. The literal vs phatic nature of these communications can really be a stumbling block. Not every interaction is about the actual information it contains!

              Also, I think the sense that one *should not have to* have conversations about things they are not genuinely interested in is rather… self-centered? at the least, ungenerous? Of course, everyone has to choose how to allocate their energy, so it might truly not be worth it to engage in small talk and getting to know others. But the trade off being weighed should not be thought of as “time wasted on boring chit chat that doesn’t tell me anything I personally value” but rather “time spent building relationships and perhaps spreading some kindness.”

              On the other hand, as much as I am a deep introvert I actually enjoy talking about the weather, so what do I know :D

              1. Forrest*

                Yes, there’s a mindset that goes, “I don’t want to do small talk! Don’t tell me about your journey here, tell me about your deepest desire and what you’re passionate about!” and like — no? not until you demonstrate that you’re a trustworthy person who respects my boundaries and maybe not even then if I don’t feel like it!

                I get that there’s a cultural bias towards small talk and that can be extremely onerous for people who don’t find that a natural or preferred way to interact. But there’s a reactive small-talk-rejecting position which considers itself more authentic and meaningful and it misses out on a lot of the (very important!) functions that small-talk performs.

                1. Reba*

                  This is making me think of friends who are often described as “intense,” lol.

                  That is a great point about trust! As much as no one has to care about my innocuous hobby, I also do not owe anyone my intimate thoughts just for the sake of “real” conversation.

                2. Filosofickle*

                  Yes! Lots of folks seem to think that small talk is inauthentic and that people who engage in it are shallow. That perspective misses that small talk has an important role — it’s social glue, it builds trust, and it’s how we find our way to what we have in common so we can have deeper conversations.

                3. boo bot*

                  Yes! One purpose of small-talk is to assess whether the other person is someone you *want* to have deeper conversations with.

                  If someone brushes aside my social niceties and asks me to be more entertaining, they’re about to become someone to whom I make vague, pleasant statements about the weather, and nothing else.

                4. DyneinWalking*

                  That topic occasionally comes up on Doctor Nerdlove…
                  …when men write in complaining about all those “shallow” women, and how no one ever is interested in deep meaningful conversations. Clearly these men* are just too intellectual and sophisticated for the world!

                  And the answer is just… look, other people have deep meaningful conversations all the time, and that’s certainly also true for most of the women you met, but you are skipping multiple steps here! Tone it down and let people get comfortable around you first!

                  *obviously there are also women who think like this

          2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            You indirectly touched on something important that I suspect influences some of this. If someone has some difficulty in entering/exiting conversations gracefully, or remembering small details about people, or calibrating levels of intimacy/personal details, then they’re a lot more likely to get dragged into discussions they are uncomfortable with and feel they have little control over. If you’re not good at setting those boundaries with nuance, it can seem easier to just opt out of any and all personal discussion.

            Of course, some people are naturally very introverted or private, but sometimes what’s really at play is not quite having the skills to do low-stakes conversation effectively or safely.

            1. Forrest*

              I agree, which is why I framed it that way–as a skill that you might have more or less aptitude for, but which you can learn and improve through practice. (and this is true for the people who do have the aptitude too!)

          3. Bagpuss*

            I have very little interest in the majority of my coworkers personal affairs, but I make polite enquiries and polite conversation from time to time because it results in a better working environment. So I limit myself to bland responses, smile, and move on.
            With coworkers I do like, I will also talk/listen about things which don’t interest me but do interest them – again, it’s not about being interested in the topic or liking the subject, it’s about building connections and working relationships.

            1. LifeBeforeCorona*

              That’s me. I’m terrible at small talk and it’s hard to feign an interest in things that I don’t find interesting. What works for me is pets. I love hearing about any kind of pet and they are usually a neutral conversation starter. I will remember your pet’s name but not yours (sorry!)

          4. Bud's BFF*

            Hmm are you my coworker? My dog’s name is Bud and now I’m genuinely concerned this is how people see me…

            1. tangerineRose*

              I love talking with co-workers about their pets (and mine)! I don’t do it much because it can be a real sidetracking conversation, but it’s fun to me to bond over pet stories. So there are probably some people who genuinely are interested in your cute doggie.

      2. Batgirl*

        Maybe you just dislike them? I find it’s much easier, when we don’t get to choose who we work with, to just be accepting of the fact. When you know youre not going to be very interested in the chit chat of given person, you know that it’s your problem and not theirs. They still get to have lives and talk about them! Anyone with basic social skills will figure out you’re not lit up by the subject of dogs, but they get to try. In that situation, the ball’s then in your court to find a common ground topic that’s brief, like pyjamas or weekends.

    2. Roci*

      There is definitely a certain type of person that takes delight in needling others and making them deliberately uncomfortable for their own amusement. But actually I think that requires a different tactic than someone who merely has no filter, or isn’t self-aware, or someone who has a weird definition of friendship like in the letter. It’s not ignorance, it’s being an a-hole. Someone who refuses to stop when asked seriously, or by someone who is clearly flustered and upset, is a bully.

      I have had occasional success with naming the actual behavior (“why are you trying to make me upset on purpose?”) but mostly I just learn that that person is not safe to be around, and pull away from them entirely.

      1. Threeve*

        With people like this, I will just blatantly take control of the conversation. Literally, “so, speaking of changing the subject…” or “so I know how much you like talking about things that are appropriate for the workplace, soooo..”

        And then follow up with either a true change of subject or something incredibly insincere like “how about that sportsball team?” or “there sure is weather sometimes!” It’s generally clear that I’m at least semi-joking, but it’s effective.

        1. Retail Not Retail*

          Yesterday one of the annoying coworkers said something that sounded like a prelude to a weird rant (if you’re the minority you’re the majority these days!) and before the more generous coworker asked him what he meant, I said hey I wonder what we’ll learn today, I like working by the educators and hearing new facts! (I did learn something new)

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, this. A woman applied for a position at one of my former jobs. I didn’t know her but it turned out that she had worked there before I was hired so a lot of my coworkers did. Nobody wanted her back. They said she was nice enough but had a habit of talking about *very* graphic sexual things to anyone and everyone. Nobody thought she was being deliberately shocking, just that she had remarkably poor awareness and no filter. People had tried to correct her but either they were too nice or she was that dense, because it didn’t work, and they didn’t want to have to monitor her babbling in front of clients any more. These weren’t supervisors–these were same-level coworkers who felt they couldn’t leave her unattended because she’d say something wildly inappropriate.

    3. Name (Required)*

      #1 Deflect.

      Co-worker: Blah, blah, sex, washing machine, blah.
      Response: Oh that reminds me about when I was at college. One of the residents put a load of washing in the machine before we all went spring break. They completely forgot about it till we returned. It was awful with mold all over it. Ugh. And then they were asking everyone how to get rid of the smell! Double ugh! Hey, do you have the order statement for [client]?

      Co-worker: Blah, blah, sex, parked, car, blah.
      Response: Oh that reminds me I’m going to try to make my own wiper fluid. I can’t decide between diluted glass cleaner or diluted dish soap and ammonia. What do you think? I’m not crazy about using ammonia, because of the nasty smell. So I’ll probably use the diluted glass cleaner. Or maybe I’ll make both and try them both, see which one is better. I will need to buy some distilled water first though. I wonder where I can buy that cheaply… (you get the idea)

      1. Name (Required)*

        P.S. Bonus points if you can mention a horrible smell in every response.

        P.P.S. Repeat some of the yarns, and claim not to remember telling her, even if it was 5 minutes ago.

