coworker complains non-stop, inappropriate games at happy hour, and more

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

1. My coworker complains non-stop

Most of my team is working remotely, but I’m coming in to the office. The only other person consistently here is a part-time library staff person. (My office is located in a library on a college campus, and although my role doesn’t deal with library operations at all, this person is technically part of my team.) She seems very nice … but she is also the single most negative person I’ve ever met in my life. Every single interaction is just her rambling off complaint after complaint. The library is about to be remodeled so she’s working with some staff to move all the books to another space, which I get is not a fun job, but it’s only been two weeks and I’m already incredibly tired of hearing her complain about it. I don’t think she expects me to do anything about it (I’m senior to her but I don’t supervise her), she just wants to complain. I also get the sense that the issue isn’t the work she’s doing — I think it’s just her personality.

I try to be empathetic (“oh, that’s unfortunate” or “that does sound frustrating”), but what I really want to do is find a polite way to shut it down. Important context — she’s been here 30+ years, she’s retiring in six months, and her husband is a very important faculty member who I will have to work with to get things accomplished in my role. If her husband wasn’t such an important player, I would feel more comfortable being (politely) more direct, but I feel hamstrung by the institutional politics at play. I also don’t have a ton to do right now, so I feel weird saying, “Well, I need to get back to work” when I really don’t. I’m pretty sure my boss is aware that this person is challenging based on some comments she’s made, but she isn’t here in the office to address it. Do I just need to wait it out and continue politely “uh huh”-ing her complaints for the next six months? I’m considering switching to fully remote work just to avoid her, even though I strongly prefer to come to the office.

Does your coworker definitely know you don’t have much to do? And would she know you don’t have something you need to do right then when you tell her you’ve got to focus on work? I’m asking because if you can say you’ve got things you need to focus on, that’s usually the easiest way to deal with it.

Alternately, how do you feel about wearing headphones? You could say something like, “I’m finding it easier to focus with music on, so I’m going try using headphones for a while” and see if that stops her.

Or, can you close yourself off behind a door and explain you want to be more vigilant about social distancing?

Or you could say, “With everything going on right now, I’m trying to focus only on positive things for a while. One of my goals is not to complain with coworkers, and I’ve found it’s making me feel a lot better! Thanks for understanding.” She might think you’re unbearably pollyanna-ish, but that’s okay if it gets you some peace.

2. My team plays a sexually explicit game at happy hours

My team of 10 at a marketing firm has started having monthly Zoom happy hours. Here’s the problem: my manager’s happy hour activity of choice is an adult card game that often involves very explicit descriptions of sex and politically incorrect descriptions of gender and race. I. hate. this! It’s a game I might play among friends, but with my manager and coworkers it makes me uncomfortable, and sometimes even quite upset.

Luckily, I have family commitments most days (I live with my elderly parents), so I’ve been able to skip most times. Until now. People have noticed my absence, and decided I should pick happy hour dates to ensure I can be there. I don’t want to rock the boat, and I’m loath confront my boss about how uncomfortable this game makes me. Someone high up in HR happens to be my grandboss, and he’s been known to hold quiet grudges against those who complain (bad, I know).

How do I deal with this? Are there any strategies for grinning and bearing it? Any good excuses to get me out of the next one? Help!

What the hell? If you weren’t concerned about consequences, I’d suggest pointing out that the game opens your company to legal liability if anyone feels it’s creating a hostile workplace based on sex, race, religion, etc. Your company should want to know that, not penalize the person who points it out. But if that’s risky, and it sounds like it could be, you could simply explain that you’re not personally comfortable with the game, without making it into anything larger than that:  “Oh, that game is not for me! Y’all go on.” If anyone presses you after that, you can say, “I won’t even play that game with friends outside of work (they don’t need to know that’s not true) — it makes me really uncomfortable. Go on without me and have fun.” (To be clear, you should be able to be much more direct than that! I’m suggesting this language because it sounds like you can’t.)

If you think your boss would hold even that against you, then (a) your work situation is profoundly messed up, and (b) just keep coming up with conflicts. If you’re pushed to pick a date that will work for you: “Eh, it’s hard to do, I’m on call for family stuff most of the time.” If necessary: “I can suggest a date but I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to make it when the day comes.” And then skip it.

3. Should my performance evaluation get harder every year?

I got a good performance rating this year, but lower than in previous years. The explanation my manager gave me was that I’d set higher expectations for the role with my high performance in previous years. I was wondering: is it normal for the expectations for a role to increase each year that you’re in it, if the formal job description hasn’t changed — i.e., should it be harder with each subsequent year to get a higher performance rating? This logic feels strange to me, but I don’t have much experience in a corporate environment, so I might just be new to it.

