do I have to cover self-harm scars, boss resents that I can work from home after having a baby, and more

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

1. How will I know if a new job will require me to cover my self-harm scars?

I’m recently out of grad school and applying for my first office job. In my teens, I went through a rough patch where my mental health really suffered. I managed to turn my life around, but now have self-harm scars covering both of my arms, up to my wrists. They aren’t easy to cover with makeup, and there isn’t any excuse I can use — it’s quite obvious what they’re from.

How could I find out what sort of policy the company I’m applying to has in covering them without hurting my chances of getting the job? Should I just wear long sleeves or only address it if someone notices?

No halfway decent company will require you to cover scars! There are some crappy companies out there that might attempt it (here’s one), but generally this will not be a thing. And legally it would put them on very shaky territory: They can’t treat people differently because of a disability or the perception that they’re disabled (which here would refer to depression, etc.), so no sensible company will tell someone they need to cover up the signs of a former medical condition or adhere to a different dress code than everyone else because of scars on their body.

(I wonder if you’re perhaps thinking of this as comparable to tattoos, which some companies do still require people to cover, but this is a different thing.)

Some people with self-harm scars do choose to cover them during interviews because they want to neutralize any potential distraction while they’re still an unknown, but it’s entirely up to you.

2. My boss is resentful that I get to work from home after parental leave

I had a baby in September. My office has been working remotely since March, and we all expect that’ll continue until June at the earliest. Maternity leave was both great and hard — I loved spending time with my baby, but it was hard not getting any additional family support due to the pandemic. Anyway, I’m back at work this month after 3.5 months of leave, and due to my husband’s job he’s able to watch our daughter 95% of the day (he owns his own business, takes her to meetings, it works for both of us, yada yada).

Whenever I mention something related to my daughter, my boss often says off-hand, slightly resentful-sounding comments about how I “don’t know how good I have it” or she “had to pump in a bathroom stall” or “dropping my kids off at daycare was REALLY hard for me…” But … this is hard for me! I miss seeing my daughter all day, I hate pumping at my desk, and it’s hard transitioning from being a good mom to good employee with no commute time. I’m finding it hard to get back into the work groove and wish I had my boss’s support. We all have our own challenges, and being a parent in a pandemic is no joke no matter how old your kids are.

In general I’d describe my boss as self-servingly supportive. She’s friendly and asks about my life, but I get the sense that she’s trying to gauge how my life could impact the work rather than being genuinely interested. She’s a high performer and wants to get good work done. And to be clear: I really don’t talk about my daughter that much — basically just when she asks about my weekend or when a last-minute meeting interrupts my parenting/pumping schedule.

What should I say to her when she makes comments like this?

One option is to just ignore the comments. You don’t need to try to convince her to come around to your point of view. It sounds like she has her own issues here and as long as they’re not affecting the way she treats you at work, you could just ignore the remarks; letting them slide off you might be the easiest response.

Another option is to cheerily agree with her: “Yes, I’m grateful Bob’s able to do the childcare right now!” etc. I know that might grate because it’s glossing over the reality that this is tough (and really, she should be able to figure that out) but it might be the most expedient way to move the conversation along. Again, you don’t need to convince her.

Alternately, though, you could say, “Oh, it’s harder than you might think” or “It’s got its rough days, believe me” or “eh, parenting in a pandemic is tough” or so forth. Maybe that would jar her into pulling back a bit. Or you could say, “You’ve said that a few times” and just let that sit there for a minute.

But I wouldn’t define success as getting her to stop remarking how good she thinks you have it, as obnoxious as that is. I’d define success as finding a way to internally roll your eyes, move the conversation along, and not let it get to you, if possible — simply because that’s the part that’s within your control.

3. My job wants me to sign an NDA after I’ve already resigned

I’m wondering if you could give me advice on declining an NDA that my former employer has asked me to sign now that I’ve quit (!). I’m a craftsperson and production worker who was working for a small family-run glass studio doing architectural and interior design work.

In general, I’m opposed to signing an NDA, though I realize that a worker will sometimes have to sign one. They seem to contribute to secrecy in a negative way (hiding dysfunctional workplaces and even abuse) and in general shift more power to an employer.

But I’ve been a pushover. I started working at this studio after being told that it was a full-time job with benefits and a certain wage. Then they asked me to agree to an indefinite trial period at minimum wage. I said okay. Then they told me that actually they were only going to have me working four days a week. I said okay. After months of “trial period,” they said they would bump my wage up $2 and then $2 two weeks after that, but it took more months to get the second promised bump. My paychecks are often delayed and then distributed at random times. Now for the last several months, my employer has been laying me off for random days or even weeks with sometimes less than a day’s notice because the studio is “slow.” I finally quit this week when my old company (which had let me go when the NYC Covid shutdown happened last spring) asked me to come back during another one of my unwanted no-notice layoff periods.

Now that I’m leaving, they’re asking me to sign an NDA (it’s a command, not a request). I can see no reason for me to sign an NDA upon leaving. I am a craftsperson and was not let into any trade secrets of any sort. There is literally nothing that I know that another similar studio would not also know, besides that this studio is poorly run.

The studio may offer me freelance work in the future and I suppose that I would have to sign one then. We’re communicating now through email. How do I cheerfully say No Way? I’m tempted to just ignore it, but I think that will mean that they don’t give me my paycheck (at least until I communicate further with them). I shouldn’t lay out my general misgivings about NDAs, right? How do I nicely say that the time for an NDA is before starting the job, not after?

Ha, yeah, they have no leverage to get you to sign when you’re already leaving. What’s more, in order for a contract to be legally binding, each side must receive “consideration,” or something of value. If you sign an NDA at the start of employment, the consideration you’re getting is employment. But when they’re asking you to sign once you’re leaving, there isn’t any.

Frankly, I’d just ignore the NDA entirely and see if they raise it. If they do, you could say, “To be legally binding, the contract would need to offer me some form of consideration. If that’s something you want to offer, I can take a look but otherwise I don’t feel comfortable signing it.” Or you could skip that and just say, “I’m not comfortable with NDAs as a general rule. I would have been willing to consider it if it had been a condition of my work when I started, but it’s not something I’m comfortable signing at this stage.”

They’re required by law to give you your final paycheck on time, and there are legal penalties for withholding or delaying it. In New York, the law requires them to pay your final wages by the regular scheduled payday for the pay period you worked. If they don’t, here’s step-by-step advice on what to do.

4. Interviewer asked, “What really ticks you off”

I find myself revisiting an interview question I was asked a while ago, and I still can’t figure out what type of answer the person was looking for. The question was, “What really ticks you off and gets under your skin?” The person asking was the VP of the department, and he said that he was trying to get a sense of how I operate.

I really don’t get angry or annoyed that easily, especially in a work context, and I did say this before answering. I then said something about easily avoidable mistakes due to lack of communication, but I still have no idea if that was a good answer or not. Do you know what type of answer would have been good in this situation?

There’s no one right answer to this — they’re asking because they genuinely want to know what gets under your skin, because that’s relevant to figuring out if you’ll do well in this particular job or not. This isn’t a question where you should go looking for the “right” answer; it’s in your interests to avoid jobs that will be constantly ticking you off, after all.

There are some commonsense limits to that, of course — you don’t want to give an answer that will make you look volatile or unhinged, like “I can’t stand people saying hi to me in the hallway” or “I Hulk out when my manager is late to a meeting.”

But generally, this question is about work-related things that really frustrate you, things that you’re very much hoping to avoid in your next job. If there really isn’t much that bothers you, it’s fine to say, “I’m pretty even-keeled. There are things I don’t love, like X or Y, but I’ve dealt with those at previous jobs without much frustration.”

5. LinkedIn posts from old coworkers feel like reminders of a bad break-up

Back in June, I was let go from my position of 10 years due to corporate restructuring as a result of the pandemic. The manner in which I was let go was pretty traumatic for me. My manager loved me; my team worked well together and liked each other; I did good work and I got things done on time; I had survived multiple layoffs, restructurings, and corporate mergers in the past. I had zero idea that this was coming, and when it happened it was hard not to take it personally even though it was just “a business decision.”

I had a standing phone meeting scheduled with my manager for the morning that I was let go, and my manager joined the meeting and said right away that someone from HR was also on the line. They told me my position had been eliminated, effective immediately, and that I had until around the end of the day to clean up my digital affairs before being locked out of my accounts. My manager did not talk to me again that day to clarify anything. Just click, that’s it, goodbye. This happened during a company-wide work-from-home mandate, so all of my personal belongings were still in my office cube. It took me two months to get Corporate to allow the office receptionist to box up my personal things and let me pick them up curbside so that I could bring them to my new job. Everything was extremely hush-hush and hardly anyone has reached out to me at all. I touched base with a few people, but I also got caught up in my new job, which I love.

Fast forward to now. I feel like I’ve really got my feet under me in my completely new industry. I’ve started to do a lot more networking on LinkedIn, but every time I log in, I see posts from old colleagues celebrating the success or culture of my previous employer (sharing photos of care packages they received, etc.).

Seeing those posts makes me feel like I’m seeing posts from an ex-boyfriend. They feel simultaneously hurtful and also irrelevant to me. I don’t know whether I should keep the hundreds of connections I made at my previous job or start cutting people from my connections list. The curator in me tends to want to preserve connections, just in case, since it’s “who you know.” But I don’t really know these people, and the company is so large that none of them ever knew me that well, either.

In my current role, it’s possible that I could genuinely have a business need to connect with some of them again, but with others that’s unlikely (international colleagues, for example). Do I start cleaning people off my list? Or do I just leave it alone and try to get over seeing their posts?

There’s a simple solution here! You can just unfollow people from your old company, which means you’ll remain connected but you won’t see their updates in your news feed (and they won’t know that you unfollowed them). That way, if you ever do want to make use of the connection in some way, it’s still there.

I’m sorry your layoff was handled that way. The part about it being effective immediately is normal, but it sounds like your manager’s handling of it felt awfully cold, especially after you’d spent a decade there. Sometimes companies instruct managers to stick to fairly rigid scripts during layoffs because they worry people going off-script will inadvertently say something that will cause problems (legal or otherwise) … but there’s room for humanity and compassion in the process, and it sounds like your company really failed there.

{ 355 comments… read them below }

      1. FuzzyFuzzyCat*

        Thank you BookishMiss that means so much to me!! I am doing a lot better now even with the stress of the pandemic.

    1. SwitchingGenres*

      I have them too. I’ve never been asked about them at work. I do tend to wear long sleeves during interviews but that’s because a blazer or cardigan is common interview attire in my field. So yeah, unless they’re weirdly rude no one at a workplace should say anything (and mine are gnarly; I know people have noticed. They just don’t say anything.

      1. I need tea*

        I also have self harm scars which I don’t cover at work (I also usually wear blazers to interviews, but not day to day on the job). I’ve only had one instance of someone in the workplace commenting on my scars, but that was a job that worked with clients from a variety of different cultures so I think this was a difference in cultural expectations. I do wish I had had a script prepared beforehand though; being prepared to say something like “I prefer not to discuss medical issues at work/with clients” and a redirect onto the topic at hand would have helped me I believe.

        1. SwitchingGenres*

          That’s a good script! I’ve only been asked about mine by random strangers a few times and ever time it was awkward. One guy kept asking even though I repeatedly said I didn’t want to talk about it.

        2. JSPA*

          You can even treat it as policy, not preference. “At work, we don’t discuss medical issues” is fine.

          As far as everyone knowing what’s what when they see scars, life (and people’s experiences) are more varied than that.

          On the one hand, I’ve had someone randomly insist that the temporary red creases from my shirt seams were scars (uh…no?). I’ve also known people who had “I think those might be” scars that turned out to be from something else entirely (vein repair operation for a hereditary malformation, car accident, exploding pressure cooker, abuse).

          So not only would I not say anything, I’d be very aware that there’s literally no sure-fire way to distinguish self-cutting from the other things that can leave scar marks on arms.

          1. Felis alwayshungryis*

            I knew someone who’d done kitchen work, and had scars that for all the world looked like self-harm – but nope, they were burns from oven racks. I once burned my leg on the grill of a fan heater and ended up with several lines of long, thin wounds (fortunately they healed invisibly).

            1. Huttj*

              Oh good, it’s not just me. My brother’s oven was just enough in a different position from mine that I got sloppy lifting something out of it, though that scar’s really only visible since I know where to look.

          2. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

            I was thinking that unless the scars take the form of something like obvious words or symbols it would be hard to say that they are unquestionably marks from self harming. Nobody sane would ask you to cover scars from any other kind of injury or accident, so I don’t think I would worry about this specific aspect too much.

    2. lemon*

      Same here.

      60% of the time, I wear long sleeves to cover them up (but also because I just really like cardigans). The other 40% of the time, I’ve become skilled at strategically hiding them in other ways– keeping my arms folded across my stomach scar-side down, or keeping my arms under the table/in my lap at a meeting. Only one person at work has ever commented on them, but I think that’s because she’s not from the US and hasn’t quite picked up on American cultural norms around politely ignoring certain topics. I noticed one other person at work who definitely noticed, but he didn’t say anything about it. Other than those two times, it’s never been an issue.

      I’ve come to realize that most people are not very observant about other people’s bodies (or at least that’s what I tell myself so I’m not constantly bogged down by self-consciousness) .

      1. UKDancer*

        Most people really aren’t observant at all about peoples’ bodies. The only person I know in my company who is really properly observant and likely to notice is a former copper who works on my floor. He notices when anyone changes their hair and is deeply perceptive as to everyone’s mood but that’s what 20 years policing in the mean streets of London does for you. My ballet teacher likewise notices a lot about peoples’ bodies but mainly from seeing which muscle and limb anyone is moving and doesn’t notice how people feel, just how they move.

        Most other people, in my experience, don’t really notice things. It’s why eyewitness evidence is so notoriously unreliable.

        1. CyndiLou Who*

          Back in college I didn’t notice that my French teacher was missing two fingers on one of his hands until a week into the class. It startled me momentarily, but only because I had been so unobservant!

    3. Dasein9*

      I have them too. Nobody’s ever bugged me about them at work, because I simply don’t act like there’s anything remarkable about them.

      Now, one year when I was marching in Pride and handing out palm cards for an organization, someone struck up a conversation with me. Then he grabbed my arm, looked it over like it was a cut of meat he was thinking about buying, and said, “Why should I believe anything you say? You’re a cutter.” Found the homophobe in the crowd!

      I have been visited by l’esprit de l’escalier many times about this one, which has me now armed (so to speak) with an arsenal of witty comebacks.

      1. Zephy*

        Wow, what a gross thing that person did to you. I hope he’s spent the time since that interaction stubbing his toe on every piece of furniture he has.

      2. JSPA*

        I’m stuck on this not just for the rudeness, but the non-sequitur. Actually, beyond that, it’s aggressively counter-logical, as having visible marks is, in some sense, a form of truth-telling.

        The list of witty comebacks would be welcome here, I’d think. Especially if any are generalizable or alterable for workplace use.

  1. Heffalump*

    What really ticks me off is rude, irrational coworkers. I wouldn’t say that on an interview because it would probably get me labeled a snowflake.

    1. Mr Jingles*

      I go ballistic not at jokes and pranks, but if the comedian doesn’t stop when asked and tries to defend himself agressively just so he can go on and have fun at my expense.
      I really despise people who are unable to respect boundaries in such way. I don’t mind an occasional prank here and there. I can take jokes in strike. I don’t expect people to guess what I like and what not and am perfectly capable to set boundaries in a very civilized manner but if somebody disrespects my boundaries knowingly after being told… well lets say, they learn fast not to unleash my wrath. I can be very cruel if I need to be and I’m not afraid to put idiots in awkward situations. I also feel no urge to be liked at all costs and can easily endure being hated by morons. Several toxic jobs have also taught me several ways to be really petty if I must. So heed the warnings! Otherwhise you will regret.