      2. London Student*

        That would be awesome, but I have to admit it sounds kind of exhausting! I don’t know if I could pull it off, LOL.

      3. library library*

        If the letter writer is from the South, this would be a good occasion to use the phrase “Bless your heart” in a certain tone of voice and then pivot into another conversational direction.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      I think that that sort of thing is very intentionally hostile behaviour that you might be better off talking to your HR about, if they were doing it deliberately to make you uncomfortable. You do not have to put up with constant sex talk in the office.

      OP doesn’t either, but from the sounds of it her coworker may just be a very oblivious, boundary-less person who doesn’t really get how inappropriately she’s behaving. In the first instance it makes sense to me to talk to her directly about it – even like “jeez, Jane, I don’t need to hear all this!!” – and see where it goes.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Here;s where I come down. People should not be making others deliberately uncomfortable. If you have asked for no sex talk and then been retaliated against, its time to escalate. HR or your boss if either are any good. Sex talk does not belong in the office PERIOD. You have a right to shut it down without consequence. You are not being unprofessional or not a team player by doing so. You are in effect, HELPING the company by shutting it down.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I worked with a woman like this. I am pretty sure she didn’t have a whole lot of social interaction outside of work and was a socially awkward extrovert, so getting in a 1:1 situation with her often lead to some seriously TMI conversations (i.e. in a 2 hr drive I got the entire story of her dating and sex life and I could not get her to change the topic – when I asked her to please be quiet so I could concentrate on driving she started to cry – good times). Then she because the manager of some of my friends and their 1:1 updates were insane (e.g. boss telling you about the guy she met at the gas station, whose boat she went out on that day, and somehow cocaine was involved, and why doesn’t he call me?)

    5. Team Player*

      I had a conversation with a co-worker early in my career, because she thought it was funny to annoy me before I had my coffee and was fully awake and able to have in depth, detailed conversations. (Not a morning person)

      I acknowledged that it was probably funny to watch me flounder, but it was upsetting me and making me angry with her every day. She sheepishly agreed to stop. A hard conversation, but worth having.

  5. D3*

    OP 4, I feel ya! When health problems led me to shutter my business after 20 years and work full time for someone else, a friend reached out and said she’d love to have me on her team at the hospital where she works. We talked about what work I could do, what work I didn’t want to do, what salary I wanted, and we wrote the job description and requirements together. She helped me tailor my resume and cover letter to the job. She was the hiring manager!!
    I applied for the job. Didn’t even get an interview. My friend had no idea what happened and why HR never sent her my application. She had to hire from the applicants HR passed on. MONTHS later got a rejection letter.
    It really sucked and was a blow to my confidence at a time I was struggling with the necessary but still tough changes in my life.

    1. Language Lover*

      That’s odd. Did she never reach out to HR to ask why they didn’t send her your resume, especially since she was vouching or you as the hiring manager?

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, it sounds like for some reason HR didn’t want to hire D3 but the friend wanted to spare her feelings. Something is definitely off.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah…it’s very strange that if she knew you were applying because she helped you write the job description and your resume that she wouldn’t have reached out to HR to ask where your resume was or even reached out to ask you why you didn’t apply (so then you could have told her you did).

  6. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    #2: I’m a teacher and, though my school is now doing an in-person hybrid, last spring I kept a very weird schedule. I have a preschool-aged kid, so wound up taking care of her much of the day when I wasn’t actively teaching, then did prep and grading mostly after she went to bed. I was still working the same amount or more, but at weird times. I’m sorry your principal is focused on keeping a normal timetable. Maybe it’s influenced by a desire to cling to anything normal. IMO, I think if you’re available during work hours and getting all your planning done (and not at the last minute), then that seems like you’re fulfilling your duties. I especially see no reason for you to eat when someone else decides you should eat! Eat when it works for you and your actual classes.

    All that said, if you want to get back to more of a traditional schedule (and reclaim more of your evening time), I found it helped to identify the tasks I could do when I was not so awake in the morning. For me, it was commenting on kids’ work on the learning management systems. It was time-consuming but didn’t take so much brainpower, so I’d make myself some tea and sit there in my pjs writing “What a clear scientific drawing! Good job using labels.” until my daughter woke up and I switched to mommy mode.

    Good luck. We’ll get through this.

    1. Veteran teacher*

      Another fellow teacher mother here to echo other teachers are working strange hours. I also have a preschooler and do a ton of work very late at night after she’s asleep bc it works best for me.

      Here’s what I do to help myself: my last task, late at night, is always to reply to my emails. But instead of sending them, I schedule send them for the next morning. I schedule the first one for 7:10, and each subsequent one 10 minutes later. My emails go out early when I’m “on the clock,” I always respond consistently within 24 hours, I’m not paranoid I’m missing something in the morning, and I feel no guilt about helping my daughter from 7 to 8 AM instead of being arbitrarily chained to my desk. Your older coworkers are not speaking up bc of an unspoken don’t ask, don’t tell. Work when it works for you! You’ll never get to again!

    2. Batgirl*

      I’m surprised it’s even come up. I’ve yet to meet the head teacher who opines on when you should do your planning and marking, simply because for most teachers it’s “around the clock”. Possibly it’s just advice… a ‘don’t let things pile up into the evening and then come crying to me’ stance. I do agree with you about getting the grunt work out of the way early on in the day: inputting data, checking students log ins, awarding behaviour points. I did exactly what you describe during lock down in PJs and I was surprisingly productive early in the day, in spite of being at home, and a night owl like the OP. I’d definitely suggest she consider trying it, but ultimately she knows herself best – so long as the work gets done and she’s available when necessary.

    3. Anna*

      I know that at my school sometimes the concern is what things will look like to the community. For example, if a teacher went to the grocery or to get a haircut during the school day, it could cause problems from people talking and feeling like they “couldn’t reach their child’s teacher because they weren’t working” even if you were working different hours.

      1. Observer*

        That’s not the case here, though. Because the schedule that the principal has set up doesn’t even match a what a semi-reasonable person would expect.

        In fact, I honestly doubt that there really is ANY functional reason for the principal’s edict. I just can’t get past the decision to schedule lunch for 10:00 am. That’s just completely arbitrary.

        1. Sunflower*

          When I was in high school, our first lunch period started sometime between 10 and 10:30. It was necessary to make sure everyone was fed before 12:30pm (because school lets out at 2:15) and teacher’s need to have a lunch scheduled to make sure it aligns with student schedules so I’m assuming it’s just the way the schedule fell vs the principal’s order

          1. Observer*

            It’s stupid to schedule lunch that early under any circumstances. And the circumstances you describe don’t REALLY *justify* this. *BUT* I can see why a school would do that under the circumstances you describe. (You don’t need to make sure everyone is fed by 12:30 just because school lets out at 2:15 so that was an arbitrary limitation, right there. And kids do not HAVE to eat lunch in the lunch room. Yes, I know all of the reasons why the “have” to, and they simply don’t fly.)

            The thing is, though, that situation has no bearing on this situation. There is *NO* reason at this point to schedule a lunch period at 10:00 when learning is all remote anyway. So creating this kind of schedule cannot be defended as something that is required for the students in any way.

          2. GothicBee*

            This is how it was at my high school as well. We got out of school at 2:20pm. Lunch was obnoxious because there were 3 possible times for lunch and they were all terrible for different reasons. First lunch was way too early in the day, second lunch was the shortest and there were times you couldn’t make it through the lunch line before lunch ended, and third lunch was at a reasonable time, but the cafeteria was typically out of most of the food at that point, so you just got whatever was left, which wasn’t always a full meal.