No, that is crap. Your performance should be assessed against the goals for your job for the year. By your manager’s logic, if you have a stellar year and the next year you have another one, you should get a middling performance rating, even if you’re the top performer on your team? No.

And the sheer obliviousness of doing this during such a devastating year is especially mind-blowing. Expecting someone to perform at an even higher level than they did pre-pandemic is grossly out of touch.

4. Answering questions about gender identity and surgery at work

This happened at my last job, but I’m wondering how I should have handled it. I’m out as nonbinary at work, and in life in general, and we’d just gotten a new store manager. We were in the breakroom together about three shifts after my first with her on. She asked me whether I’d had surgery, given that my chest was flat but I used masculine pronouns at the time and was assigned female at birth. I indicated I hadn’t, mostly because I had no idea how to avoid the question from a manager I didn’t know yet. She then asked about whether I planned to do so (yes), when (not for several years, due to wait lists) and how long recovery from that would take (she remarked that seemed excessive to deal with for an “unnecessary cosmetic” surgery). I was frankly so startled by the line of questioning that I just answered what she asked. I’m not wrong in assuming this was horrifically unprofessional of her, yes? And how, if a manager asks this in the future, should I respond?

Not just unprofessional, but horribly rude in any context. People don’t get to ask you intimate questions about your body just because you’re not cisgender.

If someone at work asks you anything similar in the future, manager or otherwise, you could say, “That’s very personal and it’s not something I’d like to discuss.” Or just, “Wow, that’s personal!”

5. Do I need to write a cover letter if I’ve already had an interview?

I guess I’m at that point in my career when a lot of recruiters and HR people have started to reach out to me about open positions they are looking to fill. I engage with these opportunities when they’re interested, but I’m unsure how to proceed when they ask me to submit a formal application. Usually this happens after an initial interview with the hiring manager/recruiter. At this point do I need to still submit a cover letter? It is my understanding that cover letters really serve to get you an interview in the first place. Like 99% of people, I hate writing cover letters and would love to never write one again, but I also don’t want to shoot myself in the foot to avoid such a small task. I’ve asked before if they want a cover letter and received a non-answer.

Generally, no, you don’t need to. The point of a cover letter is mostly to get you an interview. If you’ve already had an interview and are mid-process, you usually won’t need to submit a cover letter. That said, if you write a good one, it can still sometimes give you a boost in upcoming stages of the process, so I wouldn’t dismiss the idea entirely. If you know the letter you produce would be perfunctory and mostly just summarize your resume, there’s not much point. But if you can write one tailored to what you’ve already learned about the job in the initial interview, it does have the potential to have an impact.

{ 324 comments… read them below }

  1. Rose*

    Ugh. If you found out a coworker, say, had a mastectomy, would you ever corner them and ask them if they were getting implants, what cup size, when, etc? This is just really gross, invasive behavior and the fact that being non-binary is something that’s either interesting or new to a lot of people doesn’t change that in ANY way. At this point we all have Google in our pockets; being curious isn’t an excuse that even makes sense. Even if you’re not highly educated on trans ally-ship, not asking a coworker personal questions about surgery or anything to do with their underwear areas is a complete no brainer.

    1. TransmascJourno*

      I will say — as a transmasculine nonbinary person who is also AFAB, who has been asked similar questions while wearing a binder and who had no discernible chest — what that type of questioning really ends up boiling down to is questions about genitalia. It’s incredibly bizarre and jarring to go about your day in the office only to have someone basically query on whether or not you’re going to undergo a medical procedure just because a) they have an incredibly binary and rudimentary understanding of what being trans and/or nonbinary is, and b) they’ve been apparently spending a substantial amount of time thinking about your private zones while you’ve been steeping some Earl Grey in a mug or doing data entry. Exponential squick.

      1. E*

        People just need to shut the eff up sometimes!

        Rudimentary understanding? Curious about why a person would do this and that with their body but not that and this? Have pretty much ANY VIEWS AT ALL? Consider yourself super-informed or super-ready to learn?

        Keep every word to yourself, is what I’d advise the whole wide world of workplaces. Keep the questions and the views and whatnot to yourself.

      2. Nicholas C Kiddle*

        I had to correct a co-worker on my pronouns once, and although she took it exactly right, another co-worker who was nearby decided that was an excuse to start quizzing me about my body parts. Except that she couldn’t even bring herself to use actual terms, so she was saying things like “you have *vague gesture* woman parts” and trying to mouth the word “penis”. It was approximately equal parts ridiculous and annoying.