      1. Ferret*

        I very much get your issues with people who don’t respect boundaries but I don’t think these are good examples for a job interview? I’d expect an answer to be work focused, not just about social interactions that could apply anywhere.

        Also the second half of your response is pretty extreme and really risks making you sound more unpleasant than what you might be responding too. It’s like when people say the hate drama or aren’t here to make friends – people hearing that will assume you are going to be the source of difficulties

        1. Mr Jingles*

          I see where you’re coming from but in my experience this is something that concerns work. It can help you screen out companies that enable a bro-culture where legitimate issues with violating personal boundaries are a thing. I would totally answer this is someone asked me what irks me in a workplacebecause it’s something a good emploer should understand and put a stop at if it happens.
          But of course you are absolutely right that I’d tone down the second part to: “if I’m confronted with boundary violations like that I’ll speak up about it.”
          This is not a job interview though. And here I can tell, this kind of behaviour, if it’s not taken seriously and stopped when it occurs, will make mego ballistic. If such behaviour is no concern for a future employer… well better to know soon, I wouldn’t want to work in an environment where this is tolerated! Been there, done that, suffered for it enough to say: never again!

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            I agree with your stance. Professionalism is very important. I work in food and hospitality and jokes and pranks are very frowned upon at some workplaces. ie calling in fake orders for large quantities of food. One person was let go on the spot for goosing a fellow co-worker as they carried a large pot of hot liquid across the kitchen. My experience has been that the culture flows down the top. If management turns a blind eye to shenanigans. then it’s not a good place to work.

            1. 'Tis Me*

              If somebody did that to me there’d be a good chance the pot and its contents would end up airborne, potentially causing serious injury to me or the gooser (or both, or somebody else nearby). Immediate firing seems appropriate!

              1. LifeBeforeCorona*

                Even without pranks and horseplay, serious accidents happen in kitchens. No one was sorry to see that person leave. I had respect for a chef who was willing to be short-staffed rather than allow fools free reign.

                1. 'Tis Me*

                  Accidents can happen despite all reasonable precautions, and there are so many things around that could potentially cause injury in a commercial kitchen! You definitely don’t want people who can be cavalier about that anywhere near one.

            2. JSPA*

              Goosing alone, and pranks on someone carrying a large hot pot alone, are separably, “for cause” firing offenses in most workplaces (even restaurants).

    2. Xavier Desmond*

      Yeah definitely not something you should say at an interview. Not because you’ll be labelled a snowflake but it would flag you as someone who doesn’t work well with others.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Honestly I’d want to know why they’re asking. There have been some pretty awful letters here, and I’d rather not walk unknowingly into one of them.
      The more I think about it, that might go into my answer so this goes into my list of interview questions to practice–I wouldn’t want to blurt something out about one of the infamous stories here.
      How would others phrase this? My thoughts aren’t sounding right as I write them down.
      There are some basic assumptions I’m making about professionalism. How do you ask why they’re asking and not sound overly aggressive?

      1. Ferret*

        I might give an example assuming a more normal workplace (for myself that might be projects with unclear scope/goals or company initiatives that are clearly designed for one context being forced through another) that might be irritating but not enough to write into AAM. And then maybe something about how I’ve dealt with it.

        And then you can follow up with “What are the normal frustrations for someone in this role?” or asking if they’ve seen that particular issue come up a lot. I would treat it like one of those “Tell me about a time you struggled with…” questions, just more about things happening around you and not necessarily relating to a specific incident

      2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        How do you ask why they’re asking and not sound overly aggressive?

        Personally, I’d think that’s going to be largely about tone. So you could answer the question, and then follow-up with something like: “I’m curious about what prompted this question; do you feel there are any unique challenges/frustrations/difficulties I’d face in X role?

        1. Mr Jingles*

          I’d answer and then say: that is a really fascinating question, I like it and still I wonder why you ask?
          For my opinion this could be a good question to get some insight in people. Are they reasonable? Do they dislike the ‘right’ things like lack of communication, lack of boundaries etc.
          I’d then ask a follow up question like: if something happens that you dislike like that, what are your next steps?
          Good answers would be: Ispeak up inthe moment. I’ll try to find out what the underlying issue is etc. depending on the first answer.
          This could give some good inside on how the person tics, how they handle conflicts and could be a good opening to talk about less than ideal work environments like high stress or tight deadlines that sometimes can’t be avoided but might be a legitimate reason for the interviewee to opt out during the process. It’s alsoa good time to talk aboutwork culture. My pet peeve makes me a clear mismatch for overly informal and broey cultures. Better be sorted out early than being in such an environment. Both parties would suffer. Right now I’m working in a rather formal environment and I thrive. Others wouldn’t. It’s good to create openings to talk about annoyances and personal no-gos during the interview stages to find the right fit.

      3. Allonge*

        I would try to get them to give an example, so something along the lines of ‘not sure, nothing comes to mind at first thought, could you perhapsh give an example of what you are thinking of? Of course we all get frustrated from time to time, but…?’ Which hopefully gets them to elaborate and gives you some time to think.

      4. GreaseMonkey*

        The what ticks you off question could have a number of uses… I manage a department that’s entire purpose is to be what amounts to a translator between the “talent” and the operational team. We generally recruit (and have had a lot of success with) someone who is on the “talent” side of the fence, who has some innate operational nous. I use a very similar question to identify those who look at the operation beyond “I hate when people don’t clean up after themselves because then I have to do it”. The highest performer I’ve had in that role basically gave an answer that amounted to “I hate when people fail to manage their projects properly because it’s wasteful and inefficient.” She’s now my 2IC.

        1. Mimi*

          I’ve asked “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a coworker” type questions for similar reasons. It can potentially tell me:
          1. What this person is likely to find annoying/how they might fit into a team (relevant to job work)
          2. How self-aware they are about their own role in a conflict (“Jane had a horrible, grating personality” vs. “Jane and I rubbed each other wrong”)
          3. What this person is like when angry (Can they talk about the incident calmly? If this incident is still upsetting to them, how do they handle it? Can they talk about something angry-making while still remembering that this is a job interview?)

      5. Smithy*

        Sector to sector this may vary, but I know that my role is highly dependent on not just the work of others, but also the accurate sharing of information. Things like “Will you be able to return this report by Thursday next week as well as confirm whether we’re on track with spending or will need more time?” – that is a very normal professional question I have. For my sector, it’s also entirely normal to receive an answer that ends up not being true or accurate.

        Depending on 101 factors, this reality can be a huge factor or a more mild one – in one case that report due by Thursday next week, came to me 18 months later.

        For a person to find this deeply maddening is an entirely normal trait. It’s also not a trait that will help you succeed in my overall sector. If I were interviewing and was concerned I was talking to someone where that level of uncertainty would bother them, I’d try to find out – because it’s such a common feature in my work.

        If this question is coming from an otherwise sane workplace, it likely also a healthy understanding of realities that simply are not to everyone’s style. It’s not that people in customer service like rude people, but certainly having a higher capacity for rudeness is helpful.

        1. Smithy*

          To clarify one point – while I may understand the intention of the question, I don’t necessarily think it’s a good one if the job has relevant pain points.

          In my example above, I remember explaining to a direct report that while yes – she and the other person agreed to set due date, it was actually also her responsibility to send regular reminders and chase them down. Because no matter how much we relied on others for the completion of the report, the report was also entirely our responsibility. It clearly irked her, and this idea that the colleague could agree to a deadline, blow past it, and carry almost zero responsibility beyond a vague “sigh, tisk tisk” was baffling.

          I don’t expect to learn enough about that by asking such an open ended question about what gets under someone’s skin at work.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            You never know, though. Years ago, I asked someone what she was looking for in a supervisor or a workplace, or something like that, and her immediate answer was that she couldn’t stand to work with people who cursed! Well, guess what, she was not going to be happy on our team.

    4. Canadian Yankee*

      There are actually ways of phrasing “rude, irrational coworkers tick me off” without sounding like a snowflake. For example, “My style of work is very collaborative and I’m happy to work on a team that celebrates success as a team and supports each other through tough challenges. It really frustrates me when I have to work with someone who feels like every situation must have ‘a winner’ and ‘a loser’ and, at the very worst, will undermine other members of the team to ensure that they don’t end up as the loser.”

    5. Firecat*

      For me it’s the knowledge hoarders who purposefully obsfucate their work to puff themselves up. I’m all about knowledge sharing.

      1. Heffalump*

        One of my community-college instructors once said that a person who shares knowledge makes his coworkers more productive and is therefore more valuable to an employer. Knowledge hoarders are insecure.

      2. Daffy Duck*

        I’m right there with you. Knowledge hoarders and restricting communication between teams to make themselves look good. I still get testy thinking about the one I had to deal with 30 years ago. She told me she was busy at the other site, told the other site she was busy with me, and spent most of her day at the gym. If I could go back in time I would contact her supervisor a whole lot sooner and not stop after the first deflection.

    6. Cat Tree*

      I think it’s perfectly normal to expect your coworkers to not be rude to you. I’d run far away from any place that expected me to be ok with a bunch of coworkers being rude to me. But I think your answer would be stronger if you could give specific examples of rudeness. There’s a difference between getting ticked off because a coworker didn’t say hi cheerfully enough versus a coworker making snide remarks because you disagreed with them.

      For me, it’s people who don’t have a sense of ownership over their work, but that’s hard to describe. Right now I need someone to make a change to a specific record in an IT system. The task keeps getting passed around to 4 different people who each act like have never heard of it before and direct me back around the loop, or just ignore the request. It’s an uncommon request so it will take a little digging, but honestly it will take less time than the time already wasted passing this back and forth. I just want someone to take charge and be the contact responsible for this change. I will work with that person and do as much as I can to make their part easier, but first I need an actual person to agree to do it.

    7. Temperance*

      I’m not sure how I could honestly answer that question. The real answer is that I can’t stand people who aren’t willing to use their brains and try to find a solution to any problem, or Google something and you need to spoon feed them everything. There’s no polite way to say that, lol.

    8. Cercis*

      What ticks me off is following specific, clear instructions – that I specifically and carefully asked about – and then being dressed down because it wasn’t what the boss wanted. Especially dressed down in public.

      It’s one thing to say “oh wow, this isn’t working out quite like I expected and that thing you mentioned as a potential concern is actually happening, let’s work together to fix it” and an entirely different thing to say “you have to fix this now, what were you thinking? This is awful!”

      (This actually happened more than once with a previous boss – we’d have a project, I’d use my experience to identify potential pitfalls and make suggestions and she’d give directions – because she couldn’t just let me do my job – and tell me my potential pitfalls were never going to happen, and then we launch the project – in public – and a pitfall would happen and she’d round on me and tell me it was all my fault for not having prevented it. I quit without another job lined up because I couldn’t handle the stress of public blame that way.)

  2. Language Lover*

    LW #3

    I think that will mean that they don’t give me my paycheck (at least until I communicate further with them).

    I think you know this and I know Alison pointed this out but it’s important for you to know for certain that your final check for work you already completed isn’t any leverage they have. The reason I stress this again is because I suspect they might try to claim it is but legally, they have to get it to you whether or not you sign an NDA.

    And I wouldn’t sign one. I’d hesitate to even sign one in the future. It seems to me like the reason you hate that kind of document is possibly the same reason they want you to sign one. You don’t know their trade secrets but you do know how they treat their employees.

    That doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and tell the world but you may want to reserve the right in case someone asks you about working with them in the future.

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

      Don’t know about others here, but IME I’ve noticed a correlation between shady businesses and excessive use of contracts and legal documents. It can be overwhelming and intimidating to the little guy and they know it.

      Those documents could be full of unenforceable garbage and/or randomly copied junk from the internet. But the implied threat that they have actual authority and can afford such legal fees (when they actually don’t, and can’t) seems to be a favoured tactic among the particularly dodgy ones.

      1. Generic Name*

        My last job at a dysfunctional office tried to make me sign an NDA when I resigned. It stipulated that I would foot their legal bills if they decided to sue me. I crossed out that part and said I didn’t agree to that provision but signed the rest. I was a low level employee and if I knew any secrets, they wouldn’t have been any good anyway. They also treated me as if I had gotten fired because they opted to not allow me to work my notice period. It was so weird and I was glad for the break between jobs.

        1. A Simple Narwhal*

          Yikes I’m glad you caught that! It’s always important to read anything you sign in case they slip in awful things like that.

          I remember at a job I got laid off from they tried to get me to sign something that said I was to tell anyone who asked that I left of my own accord, and to not say that I was laid off. It was slipped in with a bunch of other standard lay-off garbage you typically sign, I’m glad I took the time to read over everything rather than just sign quickly like they wanted.

          1. Self Employed*

            That’s in my lease–which I wasn’t allowed to review until the day I got the keys, which was too late to not give notice at the old apartment, pack, etc.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          NDA = non-disclosure agreement, right? Basically you agree not to blab about anything you heard or did or said that isn’t already in the public domain. There’s zero reason for a clause about footing legal bills!

      2. Yam44*

        One thing to look out for in a ‘NDA’ is a no-compete clause saying you cannot work in the same industry for some period of time. We see them from time to time signing up new clients and always have to get them removed.

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

          I can understand *some* companies in *some* industries need a no-compete to protect their business interests, and I’ve signed versions of that which are fair and reasonable.

          But the audacity of some companies trying to blanket prohibit you from working in YOUR INDUSTRY for 12 months is ridiculous!

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Again, if NDA = non-disclosure agreement, right, there’s zero reason for a no-compete clause in there!
          Here in France a no-compete clause has to be in the initial employment contract (and practically everyone has one, otherwise the court takes your first three pay slips to be the equivalent of a contract, so the only “articles” are the info on your payslip, basically job title, place of work and amount paid). The no-compete clause has to specify the amount of compensation to be paid *during the period the clause applies*, otherwise it’s null and void. Typically it can’t last for longer than 12 months, and can’t apply to more than a small region, not all of France, and you get a percentage of your former salary throughout the time the clause applies. A lot of these clauses get thrown out by judges when they go to court, because while these clauses are important for sales people, C-suite directors and people with knowledge of patents and the like, it’s really not fair to apply them to secretaries and junior accountants.

    2. Sue*

      I wouldn’t sign anything for this business unless they were offering a serious payment for my signature. And then I would make sure the check cleared before returning it signed. They treated you poorly, you owe them nothing.

    3. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      I signed one when I got fired. They gave fired people VERY generous financial packages, as opposed to people who quit or retired, who might get a token useless gift and a dull party in a meeting room. They’d been sued by firees so many times (and forced to pay) that they eventually just shelled out up front. I read the NDA carefully and I was still able to talk to interesting people about lots of things that weren’t covered – enough to be instrumental in getting some substantial changes made. Ah, good times, good times.

    4. LKW*

      Yup – I live in NY, was fired and called the board of labor when my ex boss demanded that I come to the office to pick up my last check… and have a discussion with him*. I explained to the receptionist that he was no longer entitled to my time and that holding my check was illegal.

      The Board of Labor rep took my information, opened a case, called them, confirmed that they were not permitted to hold my check and that they were to put it in the mail (they claimed they wanted to save the postage!) and send it to me immediately. They then called me and told me the results of their discussion with me ex employer and to let them know if I didn’t receive the check.

      * He was mad that I didn’t get upset when he fired me and he wanted a second chance to make me cry.

      1. irene adler*

        I assume ex-boss complied and the check arrived in the mail shortly thereafter?

        Geez, why are so many bosses such jerks?

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Wanted to save postage???? Wow. Just wow. Because they wanted to save 5 cents on an envelope and 50 cents (or however much postage was at the time)? Sure, that’s believable.