            But it’s super weird if the principal is expecting teachers to adhere to standard school lunch times while virtual. I wonder if this is a situation where the principal said they wanted them to keep their normal schedule, but didn’t consider all the implications of that re: lunch times and such? Plus at my school not all of the teachers would eat lunch during lunch time if they had other time later in the afternoon that they could eat, so I wonder if all of the LW’s colleagues normally eat lunch at those times anyway?

          3. bluephone*

            Same here, my school day in high school was something like 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. (the local public schools were more like 8-3; my elementary school was 7:50ish-2:50ish). So if you had a third period lunch in my high school, you were eating lunch at like 10 or 10:30 a.m. If you had 7th period lunch, like I did one year, your lunch was something like 1 or 1:30 pm or whatever.
            “Whyyyy is it like this though???”
            Because…it is? I’m not a teacher so I don’t know about all those aspects but like, an 8-3 or 7-2 (or thereabouts) school schedule is still the standard at least in America, even among charter schools and “unschools.” It wasn’t a perfect schedule even before COVID but 100+ years of school scheduling is not going to turn on a dime just because us random adults are like “oh god, remember getting up before 6 a.m. to catch the school bus? Fudge no.”

          4. LW #2*

            I want to clarify that this is indeed why she scheduled my lunch so early. 3rd period in my building starts at 10:05, and it is considered the first lunch period of the day. If we were in person, I would have had students in my room from 4th period – dismissal, so the early time would have been required to avoid coverage issues.

          5. Librarian1*

            yeah, when I was in high school I think our earliest lunch started at 10:40. School started at 7:30 and was out at 2:50. The latest lunch started around 12:30. It was weird, but since I ate at like 6:30 am I was usually hungry by 10:40.

        2. doreen*

          The OP says the principal wants teachers to keep to their old hours. The 10am lunch was probably a relic of the in-person school. But there’s a difference between the principal insisting that in the world of remote learning the OP must take lunch at 10am and use her unstructured block at 1 pm for planning rather than the reverse and the principal merely saying she wants the teachers to be working and reachable during the normal school hours rather than running errands during the unstructured time and working in the evening. The first is ridiculous and the second really isn’t – and the OP should really clarify what is meant by “keep to our old hours” because it could mean either.

          1. Observer*

            OK. If I’m misunderstanding and the Principal is not requiring the exact schedule, with a 10:00 lunch hour, then I agree. Having a “normal” schedule that somewhat mirrors a typical school day can be reasonable. (But the principal should be clear about what she wants!)

            It read to like it was the principal who was pushing the specifics of the schedule, and THAT is not reasonable.

            1. Managed Chaos*

              It could also very well be contractual. Teacher unions have very strong contracts- the principal might legally not be allowed to contact the teacher during their scheduled lunch time, but is allowed to during planning time, for example.

              1. bluephone*

                Oh yes, this! again, not a teacher (friends with a bunch of them though, who all have strong unions) but yeah, if your local teachers’ union is worth a damn, it will have all sorts of “this must happen” or conversely, “don’t ever do this” stuff in the contract. And God help the school administrator who tries to tangle with those clauses (my local school district went on strike A LOT because of this).

    4. Nice Try, FBI*

      I’ve been teaching remotely since March. We’re required to have every class online, every day. Because we’re not a homework school, my schedule is teaching for the first half of the class (90 minute classes) and independent work the second half. I hate keeping them online because they don’t need to sit in front of a screen for hours in a row, and neither do I.

      Luckily, we don’t have a camera-on rule for the students, so they know they can step away as needed. I don’t care, as long as they get their work turned in. We teachers were told in a recent meeting that we have to keep our cameras on, but I mentioned the excess data that causes (makes no sense for it to be on if I’m not teaching), and there wasn’t much push-back. If they want that, they can pay my internet bill.

      I agree with the OP that it’s very strange, but these are very strange times. My advice to OP: Don’t be out and about where people might see you, unless it’s during lunch time. Otherwise, just do the best you can.

    5. Caito Potato*

      Hi LW #2! I am also a teacher, though my school is face to face right now. We did remote learning last year and we had a short period of it this year, when people quarantining caused staffing issues. (Better to prevent an outbreak though!) Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed from talking with teachers in other places is that many administrators of school buildings and school districts don’t know what to do with *themselves* when we go remote. Some of them are really *building* administrators, people who manage the spaces more than the people, so when folks are not working in the building, they don’t know what to do. Many adjust, but many also cling to the things that feel like anchors to them, like schedules. I have sympathy for that, but also it’s a little ridiculous and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

      You’re going to find many parents/families won’t be able to stick to those schedules either. (Parents work, grandma is taking care of the kids but doesn’t know how to troubleshoot when the tech stops working, etc.) I personally struggled with remote learning because the ocean of feedback of a classroom dries up and becomes a desert, and you have to wait dripdripdrip for results to come in. Everything that would take a few minutes takes ages (taking attendance), and many of the things that make the job joyful change shape enough that it takes a while to find them again. But I also appreciate not having to go into a building when there’s not enough staff to keep everyone safe.

      (Also, for what it’s worth, we’re currently face to face and I don’t eat my lunch at my scheduled time. I eat lunch during the last 30 minutes of my prep because my actually scheduled lunch period tends to disappear for other reasons… I’m a technology teacher and can’t walk down the hall without multiple requests for help!)

  7. Language Lover*


    You mention you’re young and live with roommates. I assume this also means you’re unmarried and childless? Is it possible you’re focusing too much on her explicit message and missing the true intent of the message because you aren’t dealing with the distractions the principal is telling her teachers to deal with?

    What I mean is that I wonder if her “keep your regular hours” is really about making sure that teachers are available during regular school hours to answer questions from students or parents. In other words, she is letting the teachers who have young kids know that they can’t prioritize teaching their children during school hours over teaching their students during those hours. Or that teachers can’t run errands if they’re supposed to be available for students.

    The fact that you said your lunch was usually at 10 a.m. but you have other unscheduled time during the day when you could also eat makes me wonder if you’re taking her too literally. Of course she won’t know if you swap eating for that other unstructured time set aside for grading or lesson planning. You can do that. You can even eat during a time when you’d normally be teaching. You just need to be prepared to put down your sandwich.

    I think asking other teachers is probably a smart thing to do.

    1. London Student*

      I agree with this! With some other industries, there’s a lot more flexiblity in how/when people need to be available, and it might be that the principle is trying to make sure that the new WFH doesn’t make people too lax around remembering that you need to be responsive during the day.

      My partner, for example, does not work with clients or students but with teams across different timezones. He could take the day to sleep and work all night and it wouldn’t disrupt the flow of his output.

    2. Flower necklace*

      I agree that she’s probably taking the 10 a.m. lunchtime too seriously. It’s in the schedule mainly for the students, who probably need a break around that time. Teachers have always had more flexibility. I teach high school and, back when we were in person, sometimes teachers worked through lunch and ate during their prep.

    3. Ali G*

      Agree 100%. Also consider that the principal wants the teachers keeping “normal’ working times because she is under pressure to prove that you all are actually working. In my area the teachers are being blamed for the reason why kids aren’t attending school in person and there have actually been posts on NextDoor or whatever accusing teachers of getting paid to do nothing because one was spotted getting a latte on a Tuesday or some other crap.
      I think you can use your unstructured time how you want, but you should be prepared to be available during whatever are “normal” business times you would otherwise be in the physical school.