        1. TransmascJourno*

          Oh gosh, I’m so sorry. That’s absolutely horrifying. I’ve had similar things happen to me in non-work environments, but the office setting just ups the ante on it all.

        2. Ann Nonymous*

          You should have made her said the awkward outloud: “Sorry, I don’t understand.” Her: “p e n i s.” You (loudly): “You’re asking if I have a penis? Do you have one?”

      3. Trans Guy*

        Yep! People feel entitled to ask the most personal things.
        I’ve had students friend me on social media after the term ended just to ask questions about my genitals and surgeries.

        The weirdest and creepiest was right after I started binding, when my older brother asked, “What happened to your t*ts?” Gross.

    2. Observer*

      If you found out a coworker, say, had a mastectomy, would you ever corner them and ask them if they were getting implants, what cup size, when, etc?

      Given some of the letters we’ve seen here, I would have to say that for some people the answer is “yes”. Which is to say, a LOT of people seem to lack reasonable boundaries.

      is something that’s either interesting or new to a lot of people doesn’t change that in ANY way. At this point we all have Google in our pockets; being curious isn’t an excuse that even makes sense

      I think that having google in our pockets doesn’t really matter. If you did not have google it would STILL not be ok to ask. It’s rude and invasive and you have no NEED to know. Which means that if you can’t google it for some reason, too bad so sad (not.)

      1. Batgirl*

        I was just going to say this. I do know a coworker who would definitely consider it “non essential cosmetic surgery” and she would definitely quiz people about their choice to have it; part of that is she’s incredibly nosy about people’s bodies in general, no question is out of bounds. I think she believes we are all very similar so what’s the big deal; if anything is really wrong it can be fixed by talking it out (hi, ableism!); She also thinks that because she asks a lot of questions she’s informed even though she only really receives brush off responses.

        1. Artemesia*

          But why would someone quiz someone about their ‘non-essential’ cosmetic surgery in any case. Yikes.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            It sounded to me like there’s another layer of horrible to this new manager, in that they may have been fishing for “are you going to need medical leave” while rubbing it in that they find it “unnecessary”. Invasive and rude and discriminatory all at once. Manager got I’m-an-asshole tic-tac-toe.

            1. Letterwritter 4*

              Yeah, I think there’s a decent chance that was part of it. I was the only person who did certain tasks that I wouldn’t have been able to do for a bit after the surgery.

      2. Liane*

        Rose: “If you found out a coworker, say, had a mastectomy, would you ever corner them and ask them if they were getting implants, what cup size, when, etc?”

        Observer: “Given some of the letters we’ve seen here, I would have to say that for some people the answer is “yes”. Which is to say, a LOT of people seem to lack reasonable boundaries.”

        Alas, Observer isn’t wrong.
        Example 1: The 2019 Worst Boss told a report that his fellow jerks –I mean other employees — were complaining about the look of her post-mastectectomy body and she should wear a prosthetic.

        Example 2: A letter writer was tormented by workplace jerks who didn’t believe she really had breast cancer to the point she pulled up her top to show them the surgical scars. Spoiler Alert – no one on here thought she was in the wrong. (March 11, 2020 post)

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Much lesser extent; I had surgery to try and treat my endometriosis (didn’t work). My boss at the time asked a LOT of questions like ‘you sure you’re not being sterilised?’ or ‘oh you’re getting a termination?’ with added ‘I don’t support those’ just because I mentioned, once, that the surgery was a uterine one.

        I was young and didn’t know that a boss shouldn’t ask those kind of things, I just mentioned it because I’d not be able to do certain tasks straight after abdominal surgery. Nowadays I come down like a ton of corn flakes on anyone who starts asking invasive questions about other people’s organs – internal or external.

    3. Lionheart26*

      Yup. I emailed my manager a few weeks ago explaining I have a surgery coming up and will need a week recovery. No reply from manager, but not a big surprise.
      On Friday I went in to the office for the first time in months and happened to run into a co-worker. Her first words to me were “so what surgery are you getting?”. I was so shocked that I answered her, but I was pretty pissed that she asked me, and that my body is apparently a conversation piece for others.
      I’m only getting a tooth extraction, but due to some wackiness with my jaw, it’s a more complicated surgery than usual. I can only imagine how I’d feel if it were something more personal. People’s presumption that they have a right to know my medical information because we work together is just galling.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        If it happens again, just say “Oh nothing very serious” and refuse to provide any details. We are not required to answer every question we are asked.