        1. Observer*

          Of course, it wasn’t about postage. That was just the excuse they used – I suspect that even this idiot boss understood that he couldn’t tell the DOL that he was holding the check so that he could have another chance to berate a former employee.

    5. Cat Tree*

      I would also refuse to sign, and if they insisted I would be soooooo tempted to say, “what are you gonna do, fire me?” I wouldn’t actually say that because I try not to burn even the most awful bridges. But I’d think it.

    6. LunaLena*

      OP3, the fact that they don’t realize this – “your final check for work you already completed isn’t any leverage they have” – is a huge red flag and you should seriously reconsider doing any freelance work for them in the future. They wouldn’t even pay you fairly and on-time for the work you did when you were an actual employee there; what makes you think they’ll do so when you’re a contractor? The world of freelancing is rife with employers who pay freelancers late, try to short-change them, or not at all. Seriously, read the stories on Clients from Hell. These people are not going to get better, they’re going to get worse.

      Don’t sign the NDA, and don’t do any freelance work for them in the future unless you want to be constantly enforcing contracts, chasing them with invoices, and possibly even consulting lawyers to get them to pay you what they owe you.

    7. QuietRiot*

      My husband’s former company asked him to sign an NDA after he had left – he ignored it. They had no leverage and couldn’t require him to do so. They were badly managed and didn’t think to have him sign one when he started – I honestly think they never thought he’d leave because it was a family business (he was an in-law). He would never have used what he knew of their IP with another employer, which they should have known. It was a difficult departure but a good thing in the long-run.

  3. Natalie*

    The interface for muting people on LinkedIn is really easy, you can see all of your connections on one page and unfollow as many as you want to from there.

    1. Johanna*

      LW #5 here!

      Oh wow, duh – it never even crossed my mind that you can unfollow people on LinkedIn like you can on Facebook. Just goes to show how little time I spent on the site in my previous role! I’ll be doing a lot of unfollowing today… and I may also still clean up some of those contacts in the process (people I never really knew very well to begin with/met at a conference one time, etc.).

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I think your letter will be helpful for other people that may feel similarly and also don’t think to unfollow others who remind them of bad memories. Thanks for sending it. Glad you’ve found a new position that makes you happier :)

      2. Quiet Liberal*

        I just came her to say I’m glad you’re doing well in your new job. Sorry your old employer was so callous.

      3. Mimi*

        This is a rough situation. I got laid off last year too, and while I respected some of the choices the company made about the process, some of the other things they did (I think trying to respect our privacy) did feel pretty hurtful. I didn’t want to disappear off the face of the planet! They were laying me off, and that was on them, not on me, and I didn’t need to be virtually escorted out the side door so nobody saw my face. If this had been normal times I would’ve gotten goodbye drinks with colleagues; instead I got a webinar with anonymous questions. I still don’t know who all was let go, and that hurts because I considered many of those people my friends, and there wasn’t even a good way for us to find each other and support others going through the same thing.

  4. Reluctant Manager*

    #2: What about a very slightly different slant on Alison’s script to put them two of you on the same side? As in… I know you of all people remember how difficult it is to be a working mom! It’s good to be back working on X, though. What did you think of that memo?

    Or there’s always, “I know, everybody should have a baby in a pandemic.”

    1. Sue*

      I would say as little to her as possible while remaining cheerful, nod and smile. It seems like any personal information you mention may be misconstrued or held against you, especially if she is looking for any signs your baby will interfere with your work in some way.

      1. Willis*

        Yeah, this. A reasonable person could tell there are up- and downsides to both situations, but if the Boss doesn’t care to see that and only is interested in the OP’s personal life as it impacts work, I don’t think there’s much benefit to taking up the argument. Unless she is impeding some type of accommodation the OP needs, but it didn’t sound like that from the letter.

    2. LGC*

      I was about to blast you for that last line…and then I realized what you really meant.

      Needless to say, I am now very glad I’m not LW2 because if I were her I totally would’ve said that.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Or there’s always, “I know, everybody should have a baby in a pandemic.”

      Hahaha, love it! But seriously, boss’s behavior in the letter made me angry. I had my babies way back in the 90s and was for all intents and purposes out of work while they were young, and it was hard!! And I mean all kinds of hard, from “bored to death stuck at home with an easy baby doing nothing” to “so sleep-deprived I can’t remember my name” to “being pulled in a hundred directions by various needs of a baby and a toddler”. The one time I tried to work from home during that time, my youngest hadn’t been born yet, and my oldest was a toddler, and happily emptied the entire contents of my underwear drawer on the floor while I was talking to my client in our only room. It was hard! and that was before the pandemic. Nobody has it easy in this pandemic, except maybe Jeff Bezos and even that is a big maybe. It would set my teeth on edge having to hear it from my boss every day! Why is she doing this? Is she maybe into workplace positivity and reminding OP to be grateful (blergh)?

      As for your suggestion – I think Sue is right and, the less air time this topic gets with this boss, the better. I would also smile, say thank you, and change the subject without commenting on anything she said.

      1. 2 Cents*

        I’ve said it on this site before, but the person who treated me the worst about my leave was the woman (who’d had 2 kids of her own in the 70s) in charge of HR things (small business) who said to my face at 30 weeks pregnant, “I can’t believe we’re going to be paying you to stay home and not work” in reference to the company-provided leave and the state-provided leave. I’d been with the company long enough to earn that leave and the state leave was just enacted that year and I was so happy for it (and also paying into it).

        Boss sounds like she had some trauma and is processing it through OP, which isn’t fair or cool. OP, i’m sorry you’re not getting more support from your boss. You keep doing what you’re doing.

        1. TheseOldWings*

          I will never not be amazed at how many women think other women should suck it up and deal with things like little/no paid leave when having a baby just because it wasn’t available to them. We should be celebrating progress (as slow as it is in the US) and want future women and babies to have more options!

          1. Ann*

            Yes! A woman I worked with didn’t want any other women (and men) to have what she had not had. It was a clear case of the abused becoming the abuser. Right out of grad school years before, she’d had a tenure-track position and, according to her, she’d had to quit one semester shy of tenure because there was no child care for her child. She subsequently had three other children, staying at home with them until the youngest reached kindergarten age. Then she’d become an instructor at the university I ended up with some years later and had eventually been made faculty. Because years and years ago, she’d had child care woes, she begrudged the fact that things were a bit better in that regard for younger faculty and instructors. She HATED the fact that I, who had two young children when I was first hired as faculty at the same college, was able to work. Also, because she had had a certain salary as an instructor, she thought it terrible that the current instructors had higher salaries than she’d had. She even did some very funny math to somehow contend that now, as faculty, she somehow was earning LESS than the instructors. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. She was so toxic in so many ways.

          2. Bear Shark*

            Yes! I celebrate when I see my employer make progress on parental leave even though I won’t be having more children and didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of the new benefits when I had my kids. Someone else getting it slightly better now doesn’t go back in time and change anything for me!

          3. Filosofickle*

            When I was college-aged I was visiting my grandmother, and we went out to lunch with some of her friends. They were talking about how outrageous it was that mothers wanted things like leave and onsite daycare. I was blown away — my grandmother, who was widowed with two young kids, of all people should have compassion for working mothers. Apparently not. In her mind, if she did it, then anyone should be able to. Suck it up buttercup was basically her POV. (Also worth noting she insisted she pulled herself up by her bootstraps and did everything herself. In reality, Grandma had lots of help, including a sister who lived around the corner and watched the kids every day after school.)

            1. AKchic*

              I “love” the revisionist history of our elders… and take great joy in outing their tall tales in public settings.

            2. Jennifer Thneed*

              Huh. The federal government funded childcare during WW2 for working mothers. I think some of it was even on-site childcare.

        2. KTB*

          I’m struggling to find the link, but I read an article a few years back about the “empathy gap” at work and how women who had experienced things like pregnancy were actually LESS empathetic to the women they supervised going through the same things. There was definitely an attitude of “well, I made it work with less accommodation, so you should appreciate whatever you get.” It was super interesting, and a little bit scary.

      2. meyer lemon*

        I was getting some heavy “I paid my dues, and I resent the heck out of anyone else who doesn’t have to suffer like I did” vibes off of this boss. I can never understand this perspective. And in this case, it’s not even like the OP has 18 months of paid parental leave or anything like that!

    4. Momma Bear*

      I had a nosey boss when I returned from leave. I had to put her on an information diet.

      What I might say, though, is that you’re obviously not with your child during the day since you need to pump and that is also difficult. So about that report…?

      I don’t know your situation but is it reasonable to nurse your baby sometimes instead (maybe when you are not on a call?) or take a hard lunch for an hour and spend time with your family? I know some jobs aren’t like that, so ignore this if you really can’t shift anything.

      I would refrain from one-upmanship or getting into it with her much unless it impacts your job. IMO it would be even harder to know your baby is in the same house without you. It was hard to drop my baby at daycare but there was a firm line, which you don’t have. I hope things get easier for you. Hard is hard. Your hard is still valid even if your circumstances are different than hers.

      1. OP2*

        We exlusively pump (breastfeeding didn’t take for us) so nursing during the day isn’t an option. But I have been trying to carve out chunks of time to be with my daughter. Boss still gets weird about it though, like if I don’t answer a call she’ll say “were you with your baby?”. Maybe I was! Or maybe I was in the bathroom or in the zone on a work project or fixing lunch. Anyway, I try to be as matter-of-fact as possible.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Understood. All the more reason you really really need your time. I know when I was pumping if I had a stressful day that affected output. She needs to back off. Does your state protect your right to pump at work/during work time? If so and she keeps interfering with that, you may have to cite the regulation she’s not following.

          I’d just say, “I wasn’t available, but I’m here now. What was it you needed?” How annoying.

        2. 2 Cents*

          I’m so sorry she’s questioning you like that every time. I was at a very stressful job and pumping and I just ended up watching ridiculous YouTube videos during pumping time (work be da**ed) because my supply was suffering so much. I left that job shortly after.

    5. daffodil*

      Might I suggest, “oh, having a small child is challenging in any circumstances. Everyone just does the best they can with the options they have.”

      1. Lego Leia*

        Daffodil, this is what I was going to say. Going into the office and dropping your child off at daycare/leaving with a caregiver is hard. And so it trying to adjust to WFH during a pandemic with an infant. There is no way to win the “Grief Olympics”. At best, you can disengage, by acknowledging that both situations have challenges in different ways. (For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Grief Olympics are trying to have the worst situation on a scale of “mine is worse than yours.”)

        1. OP2*

          Yes. No one wins in Grief Olympics. Pandemics suck for everyone, and parenting is hard in different ways for everyone. I think Daffodil said it well!

    6. Kay*

      I like a lot of the suggestions here, including the sarcastic ones, and I also want to add:

      If the boss is not saying the same kinds of things to male coworkers with babies, this is probably discriminatory behavior. I would document everything and perhaps make a clear request to stop, but I probably wouldn’t escalate unless it got worse.

  5. JT*

    LW1 – I generally cover mine when interviewing, as I see it the same as not disclosing a pregnancy, or cancer – it’s in their best interests as well not to learn information that could bias them and cause them to discriminate.

    Once in the job, however, I only cover up my arms when it’s weather appropriate. Years ago I got tattoos over most of the scars. The scars are still easily identifiable, but it also offers an “out” to colleagues who may be unsure how to act. They can semi-reasonably pretend they didn’t notice.

    I found it was much easier to make these decisions for myself once I got rid of the residual shame of having the scars in the first place. I’ve successfully re-framed it in my mind that my scars are awesome – they are proof of how far I was willing to go to stay alive, because cutting saved me from suicide.

    They’re also a really good in to start talking about mental health at work sometimes. I’ve had a number of conversations with colleagues whose kids are self-harming, and been able to gently offer advice.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I have arm scars from being a baker for many years. Some of them look like self-harm cuts from handling hot heavy trays. At the same time, I have a chronic medical condition that leaves marks that look like bruises so my arms and legs look…interesting. Years ago I stopped hiding them and if anyone asks, I can explain and hopefully educate people.

    2. H2*

      I have a genuine question, and if it’s too off topic or not ok please ignore or delete.

      What would an ideal response from a coworker look like? I have no idea what the right thing to do/say would be. I would personally do my best to avoid commenting on it, but that’s my policy with everything and I know it’s not always the best. OP, I think it would be safe to assume that the majority of your colleagues would be like me, and not judge you at all (and not care, even, beyond sympathy for you as a fellow human). I find that people are way more worried about their own bodies than anyone else’s.

      1. SwitchingGenres*

        The best response from anyone, for me, is to absolutely not mention my scars unless I bring it up. Your coworkers’ bodies, scars included, just don’t need to be discussed at work outside of “nice haircut!” if that’s desired.

        1. Shhhh*

          My rule of thumb is that I only comment on coworkers’ appearance when it’s positive and can’t be tied to health in any way (so “I love your shirt” is fine but “you look great, you’ve lost so much weight” isn’t) OR it’s something they could reasonably fix in the next five minutes (“hey, just so you know, you have a piece of broccoli in your teeth”).

          1. UKDancer*

            This is my rule of thumb. If someone is rocking a great outfit I’ll mention it but otherwise not so much unless they tell me they’ve had something done and solicit feedback. I would always try and find something positive to say if anyone did ask for my opinion. I’m not wildly keen on the tattoo one of my colleagues had done but when he showed it to me I praised it.

            In the before times I did ballet with the same group of people and we noticed if anyone had a new leotard or did their hair but that’s because we got used to each other’s usual look so when Tasha went from blonde to redhead we spotted it and when I got new legwarmers people noticed.

          2. Cat Tree*

            Thank you for mentioning weight loss. A few years ago I lost weight rapidly due to a health issue, and all the compliments just stirred up my sadness about being sick.

            I once noticed that a coworker got her hair dyed so I complimented her on it. Then she got embarrassed because it implied that she had gray hair that she was covering and was therefore old. I didn’t think of it that way since I’ve been dying my hair just because I like the color, and I’ve had gray hair since college anyway. But now I’m more careful about not drawing attention to that kind of thing. Just a PSA to other readers.

          3. office peon*

            Ha ha! this just brought back memory of a coworker (from another country who had not yet quite picked up on US office norms) telling me “I like that blouse” followed by “but not those slacks…”

            shoulda stopped while he was ahead. Then we had to explain to him why the first sentance was ok but not the second…

          4. Momma Bear*

            A good rule of thumb. I also try to go for things that are not about appearance. “Great job in the meeting yesterday. You really brought up some good points.” People focus too much on what others look like and sometimes forget to praise valuable contributions.

      2. BubbleTea*

        I think the only instance where I might do anything other than not comment is if a) I’m reasonably friendly with the person, b) they’re on the same level as me in the hierarchy or in some other way I’m sure there’s no risk of undue pressure on them, and c) they have fresh cuts that are newly appeared. In that scenario I might, but not necessarily always, quietly ask if they were okay, the same as if I see someone crying or acting very uncharacteristically in a way that suggests distress. If they say yes, or indicate in any way that they don’t want to talk, then leave it alone.

        1. SwitchingGenres*

          I’d feel extremely exposed and embarrassed and even afraid for my job if a coworker saw fresh self harm scars and asked me about them. I’d worry they would talk to other people or my boss, or that I’d get a police welfare check called on me. If my sleeve accidentally slipped up and someone saw I’d pray they just ignore it. My therapist and my spouse and my parents are the only exemptions.

      3. JSPA*

        I’ve occasionally said something like the following (in general conversation, with coworkers who were also work-friends, if topics like “happy childhood” or “wasn’t high school great” come up…and not while meaningfully eying someone’s arms, obv!)

        “Put me on team ‘it gets better,’ not on team ‘rosy memories.’ I’m glad we all made it through to adulthood approximately in one piece.”

        If someone’s feeling like they want to share or acknowledge [waves hand at all the ways life’s difficulties can manifest], that’s a “no judgement here” signal. And if they’re very happy to not talk about it, it’s still a “no judgement here” signal.