      1. LQ*

        I think the weird morality policing that happens with teachers is really relevant here. Part of why the principal is pushing to keep actual hours is that otherwise there’s a news story about teachers drinking lattes while poor struggling parents have to do all of the work and why are we paying teachers anyway, it’s not a full-time job if you’re only required to be on camera with the kids for an hour or two, what are you even doing with the other hours, drinking lattes, that’s right. And it’s a narrative that the media is leaning hard into. Which then politicians respond to by cutting funding or making super weird demands. There are people who are having their lives destroyed by the government (schools are government) and the government is evil. (And this is absolutely not a political thing I see it from both sides. It’s just the heartbreaking story of one person told against the tale of the giant oppressive government is a really easy story to tell and sell.)

        1. Jennifer*

          Agreed. People are super judgmental about everything teachers do and I think why the OP just wants to make certain that what she’s doing is okay.

        2. Observer*

          This is true (and seriously stupid.) But it doesn’t really explain the principal.

          It’s not just that if the principal is worried about teachers prioritizing their kids over teaching or creating perception problems, she should just SAY SO! But too many managers don’t do that.

          But she’s creating a schedule that is not very “normal” or reasonable anyway. It’s good for the kids to know when their teachers are going to be available? Fine. So make a schedule. That doesn’t mean that you make a schedule that is arbitrary and unreasonable. Kids need a break around 10:00 (even though you really have no idea what the kids’ schedules look like)? That’s not a reasonable reason to schedule lunch then (just like a reasonable principal would not schedule lunch at 10:00 when in the school building.) Schedule meetings then, or put the official prep period there, etc.

          1. KittyCardigans*

            I don’t think the lunch schedule is really about the principal being reasonable. It’s more about what’s logistically feasible for lunchroom capacity and still falls mid-school day. A lot of elementary schools get in around 7am and out around 2pm, so mid-school day is actually closer to 10-10:30 than it is to 12:30-1.

            I really expect the current lunchtime is a holdover from their in-person schedule. There’s no reason for teachers to adhere to it if they have other off-camera time, but it’s probably easiest to keep it as “lunchtime” for the kids just the consistency.

            1. Observer*

              To be honest, as others have noted, these kinds of lunch times are bad for the kids even when they are in the building – and there are schools that do find a way to work around that problem. But that not really relevant here.

              Even if that’s what the school building schedule looked like there is simply no good reason to insist that the teachers stick to it at this level. The argument that it’s easier for the kids is actually pretty silly – creating something that actually works with the current circumstances makes a lot more sense. And it’s not if keeping THIS aspect of the schedule when NOTHING ELSE is the same – including the rest of the schedule – is really going to provide any real sense of consistency.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                And it’s not if keeping THIS aspect of the schedule when NOTHING ELSE is the same – including the rest of the schedule – is really going to provide any real sense of consistency.

                THIS. My niece does virtual gym class at 5pm now for crying out loud – that would not happen in-person.

          2. SimplytheBest*

            Every school I went to had first lunch at like 10:00. That’s not unusual or unreasonable at all.

            1. Observer*

              It’s not unusual, but it IS totally unreasonable. But at least in a physical school building there are some reasons for it. In a virtual environment? There is just no excuse for it.

        3. Diahann Carroll*

          All I can say to this is, my 6-year-old niece is in virtual kindergarten right now and thriving even though she only has one-on-one time with her teacher once a week for a half hour and a small class session once a week. She was struggling last year when she was in-person to the point where her mom made the decision to hold her back because her former school was so awful (it was a charter school in a very economically depressed city). After my brother and his family moved back to our major-ish city and enrolled her in one of the best school districts in our area, my niece is getting As and Bs in all of her subjects and she actually enjoys going to school when she hated schools before.

          God bless her teacher. Seriously. I don’t know what kind of magic she’s working on my niece during these sessions, but this kid is excelling far beyond what we expected and should sail through first grade next year.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Thank you. I do too! It seems like virtual schooling is her lane – she can do her work on her own schedule and can have her education supplemented by my sister-in-law. I know teachers are frustrated by virtual schooling, and it sounds like administrators aren’t making it any easier if this letter is any indication, but there are a lot of grateful people out here who appreciate everything the teachers are doing this year, especially for remote learners.

    4. Observer*

      The fact that you said your lunch was usually at 10 a.m. but you have other unscheduled time during the day when you could also eat makes me wonder if you’re taking her too literally.

      I don’t think that the OP is taking things too literally at all. In fact, this suggestion tells me that the principal is probably NOT dealing with the issue you think she is. Because if she were worried about teachers not being available during normal “school time” or parents prioritizing their kids over their work, she would not be suggesting this kind of schedule. She would be insisting that they take lunch during a “normal” lunch time.

    5. Nice Try, FBI*

      My read on it is that the principal wants OP to work their contract hours. Mine are 8-4:30 with lunch from 12:30-1, so I make sure if I do go out to grab lunch it’s during those lunch hours, even though I have other periods of downtime during the day. The OP shouldn’t be out and about during times when she’d normally be in class, but if time allows, there’s nothing wrong with going to grab lunch during the scheduled lunch period.

      Some people have become oddly hostile to teachers. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were heroes. Now, we’re lazy and worthless. Parents are seeing how hard it is to teach their children, and they’re learning we aren’t the paid babysitters so many of them see us as.

      I think as long as OP isn’t out and about in the community during times when they would normally be working in their classroom they’re fine.

  8. Mark Roth*

    #2, I am a teacher in a school in a hybrid model. Teachers are in school four days a week, teaching a mixture of in person and remote students. Kids are in school once or twice a week personally. And when rates spike, we go full virtual for a week or two when and as needed.

    When we’re home, the key is to remain available to during work hours, and make sure the work gets done. If I have to teach a class at 9:30, I better be live streaming. If I get an email from a parent at 8:00 AM, I need to answer it ASAP. If I get an email from the principal, he’s not going to care that I waited to respond to after my next class because I was sorting laundry during what should be my prep period.

    Remain available to respond to issues that might come up and eat lunch when you want.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      That’s what I wondered about too. The LW didn’t mention it, but perhaps the principal’s intent is for the teachers to be available during the normal school day hours to answer questions and emails promptly. That would then allow for after school hours emails to pile up to be answered first thing in the morning before the first classes.

      I don’t think working from home should give a teacher complete free reign on all her hours because questions from students about assignments need to be answered promptly to allow them to complete their work on time. i think you need to be working during certain hours is fine, but I don’t think she has to eat lunch at 10am; she just shouldn’t try to eat while teaching a class.

  9. Don'tAskMyWeight*

    #1 – Just to say I empathize, having also been in a situation where my coworkers were trying to guess my weight (You’re so thin! We’re so jealous! I bet you weigh this much!) and it was really awkward/uncomfortable because I was way thinner than usual due to a pretty serious medical problem. Luckily my coworkers laid off, but there’s an idea that it’s okay to pry thin people about their weight, so hopefully if you push back it helps.

    I’d also try (though maybe others can weigh in), if she keeps going, asking “Hey, why are you still doing this when you know it makes me really uncomfortable?”

    1. allathian*

      I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. Still, I’m glad they stopped pestering you about it without you being driven to tell them about your health issue to get them to stop. A former coworker wasn’t so lucky at an old job. I wasn’t there when it happened and I hope I would have said something to get them to stop the diet talk if I had been there, but one summer she’d lost a lot of weight during the month she was away (I’m in Europe so 4 weeks off in a row in the summer is normal), when the office gossip asked her what her weight loss secret was, she just said “cancer”. Apparently the room went very quiet after that and the diet talk stopped and eventually my former coworker recovered.