        1. Artemesia*

          the problem of course is that ‘curious’ intrusive people will immediately speculate that it is hemorrhoid surgery or something like that and probably talk about it.

          1. Observer*


            If they are that starved for entertainment, let them talk about my mythical hemorrhoids.

            Seriously that’s not a terrible outcome.

      2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Try this: “Oh, my medical stuff is totally boring. Say, have you been following CNN’s “Lincoln” series (or fill in a show / sports team of your own choosing)?”

        Now, your personal “medical stuff” may indeed be of interest to a busybody, but if you state firmly that it’s too boring for YOU to talk about, there isn’t much that they can do about it! Even if they do continue to ask you about it, you can continue to repeat that it’s too dull to waste time discussing. They’re stonewalled and you’ve kept your own private (none-of-their-business) medical information to yourself.

    4. Dragon_dreamer*

      As someone who just had a massive reduction 3 weeks ago today, yes, yes they will ask. In my case, my very first outing post-op a couple days ago, someone cornered me to ask if it was cancer, and a whole host of invasive questions. (Apparently being size ludicrous wasn’t enough of a reason!)

      Someone online asked me the other day if I was trying to transition, and got offended when I said I wasn’t and that I still have a little chest left. (Only way to supply the grafts with a blood supply.) I am genderfluid, but my chest has never had any bearing on my gender identity. It was a reduction, not a mastectomy, but apparently some people make it their business to get offended over *everything.*

      I’m still waiting for the idiot who asks my chest size every time he asks me out and I turn him down to find out I had surgery. (Small town, it’ll eventually happen.) Multiple folks have requested video.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I’m reading that as, people want video of the idiot making a bigger arse of himself than usual when he finds out so they can laugh at him? (But maybe I’m being optimistic.)

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            Yes. There are currently bets going as to how bad his freaking out will be. Either he’ll whine or get offended, or both. Should be hilarious. Sorry that was unclear!

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Unbelievable. These nosy, overstepping bastards should have been shut down quickly. A simple “That’s not appropriate to ask” or “I’m not discussing my body, coupled with walking away, should suffice.

        1. Dragon_dreamer*

          See above, video of the tantrum/whinefest the idjit will probably indulge in. :)

    5. Brenda*

      As someone who has had a mastectomy – yes, people will ask those questions, and worse ones. Sadly, people are rude, gross and invasive about other people’s bodies in a wide range of ways and they WILL ask.

      My former colleagues had a poll on what size implants I ought to get.

      1. I Herd the Cats*

        WUT. It’s comments (and letters) like this on AAM that make me realize sometimes how lucky I am in my job. A couple of years ago in the Before Times I was out for three weeks after having a breast reduction and tummy tuck. The post-surgical difference in appearance was pretty marked, and … nobody said a word, other than welcoming me back and asking how I was doing. They also sent me an Instacart gift card right at the start of my leave so I could order groceries online.

        1. Scott*

          I only found AAM a few weeks ago and I often have a similar reaction regarding my work place. It’s hard for me to imagine many of the antics I read here occurring at my work place.

          Glad to hear you were treated respectfully.

      2. JB*

        That is absolutely egregious. I’m so sorry they thought it was appropriate to do that to you.

    6. Daisychain*

      Having had a partial mastectomy, I can confirm that sadly I have been asked all those questions by coworkers. One hounded me so much about cup size I resorted to making up a size just to get her to stop. Later I received a bag full of bras as a ” comfort gift”. I still shudder thinking about it. I donated them to a shelter, so at least some good came from it.

      1. FalafalBella*

        I think it was Dear Abby who once suggested that the appropriate answer to this (or any other intrusive) question is “Why do you need to know?”

        1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          I had a friend who taught me that line years ago. Because people will generally not admit “Because I want to run around and gossip about you to others” but can’t think of a legit reason suddenly. That 1 line helped me shut down so many conversations and draw so many boundaries. Coworkers learn pretty quickly not to bring gossip to me. “I have no reason to know this. This is something you shouldn’t even be talking about.” Once the worst of the gossips started congregating around the copier at work. Which before WFH was right outside my cubicle. Despite noise canceling headphones, I got tired of them standing around spewing vile routinely. A few of the gossips were on social media so I posted that if the gossiping about coworkers continued that I would start live twitting what was being said about who by whom and tagging the mentioned names. Suddenly no one hung out around the copier anymore.