    3. CatMan*

      Hello! Thank you so much for your response, that’s really reassuring. I think I got in my head about how big of a deal I thought it was. Now scrolling through the comments, I see most people don’t really mind.
      Flipping my mentality about it is tricky, but I’m working on it every day :)

    4. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Surely most people wear long sleeves to interviews anyway? Short sleeves feel more informal and interviews are formal occasions.

      1. Rhonda*

        I don’t think I’ve ever worn long sleeves to an interview and I’ve had a lot of jobs. Maybe it’s a culture thing but where I live (sub-tropical, my AC is on right now in February) it’s rare to see people in long sleeves even in more formal settings. It’s more common to see men in long sleeves but even that seems to be reserved for very formal situations.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think it depends where you are. It’s -2 degrees here in my part of London and it’s been cold, wet and miserable most of January.

          The last interview I had was virtual and I was wearing a long sleeved green cashmere sweater with a thermal vest underneath because it’s not over warm in my flat. I tend to wear long sleeves until about June unless it gets warm sooner.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Probably depends on the industry. I always wear a suit to interviews, even if day to day it’s sweater and jeans.

  6. Natalie*

    LW#2, I had my first baby in April and have also enjoyed having her at home with me while I work. (My husband is in night school so he’s watching her the majority of the day.) Thankfully I haven’t run into anyone quite as obnoxious about it as your boss sounds, but when people get really sad on my behalf I like to go with “there are pluses and minuses”. Because, well, there are. Hopefully that’s vague and more or less cheerful enough to let you change the subject, and hopefully your boss will drop it soon.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I agree. Vague and cheerful is the best course of action.

      I tend to disagree with Alison’s advice to casually mention ‘rough days’, since I’d worry some might interpret that as an invitation to debate the subject — but that will depend on your knowledge of your boss.

    2. MissGirl*

      It sounds like your boss is looking for validation that she had it hard. Obviously she’s going about this in the wrong way with the wrong person. I don’t think you want to get into a one-up competition with her.

      When she makes a comment, can you just say, yes, that sounds difficult and change the subject? From my perspective nursing in a bathroom would be hard and acknowledging that doesn’t mean nursing in your home isn’t also a pain. Acknowledge her and then move on.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Boss sounds like a “topper.” No matter what OP 2 says, Boss did it better/worse. When you engage a topper, the conversation can (will) escalate without end.

        @I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings nailed it: be vague and cheerful. Redirect to work topic.

        1. Blackcat*

          I don’t know–I’ve definitely experienced a sort of “What, you don’t have to go through the same hazing as I did?” with regard to motherhood in the workplace. I’m in academia, in a male dominated field. I had a baby in grad school. I’ve never gotten a single negative comment about it from men, but I do get a lot of “Wow, I wouldn’t have been allowed to finish if I had gotten pregnant in grad school” and the tone is… not nice.
          I tend to respond with something like, “Yes, my department was very supportive of both myself and a male peer who had children in grad school. I think every department should extend X and Y supports.”

          For OP, I would just state, “I am grateful my husband’s schedule is so flexible that he can do the bulk of the childcare. However, my pumping breaks are firm and in my calendar. Please schedule meetings around those times.”

          It’s not cool the boss is messing with OP’s pumping schedule. At 3.5 months post-partum, my pumping schedule had to be pretty rigid for my own comfort and health. If I delayed by even 45 minutes, I’d get a clog, and clogs turned into mastitis pretty fast for me.

        2. jenny20*

          seconding the suggestion that the boss sounds like a “topper”. My normal response is to respond to comments like the boss’ with a sarcastic “it’s not a contest”, which normally shuts it down. But that might not be the right approach for everyone :)

          1. Autumnheart*

            The big problem is that this is her boss, and OP thinks these comments might be used against her in regard to the assessment of her performance. If the boss is going to use OP’s need for reasonable accommodations (as a new parent and/or pandemic issues) as justification for downgrading her performance, that is potentially gender-based discrimination right there. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the men in the company with new babies aren’t having their choices and availability commented on.

          2. Natalie*

            I think trying to zing your boss is probably ill advised, especially when you already have a contentious relationship.

        3. MissGirl*

          That’s why I’m suggesting she not try. Just say, “that sounds like it was tough” and move on with work. My guess is when boss had her baby no one ever gave her sympathy or acknowledgment, now unfortunately she’s doing the same thing to her worker. Validate her experience, don’t compare or compete, and move on.

        4. OP2*

          “Topper” – ha! Yes, I think that’s a great way to describe her. I think comparing our parenting woes won’t get us anywhere, but Natalie’s “vague and cheerful” advice seems right to me.

      2. meyer lemon*

        I agree with this approach; the boss sounds like she’s still upset about how difficult it had been for her, and the OP’s situation is dredging it up. I would try to listen to her complaints with as much of an open mind as possible and try to offer a bit of the validation she is clearly looking for. It can be useful to kind of summarize the person’s points back at them, like “Wow, it sounds like pumping at work was really hard for you” or whatnot.

        I’d try this once, and see if it jolts the boss into realizing that she and OP are not competitors and decent treatment isn’t a zero-sum game. If it doesn’t work, I’d just try to ignore her complaints.

  7. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    I also have those scars and 20+ years later rarely think about them. I was pretty committed to covering them up for awhile, but gradually relaxed. Maybe I’m lucky, but I have had zero comments about them from coworkers or strangers.

    And on the other side of things, I dated a guy whose family still do not know that he has full sleeve tattoos on both arms, because he is that committed to keeping them secret. Light, opaque long sleeves in summer. It can be done if you want or need to, but it’s your choice.

    1. MK*

      20 years ago I would have no idea what scars like that meant, and would be more likely to think of abuse than self-harm. I don’t want to question the OP’s assertion that the cause of the scarring is unmistakable, but people can be surprisingly ignorant and /or unobservant.

  8. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    OP2, ugh, if your boss had to pump in a bathroom stall that was awful and she shouldn’t be wishing it on you! I’m sorry her jealousy over the ways that your early parenthood is easier than hers was is blinding her to all the ways that yours is equally hard or harder. Playing new mom misery poker doesn’t help anyone. I wish I could tell her that.

    1. Maggie*

      +1 to this. I have a boss 20 years my senior who was supportive of me pumping when I first returned to work. She made a few pointed comments about how no one had supported her and how returning to work ended her nursing and she wanted things to be different for me. But I had massive problems with oversupply. I got mastitis every time I dropped a feeding and had to breastfeed for 2 years. My boss seemed annoyed–was I STILL doing this after my daughter was 1?? Her own (justified!) feelings tinged her support for me. Her situation was awful. My situation was differently awful. There’s no winning in Misery Poker! I think the best anyone can do is recognize historical trauma and try to pay it forward. Any time she seemed aggravated I always just responded with something like, “Thank you for your continued support so I can stay employed.” It was a good reality check for her — this was something I NEEDED physically or I’d have to quit — and a good reality check for me — I was grateful for her support and in earlier times I surely would have been pushed out of the workforce for my situation.

    2. Mockingjay*

      I had to pump in a bathroom too. I am THRILLED that things are easier for new working mothers now (aside from the pandemic). Nursing rooms, regular breaks to pump – these are what my generation advocated for in the workplace.

    3. Generic Name*

      Exactly! The boss is like doctors who lobby against medical training reform (doctors in training are forced to work 24 hour shifts where the often treat patients on little to no sleep). It’s as if since they were abused, why should anyone who comes after be treated better. It’s really sick.

    4. Always Tired*

      I will never understand the mindset of “I had to suffer so you should too.” Every mom should want conditions to improve for all of us rather than clinging to some sort of martyr identity.

      1. We Need To Lift Each Other Up*

        I fully agree. And at the same time, I also understand why some women share their horror stories. It can be frustrating to hear women complain about how horrible they have it when they don’t know how far we have come.

        PLEASE UNDERSTAND, I am not saying that they should not complain, don’t have valid issues or that they should have to go through what others have had to deal with. It is just an unconscious immediate human response think, “really, you think that is bad?” I do not ever articulate it and work very hard to improve things for the next generation. I am a big believer that women have an obligation to help other women.

    5. OP2*

      Agreed. Pumping in a bathroom sounds like it sucks! I’m glad I don’t have to! But parenthood and pandemics have downsides for everyone.

  9. Tussy*

    LW3: Alison is right that this agreement wouldn’t be valid. I wouldn’t even say you are uncomfortable signing, I think you can cheerfully say “An NDA at this stage wouldn’t be binding as I’m not getting any consideration” and move on. You don’t have to bring your feelings into it, the fact of the matter is that it would be worthless.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      I’d just reply with a “Nope” to their demands to sign the NDA. I see no reason to give them any further explanation.

      Plus it might get them to make their threat to withhold pay in writing.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Roses are red.
          Violets are blue.
          And with that thing…
          You know what you can do.

        2. Bilateralrope*

          I worry that I’d respond to their request with a bit of a laugh before I had time to think about my response.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Regarding “no consideration” (in this comment and in the answer) – is that true? The consideration could be the difference between a good reference and a (truthful!) reference stating that OP was unwilling to sign an NDA…

      In my field NDAs are standard and taken seriously, anyone refusing to sign one would find themselves unable to work in the field very quickly.

      1. Bagpuss*

        But presumably in your field they would be signed at the outset, not just when someone was leaving?
        And it doesn’t sound as though they are standard in OP’s field

      2. Luke G*

        Any disgruntled ex-employer could potentially make an unreasonable request and choose to twist it into a bad reference, though: “OP refused to meet with their manager [after being laid off and finding a new job],” or “OP refused to complete required documentation [that we asked them to fill out a fraudulently because an audit was coming],” or whatever.

        From a legal standpoint I don’t know if “we won’t make technically true but misleading statements to tank your reference” counts as acceptable consideration. But unless the true industry convention is to sign an NDA when employment ends rather than starts, it seems like OP would be best served having a script for future job hunts just like any other person would if they thought their previous job was going to try to sabotage them.

        1. pancakes*

          Signing wouldn’t necessarily compel a good reference, either, and the candidate wouldn’t be able to verify they were getting one.

          1. Luke G*

            Regarding not being able to verify the quality of your reference: you can, if you’ve got a friend with a good telephone voice who is willing to call your old employer and say that they’re considering you for a job and are checking references. It’s technically dishonest, but if you have reason to think a reference might be tanking you I’d call it a reasonable move.

            1. pancakes*

              I suppose so, but I wouldn’t expect someone calling from a fabricated company to necessarily get a return phone call or otherwise be treated the same as someone calling from an actual prospective employer. I don’t doubt many people wouldn’t bother to look into that before giving a reference, but one quick search could identify the ruse. I wouldn’t necessarily expect someone so vindictive as to give an undeservedly bad reference to be consistent about it, either.

          2. EPLawyer*

            OP is almost certainly not getting a good reference from this company whether they sign the NDA or not. The way this company treats people, they are not likely to give good reviews to anyone who dares to leave.

            To the question — a consideration does not have to be monetary. It could be something like an agreement to remove anything negative from the file or a neutral reference rather than a negative one. But the key is it has to be NEGOTIATED. It can’t be take it or leave it.

          1. Luke G*

            *I am not a lawyer* but… I think they can be legally problematic, in certain circumstances? At least that’s what’s always been explained to me, why many companies will only confirm dates of employment and possibly whether the employee resigned or was fired- because giving any more details could end up getting the company sued by the former employee. That’s just the explanation I’ve been given though, I don’t know whether that would be a realistic lawsuit or just the kind of groundless-but-annoying thing companies want to avoid.

            1. Natalie*

              Speaking the US only, since other countries (sometimes famously) have other standards for defamation, a truthful reference cannot be defamatory, even if it is negative. But I imagine corporate counsel worries about a manager unthinkingly exaggerating or misremembering. Alternatively, a manager could tell the truth and still give the impression that the company had erred in some legally actionable way.

              How often anything like that actually leads to a settlement or lawsuit, I couldn’t say. While I’ve only had one person refuse to give a reference because of one of those policies, I imagine it has a chilling effect – plenty of people won’t bother asking a their manager if they think the policy is always followed.

              1. Luke G*

                I wonder how many policies are in place not because the company is actually worried about doing wrong and getting punished for it, but because they’re worried some manager is going to open their mouth and say something stupid that can then be presented as evidence.

          2. Natalie*

            They already are…? I don’t know what the likelihood of winning a suit would be, but really that’s true of any defamation.

          3. Observer*

            This is one of many reasons why references need to be liable as libel.

            They are liable as libel. The key though, at least in the US, is that there are a LOT of negative things you can say that are not libel.

            1. If you are telling the factual truth that’s an absolute defense.

            2. If you are stating an opinion or your own feeling. “I think that Jon Jones is a snake” is an ugly thing to say, but it’s not a libel. Even “Jon Jones is a snake” is probably not libel because it’s pretty clear that it’s an opinion – it certainly cannot be the literal truth.

            3. If you have reasonable belief that something is true. That can be tricky to prove, but if you can show that you had good reason for the belief, you would probably win a case.

            Things get a bit interesting if you are a “public figure” but that’s a different set of issues.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              After the last administration, my faith in “true” as a benchmark is pretty well shot.

              The sentiment I guess I’m failing to express is that paying someone a salary or wage shouldn’t entitle you to wreck havoc with their career (and by extension private life) afterwards at your whim. The reference system is broken; I guess libel isn’t consequence enough, then.

      3. pancakes*

        They’re not standard in the letter writer’s field.

        It’s a bit odd that you seem to think Alison wouldn’t have verified whether her answer is true before publishing it but random commenters replying to you will be more reliable!

      4. doreen*

        ” She wouldn’t sign an NDA when she left” really just makes the former employer look foolish – you have them signed when you hire, or perhaps you institute them at some point and have your existing employees sign them ( at which point the consideration is future employment) but it doesn’t even make sense to try to have someone sign when they are leaving- they already have the information.

        1. Risha*

          If I lived in some world where I did reference checks, and someone complained to me that the ex-employee wouldn’t sign an NDA while leaving, I’d 1. think “good for them, that’s ridiculous” and 2. “wow, you must be pretty desperate to cover up something you guys did.”

          Of course, there’s nothing to say that they would tell the truth that it was after-the-fact, but unfortunately that’s true about everything you get from a reference request.

          1. Gumby*

            2. “wow, you must be pretty desperate to cover up something you guys did.”

            Maybe, but maybe not? NDAs are supposed to be fairly specific about what they cover. It might just cover, say, the amount of severance. Or future marketing plans you may have overheard in the hallway. Or the names of customers that you did work for. Obviously those last 2 are things you knew and theoretically could have shared before you left but companies probably think that the possibility is higher as you move on to a new employer. So if an NDA were well written and limited in scope, I would be able to sign it happily.

            I’m not sure how I would take refusal to sign one as part of a reference check. It would depend on how the person talked about it. “Oh, Fergus was awful and wouldn’t even sign the NDA when he got fired” would cause a different reaction than “When Fergus left he refused to sign an NDA regarding our customer list. If you decide to hire him, make sure you fully protect any company proprietary information in onboarding because you will have no recourse when he leaves. He’ll leave a generous severance offer on the table rather than sign one at that point.”

            1. Observer*

              I cannot think of a single scenario where it makes sense to ding someone for not signing and NDA when they are leaving. Especially if they are fired! I mean, why WOULD a reasonable person sign one when they are in the middle of being fired?

              OF COURSE you will have no recourse about this stuff once someone leaves, unless something very unusual is going on. Any employer who doesn’t understand this does not understand some pretty basic stuff.

              In the OP’s case, the employer would be lying to claim that they are leaving ANY severance on the table.