    2. London Student*

      It is incredibly frustrating when there is overlap with a medical condition. I’m glad that your colleagues were able to back off. Did you ever use a specific script with them?

      Personally, I think my body falls into what is considered average, so the only time I got a lot of comments on my weight was during my pregnancy, which was unfortunately medically complicated.

      I didn’t gain much weight. Even 8 months along I still looked like I was only about 4 months in. Some people were very vocal about their jealousy, which was difficult because the lack of weight gain (at least in my case), was a bad thing. Alternatively, some people were very open about their worry, which was also hard, becuase it made it difficult to be evasive about my condition. (And my bump wasn’t small due to lack of eating, so people pushing extra food on me was even worse.)

      A single question, asked with earnestness and respect, was never unwelcome to me. Frankly, even if it was someone I didn’t choose to share with, it still made me feel cared for. (Although I realise this isn’t the case for everyone.)

      But repeated comments or demands for information? Exhausting.

      1. Don'tAskMyWeight*

        They were only pushy about it once, and I just repeatedly said, “I’m not going to tell you how much I weigh, this makes me really uncomfortable.” Even when pushy they weren’t rude about it (more of a jovial “we wish we were so thin!”), so luckily that worked.

    3. Mookie*

      Prying and passive aggressive behavior about body weight and composition is certainly not limited to people labelled “thin.” LW’s coworker sounds like she’s absorbed the cultural conditioning around these issues fairly adroitly, and is now projecting them outwards. Not acceptable, never acceptable. None of this happens in a vacuum.

      1. Don'tAskMyWeight*

        I totally agree, it’s always inappropriate. But there’s definitely a subset of people who think “it’s not inappropriate for thin people, they should be happy about their weight!” when yes, it is.

    4. Cat Tree*

      Ugh, I can relate. I’m obese and a few years ago I went down to “just” overweight because of a serious condition where I could barely eat anything without being in pain. I was generally miserable from being both sick and hungry, and frustrated that my doctor wasn’t making any progress (I later found a different doctor who diagnosed me correctly and I got the right treatment). Anyway, people started mentioning the weight loss, and I would mention it’s due to a health issue, and most people would look embarrassed and end that conversation. But there was one woman who just kept repeating, “yeah, but you look so good”. I kept repeating that it was due to sickness but she just keep reiterating how good I looked. I know our culture is messed up about weight, but it’s still pretty extreme for someone to imply that a serious illness is worth it if it makes you thinner. She’s not in my department, but every time we crossed paths, maybe once a week or so, she would enthusiastically say, “looking good”, which only served to bring my mind back to the illness I was trying not to think about.

      Years before that, my mom found out she had Hepatitis C during the time when a potential cure was in clinical trials. She got the course of treatment and lost a lot of weight from it, and everyone complimented her.

      So yeah, I rarely mention someone’s body unless they bring it up first.

    5. JJ*

      I worked in an environment where a woman would do this as some sort of weird power move. Like, you could tell there was maliciousness under it, but not actually what she was trying to accomplish. Was it a put down? Was it a fish for a compliment? I would just blandly agree with her observations like “yes, I am thin” which was a good deterrent because it was boring, but she pushed it really far with some of the other women in the office, and eventually graduated to being one of the most Machiavellian schemers I have worked with.

      It sounds like OP’s person is just filterless, but if she tries to shut it down and the NSFW talk continues, it might be something worse.

  10. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: I had a reversal of your situation but I think the way I responded might still help.

    There was a woman at a few companies ago who was obsessed with getting me to lose weight (yeah I’m overweight, can’t do Jack about it) and would not stop dragging it into every day with stuff like ‘I’m just concerned about your health’ and ‘you shouldn’t ignore me, I’m trying to be nice’.

    (She did also ask me pretty personal sex questions like ‘how do you have sex if you’re disabled and fat?’)

    Tried just ignoring her, that got me labelled as ‘rude’. Couldn’t put headphones in because we were in tech support. In the end I’d reached a point where I just wasn’t prepared to handle this for even a day longer. After yet another comment about my weight I told her “look, I’ve said that this isn’t a topic for your opinion and you keeping going is causing more damage than you think” she sneering asked how I could possibly suffer from her being ‘interested’ and I said “look up eating disorders. Look up the employment laws surrounding sex talk in the office. Find a few courses on diplomacy, whatever, I’m saying that if this continues for even one more day I’m going to take this to management. Stop it now, and I’m willing to pretend it never happened “

    She shut up, and I never mentioned it again.

    1. London Student*

      Good for you. Also, how frustrating that you needed to bring up eating disorders just to defend not wanting to talk about your body!

      Was the relationship managable after that?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’d admitted once, in the past, that I have a long fraught history with anorexia but she’d gone off on one about how if I’m fat I’m obviously lying (which triggered some 4 days of not eating) but it was a long time ago.

        It did make the relationship (we sat next to each other) a purely professional, no talk except for work and social pleasantries (‘I’m getting a cup of tea do you need a refill?’) but I had a coworker sitting facing me who was way nicer so no great loss.

        1. Observer*

          Given what her non-professional behavior was like, I can imagine that even without the nice coworker, this one going to purely professional must have been a huge relief.

    2. Batgirl*

      “She did also ask me pretty personal sex questions like ‘how do you have sex if you’re disabled and fat?’”
      Whoah Nelly. How do you have sex if you have no social skills or basic humanity whatsoever?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Luckily I didn’t go with my immediate response (something involving a bodily orifice, hers, and a tetanus covered cactus, for insertion into aforementioned) but if I recall I said ‘inventively’ and went back to wrestling SQL servers.

  11. Roeslein*

    I don’t get why people seem to think it’s fine to comment on thin people’s weight – they do seem to realise it’s inappropriate otherwise. One thing that I absolutely hated when I came back from maternity leave was how everyone felt entitled to comment on my body. I looked the same as I did before and was wearing my normal clothes, so people thought it was fair game. Colleagues I barely knew were asking how I lost the weight in front of others. It was really weird. (No magic answer: I put the amount of weight my doctor told me I was supposed to put on, breastfed, ate fairly healthy. That’s it. It’s still nobody’s business.)

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Ugh, that’s the worst. What lousy questions. And I totally agree, people seem to think it’s fine because it’s ostensibly complimentary but it is so uncomfortable.

    2. Diane*

      “I don’t get why people seem to think it’s fine to comment on thin people’s weight – they do seem to realise it’s inappropriate otherwise.”

      They comment on fat people’s weight all the time. ALL THE TIME. I literally cannot remember a day when someone didn’t comment on mine. So no, they don;t get that it’s “inappropriate otherwise”, and thin people are not being oppressed here.

      1. DyneinWalking*

        I think the point of that comment was rather that some people seem to put thin people into an extra category where talking about weight is fine, even if these specific people (not everyone, but this specific subset of people) seem to realize that it wouldn’t be appropriate with overweight people. I think the idea behind that is that weight is only problematic when it’s excess weight; so when someone isn’t overweight they can’t possibly be having weight problems or be uncomfortable with the topic in general.

        And that mindset is really a thing! I’m very thin myself and often am complimented on my figure – I tend to roll with it because the people clearly mean well, I don’t have issues with my body image, and my weight isn’t directly associated with health problems, either.
        But it’s definitely starting to rub me the wrong way. I’m fine, and healthy afaik, but I’m in fact borderline underweight – most people wouldn’t be healthy if they were as thin as me. And while my normal weight is ok for me, accidental weight loss is a real issue I need to watch out for, because I end up in the unhealthy weight range with lack of energy and skipped menstrual cycles pretty damn fast.