        2. Rebecca1*

          Could be, but Judith Martin suggested my own personal favorite, “How soon do you need to know?”. I’ve actually used that one.

  2. Julia*

    OP #3–the only context I’ve heard remotely similar reasoning is in a sales role where some metrics are personalized by salesperson and take into account previous results. They might right size (aka increase) your metrics and then if you don’t meet them, that could impact a rating (average instead of a stand out rating). But, that doesn’t sound like this applies to your situation. At the company I was at with the above system, consistent performers still got very similar ratings every year.

    1. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Or if the person had been promoted from Llama Massager 2 to Llama Massager 3, sure, there are higher expectations. But same role, same salary band? That’s a can’t-win policy.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Exactly. If I’m being held to a hire standard, give me a promotion to go with it! (And the large salary boost to go with it).

    2. DistantAudacity*

      It’s done at my company (consulting), as part of your expected development. But it is clear in the expectations, and there is training, coaching and mentoring around it.

      So, you would come in as a new hire and graduate, with a set of expectations on how you go about your job. As you gain more experience, those will change focus a bit, and they need to if you wish to advance your career.
      Note: this has nothing to do with your tasks, but more on how you go about your tasks.

      E.g. early in your career you would be expected to notify your team lead if you find an issue (and not just let it simmer until it can’t be fixed). Later, you would be expected to identify possible solutions before bringing it to your lead, or – depending on the problem – have tried to solve it yourself before bringing it up, etc.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I don’t think the letter is about expectations changing as your role increases in responsibility, it sounds like they had the same job and role as they did last year.

    3. Snow Globe*

      The only way I can think this makes sense is if the person is brand new in the role. During the first year they might be given artificially lower goals because it is understood that there will be a learning curve, but the next year the goals are raised to the ‘normal’ level for the job. .

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        It doesn’t make sense, but I’ve seen it happen to. The problem is the phrase “exceeds expectations”. Some managers simply have an unreasonable expectation–for example that ‘constant improvement” can increase efficiency indefinitely.

        1. Tired of Covid-and People*

          I detest “exceeds expectations”, it is meaningless like most performance management jargon. Every rating official has their own opinion about what this means. My rating official has a philosophy that no one reporting to him can receive a higher rating than he does. He only gets mediocre ratings so everyone reporting to him does also. He thinks everyone should get an acceptable rating and if it is above that, recognition via performance awards. The problem is, the system doesn’t work that way, in the event of layoffs those with higher performance evaluations get bonus points added to their retention score. So, ratings matter in this system. This man is a hopeless case.

        2. Carlie*

          There was a comic strip about this once. Employee got “meets expectations”, listed everything they did above and beyond, and the boss kept saying “Yes, I expected that”.

          1. Scott*

            I literally lost my previous job because of that. “Well, you always exceed expectations, so that’s the baseline for you!” I was still punching down T-rexes for the job, but now I was expected to punch down skyscrapers. They gave me a bunch of 2s and told me to walk. :/

        3. Cat Tree*

          Where I work, we are compared to others at our same job level across the department (a few dozen people). I know some people will recoil in horror at that idea, but I think it’s more fair. It’s not left up to the whims of the manager’s “expectations” for the role.

        4. Quill*

          Sadly most of our corporate culture seems to expect exponential growth, which is just not physically possible.

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        That happened to me at my job, I generally get a 3/5 in my performance reviews which is what most people get I think–you have to be pretty terrible to get a 2 and a 5 is nearly unheard of. My first year I got a 4 and they were pretty explicit in my review that year that it was because I performed beyond what they expected for someone coming straight out of school.

        1. MCMonkeybean*

          I want to add that I think my job actually does a really great job of laying out what the “expectations” are at every level. A few years back they came out with this sort of booklet that lays it out. Makes it much easier to write your self-evaluations every year.

          The bummer was when I learned it is basically graded on a curve though and managers can basically only give out so many 4’s each year. From what I’ve seen recently I guess that is pretty common though. I’ve just decided to be fine with getting a 3 forever…

          1. CatsOnAKeyboard*

            I’ve worked at an organization with the ‘you can only give out so many 4s’ – so the manager has to basically pick and choose each year who gets the high marks. It’s awful and makes no sense, because a manager can spend years curating her team to get the best possible people in the roles … and then can’t recognize them appropriately. And it was particularly bad because raise percentages (between 1-3%, so not huge raises) were tied to those metrics.

            1. Femme Cassidy*

              My dad used to work as a manager at a large company that did evaluations that way, and he hated it for exactly the reasons you lay out here. I don’t understand why places do that.