        2. Luke G*

          I read the post as saying the ex-employer could say “OP refused to sign our NDA” and leave out the part about it being after OP had quit. Or even worse- “OP refused to sign our NDA and no longer works for us,” implying that OP was fired/quit rather than sign the NDA.

          1. Observer*

            Sure. But in that case, what you are saying is that the “consideration” the place is offering is to “not give a false reference”. That would not fly.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              But in that case, what you are saying is that the “consideration” the place is offering is to “not give a false reference.”

              Call me crazy, but isn’t that technically extortion?

          2. Caraway*

            I know I’m a day behind on this comment thread, but just want to point out that even if the ex-employer implies they fired the OP for not signing the NDA, she worked for them for nearly a year! If I, as a reference checker, heard that, I would think either that they had a policy of asking employees to sign NDAs upon hire but didn’t enforce their own policy for nearly a year, or that they had not even asked OP to sign an NDA until after she’d been working there for months (which is pretty close to what actually happened). So either way, I still think that reflects more poorly on the employer than the employee.

      5. Tussy*

        Of course it’s true – it’s contract law. Contract law doesn’t care about things like the effects on references for not signing an agreement. This rule is fundamental to all contracts – it is one of the deciding factors whether something is or is not a contract (as you can have enforceable verbal contracts or enforceable unilateral contracts).

        The consideration for an NDA is something like employment or being on a TV show or something like the mutual benefit of providing the information (when you are negotiating commercialisation for instance). It can’t be something you’ve already gotten or are entitled to anyway.

        Of course if no to parties act like a contract is on foot, it only becomes relevant if one party alleges a breach and the other party then argues the contract is technically unenforceable.

    3. Me*

      I agree. I did not like the I’m not comfortable language.

      It needs to be a firm It’s not legally binding at this stage; I won’t be signing it.

    4. HR Exec Popping In*

      I really don’t think the LW’s current employer understands what a NDA is. There needs to be consideration and it needs to specify what exactly the employee can not disclose. Given what the LW wrote in, I would guess that the only things they are looking to protect might be information on customers, cost/pricing and revenue. I doubt they have anything else that would be considered propriety information or trade secret.

      LW, ignore the request. If they push it, you need to decide if you are willing to lose the potential opportunity to work with them in the future or not.

  10. Keymaster of Gozer*

    LW1: (trigger warning for mention of suicide)

    I’ve got massive scars on my wrists, from more than one attempt on life itself. Also multiple scars on my arms from self harm. I’ve worn bracelets to conceal the big scars because people do occasionally get really unnerved by them, but it’s rare that anyone at work or an interview will look that closely at my arms.

    Gone bare armed in summer and it’s incredibly rare for anyone at work to comment on the scars. People, and companies, generally don’t want to open the can of worms.

    So, you do what you want to. You’re ok.

    1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      This has been true in my experience (not only of scars, but also other bodily differences).

      That said, OP, there are always exceptions — and if you ever find yourself working directly with the public, it might be worth having a pat script in your pocket to pull out. It’s entirely your right to shut people down and set boundaries around this.

      You don’t owe anyone any apologies.

      1. arcticshimmer*

        Generally I cover up in new situations with new people – I want people to get to know me first so the scars are just a part of me, not something that defines me (however accidentally) to others. Mostly people won’t even notice, if you are otherwise dressed to the occasion, like job interviews.

        After awhile people rarely notice anyway and do not want to comment in fear of awkwardness.

        I do recommend having a script, though, because there’s always someone! Mine is some occasion appropriate version of “Oh, I had a pretty chaotic adolescence and learned only later how to deal with it. Anyway, about this *thing we were talking about/weather/some interest of the other person*, how’s that working for you?”

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          *** I want people to get to know me first so the scars are just a part of me, not something that defines me***

          That’s a really beautiful way to put it, thank you. I need to have a good ponder on this.

        2. Foxgloves*

          I’ve only had a handful of people ask about my similar scars, and when people have done the whole “Oh my god what happened to your arms!?”, I’ve just looked at them strangely and said “That’s a very personal/ strange question”. It has worked on everyone that I’ve had to use it on.

        3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          That’s a really brilliant framing in your first paragraph there, thank you. It’s something that applies not just to things like SH scars, but anything else about our self-presentation or narrative that could overshadow other things about us.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Good point. My fallback reasoning has been ‘I have cats’ (love them but they are right tyrants) or ‘scars from an old job/hobby’ (cooking has caused many a scar).

        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Ooh, that’s a good one. I actually do have two dramatic scars on my lower arm from baking trays — and most professional kitchen staff I’ve met do too.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Oh yes! Mate of mine is a professional butcher and chef and has more scars than me.

            (Although, funny story, what got me banned from all kitchens was an incident involving a microwave and scientific curiosity. And an explosion)

              1. alas rainy again*

                I do not know Keymaster’s story but I have had my own experience. My aunt discovered that it is a bad idea to put a golden rimmed plate in the microwave. There was a noise, we turned around to look at said plate surrounded by sparks, then an explosion and a bit of smoke as she urgently stopped the microwave. There was a one-inch hole in the side of the microwave (not going through). I don’t remember whether the plate had any mark.

                1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

                  And that’s how our microwave at home died…the teenaged babysitter and young children didn’t realize that the rim on a plate some leftovers were on was actual metal.

                  Still have the plate. Everyone learned something that day! And I wasn’t even all that torqued about the microwave, being that it was approaching 15 years old!

              2. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Okay, without saying exactly what: there’s a trick where you can use a grape in a microwave to produce a stream of plasma just like a plasma ball.

                But it’s tiny, so I figured there must be stuff in the kitchen that would produce a BIGGER arc! Much messiness ensued until I tried a really, really, daft combination of utensils, finely sliced objects, steel wool and a few other bits. The plasma effect was brilliant!

                For about 2 seconds, then the microwave detonated.

                (I am never repeating that, and I’m not going to say the combination, and I’ll beg all of you to not ever try it. Husband unit was exceptionally annoyed)

          2. LifeBeforeCorona*

            Hot loaded baking tray were my nemisis. In one bakery the owner had the oven facing outward so that customers could see and smell fresh baked goods as they came out. Nice idea except that the bakers then had to maneuvre the trays around a narrow area and through swinging doors. Many burns ensued.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Yep, think there’s a letter on this site of someone with marks on their arms from (cooking? I think) and their colleagues thinking they were self harm marks. They do look quite similar.

    2. UKDancer*

      I think people also don’t notice things a lot. In the before times when we were in the office one of my colleagues had a large colourful arm tattoo done in early spring and it was only at the summer staff picnic that my boss actually noticed it. People are amazingly oblivious to things that don’t directly affect them.

      Also do feel free to blame cats, cooking or something else if that’s easier for you personally. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of your life. If you want to say “my former cat used me as a scratching post” or something anodyne, I think that’s a fine decision to make. The more you can be completely bland and matter of fact, the more quickly people will move on in my experience.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        My dad (who I both lived with and worked for, at the time) used to harass me endlessly about how OBVIOUS and UNPROFESSIONAL my tattoos were. One day at my desk, he noticed one on the back of my neck. “Oh, is that thing why you were home late last night?” Well, no, dad, I got that one ten months ago.

        He never mentioned them again. (Until I got one with his and my mom’s handwriting, and he still shows off pictures of that one to random strangers five years later. :P )

  11. Lilli*

    I thought the question about what really ticks you off was supposed to be about something more extreme. Fraught, not getting your paycheck on time, intentional rudeness, unsafe working conditions, coworkers who claim all the credit for success and blame mistakes on others, sexist jokes in the workplace. Am I off-base here? I’m not happy about avoidable mistakes either, but those happen to the best of people, so that’s not really something that “gets under your skin” if you’re a level-headed person. On the other hand, the things that do tick me off are things that I don’t want to happen at a new employer anyway (and I don’t expect them to happen if I show up for an Interview). Mentioning them might sound as if I assume my new employer might have bad intentions. I would be worried that my employer thinks I’m difficult to work with if I mention something a bit more mundane like ‘mistakes do to bad communication’ as something that ‘really ticks me off’. (I don’t think the OPs answer was wrong but that’s what I would be worried about in this situation).

    Am I reasonable here? I’m ESL and maybe this phrase sounds more severe to me than to a native English speaker.

    1. TechWorker*

      I agree all of those things would be worse, but ‘ticks me off’ definitely points to irritation rather than say, anger or disgust. You wouldn’t use it for something seriously bad. I think the references you had are a mixture but some definitely ‘ticks me off’ could sound a bit trivial or like you’ve very commonly experienced them. (Which, maybe you have! But then it might veer into territory of complaining about a past employer.) Its a hard question!

    2. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I agree with TechWorker that I would interpret this phrase as aiming more for ‘irritation’ than anger.

      My best guess is that this job has some headaches that some people have struggled with in the past — maybe demanding/aggressive clients, or lots of admin, or something. The hiring manager is probably trying to find a match, someone who’s able to manage this particular difficulty.

    3. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I agree with TechWorker that I would interpret this phrase as aiming more for ‘irritation’ than anger.

      My best guess is that this job has some headaches that some people have struggled with in the past — maybe demanding/aggressive clients, or lots of admin, or something. The hiring manager is probably trying to find a match, someone who’s able to manage this particular difficulty.

    4. Language Lover*

      It’s probably a little harsher than “what gets under your skin” but it usually doesn’t translate into a stronger anger unless it’s said in a very angry way.

      Context matters too. It wouldn’t necessarily be completely out of place to say that not getting a paycheck on time or rude coworkers tick someone off in a casual conversation.

      But in an interview, they’re not looking for strong grievances usually.

    5. Ferret*

      All of the examples you listed seem too strong for me – “ticks you off” to me indicates irritation or annoyance rather than something deeply offensive or worrying.

      In addition there is the factor that in a job interview you should normally (as Alison has advised in the past) stay away from extreme examples – if someone asks how you’ve resolved difficulties with a coworker you talk about people who never hand their work over in time rather than the guy who pissed in a potted plant and then punched a coworker at a wedding all while cheating on his wife with another colleague who he then ghosted.

      1. Myrin*

        That’s so fascinating (I’m replying to this whole thread but I didn’t know where best to nest my comment) – I’m not a native speaker and ever since I encountered the expression, I thought “tick someone off” means “make someone want to explode with rage”. I’m amazed that it’s basically the opposite and I never realised that until now. I don’t know how likely it is for me to encounter this IRL but I’m really glad I found this out because who knows!

        1. Ferret*

          Happy to help, though I should note I am always wary of sounding too confident/general about my answer, just because English is spoken across so many different places and contexts that there is a lot of variation. I realise this can be frustrating – I’ve recently been working on projects involving people across the world speaking different varieties of English as both first and second languages and it’s very hard to tell when something is incorrect/off in tone or just a local variation.

          Context for my experiences: English is my first language, I grew up in London and have lived here most of my life and have spent my working life in office jobs – though working with a pretty international set of colleagues/clients

          1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            Also it’s always a bit funny when you discover a dusty old corner of your brain and realise that your mental association with a particular word is different to everyone else’s, despite being a native speaker!

            1. Asenath*

              Oh, yes. I’m a native English speaker who grew up in a place noted for regional accents, with a parent from a different English-speaking country – with a regional accent from that country. I’ve always liked language, and paid attention to the ways people spoke. Like many people from a similar background, I at one time spoke a kind of formal English at school or in formal situations, another way with my friends and yet a third way at home when my foreign-born parent would claim I was speaking too fast to understand. Over the years, my speech has smoothed out with travel and TV to a kind of generic North American English, although people with a good ear can identify my origins. And even with all that experience, I sometimes encounter a word in English that I use one way and only realize when someone else doesn’t understand that it’s a regional usage!

          2. Esmeralda*

            Irritation, annoyance is what “ticks me off” means very very widely. I have never heard nor read it meaning anything else; if it’s used to mean “explodes with rage” somewhere that’s truly an outlier.

            1. Self Employed*

              When someone had me review an anger management class handout, their “anger temperature scale” had “irritated” very near the top. The illustration for it was someone who was about to commit physical violence. That isn’t how I had ever used “irritated” so I was rather surprised.

        2. Humble Schoolmarm*

          The tricky thing is it can be something that makes you quite angry, but the source is more irritation than horrible thing. For example I can say, “It really ticked me off when my students wouldn’t settle for our special zoom guest”. I wouldn’t say “It really ticked me off when Bob threw a banana at Jim and called him an idiot and then Bob’s parent blamed me”
          At least that’s how we use it in North North America.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Yeah, I think it covers quite a broad range of reactions depending on context. I think it’s maybe because it comes across as a milder form of “pissed me off” (I’m not sure if that’s a frequently used phrase in the States, though), kind of like someone saying ‘what the heck’ instead of ‘what the hell’ – so it is expressing irritation/mild anger but at the same time sounds a bit silly.

            (Not to add to the confusion – sorry Myrin – but IMO the slight silliness of the phrase also means it lends itself well to understatement. For example, if my boss called me into her office and said “I’m a little bit ticked off about this email you sent”, that would indicate to me that she was one step from decapitating me with a letter opener.)

            1. Green great dragon*

              Ah yes, but that’s like saying ‘this piece of work isn’t great’ to mean ‘please torch it in a distant field before it actually bankrupts the company’.

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

          There’s also (in British English at least) another use of tick off meaning something similar to “tell off” e.g. the boss ticked me off for being late again.

        4. Bostonian*

          I’m also a little fascinated and maybe learning something new here. (And I’m English speaking/American) I can see how “ticked off” could be used for a light annoyance as a hyperbole, but I interpret “ticked off” as full of rage, screaming, about to flip the table over.

          1. londonedit*

            British English speaker: ‘ticked off’ generally would mean something mildly annoying, unless as has been pointed out above it’s deployed with classic British understatement so that ‘Well, I was a little ticked off, I don’t mind saying’ means ‘I was incandescent with rage and nearly threw Fergus out of the window’.

          2. SimplyTheBest*

            Lived in the US all my life in multiple states – east coast, west coast, gulf coast, New England. I’ve never heard some use it mean they were anywhere near table flipping.

          3. Jerry Larry Terry Gary*

            Yeah, New England here- someone who is ticked off or “ticked” is angry, not mildly annoyed. More synonymous with pissed off.

        5. fhqwhgads*

          Native English speaking American here: to me “tick off” implies anger but of the frustration variety, not rage. But also its use in conjunction with “gets under your skin” is what makes it clearer to me in the letter that it was asked in a context leaning to the “annoyance” side and farther from the “anger” side, although I’d argue “ticks off” generally straddles that line.

          Put another way: if I’m ticked off, I might otherwise say I’m mad. If I’m enraged, I might say enraged…or furious. That’s a level-up.

          I’ve also encountered this question in a team-building exercise, not in an interview context, but the purpose was generally aimed at things that are not inherently bad in a workplace, but which nonetheless might be deemed Not Ok to the person answering.

    6. Guacamole Bob*

      I read it as “what bothers you disproportionately to the size of the problem or compared to how other people might react?”

      We all have things that bother us more and less, and finding a job where the annoyances align well with things we can tolerate more easily is a good goal.

      1. Deanna Troi*

        Yes, this. For example, the guy in the cubicle next to me clips his fingernails. It is a minor annoyance, but I’m highly annoyed. When I say he ticks me off, that means my annoyance is out of proportion with the the thing that’s annoying.

    7. MCMonkeybean*

      I wouldn’t expect they are looking for extreme examples just because when you are in an interview you are probably not assuming that those extreme examples are going on at that workplace. And if they are happening there then they probably aren’t going to tell you that, and presumably things like unsafe working conditions and rampant sexism would make most people mad to the point where you probably don’t need to specify it.

    1. Julia*

      Ha, I would probably say “people not wearing masks (correctly) when they should be”, which might also help with gauging how that company handles covid.