        I haven’t had any bad experiences with weight conversations myself, so really I’m not complaining as such, but the extreme focus on overweight==unhealthy in society definitely has the effect of emphasizing that thin==healthy to the point of forgetting that underweight has its own set of health issues. The comments I got were NICE, and that is in itself the problem – this absolute certainty that a thin person’s weight couldn’t possibly be a problematic topic of conservation. But it’s problematic in general because thin people can have weight issues too, and problematic in my specific case not so much because I personally have a problem with it, but because good lord people shouldn’t think of my weight as the ideal! I’m like the opposite of someone who’s got extra fat but is not yet obese, but people don’t see that, which I find quite concerning even if I get the “good” side of society’s obsession with body weight.

        1. Elsajeni*

          Right, I think there’s a lot of people who grasp that it’s rude to say “gosh, you’re so fat!” or “you’ve gained so much weight!”, but don’t see the issue as “it’s rude to comment on people’s bodies” — they see it as rude only because fatness is “bad,” so pointing it out or commenting on it is insulting. But thinness is “good,” so commenting on it is a compliment, so they feel totally free to do that! Obviously there are also lots of people who haven’t even gotten this far, and will just be astonishingly rude to or about fat people. But I don’t think this is a “actually it’s we thin people who suffer” complaint — shutting down rude behavior that’s phrased as a compliment, and that a lot of the people around you will also perceive as a compliment, is its own thing with its own complications.

      2. The Rules are Made Up*

        Roselein didn’t say anything about thin people being oppressed. All they said was that a lot of people think it’s fine to make comments on someone’s body if they are thin. There is an assumption that asking a thin person about their weight is a “compliment” so can’t be uncomfortable or offensive. Which is true. People definitely also comment on the bodies of fat people, but for other reasons and usually concern trolling, and don’t see that as an overstep because they are “trying to help.” The point is, nobody should be commenting on anyone else’s body, thin or fat or any other way the body shows up. A friend of mine lost a lot of weight a few years back and got a lot of compliments on now good they looked (later found out it was Leukemia). It’s rude to comment whether “favorably” or unfavorably about someones body. It doesn’t have to be an either/or.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      It’s just because so many people, especially in the US, struggle so hard to lose or keep weight off. Plus, our culture places such emphasis on thin=good but fat=bad (like moral failing bad) and it creates such an obsession with food, exercise and body. So, to make comments on “thinness” is usually projection of their own insecurities.

      Not appropriate to keep commenting or discussing this stuff at work though, and especially if asked to stop. But people can be clueless, dense or just plain mean sometimes.

    4. pieces_of_flair*

      I’m sorry you experienced that. Those comments were rude and inappropriate. Unfortunately, your belief that non-thin people aren’t bombarded with comments on our weight is inaccurate.

    1. Nanani*

      Do not do this.
      I’m sure this comment was a joke, but don’t.

      The goal is to stop the weight and sex talk, not exacerbate it.

  12. London Student*

    #1: It’s been said before but it bears repeating: Etiquette and manners exist to serve personal boundaries, not dictate them.

    You don’t want to hear about someone’s sex life, you don’t want people to guess your weight. You are 100% entitled to be firm about these feelings. That’s not rude. If your colleague becomes offended by your boundaries, that’s on her to manage. If she thinks those are unreasonable requests, that’s on her to explain or push back to management (and they’re not, obviously, but hypothetically speaking, someone could have boundaries that couldn’t be reasonably accomodated in a certain setting).

    In your shoes, I would likely put in a little extra effort afterwards so she didn’t feel too stung, but as Alison said, that’s personal preference, not a requirement.

    I hope you’re able to speak to her, and to esclate if she isn’t responsive! Good luck.

  13. Bad at math*

    #2, I’m an elementary school counselor and I definitely had this experience when we were fully remote in the spring! I felt really awkward about it — I wanted to check in to see if other people were having the same experience, but I didn’t want to sound like I wasn’t working. I wonder if you could check in with your grade level team (or, if you’re not a classroom teacher, whoever has the closest role — Specials or special ed, etc.) and ask what their schedules look like. I’m also younger with no kids, so I touched base with other staff members without kids, as their days looked so different from people who were managing young kids at home.

    This is a very weird time! Good luck.

  14. Beep*

    For the teacher – your principal has no way of knowing when you work. I can almost guarantee no other teachers at your school with more than 3 years experience are even considering following that schedule. Or if they are it’s so they can say they did when they complain about how remote schooling is going, ha. If there’s any reason to push back I bet teachers with tenure will do so, particularly if there’s a decent union. Unless you’re at a school with massive turnover and a very young faculty, but I’m not too familiar with those kinds of schools.

    I suspect your principal is mostly covering his ass. He might be pushing for the schedule because:
    1- contract – doesn’t want anyone to say he was encouraging teachers to work outside their contractual hours in case a dispute arises.
    2- parents – is telling parents who call complaining that teachers are working their normal hours. So just respond fairly quickly to parent inquiries.
    3- weird infantilizing nonsense – for some reason there’s a lot of people who don’t like to treat teachers like the professionals they are.

    Tbh when I was a classroom teacher I found it necessary to ignore a lot of stuff that came down from admin. Sometimes to best serve your students and to not let the job burn down your soul you gotta trust your gut, roll your eyes, and pretend you’re playing along while you do what you know is best.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I’m wondering if some other faculty members have been hard or impossible to get ahold of during Core Hours, and principal is just trying to put a stop to that before it becomes a habit?

      Or alternatively, he doesn’t want teachers to completely drop the schedule because they will not be fully remote for a long time?

      (And yes, it could just be a case of infantilizing everyone because he spends too much time dealing with elementary students.)

      1. Anononon*

        Yeah, this could be a case of sending out mass communication about a specific concern happening with only a couple people, but those people remain clueless while people like OP stress out that it’s supposed to apply to them.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I don’t think it’s the best strategy – but the mass email is something I’ve seen far too often to ignore the possibility. In fact my current manager is the only manager in my whole career (in two different fields) that isn’t a mass email fan.

    2. greenius*

      I was definitely coming here to bring up a contract. OP2, you didn’t say whether you are at a public school or not, but I have several public school teachers in my family. Their contracts all specify times when they have to be in their school building. Obviously, you are not currently in the building at any time… but the equivalent might be “logged in to your work accounts” or otherwise available. It might seem ridiculous in the face of how different everything is right now, but it might also be a way to try and maintain normalcy?

      1. LW #2*

        This is a good point. I do teach at a public school, so I am under contract. However, it’s very unclear because there are other things in the contract (evaluation procedures, class size caps, etc.) that have been temporarily changed or suspended because of Covid. I’m part of a major school system in a major urban center, and the layers of bureaucracy right now are very confusing.

        1. SES*

          Do you have a mentor or another teacher with whom you are close? Since you mention being a young teacher (and I assume new), they will be your best resources, especially since the guidance given here seems to not be helpful on clarifying the situation. If you are really concerned, stick to the schedule. This is not a typical year, and voicing concerns about this may not be the best use of the capital you’ve built.

  15. triplehiccup*

    #4 this sounds frustrating! I want to echo Alison’s point about the candidate pool and add that it’s not always clear from the job description what the hiring manager will prioritize in selecting someone. From my very limited experience on the hiring side, I’ve often seen the job not go to the best interviewee. Just this year my boss hired the candidate with one of the weaker (but still up to par) interviews because they had some key items in their work history that would complement the rest of our team’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m sure the other candidates with truly great interview chemistry were surprised not to get hired, too, and there’s nothing they could’ve done differently to change the outcome (except spend years of their life doing other jobs, I guess!).