              1. KHB*

                Because there’s not enough money to give everybody the highest raise? That’s usually what it comes down to.

          2. Nerfmobile*

            My company has a disconnect in the official HR line on this and actual practice. According to HR, there is no curve and people should be evaluated on their own merits. But in practice, every year I hear from executives and senior management that there are too many people with 4s and 5s and can we please bump some of them down. T sucks, because it’s actually a real disincentive to managers to keep investing in and growing the skills of people on their team. My company tends to have people who stick around a long time in the same or similar roles, and it would be entirely possible as a manager to have a whole team of very experienced, very high-performing people. To be forced to move a bunch of them down to average, or even worse, would be very demoralizing to everyone.

          3. MassMatt*

            It is common, and it’s terrible. Having a 5 point scale and basically having 85% of your people shoehorned into one of the ratings makes for pretty meaningless ratings.

            I grew tired of the excuse that “3” was actually an excellent rating “because we have such high standards” with an old employer who did this. I was a high producer, got advanced certifications, volunteered for lots of special projects, trained people etc, and was getting the same rating (and meager salary increases) as very mediocre employees, so I left. Other high performers did too.

            1. Mr. Shark*

              Yup. We have the same system. You can only have so many 4s, and each year all the managers get together and compare those employees in similar positions and decide who to give 4s to.
              And depending on your manager, they may fight for you, or not. And each manager has different ideas of what a 4 is. So a 4 in one group may just be a 3 in another group because of your manager.
              I got 4s a lot with one manager, and then he left, and I got a different manager, and I only get 3s doing the same thing.
              So big surprise, I now do 3 quality work, and I figure I’m never going to get higher so why push for it?

    4. On Fire*

      OldJob did the same thing OP is describing. “If you do the same thing you did last year, that’s just what’s expected. You have to grow and improve and do more.”
      I’m rating 10/10 in every category. There are x hours in a week. How exactly am I supposed to do more, when I’m already achieving everything you’re assigning me, and excelling at self-assigned reach projects?
      That job was a management train wreck anyway. I was floating on air when I left it.

      1. Antilles*

        To me, it’s also strange because a lot of jobs just don’t have the room to dramatically change within the same role. Either because of bureaucracy/management limitations or simply because the duties of the job don’t allow for it – if your role is IT software installation, there’s a hard limit on how much “growth” you can show simply because the process for installing software is pretty well established.

      2. Liz*

        This used to be a really common thing in factories a few decades ago (not sure about now). Periodically, management would come in, see how productive everyone was, then hold up the best and fastest employee as an example and declare this was now the BARE MINIMUM of acceptable productivity, so everybody now had to work that much harder to keep their jobs. It was a painfully exploitative practice but it wouldn’t surprise me if some places still subscribe to this model.

      3. Charlotte Lucas*

        I worked somewhere similar. Reviews were done “on a curve,” so only one or two people on any team would get the highest rating. My team was very small, & it was the same person every time. And your rating wasn’t comparing your performance to the position goals/requirements. It was comparing your performance to your perceived skills & abilities. So, a person who had less skill would have lower expectations to meet for a good review. I worked in a small, high-performing team. We have all left the company.

      4. pbnj*

        My current manager also is like this. I’m mid-level and at the point where there’s not going to be noticeable step increase in my performance, maybe I get slightly better at a task or handling people, but it’s not going to be
        as pronounced as an entry level person. She’s the only manager at my company who says they do this, so I guess she picked it up from a previous employer. While it is frustrating that people in other departments can get exceeds expectations, it doesn’t make much difference to my pay, so it’s not the end of the world. The sad thing is that it backfired on her since she removed the incentive for folks to go above and beyond.

    5. BethDH*

      Many jobs have some sort of “growth” expectation built in even if it’s not sales. I wonder if OP might want to revisit their job description and how that translates into goals with their boss.
      The other likely thing this year unfortunately is that if their org has raises tied to performance review they might be artificially lowering them in a bad year. That’s lousy (if they can’t do raises as usual, they should just tell you) but seems very possible. OP might be able to figure it out by asking a colleague who’s been there longer.

    6. Feotakahari*

      Sea Org does this too. The point seems to be that if you’re always working to beat your previous record, you’re too exhausted to do anything other than work.

    7. TootsNYC*

      The OP’s situation, and even a sales person’s, is sort of equivalent to the idea of spending all your budget, even if you don’t need to, so that they don’t cut it for next year, when you DO need it.

      There is going to come a point when even your best salesperson can’t increase sales.