    2. Cat Tree*

      It should have been worded differently but I don’t think it’s a bad question. For example, I work in a highly regulated industry which requires extensive documentation, even though the job itself is technical. Nobody *likes* the paperwork but we understand why it’s important to do it anyway. So if someone tells me they hate paperwork I would really emphasize that aspect of the work so they can make an informed decision.

      In general, it’s probably better to ask about specific challenges known to the job rather than such an open-ended question. But the reasoning behind the question is sound.

      1. lazuli*

        Yeah, I’m thinking about people who seem to get easily frustrated by what I think of as mundane aspects of any job — email requests sometimes getting missed, slight miscommunications about technical things that may need a meeting to hammer out, just… work stuff. I don’t particularly like working with people who find that kind of thing to be a big deal (mildly annoying is fine, just not, like, rant-worthy), and I can see trying to figure out a way to screen for it.

    3. Yellow Rose*

      My standard answer to the question is always along the lines of ‘being given a response of “I don’t know”, without being directly followed up by an “I will find out” or “let me find someone that does.”‘

  12. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    OP#5, were other people laid off at the same time as you? If so, it might have been an emotionally grueling experience for your manager if they had to keep delivering bad news, and HR might have been keeping them to a tight script AND schedule. I lost my longest-term job after almost 20 years, and although my supervisor delivered the initial news in a meeting with him and HR, I knew it wasn’t a personal decision on his part. Come to think of it, I’d been laid off from my previous job due to budget cuts. I was upset but did not take that personally, either. I’m still on friendly terms with both of them, after an initial de-stressing period.

    1. AmbiantNoise*

      It doesn’t help the OP but I agree with you. This summer I laid off half of my staff, at 5 am in the city I was vacationing in remotely on my birthday*.

      It was truly the worst day of my career. I had gotten to vacation city around 10pm the night before, I had no sleep because I knew what was coming, was up around 3-4 am so that I could be functional, and had to kick my husband out of our hotel room so I would have some privacy.

      I had to keep it together to be professional. Yes, HR attended the meeting, yes there was a script that I more or less stuck to, and I was on PTO so couldn’t really be there as much as I wanted for the team.

      These were people I had worked with for 10 years or so. They were all great employees and didn’t deserve to be laid off.

      I get it, no matter how bad it was for me it was 1000 times worse for them, and I don’t minimize that at all. And only offer this perspective for others that have been on the receiving end of lay off news. Believe me, unless you are a sadist it is devastating for the those on the other side of the desk (I had a brief chat with HR after all of the meetings occurred and his sigh was just as audible as mine and his voice was just as shaken)

      *My boss offered to do it in my place, but I couldn’t allow that, it just wasn’t right and I couldn’t have looked myself in the mirror

    2. Mbarr*

      I’m here to second this. When I was laid off from my job, HR did the dirty work.

      I came in, saw I had the meeting invite from HR (my company was going through a rough patch, so we all knew what these meetings were for), and then spent the next 45 minutes saying goodbye to colleagues (this was pre-pandemic). I was sad that my manager wasn’t there though. I liked him – I didn’t blame him. I found out later that he deliberately avoided coming in till after I was gone, because he felt horrible and couldn’t handle the guilt.

      I learned through the grapevine that he got better at these layoffs, that he learned it was easier to come in and say his goodbyes, yada yada.

    3. Johanna (LW #5)*

      Yep, it was what a lot of my former colleagues have been calling “a blood bath” – they cut a ton of people, even middle to high-level managers.

      The script part is true, and I understand that. I am just surprised my manager didn’t call me afterward or anything, since normally she was OVERLY friendly. I was her only direct report that was let go (and there were only two of us who reported to her), so I don’t think she would have been involved in any other lay offs. I definitely don’t hold it against my manager at all, it’s more the lingering bad feelings about the company overall that made me write in.

      1. Daffy Duck*

        Unless you are talking about years, or they were offering my job back, I would be surprised if my manager called to check up on me after being laid off. Even the jobs I left on good terms my managers haven’t reached out to me unless they wanted some specific knowledge. They have been friendly on the occasions I reached out to them to touch base. There is a difference between being friendly with my boss and a social relationship.

  13. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    LW2 , I like Alison’s suggestion to ignore the comments as much as you can. IMEo, when someone makes jabs like those, they want them to land, to affect the jab-ee (you), and if you can avoid showing any signs of being affected, there’s no payoff for the jabber.

    It sounds like your boss is envious and resentful of your situation as a new mom compared to the way she remembers hers. The nasty comments are her way of taking out her frustration on you. Forget about trying to change her mind, and focus your energy on not letting her see that she’s getting to you.

    Please note: I am NOT saying don’t let the comments bother you. The less they bother you, the better off you’ll be, but we can’t always control whether something bothers us or not, and that’s okay. The important thing is not to let HER see that she’s getting to you.

    Your best reaction to these comments, therefore, is a non-reaction. When she makes one of her comments about how bad she had it as a mother, say something non-committal like, “Oh, really?” Or “I see,” then change the subject to something completely different and work-related. For example:

    Her: “You have it so easy! I used to have to strap my baby on my back and walk 5 miles, uphill both ways, in 2 feet of snow, just to get to her daycare, and then I had to walk another 5 miles in the pouring rain to get to work!”
    You: “Oh, really? *pause* Well, when do you need my TPS report? Is tomorrow morning good, or would you like to have it sooner?”
    OR “I see. *pause* Now, about the agenda for the Snorgleman meeting, how many copies of that do I need to make?”

    Be sure to use a courteous and non-emotional tone of voice and pivot to work talk as quickly as possible, before she has a chance to start laying it on even thicker. After cobsistently getting this kind of low key non-reaction a few times, she’ll begin to tire of it, and the barbs will become fewer and farther between until they eventually stop. At least I hope so.

    The important thing is to be unrelentingly consistent about this. If you can show her that needling you is no fun at all, ever, she’ll have a lot less motivation to do it.

    Good luck, LW! I’ll be rooting for you.

  14. Kate, short for Bob*

    OP5 – if your manager really rated you, there’s a good chance she was so cold because she didn’t agree at all with what the company did, and doesn’t trust herself to say anything and stay within company lines.

    Now you’re progressing somewhere else, is it time for a casual hello to her to see if it’s a relationship you can maintain outside of that job – it might be personally and professionally good for you?

    1. Johanna (LW #5)*

      Thanks, we have been in touch since I left, and it’s all good between my former manager and me. That said, I have chosen to put some emotional distance between myself and my former manager for personal reasons that I’m not comfortable putting out into the public with my name attached (in case she ever reads this), but suffice to say that ultimately the lay off was a very good thing for me, mental health-wise and career-wise (even though my finances took a huge hit). That’s part of why I’m so surprised by my feelings seeing my former colleagues’ posts. I didn’t expect to feel one way or another about them.

  15. The Other Katie*

    Hey, OP#3! Here’s some advice from a long-time freelancer: don’t take freelance work from this company, and don’t act like you’re going to either. A company that treats its regular employees this poorly will treat its freelancers worse. In fact, I’d guess you’d be lucky to ever get paid. It’s probably best to just walk away from this relationship entirely.

    1. WellRed*

      Had same thought. You won’t get paid. OP, not sure why you have so much difficulty saying no to these people. They treated you like crap from day one. Free yourself!

    2. Antilles*

      This is a really good point – if you already have issues with “delaying your paychecks” now when you’re an actual employee and they have to deal with you every day, there’s no way this company pays their freelancers consistently (if at all).

      1. blackcatlady*

        #3: why would you want freelance work from a place that jerked you around and under paid you? You said your pay was delayed at times. If they can’t pay a regular employee on a two week schedule they aren’t going to pay you for freelance work. If they keep pushing the NDA drop this little gem: I will have to get a lawyer to look over the document first.

  16. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    OP3, what exactly would the NDA cover? I’ve signed them before, but that was for strategic projects at a banking client. What would a “glass studio doing architectural and interior design work” want to stop you from talking about? Since they sound pretty dodgy, is there any chance they’d be trying to block you from using “proprietary information” i.e. actually practicing your craft and using your own professional knowledge at your new company?

    1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

      I suspect it to be aimed at preventing discussion of their business practices son places like Glassdoor. A fair number of high end firms in interior design and architecture (and many other fields) are extremely exploitive/dysfunctional, but know their clients don’t want to hear about that in the wild, since it risks becoming a talking point that is permanently associated with what they were hired to make.

      But you might be onto something real here as well. I’ve definitely heard of “artisans” wanting to make sure that anyone they “trained” can’t use those skills elsewhere. Usually with unenforceable and outrageous non compete clauses – but as that is becoming more widely known, I wouldn’t be surprised if some tried turning to NDAs instead.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Usually with unenforceable and outrageous non compete clauses – but as that is becoming more widely known, I wouldn’t be surprised if some tried turning to NDAs instead.

        Or it could easily be that the employer conflates the two. I once worked for a self-styled big shot who was so proud of the non-competes he compelled his employees to agree to, only to find the actual text of the document was an NDA instead.

      2. Self Employed*

        I can see that about it being a talking point and hurt business. I’d rather not use a contractor who abused their staff.

        This is somewhat different but related. There’s a good cheap auto mechanic nearby but once when I was in the waiting room, I heard him screaming at his daughter for watching cartoons before doing her homework. She looked too young to HAVE homework, so it wasn’t like she had a major term paper due. It really put me off him as a bad human being.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      I worked for a company many moons ago that was similar to what the OP wrote in about – a mixture of craftsman products and services. The NDA I signed was not to disclose how we structured our pricing. So basically I couldn’t go work for a competitor and tell them how to undercut my previous employer. Didn’t even matter because I went to work for a completely different type of company later, but I can see why it was important.

      An NDA might cover fabrication process, design process, pricing, or even where they source materials. But it would be something that needs to be signed the day the employee starts work, not after the fact. They obviously know they messed up and now they want to try to control the OP…which is infuriating!

  17. E*

    OP1, forgive me if this is either intrusive or very silly, but you said:

    >I hate pumping at my desk

    Since you’re taking breaks anyway to pump, is there a reason not to feed your baby directly at this time? Is is that it would disturb the system you have developed with your husband?

    1. Ruth*

      I was in a similar situation and that would not have worked for me. You can’t make a baby breastfeed on your schedule.

        1. Usagi*

          You just need to set the correct expectations for them and be clear about consequences when their meal breaks are too short/long, just like any other employee. It’s all about managing properly! /s

    2. allathian*

      The baby might not be hungry when you can take a break to pump, and if the baby’s hungry when you need to be present for a meeting, especially if it’s on video, that won’t work either.

      When I was breastfeeding, I had a hard time even focusing on a TV show at the same time. It was great for bonding with my baby, and while I’ll frankly admit that I didn’t focus 100 percent on him all the time I was breastfeeding him, anything else was pretty low on my priority list. (I’m not in the US and we have long maternity and parental leaves, I went back to work when my son was 2 years old.)

    3. Natalie*

      Some people pump exclusively! My daughter never got the hang of nursing so I pumped and bottle fed. (I think half of my small mom group was also exclusively pumping, which seems statistically odd but maybe they didn’t feel comfortable getting nursing support under the circumstances?)

      1. Blackcat*

        I was picturing OP working at her desk while pumping but not taking meetings during that time. That’s what I did.

        And pumping can be scheduled but often baby feeding can’t in the same way, particularly at that age. By 6 months, my kid was on a really regular nap/feeding schedule when that would have been an option. But at 3.5 months? He nursed when he woke up from naps and naps were totally random in duration.

      2. Natalie*

        I imagine it’s a time issue – especially during the early months, you’re going to spend somewhere between 1-3 hours (aggregate) of a typical workday pumping. I usually didn’t physically stay at my desk, but I brought my laptop to a more comfortable place and worked while pumping. I preferred having more free time in the morning/evening.

      3. OP2*

        I am home, but I’m in meetings almost all day – stepping away from my desk for the 20-30 min it takes to pump just isn’t feasible all the time without causing clogs. I often end up pumping in a meeting with my camera off (and muted as much as possible).

    4. OP2*

      I’m an exclusive pumper – we couldn’t get breastfeeding to work (and honestly, exclusively pumping has been a surprising godsend in many ways!).

  18. Kristina*

    Re: interviewing with scars–my sibling has massive scars on one leg that cannot be covered. She had a joint removed and has multiple reconstruction surgeries from childhood cancer. In her 20s, she similarly faced this decision. She frequently chose to wear skirts to interviews. Some people cautioned her against this, saying her chances would be better if her scars were not visible/not a distraction. But she can’t do anything about them, and summer exists, and she doesn’t want to wear pants her whole life. It probably did make her job search harder. But in the end, she got hired by people who made eye contact and didn’t stare constantly at her scars and truly weren’t phased or distracted by them, and that helped her on the job in all kinds of ways. Just food for thought.

    1. Usagi*

      Yes! As you said it might make the job search harder but at least you’re avoiding places where the people around you might have some kind of issue with the scars.

  19. Birch*

    #4 I was recently asked in an interview “what frustrates you about a working environment?” and I took it to be similar to this question. I turned it into a “what are your weaknesses” question that I then answered as if it were “what do you need to succeed” and “how are you going to help make that a reality.” The truth is that I get ragey when things don’t make sense and people act like I’ve grown three extra heads when I point out that the confusion is wasting time, energy, money, and alienating people who don’t know what’s going on because people are gatekeeping information and then punishing others for not knowing things.

    What I said was: “I believe communication is the most important part of working successfully together, so I get frustrated when projects break down because of lack of communication. I don’t think it’s possible to work effectively unless everyone has the information they need, and I think good communication also demonstrates respect. I struggle in situations that lack clear communication of expectations and objectives, so I try to be the person who brings back a big-picture structure and clarifies action points if we start to lose track of goals and checkpoints.”

    1. Sled dog mama*

      I got a flavor of the same question. I work in a very small niche of a small portion of my industry, usually admin more than one level above me has no direct experience with my portion of the industry (and forget about experience in my position). My biggest frustration is and probably always will be the admin person who refuses to become educated about my service line. How can you be nominally in charge of something that you have zero understanding of? It’s like someone being in charge of the Hanukkah balls service line without a clue what Hanukkah is.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        +1 for the Hanukkah balls reference! That letter was and is an AAM all time classic!

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That was how I took #4, and truth be told, kind of liked that question. And I really like your answer and the reasoning behind it.

    3. Annie Moose*

      Ha, I was trying to come up with my answer and took a similar approach! I was thinking I’d use an example of a coworker I used to work with who would simply assume his perspective was the most obvious one and refuse to explain himself because, well, isn’t it obvious? (no, Bartholemew, it was not obvious, evidenced by the rest of us coming up with three or four equally effective alternatives!) And how I was able to work to understand his perspective and thus was able to communicate with him more effectively.

      The key to these “tell me a bad thing” questions, IMO, is that you always want to spin it around to talk about your strengths. You don’t want to just be like “I hate X!” and leave it there, you want to go “I don’t like X, so here’s how I would deal with the situation if it arises…”

    4. Hi there*

      That is a great way to convey it. Nothing enrages me quite like sexist men assuming they have all the answers and that I have no expertise. Perhaps there is something to be said there about collaboration and drawing on the skills and expertise of the whole team.

  20. Engineer Mom*

    OP # 2. When replying to your boss I would go with either the super cheerful agreement Allison suggested. You could make it a little more over the top if you were feeling sarcastic. “You are so right! It’s amazing taking a tiny baby to daycare during a pandemic! Everyone should be as lucky as me!!”

    Or. The deadpan boss: “waaaah! you have it so good!” “OP: “what an odd thing to say”. Then walk away.

    I would not bother honestly telling them it’s hard. She sounds self absorbed and a little crazy so don’t waste real words trying to explain your situation.