  16. NewYork*

    LW2 — have you established “office hours” where students or their parents can contact you for help with lessons?

    1. LW #2*

      They were established for us at a district level, but no one ever comes to mine. It’s 20 minutes right after dismissal, so parents are still working. The kids are mostly too young to get the concept of office hours and show up independently. More often, I get messages on Google Classroom or Remind, and I respond to those as I see them.

  17. MissDisplaced*

    For #4 it’s very true and don’t read anything into it!
    I’ve been a “shoo-in” many times, and once even at a place I did freelance work for where the person giving me the freelance work actually had passed away. You just cannot ever expect you will actually get the job, and your friends don’t really expect it either because so many factors come into play with hiring.

    As you said, you prepared and put your best foot forward. It’s really all you can do. If your friends do ask about it, I’d answer with something bland along the lines of: you felt had a good interview, but they must have found someone they thought was a better fit. And thank the person for the referral of course.

  18. Not So NewReader*

    “I don’t discuss your body with you for a reason. I don’t expect you to discuss my body with me.”

    This also works for the sex stories too. “I don’t discuss my sex life with you because I do not want to discuss your sex life.”

    OP, if you get disgusted enough, you can go with, “We talked about your sex life/my weight yesterday, the day before and the day before that. I really don’t want to rehash this stuff everyday. I am tired of talking about these two things and I won’t be talking about it any more. Let’s find something else to talk about, shall we?”
    And let her fall silent. Read that as your point has been heard. It might be a while before she finds a new topic, just let her struggle through her own processes. For your own peace of mind remind yourself that MOST people have no problem coming up with a bizillion other things to talk about and her struggling over this is kind of sad.

    Eh, depending on the person and setting, I have gone with, “We have talked about this every day so far this week. This isn’t going to be A Thing we HAVE to discuss every day is it?”

  19. FormerStaffing*

    i had a former chubby coworker constantly tell me about her sex life or describe her husbands parts in detail, like she was determined to make everyone know she was getting some and she was not taking the hint on changing the subject either.

    i finally just started getting rude back, saying things like “ew, the thought of you two getting it on is making me lose my lunch” or “ewww, picturing your husband naked makes me want to switch to the other team, gross” or “you’d be really effective at preventing teen pregnancy by telling those stories, bc the thought of you two getting it on is a total turn off.” she finally got the hint that i was disgusted having that thought thrown in my brain.

    1. Justme, the OG*

      I’m sorry, but your responses to her were completely over the line. Yes, she shouldn’t have started the discussion at all. Your responses were juvenile and absolutely horrible.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, this person was too childish to just say, “please stop discussing your sex life at work” and they expect to look like the hero of this story?

        Sometimes at work you have to be the bigger person. I would never call someone gross, even if they “started it”.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Rather than hinting you should have simply stated “Please stop talking about your sex life.” Your response instead of being direct was rude and just as unprofessional as her comments.

    3. Generic Name*

      So then you would have been okay thinking/talking about your coworker’s sex life if she was thin? Sex talk in the office is not okay, and neither is fat shaming. Not cool

    4. Observer*

      I’m going to agree that your response was as bad as her conversation.

      Setting boundaries is one thing. Getting even more juvenile that Chatty coworker is another. And implying, as you do, that her conversation is gross because she’s overweight is another whole layer of grossness.

    5. pieces_of_flair*

      Ugh, you were so much ruder than your colleague here. Her oversharing was inappropriate and unprofessional. Your response was immature, passive aggressive, and just plain nasty. And now you’re bragging about it on the internet, complete with unnecessary fat shaming. I hope all the negative responses to your comment will help you reflect on your behavior.

    6. Nanani*

      Wow. Fat-shaming AND homophobia, lovely combo.

      This is not ok. Nothing your coworker said justifies that kind of bile.

    7. Paris Geller*

      . . . how gross, and by that I mean your response. She shouldn’t have been talking about her sex life, but you really ramped it up with the fatphobia. Glad you told every other person in the vicinity what you think of fat people, though.

  20. AdAgencyChick*

    #3, YMMV by industry, but in mine, you are never talking to the hiring manager during a phone screen, only to someone in the recruiting department. I find that you can do only very broad strokes in these conversations, because the recruiter simply doesn’t know what the role will be like in the way the hiring manager will. You can establish whether your salary expectations are in the same range as theirs, and you can usually establish whether the job is the right general level for your experience, but if you don’t get a clear answer to “what does a typical day look like?” or they just say “that’s a question for [hiring manager],” that’s not necessarily a red or even a yellow flag.

  21. Jennifer*

    #4 Yeah, any time you are mixing friends or family with work there’s the potential things can get awkward. I’ve been on both sides of this. If I hear about a job at my company that a friend will be a good fit for, I have no problem sending the posting to them and encouraging them to apply. I may even put in a good word for them if I know who the hiring manager is. But I make it clear that I have next to no control over who will be hired. Still, a few people have gotten salty with me when they didn’t get the job.

    If a friend suggests I apply for the job, I go in reminding myself that it’s no different than any other interview, but if I don’t get it or feel like I didn’t do my best, I feel like it’s going to reflect badly on my friend. I realize it’s not rational, but I understand why the OP might feel that way. Just remember Alison’s advice. It’s just like any other interview. Sometimes you get the job, sometimes you don’t, but it doesn’t mean you were terrible or your friend is upset with you. It’s just the way things go sometimes. Best of luck on your job search!

  22. Rusty Shackelford*

    And then if she persists: “I’ve asked you before not to comment on my body. It’s weird that you keep doing it.”

    Can I just say that this is one of my favorite things Alison recommends – not just “don’t do this,” but “it’s weird that you keep doing it.” She suggests it frequently, and it’s just such a great bit of advice, because it returns the awkwardness to the person who started.

    1. Generic Name*

      I’ve actually used this line on a coworker! He would not stop commenting on a certain pair of pants I wore, and it made me uncomfortable. Finally said he needs to stop talking about my pants because it’s just getting weird. Then afterwards I was almost aggressively normal and friendly towards him. It worked, and he stopped the comments and we have a normal coworker relationship.

    2. Cat Tree*

      It really is! A few months ago, when we had relatively few Covid cases, I visited my mom (in the same state) for a day. I went to the bathroom and after I came out she asked how it went. I don’t know why she would even think to ask such a thing. But rather than get annoyed I just said, “that’s a weird question” in a light-hearted tone. She laughed and dropped the subject.

    3. Joielle*

      Yes! If someone doesn’t stop doing the thing after you ask once or twice, it’s the perfect way to just slightly escalate. It’s not as direct (and risky) as “stop harassing me” or “I think you’re a creep” but it sort of gestures in that direction. You’re allowing the person to save face if they stop the thing immediately, which can be the best outcome.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Reminding people of anything that was said earlier seems to jar them back into reality. Here there’s a double whammy, with the use of the word weird. People usually want to fit in and be a part of the group.