      I always have problem with this for the guy who works for me. He does his job very well. It’s not really all that possible to do it better. Anything I come up with will be make-work for the sake of appearances.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I’m realizing I didn’t say what I wanted in my last paragraph:
        The review software always asks us to identify ways to improve. I can’t ever suggest any to him, because there isn’t really that much legitimate room for improvement.

  3. V.*

    #2 – I’m wondering whether you could suggest a different (and more work-appropriate) game or activity when you suggest a new date? It might be easier in this situation to express enthusiasm for a new game instead of directly speaking out about the current one.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      I second this. Enthusiastically suggest a new game you’re SO excited about. Novelty will often do the trick, for toddlers and equally immature adults alike.

    2. NYWeasel*

      Something that worked really well at our department’s Xmas party was using Kahoot to create a trivia game/ice breaker. Everyone answered the same very open-ended prompt and then people guessed who answered that way. It gave everyone a reason to chat, and there was fun competition to win the top prize.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Probably not a good game for people who are primed with the game already described. I’d even hesitate to go for Apples to Apples. I’d go for something really structured, like Cranium or trivia answering.

    3. I Herd the Cats*

      I came on here to recommend Jackbox Games which is an online game suite and you can play in Zoom. We do this sometimes on our social “happy hours” for work. But, honestly …. if the game OP is referencing is CAH, I’m really struggling to wrap my mind around that. It’s so incredibly inappropriate for a workplace game I wonder what’s going on with that team / workplace. My boss (the CEO) has a wicked sense of humor, as do I, and if either of us got wind that was being played on a work Zoom we’d shut that down in a heartbeat.

        1. Mockingjay*

          There’s a plethora of other games like CAH. While fun with friends, these do not belong at work. Sigh.

          1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

            CAH is just “offensive Apples to Apples”. AFAIK CAH was the first, or at least the most popular by far, in that sub-sub-genre.

        2. Autumnheart*

          I was thinking CAH as well.

          I’ve played that game several times and had a lot of fun doing it, but after that, you kinda get to know the cards well enough to anticipate them, and boy, that game depends an awful lot on punching down. “Ha ha slavery mixed with gay sex! Doesn’t that make a funny hand?” Then 2016 rolls around and boy, turns out the things that CAH makes fun of are actually not even remotely funny. They’re really dangerous and get people killed. I’m not blaming the game creators for not predicting the future, but CAH is basically White Privilege, The Game, and after 2016 it’s really hard to find the humor in a game where a lot of the jokes that come up are really terrible things happening to people right in your own town.

          So if people are playing that game at work events in 2021, uh, someone’s judgment is really out of whack.

          1. MCL*

            This exactly describes my issue with CAH. Too much punching down, there is enough of that negative energy out there already. And as you say, anyone playing that game or similar games at work has very poor judgement. I would be extremely uncomfortable participating in that game or even watching it being played. I don’t even really like playing it with friends any more.

          2. Artemesia*

            First time I played it was when someone got it as a holiday gift and we were with our son’s Jewish in laws. I was appalled to have a hand in which I was supposed to do something funny with auschwitz.

          3. Joielle*

            Yeah – when CAH first came out a decade ago, my friends and I played it ALL THE TIME and it was hilarious, for a while. In the intervening years, it has become markedly less funny… both because the shock value of the cards wears off, and because we’re all a lot more sensitive to the punching down aspect. Anyone who’s still enthusiastic about CAH after living through the past 5 years is pretty insensitive and I seriously question their judgment.

            1. Sunny*

              There’s a “family” version that’s still fun. It basically replaces all the shock-value stuff with toilet humor; we edited out the worst of the toilet humor, because the youngest of the people playing is 16 and “haha farts” stopped being a good joke a while back, and use it for family game time sometimes. (You can still end up in some wildly inappropriate places, but it’s a lot easier to avoid – the cards don’t push you in that direction, it’s just that questions like “What’s Dad doing in the garage?” can have some rather adult answers.)

          4. Nonny today*


            In the Before Times, I noped out of playing CAH at parties because it hurts to hear my friends saying awful things or to be in a situation where I need to optimize the humor value of combinations of awful things. Bringing it into a workplace makes it even worse, because these are people you need to work with and who may have authority over people whose stereotypes are considered funny in these games. You shouldn’t need to wonder who actually agrees with the stereotypes and tropes and who is just going along to get along even though it goes against their principles.

            This is amazingly inappropriate for work. Good grief!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        We have a semi regular game of ‘Quiplash’ , which is a ‘supply a funny answer and others vote’ at work out of hours. The game itself doesn’t have rules but we’ve got an informal ‘swearing okay, slurs are not’ rule.