  21. ApplePie*

    I’m really thrilled to see question #3 because I went through something similar just a couple of months ago. However, in my case, it was both a NDA AND a non-compete after I resigned with *tons* of notice. Oh, and the employer purposefully ignored mentioning the non-compete in our communications despite it taking up 2/3 of the document. The contract they wanted me to sign basically prevented me from practicing my craft for a 12-month period in my entire region. I was a pretty low-rung employee, so I was very confused.

    Here’s what I did (although I’m not sure I handled it the best way possible): I ignored the document for a couple days and had it checked out by an employment attorney friend to make sure it would be dismissed in court. Once he confirmed my suspicions, I reached back out to my employer and asked them why they wanted me to sign the document, and that I would be happy to sign the document once it was updated with reasonable consideration.

    And I never heard from my ex-employer again. I was also originally offered freelance work by them when I resigned, but never came into fruition. Thankfully, I’ve had lots of new opportunities which I wouldn’t have been able to pursue if I had signed.

    In retrospect, I probably could have just ignored them. But my company had burned me so many times in my final years working there that I felt like I needed to call them out on their BS. I hope that’s somewhat helpful, and congrats on leaving Crummy Company, OP!

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      I’d say you handled it pretty well. You checked into the legality of the document, and you responded with a reasonable request for it to be updated with consideration with regard to what they would’ve required of you had you signed it.

    2. JessicaTate*

      This seems like the perfect response, actually! Nice work. You probably could have ignored it too, but either one was great.

      I once worked for a place that tried to impose a Non-Compete Agreement about a year into my employment there (not at resignation). They said, “We know we have to offer some consideration for it to be enforceable, so we’ll give everyone $100.” They had this tone that, because it was something good for the company, we should be willing to sign anything / accept token “consideration” money, despite the wording of the agreement making me unemployable. After the initial round of interaction about it, I ignored it because I was not going to sign it, so I was going to make them push the issue. Knowing they were wimps about confrontation, no one every pursued it.

      And agree, don’t take the freelance work either. These people are awful – and likely jerk around freelancers worse than employees. Not worth the misery.

    3. Antilles*

      I think you handled it perfectly, actually.
      Given that they apparently didn’t care that you “ignored it for a couple days”, then you never heard back when you asked questions, I’ll bet they just send it out as completely standard practice without actually caring about it.

      1. ApplePie*

        Hearing these positive comments makes me feel a lot more confident about the whole situation – thanks, everyone!

        In an attempt to keep it brief, I didn’t mention that my CEO (small company, just like OP) did check up on me to remind to me sign the document. The first time was to remind me that it was a requirement from the BigClient (although the document didn’t mention BigClient) and the second time she said they needed me to sign it for a contract audit. This didn’t make sense to me, and thankfully my employment attorney friend assured me it was inconsequential.

        I think they may have ignored my follow up email because I purposefully used legal jargon, which made it obvious that I had contacted an attorney. Either way, I’m so happy that I’ve moved on!

        1. Filosofickle*

          The contract audit piece makes sense to me — during an audit (of everything or just you) they discovered they never had you sign an NDA and they were supposed to. That would even track with the client requirement reason. I’ve been subject to client contracts that mandate everyone who works on their account signs an NDA. Both reasons could be BS, but they do also track with my experience. Doesn’t mean you should sign it now. You shouldn’t! It is not your problem anymore.

        2. Observer*

          Those reasons could have been real, although I would be surprised if any contract required the terms you mention. But it DOES NOT MATTER. You had absolutely no obligation to sign.

  22. Workerbee*

    #4 Thinking about this while not currently in the pressure of an interview, I would like to try to volley that question back at them. “What kinds of things would you say cause annoyances in this company’s work culture?”

    It could be a way to suss out what’s in the interviewer’s mind. Or who! I’d bet there are some difficult people to work with.

    You can lead into it beforehand with some verbiage about how every job has helped you see the bigger picture and you’ve learned to let things roll off, while acknowledging that we never stop learning, blah blah.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Yeah, well, if I heard that beforehand verbiage I’d recognize it for the blah blah it is and think two things: 1. Get to the point already and 2. Just what are you trying not to say?

      But I’ve been around a long time and have a well developed crap detector lol

  23. Tuckerman*

    #2 If she’s talking about how things were worse/harder when she was a new mom, you could always just say, “I’m sorry you went through that.”

    1. Carlie*

      I think that’s a lovely response. It gets at what I think she really wants, which is some sympathy and validation that what she went through was hard. It is so easy to be jealous that someone else has it “easier” in some sense, and so difficult to remember that there are many ways for things to be “difficult”. Having a child in daycare all the time is hard. Having your mom watch the baby but then navigating the “who has the most authority here when it’s my own mom” situation is hard. Staying home all the time with the baby and no break ever is hard. Having to tell family they can’t visit the baby during a pandemic is hard. Having no family around so no support network and no backup even in an emergency is hard. And so on and so on. There’s just no way to win except to understand that everybody’s got something going on. And for those who don’t and actually do have it easy, it doesn’t hurt anyone to extend them some grace too.

      1. Willis*

        Yes. I think OP definitely deserves someone to talk to about and get support around the difficulties of being a new parent and, especially, a new parent during a pandemic. But, it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be her boss.

  24. V*

    OP4, I interview a lot and often use this question. Answers I have received range from someone going into an absolute rant like “Oh my god, it REALLY grinds my gears when I ask and I ask and I ask for something and the company just won’t give it to me and it just makes me feel that they are massively undervaluing the contribution I am making if they can’t just give me what I need, I actually fell out big time with my former boss over it because he didn’t understand that when I say I need something I really mean I NEED it, not it would be a nice to have or something I would like, and he didn’t like it when I made that extremely clear to everyone by sending an all-company email….” all the way through to a very calm “I find it frustrating when I don’t have all the tools I need to do my job efficiently and it seems as though my line management chain are willing to accept that inefficiency rather than bear the cost of providing me with the tools. I had a good constructive discussion about it with my boss and grand-boss and I understand from a business perspective that that decision might make sense, but at a personal level it makes my job more difficult and I think most people would find that frustrating. In fact that’s a big part of why I’m looking for a new position now.”

    These two answers could be describing the exact same situation, but you’d better believe that the second one has just given themselves a massive boost over the first one. In other words, it’s not so much about *what* you find frustrating as how you describe it and what you have done to try to handle the frustrating situation.

    1. Smithy*

      From your answer, my understanding of your use of the question is to almost to see how someone approaches irritation at work? So it’s more a case of trying to see how someone approaches irritation with uncertainty (like trying to set clear and agreed upon KPI’s), rather than being concerned that someone who hates rude people has applied for a customer service job?

      Appreciate you sharing why you find this question helpful!

      1. V*

        I mean sure, it’s at least a tiny bit useful to know what they say they get frustrated by, because if it turns out that whatever they hate is 98% of the job duties then that’s not going to work out well, but generally if we’ve written the job description well then those people won’t have applied anyway.

        But for me, yes, the major part of this question is to understand their approach to how they handle frustrating things by talking through an example of something that has frustrated them.

  25. Engineering Mom*

    LW#2, I don’t have anything to add to the advice, but wanted to commiserate! My baby was born in October, lockdown started when I was 8 weeks pregnant, and this whole journey has had an extra dose of difficult due to the pandemic. Pumping is not fun no matter which way you spin it. And the grass is always greener, right? My baby is in daycare even though I work from home (hubs has zero flexibility at work and has to be there in person). Hang in there, mama, and congrats on your little one! :)

    1. TaDa*

      Uh, sorry, but pumping in a bathroom stall is definitely worse than pumping in the comfort and security of your own home. Try it sometimes if you don’t believe me.

      1. Annie Moose*

        Engineering Mom never said it wasn’t! This isn’t the pumping-pain olympics here. We can acknowledge that pumping can be difficult in a variety of situations, for a variety of reasons, all at the same time.

      2. 2 Cents*

        It is, but because boss had to do it, she doesn’t need to make OP feel bad because she doesn’t have to do it in the bathroom (which is now illegal to force an employee to do). Trying to one up each other on misery does neither party any good and undermines each other.

        I’m sorry if you had this experience too.

      3. meyer lemon*

        Sure, by why the need to compete at all? It doesn’t make it any better for you if other people have to do it too.

      4. OP2*

        That sounds difficult! Parenting always has its ups and downs, and parenting during a pandemic definitely hasn’t been the easiest. What did you think about the recent teapot handles?

        (how’d I do using the the lingo?)

  26. Lacey*

    OP 5: I had to mute former coworkers after a really unpleasant lay-off. Even if they were people I really enjoyed, I just couldn’t take all the cheerful posts about the company. Unfollowing worked really well.

  27. doreen*

    Plus ” She wouldn’t sign an NDA when she left” really just makes the former employer look foolish – you have them signed when you hire, or perhaps you institute them at some point and have your existing employees sign them ( at which point the consideration is future employment) but it doesn’t even make sense to try to have someone sign when they are leaving- they already have the information.

  28. KuklaRed*

    Oh, LW#5 I feel for you. It is really hard to see that stuff and not feel the hurt wash over you again. I had a similar job loss last April and I am still a bit hurt and angry, even though I have a great new job and life has moved on. When I check LinkedIn and I see the posts from my former co-workers showing off some new honor or touting their (phony) “we’re all family here” BS, it kind of rips the scab off the wound all over again. I think we should both unfollow those folks and let all that go. Here’s to moving on.

    1. Johanna (LW #5)*

      Thanks for your empathy. <3 That's EXACTLY what it feels like – phony. It alway felt phone when I worked there, too – the culture never felt right to me and I never quite drank their Kool-Aid. I wasn't the only one. Maybe that was a factor in being let go. Time for an un-follow party! I hope you find some peace. :)

        1. KuklaRed*

          Yes! I will join you in the unfriending party and we can raise a glass to each other and to solidarity! Also to great new jobs and nice co-workers who don’t stab you in the back after pretending to be your friend. And then want to re-connect months later because they “miss” you. Yeah, I don’t f******g think so.

  29. 'Tis Me*

    A few other options, which can be used individually or combined:

    “I know, I don’t know how you managed! I am so glad that women like you proved, so many times over, that retaining us after we have children is worth it for companies so things have changed.” [I’m sure you’re expressing how glad you are that things have changed slightly clunkily, here, and I appreciate the sentiment. And having said so, I hope you feel a bit embarassed if that wasn’t the case! ]

    “There are pros and cons to having a baby at any time of course, but not needing to navigate workplace pumping issues definitely goes in the pros column for pandemic babies! The cons column has no baby groups, grandparent cuddles, formal childcare, hardly any weigh-ins… But thankfully Baby’s thriving.” [Reality check, delivered calmly and evenly. Coz if having a baby usually can be isolating, that’s amped up a good thousand-fold right now!]

    “I’m really glad OtherHalf is able to look after Baby, but because I’m focusing on working 9-5, I still miss the cuddles by the time I log off.” [Definitely focusing on work during work hours!]

    I have a lockdown baby too (almost 11 months; as I’m in the UK and in an industry geared up to retain parents – publishing – I’m off work a bit longer) but will be returning working from home with my husband looking after him and the bigger two around preschool and school (he’s a keyworker).

    It was pretty gutting finding out at the 11th hour my sister in law wouldn’t get to meet him at Christmas after all. He hasn’t met two of his uncles yet either (my brother’s in NZ but his visit last summer was cancelled)… One of my friends has two littles very close in age to my younger two; the babies haven’t met each other. None of my friends have met him… I live close to my office so the other two both came in to meet my colleagues; he hasn’t (and everyone has moved to largely WFH, with bookable hotdesks). Even as an introvert with 3 small cuddly people (and a big cuddly person), I’ve been aware that I’m isolated. Having a baby is always going to be tough; having one in a pandemic, with questions over what childcare options are legal and safe, is a pretty unique set of headaches.

    1. Carlie*

      I like that first reply a lot – it positions her as a groundbreaker who was instrumental in making things better just by making it through, and that has to feel good. It switches the equation from “I had it hard so you should too” to “I had it hard so that no one else should ever have to”.

    2. OP2*

      These are great scripts – thank you.

      I relate to so much of your note – I’m an introvert that misses my people! I can count on 1 hand how many people have held my baby outside of me & my partner (excluding medical staff), and honestly it breaks my heart. Can’t wait for life to return to normal, someday soonish.

      Hope your transition back to work from home is as smooth as can be.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        Thank you!

        I hadn’t actually realised that was true for us too until I counted them up :-/ With my second, when she was around 4 months, we went to a wedding and I literally handed her over to someone for a cuddle then went to track her down about 10 minutes later, by which time I think she’d had cuddles with at least a dozen people! It’s such a different world right now.

  30. staceyizme*

    The boss who is “self-servingly interested” might indeed be the kind of person to remark in offhand ways about things that appear to be more to your advantage than to hers. So, if you have to indulge her, do it that way. “Yes, thankfully, I’ve been able to focus on x, y and z with work at home….”. “My projects are in good shape. But I could use some input on how to navigate this new one…”. In other words, make it about work. Don’t give her fodder for the gossip machine. You can make all of the offhand comments you want, but it always pays to know your audience, and your boss isn’t capable of supporting you in the way that you’re seeking. There’s nothing in it for her other than witnessing your happiness and that’s not enough of a payout for her to take herself out of the equation.

  31. Ra ra rasputin*

    LW1, you are not alone. I too have those scars. I honestly forget to cover them often at work, but I do cover them in interviews. Thank you for bringing up this question, and best wishes to you!

  32. dedicated1776*

    LW1: I’m not sure I would recognize self-harm scars. Maybe I’m naïve but it’s just not where my mind would go first. I would probably think skin condition or accident. Other commenters can tell me if I’m just living in a bubble but, since I’ve never known someone who had those scars (at least not that I’m aware of), I just don’t think I would guess that. And maybe there are a lot more people out there like me. After reading advice columns for years, I realize there are nosy people out there who will ask (why must people ask?!) but most people won’t follow up if you just kind of gloss over it and move on.

    1. Sylvan*

      I agree with your advice about trying to gloss over it, but some people might recognize the scars. About one in five people will self harm in their lifetime, although they won’t all use the same method or location — this is a more common issue than a lot of people think! People who have self harmed or who know someone who has might recognize the marks kind of easily.

    2. UKDancer*

      I’m not sure I’d be able to tell the difference between self harm as opposed to cat scars or cooking scars. People have bodies and bodies get scarred. I mean absent someone telling you what the scars were, I’d probably tend to assume cat by default because all my friends who share their lives with cats appear to have scratches in odd places.

      This is assuming I noticed at all. I’m not amazingly good at noticing things about people.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        It depends on the scars. When we were teens one of my brother’s friends had scars about every 3 cm along the outsides of both of his arms, each over 5 mm deep. I think at that point the only two explanations are self harm or torture.

  33. Bring back MST3K Season 13*

    Why do interviewers ask questions like the one in #4? What ever happened to sticking to the resume and asking about qualifications? It’s questions like the one in #4 that make me not want to job hunt.

      1. GreaseMonkey*

        I use a similar one for a position where we generally hire technical staff into a lateral operations move and I want to see how aware they are of operational considerations in the technical environment. Its not the only question I use to elucidate this stuff, but it does tend to highlight the brilliant candidate.

  34. I'm Not Phyllis*

    #3 please don’t sign that. I was once part of a supervisory team where one person on our team wanted to do this – ask someone to sign an NDA and non-compete agreement after they had resigned. I was furious at the suggestion, and the lawyers on the team found it absurd so thankfully the request was never made to the employee. But it’s ridiculous – there is no reason you should sign this.

    Others on here that are smarter than I am have better advice on what to do if they try to withhold your pay.

    1. Can Can Cannot*

      I would see a non-compete as much more of a concern than an NDA. Unless you are holding some key proprietary information (e.g., sales prospect lists, product roadmaps, etc.), the NDA will likely not be a big deal. (But the OP should still not sign the NDA.) A non-compete, on the other hand, can have big implications on your career even if you are not a senior exec. Never sign a non-compete if you don’t have to.