  23. whatchamacallit*

    LW #1: how have you summed up multiple work environments I’ve been in?? When I left my last job I reported to my supervisor that one of my coworkers kept talking about their sex life when we were all on a work trip together (including when I was driving, so I couldn’t just excuse myself) and it made everyone very uncomfortable. She was a fairly recent grad, so I do think it was more a prof. norms thing that hopefully she stopped.
    Weight: I’m also very thin (100 lbs on a good day) and I hate comments about it. ESPECIALLY in a work environment. It’s wildly inappropriate and I do not take it as a compliment, it’s very uncomfortable to realize someone you work with is looking at you like that. Unwanted comments on your lunch. Outside of innocuous comments like “I like your top today!” I don’t want comments on my appearance at work, it’s weird. Not to mention this year I lost 8 pounds and my doctor thinks it’s stress related (thanks, 2020). You don’t know WHY someone is thin or if there is an underlying condition that they do not want to discuss with you.

    1. Agnes*

      Somehow people believe it’s not ok to talk about being overweight , but it’s fine to tell someone they need to gain weight. I’m thin just becasue everyone in my family is also thin and I don’t need anyone’s opinion on my weight. I remeber a co-worker laughed at me when I told her I go to the gym (as if the only reason to exercise is to lose weight). I’ve been getting comments even from total stranges, which is ridiculous!

      1. pieces_of_flair*

        I’m sorry you’ve had those experiences. Those comments were indeed ridiculous and rude. However, it’s not true that “people believe it’s not ok to talk about being overweight.” I’ve seen this type of comparative statement from self-described thin people a few times in this comments section. Thin people do not actually experience more overt body shaming than fat people in our culture.

        1. DyneinWalking*

          I don’t think anyone here is saying that it’s happening more to thin people than to overweight people! Overweight is undeniably in the focus of society, so obviously overweight people get the brunt of it.

          But there’s definitely a bunch of people who apply new social guidelines very selectively, and don’t seem to realize that the new guideline isn’t so much “don’t talk about topic x to people who are y” as “it might be a good idea to think before talking about topic x to anyone“.

          There’s still more than enough people who just don’t care at all (or are way too oblivious or whatever) to give overweight people a hard time, but this specific subset of “ok so let’s not talk about overweight weight but thin weight is still fine right?” really does exist.

      2. Observer*

        To the extent that this disconnect happens, it’s mostly because people see comments on overweight as insulting but comments about underweight as a compliment. The concern trolls generally troll both overweight and underweight (in their estimation) people.

  24. ScottM*

    #2 – At my job, it means being available to answer emails, phone calls, and IM’s during normal work hours. So while I might not be actively working during all of that time, I either have my office mobile phone with me, or I’m within walking distance of my laptop.

  25. Nanani*


    Don’t ask permission to do what makes sense. Just do it.
    Make sure you’re available the same ways you would otherwise be, but just quietly swap your 10 am lunch with that block of planning time. Do what makes sense for your situation, leaving the bits that involve other people (live lessons, calls with admin/colleagues) intact.
    It isn’t cheating or getting away with something. You’re doing your job like an adult.

    It also doesn’t have to be permanent – if it turns out there’s a downside you didn’t know about you can back to the way the rules dictate, no harm no foul.

  26. animaniactoo*

    LW4, try repositioning this in your head also: You are not being rejected. Rejected would be if you were the single available candidate and they looked at you and said “nah, we’ll muddle along ourselves”. You are simply not being selected from the *field* of candidates.

  27. Dust Bunny*

    Also: Body comments? Just no. You don’t have to be nice about that. Your body is not up for discussion against your will.

  28. The New Normal*

    LW #2: I work for a K-12 district. Our policy is that you need to be available by email during standard school day hours. The district also mandated a one-hour drive time to your site – you have to be available to pick up physical items in a safe way from your site office or admin (or grade lead if you are elementary). To accommodate your site’s requirements, you might need to shift your normal routine. You said you have 3 hours of work before the first Zoom session… can that be shifted to the afternoon as prep for the next morning? If your scheduled lunch is too soon, swap it for what works for you. As long as you are available within the times admin expect, you should be fine.

  29. Jojoyner*

    As someone who does HR work I actually want to touch base and let you know that this kind of explicit talk definitely falls under sexual harassment. I would tell her this and if she doesn’t take the hint, report her. You have the right to feel comfortable at work.

  30. Stormy Weather*

    I dream of a future where people do not get unsolicited opinions about their bodies and eating habits from anyone but their medical professionals, personal trainers, or nutritionists.

    I had someone at work once come out of nowhere and tell me to cut out all carbs. I was eating some pasta and veggies I had brought from home. It was delicious.

    Yes, I’m fat, but we weren’t even talking about bodies or diets. We’d been talking about work, then she said that.

    Nobody’s damn business.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Whenever someone starts lecturing me about how carbs are the devil or nobody should eat gluten or some such nonsense, I lecture them back about how fad diet pseudoscience is useless and ridiculous.

  31. Another Teacher*

    LW2, here’s how I think of it:

    When I’m in-person in school, sometimes I use my prep periods to relax, recharge, and/or read AAM, because I *prefer* to do my grading and prep work in the evenings. However, like you, I’m always aware, checking my email for things that need responses, and willing to schedule student meetings as soon as school “starts”.

    When I’m remote… I do the exact same thing!

    1. Another Teacher*

      Oh – and an actionable item – when we have all-staff meetings on Zoom I always make sure I have my camera on, am visibly “paying attention”, and have good lighting/etc. This way whenever I get “FaceTime” I always look professional, engaged, and put together!

  32. Bookworm*

    LW4: No advice, but I am super sympathetic. I have had one friendship that did work in getting a job. But I have found that even with the best of intentions, there’s no guarantee (I guess, unless the friend is the HR person who does the hiring).

    This has been my experience overall with networking in general: at best you can a resume passed along, but it always seems like someone else has the better credentials or closer connections. Agree with the answer: ask for feedback and maybe you can get insight that a non-friend couldn’t get but don’t expect some great revelation (unless it turns out you are actually awful and don’t know it?).

    I am sorry that has been happening. Good luck!

  33. AKchic*

    LW1 – you’ve been given a lot of great scripts to use on your coworker. I think you should also be using some language on your BOSS, too, because your boss seems to be ignoring this problem, and that’s not exactly beneficial for your boss/company, because it’s opening the company up to problems. Email your boss and explicitly detail the issues. These are the sexual monologues that have been aimed at you in an attempt to goad you into conversation. These are the weight comments meant to get you to converse. You’ve tried hinting and changing the subject and it hasn’t worked. You’ve tried bringing it up to Boss who has so far been hands-off about it. You will now be direct with Co-Irker, but you wanted to give Boss the heads-up that you will be telling Co-Irker that the sex talk and weight commentary must stop. You are already feeling harassed and uncomfortable, but hope that being direct and speaking plainly will solve the problem and if not, you are sure that Boss will step in and ensure that it’s taken care of.

    Also, document and keep track of all of the inappropriate commentary. It will help you. Co-Irker may not actually notice how often she reverts back to those topics (maybe because they are common topics among her peer group?)

  34. Jennifer Juniper*

    LW1: Absolutely don’t do this. But this may shut her up.

    Next time she brags about some sexcapade, say, “Those who talk about it the most do it the least!”

  35. Emily*

    Alison, the link to ‘Good questions to ask’ in your answer to question #3 is not working. Any chance there’s a working link still available?

  36. Elizabeth West*

    I’m asking about COVID protocols in phone screens, because I really do not want to work for a company that isn’t taking it seriously. Imagine I get a job and a new place and then have to spend a week in the hospital and lose my job and my new place. Deal breaker 101; no, thank you.

    I did have that one interview where the person who did the phone screen and the actual hiring manager were wildly divergent on this and I didn’t find out until I showed up, but nobody in that office was wearing a mask except me, so no great loss.

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