  35. Colorado*

    #1 – I have scars too. I’d cover them for an interview by wearing long sleeves the same I would cover my tattoo’s, but after that I wouldn’t worry about it.

  36. disconnect*

    LW1, try reframing her comments on your situation as things that she needs to work on for herself. It sucks ass that she had to pump in a bathroom stall! And it sucks ass that we USAians live in a country populated by selfish and greedy people who refuse to allow a sensible society to exist that provides for all its members, not just the people with money. And when she says “you don’t know how good you have it”, that’s not a referendum on you, it’s her frustration with her own situation. Are you personally responsible for the tough times that she had to endure? No, you are not, and her comments therefore have nothing at all to do with you. So the next time she starts up, maybe let her vent for 30 seconds, then say “That sounds like it was really tough for you, and I’m glad that we’re moving away from that and towards something that’s better for families. Anyway, I needed you to look at these teapot reports etc.”

    It’s not fair that you have to do this emotional labor for her, but again, give her a little bit of your time, and keep telling yourself it’s not about you, it’s about her unresolved feelings. She would benefit from unpacking this with a therapist, which you are probably not, and your relationship with her is about work. So keep redirecting it back to work.

  37. employment lawyah*

    1. How will I know if a new job will require me to cover my self-harm scars?
    Most jobs shouldn’t; it’s a jerk move. There are exceptions if your job literally involves looking a certain way (fashion model) but there’s really no usual reason to care about that. It may be protected in some states, as well, as AAM notes.

    The real question is whether you’d like to work for someone who CARES or not: even if they don’t forbid it it may affect you in subtle ways (promotions, assignments) which are hard to track. That may affect your decision to wear sleeves or reveal pre-hiring.

    2. My boss is resentful that I get to work from home after parental leave
    Have you tried heartfelt agreement?

    Seriously, you ARE IN FACT getting a hell of a lot better parenting/job experience than most people who are dumping their kids in daycare and going to work and pumping in a closet. It seems that part of the problem may be that you seem to be defensive about the fact that you DO have it pretty good compared to most folks, which probably is making her much more annoyed.

    It’s great that you have that life! But, ya know, maybe a dose of reality is needed? Like: I work 60 hours quite a bit, but obviously “long hours at my law office desk” are incredibly much easier than the 60-hour weeks people are doing at Walmart. Honestly, they’re hardly even comparable. And if I acted like they were, people would rightfully be pissed.

    So there’s that.

    3. My job wants me to sign an NDA after I’ve already resigned

    No. @&%$#$@#! no.


    1. pancakes*

      In other words, you find the boss’s resentfulness relatable. The letter does not suggest the writer is behaving defensively, though.

    2. Who moved my cheese?*

      Employment lawyah, someone having a harder time somewhere doesn’t invalidate your hard time. Both hardships can exist and be true. She doesn’t need a reality check. She’s having a hard time sometimes, fulllllll stop. I’m sorry you work 60-hour weeks but I feel drained at the end of my 35-hour week, and your 60-hour week doesn’t change that. It just means if we were friends, I’d probably save my “omg I’m so tired after 35 hours” for someone else.

      As a boss, it’s really incumbent on you to not make your employees feel uncomfortable and resented.

      1. employment lawyah*

        [shrug] I think we’ll just have to leave it at disagreement.

        OP2 may say “this is hard for me” or “we all have our own challenges,” and both of those are subjectively true, sure. I’m sure OP2 isn’t lying.

        But it is also true that what OP is experiencing (from the stay-at-home parent to the no-daycare to the no-commute) seems like they are objectively pretty good as these things go. And yes, I’ve done primary kid care. My read, from the post, is that Boss quite literally wants OP2 to understand how good she has it relative to others (which OP2 does, actually) and OP2 is mostly responding that she finds it difficult. This is crucially different from, say, “Sure, there are some things which I can find to complain about, who can’t, but you’re right that it is a hell of a lot easier than what most folks deal with. Lucky me!”

        Should Boss be caring about that? No.

        But I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that if OP2 PRESENTED AS LUCKY instead of presenting as “oh, this is hard; I wish I was commuting and dropping my kid at daycare” then she’d get a lot less resentment and I suspect it would put a lot of the conflict to bed.

        1. Who moved my cheese?*

          > I really don’t talk about my daughter that much — basically just when she asks about my weekend or when a last-minute meeting interrupts my parenting/pumping schedule.

          OP2 doesn’t need to present as lucky. It’s not her fault her boss is resentful, it doesn’t sound like she’s dumping a stream of feelings on her boss, and it’s not her job to manage her boss’s feelings about her boss’s pumping-at-work-etc experience. It is actually, literally, her boss’s actual literal paid job to support her reports and make sure they have what they need, and not make inappropriate, uncomfortable remarks.

          > But it is also true that what OP is experiencing (from the stay-at-home parent to the no-daycare to the no-commute) seems like they are objectively pretty good as these things go.

          This isn’t the pain olympics, as someone else said on this thread. “Objectively pretty good as these things go” can still suck s*** sometimes and when s*** sucks for you, someone telling you “bUt iT cOuLd Be WoRsE” doesn’t give you the empathy, space to be listened to, or solutions you need. It can come off as very dismissive. I understand this perspective can help one feel better about one’s own circumstances and it’s helpful for you, but that doesn’t make it helpful for everyone.

      2. chewingle*


        I think OP2’s issue is not that she is defensive, but that she has had her first real encounter with a Martyr Mommy and finds the lack of empathy grating. Being a new mom is hard, period. No one has dibs on having it the hardest and, if they did, this conversation would spiral into the depressing very quickly.

    3. BigGlasses*

      I’m sure you wouldn’t act as though your 60 hours at a desk are as hard as somebody else’s 60 hours of retail or whatever.

      But the boss’ words and actions here seem roughly equivalent to if *your* boss was, when you mentioned an issue you were having trouble with at work or a reason you had to take a day off, reminding you that some people work 60 hours of retail every week and you should feel yourself very lucky for the job you have. That’s inappropriately adversarial for a managerial relationship. There’s no need, in the course of small-talk or normal conversation with an employee, to downplay things they are struggling with because other people have it worse.

    4. RagingADHD*

      Comparing giving birth & parenting under pandemic isolation to daycare stress and pumping in a closet, is like asking whether it hurts worse to break your leg in a car wreck or by falling off a roof.

      There is no easy way to be a working mom with a new baby. There is no easy time to be a working mom with a new baby.

      The LW’s different set of problems don’t make the boss’s problems any easier or any harder. And vice versa.

      Maybe the boss should focus her resentment on the assholes who made her pump in a closet, instead of on the OP who had nothing to do with it.

  38. Observer*

    #3- I just want to point something out – With people like this, they are likely to see paying your last check as a “favor” to you and claim that THAT is the leverage they have over you. Get it in writing (email) if you can. Because it would be nice to be able to take it to the DOL. And a slam dunk case where a company actually puts in writing that they plan to do something illegal is the kind of thing they love. Of course, you should push back and make it clear to them that they have to pay you what they owe regardless, but people like that don’t always listen. They have their own internal vision of how stuff works and using reason and logic while pointing out the facts just doesn’t work with them.

    This is not just vindictiveness, either. There is the fact that if they are doing this to you, they are probably pulling similar shenanigans on other people as well. Society will be better of if someone drops the hammer on them.

  39. LTL*

    Re #3: It would be kind for LW not to include “I would have been willing to consider it if it had been a condition of my work when I started, but it’s not something I’m comfortable signing at this stage” or any messaging that implies that an NDA is more acceptable at the start of employment. If the employer catches on, they may very well start requiring people to sign NDAs before they start.

  40. Hope*

    I am so sorry this happened to the LW. This exact thing happened to me in November after being employed 6 years. My manager didn’t even come to the meeting. It was just the CHRO and the CFO. They escorted me to my office and no one was allowed to talk to me. I grabbed my plant and the CFO was standing guard at my door to ensure I didn’t have a chance to talk to anyone. They walked with me until I left the building. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to anyone! It hurt like hell and it still hurts like hell.

  41. DiscoCat*

    What gets me cranky and angry in a professional setting is answering interview questions that are open to any kind of text-book interview BS: E.g. What are your Strengths & Weaknesses? Really? After 20 years adulting inwork life and an acceptably respectable career with a clear CV you ask me this? And this after spending 45 minutes going almost line by line through said CV, being asked to describe tasks (not achievements or anything that demonstrates fit) that are listed anyway… Gah!

  42. SomethingClever*

    LW2 – I could be totally off-base here, but to me it didn’t sound like your boss was trying to minimize your experience. To me, it sounded like she was trying to commiserate WITH you. Like – ‘’oh I remember pumping! I had to do it in a stall. It was the worst!” I’m not a mom, but many parents in my office often like to commiserate on parenting together, and perhaps that’s the tone she was trying to reach even though it sounds like she did not do it successfully. I know it sounds like a comparison, but all she can pull from is her own experience, you know?

    Just an idea!

    1. RagingADHD*

      Parents commiserating don’t usually say things like “you don’t know how good you’ve got it,” unless they are laughing together and swapping stories of hilariously gross or ridiculous mishaps. Which really doesn’t sound like the vibe LW described.

  43. DEJ*

    I was laid off after 13 years at a non-profit that I gave so much of myself to during those 13 years. Making it worse is that this (very well-funded) non-profit gets covered regularly in the news, and I while I do still care about the group that is supported by this non-profit and want to see that those people are doing well, I’m still struggling with the fact that I’m not part of it anymore.

    Now, in my case, many of my former coworkers who did what I did are now looking to get out (and I can’t say I blame them), so I am glad that I didn’t have to start making those choices, but I still resent the fact that it wasn’t my choice to get out. Although it does help that I have a great new job, and I make more money, I’m not quite sure how to let go of the past.

    1. JED*

      I’m so sorry and I feel your pain! I was just laid off from a nonprofit that I was recruited to join after barely more than a year, while coworkers who were hired more recently and are lower performers were retained (bc their jobs were covered by grants). I’ve worked for this particular cause/community for 5 years and it’s a really bitter pill to swallow after dedicating so much time/energy–can’t imagine how I would feel after 13! Sending you love & congratulations on the new job <3

      1. DEJ*

        Ooh, ‘coworkers who are lower performers’ is another piece of this that hits a nerve with me, because I know I have skills that some of the people retained don’t. Thanks for the love and virtual hugs to you as well!

  44. Cheesehead*

    Hi OP#4! I’ve been unfortunately asked this question and answered that I used to work in a large room and my desk was up against the wall and my back was to two of my coworkers. One of them used to clap as loudly as humanly possible every 2-3 hours to startle me. So that was definitely frustrating. But in general, I have a very adaptable personality. So long as everyone is doing their job well and is generally respectful, then I am a happy camper.

    I thought that threaded the needle pretty well and was memorable, certainly had the whole room laughing and guessing who it was (it was for an industry where everyone knows everybody)

  45. Pennycress*

    OP5 – I completely feel you! The comparison to a bad breakup is on target. I experienced something similar, except it was executed on April 1st (Worst April Fools day ever!) and my manager was more intentionally cruel about the entire situation. Mute folks as much as possible digitally, Alison’s advise is absolutely right. I’ll just add that with time, the sting really does fade. I’m five years out, and while I still have some visceral responses I have to pause and manage from time to time, life on this side of the situation is better.

  46. RagingADHD*

    OP2, there are a lot of people who make everything about themselves and view life as a competition over who has things better or worse.

    I once heard a Elderly Lady A tell Elderly Lady B that ELB wasn’t a “real widow” because her husband had only been dead 7 years, but ELAs own husband had been gone 40 years, so she really knew what being a widow was all about.

    Anyone who says “you don’t know how good you’ve got it” is just saying “I am bitter about my life.”

    There’s nothing you can do with that, because it’s not really about you in the first place. Alison’s suggestion about “So you’ve said” is about the most you could do.

    There’s a chance it might sink in, but probably not.

    1. CoveredInBees*

      I will never understand that way of thinking. It could be an opportunity for connection or empathy, but instead it is a competition.

  47. CoveredInBees*

    OP1, I get the concern but as many people have mentioned, people won’t notice as much as you think. As an example, a friend of mine has these scars on her forearms and I’d known her for years before I noticed. We saw each other basically on a weekly basis and in all types of weather.

  48. claudia grace*

    In an interview, my dad once said that smell of people cooking food in a small office setting really irritates him. He, unsurprisingly, did not get the job. He’s also well-aware that was the answer that probably dropped him from consideration.

  49. tangerineRose*

    LW2, when your manager says stuff about how she “had to pump in a bathroom stall”, is she possibly fishing for compliments about herself because of what she put up with? It might be worth saying something like “That must have been awful.” and maybe something about how there’s usually a pumping room now and kind of insinuate that some of her tough times was a barrier breaker for current moms? Even if that’s not what she’s looking for, it will probably make her feel good and feel acknowledged, and she might stop talking about it so much.

      1. Ada*

        Actually donut charts are generally better than pie charts. People are really bad at judging area compared to judging length, so donut charts usually work better in terms of giving an accurate impression of the data.

  50. Heffalump*

    Some years ago I noticed that a coworker had bruises on her face, somewhat (not completely) covered by makeup. I thought it was best to say nothing. I later got to know her outside work, and sure enough, her husband was battering her. She left him soon afterward.

  51. Former Employee*

    OP1: When people are self-conscious about something, they tend to think that everyone will notice it and that everyone will “just know” what happened.

    If I saw scars on someone’s arms, my first thought would be that they were in a car accident and their arms went through a window, resulting is some bad cuts.

    I suggest that the OP prepare a response in case someone actually asks what happened. I think that “previous medical condition resolved years ago” is always a good one.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Yeah, I might be generally aware that self-harm is one possible cause, but I wouldn’t assume or know.

      Maybe it’s being older, but I know people who have been injured in a lot of different ways and have different types of gnarly scars.

      I also mistrust people who announce that they “just know” things about others. Whether they think they’re Sherlock, or Dr House, or psychic – most of the time, they’re completely wrong and completely obnoxious.

  52. Anonymeece*

    #4 – This is a question I ask employees, or at least similar. It’s… enlightening. My employees have to be very patient, and I’ve had people flat-out tell me that they get annoyed when people don’t grasp things right away or if they feel like a person isn’t putting in the effort (which is fair, but something they’d have to get used to in my line of work).

    Generally I don’t care what the answer is, as long as it’s not something that will be a problem.

    Some examples of non-alarming answers I’ve gotten:

    – Traffic (heh)
    – When I feel I didn’t do my personal best
    – Not knowing what to do

  53. Phil*

    LW1: Is modifying how these scars look something you’d want to do? From my in-depth research (read: minutes on Google), it looks like there are some kinds of surgery that can change / remove them, as well as people who do intentional artistic scarring. That way, you might be able to make them harder to notice, or to play them off as a deliberate body modification.

    (To be clear, I’m not saying that any of this is something you _should_ do, or that any workplace should have a say in what you look like, because that’s all up to you. Just pointing out that there might be options if you were interested.)

    1. RagingADHD*

      I think recommending a self-harm survivor consider all the different ways they could cut themselves *more* is, at least, tone-deaf.

  54. Marie D*

    OP2 – just commenting to say thank you for your letter and I hope it gets easier for you. I am a first time mom, my baby arrived in September, and both me and my partner work from home, but have pretty demanding jobs. I feel immense guilt while I’m away from my baby (who I can her in the next room) while I work, and while it’s gotten easier, I still cry sometimes while pumping. Not sure if this would make it easier – but would a hands free pump (Freemie is less expensive than the others) help you multi task better during the day? Good luck :)

Comments are closed.