        Even that has caused a few ‘whoa dude not okay’ moments (to their immense credit the one responsible did apologise and behave better).

        I cannot play CAH. There’s too many possible triggers for me.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I am so so sick of CAH. I feel like its all anyone wanted to play anymore (back when we could gather and play games). I found it funny about once, but it doesn’t require any real skill or creativity to win – some cards are just always the ‘winning’ cards because they are the most outrageous. I have so much more fun playing Apples to Apples, because you really have to creatively work to come up with funny combinations. I was really hoping that everyone would be over it by the time the world opened back up again.

        1. Reba*

          I hate it so much! It’s not even funny; the only joke is “this is the most disgusting/offensive card.”

          When I was in grad school my cohort got in a bit of a rut with it (in part bc it’s a game where you can have a lot of players) and finally I got tired of semi-politely going through it and let everyone know that we didn’t all have to do the same thing at the same time and did anyone want to play Carcassone. Embrace the buzzkill :D

          Anyway, I know there are risks to swimming against the current in the kind of work setting the OP is in, but I am confident that if she says something about the game she will *not* be the only one who is happy not to play it anymore!

          1. Nessun*

            I never understood the humor in CAH. I played once, because my excuse “I don’t like it” kept getting countered with “But you’ve never played” – it was exactly as excruciating as I thought it would be, and when people realized I was not enjoying it (and they weren’t enjoying playing with me because I was equal parts upset and embarrassed by it), they finally understood my perspective. If someone at work suggested it for a group event, I’d bow out, and also have a discussion with our event planners about how badly the game reflects against our values.

        2. SeanT*

          Our Auto Win was always when you played “Sean Penn” on the card asking “What did Sean Penn airdrop onto the survivors of an earthquake”

          For Apples to Apples, “Raging Rhinos” always wins, no matter what. lol

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Me and my mates played it once. Then broke out the Munchkin cards but imho that game is way funnier.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            *because. Not but. I love Munchkin. There are a couple of maybe offensive cards but in the majority it’s just Cthulhu and mice.

      3. TechWriter*

        Yeah, I think Jackbox would go over well; the people I know who love CAH (barf) also love Jackbox.

        Some of the games have the potential to veer into NSFW territory, depending on the group, but at least it’s not the whole conceit of the game.

        1. MCL*

          Yeah, I think if Jackbox had some ground rules that everyone adhered to it’s lower risk. It much more depends on inputs from the players, where CAH is all input from the cards. So as long as the players are following established group rules it could be a lot easier. Someone needs to pay for a Jackbox license but those aren’t that expensive.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Yep. We play Quiplash after hours at work sometimes, and I’m setting up a family game. We have a rule set that’s sent around before the work ones that includes:

            Profanity ok
            Slurs are not
            Don’t use it to hurl personal insults at other members of staff.

            The family one is gonna be stricter. I’m 40+ and still get yelled at if I swear in front of my mother :p

        2. Bear Shark*

          My department used Jackbox for a team event. I wished there had been ground rules provided because some of my coworkers were pushing hard on the line of NSFW on some of the games.

      4. Dove*

        I was just coming here to say that yeah, the game being referenced *has* to be CAH and ye gods and little fishes, it could not be more inappropriate for a workplace game. I’m reluctant to even play it in social settings! It’s a game that’s *heavily* dependent on having exactly the right mix of people and being willing to toss out cards that are reliant on shock value for their humour.

        Using Jackbox Games’ suite for the party games is a good idea, though. It gives the opportunity to vary the games up a bit, so that you’re not always playing the exact same thing every time, and most of them are more family friendly. …not that it’s hard to be *more* family-friendly than CAH.

    4. BRR*

      It’s an opportunity to be able to utilize the pandemic. “I’ve been eager to try X but it’s been hard to arrange a group due to covid, would we be able to play it during the next happy hour?”

    5. Venus*

      I was going to suggest that the OP ask for no cards as they haven’t socialized in a while and want to catch up on personal updates, but I like the suggestion of a safer card game that will involve very friendly personal trivia details that are likely to prompt conversation. The workplace seems very enthusiastic about games so best to accept that and plan accordingly.

    6. WorkingGirl*

      Right. Apples to Apples instead of what I’m guessing is Cards Against Humanity? Similar concept but much more PG right?

    7. LQ*

      Agreed. I’m assuming that the game is cards against humanity, suggesting a new game is a good one. It’s a game that people play to be “edgy” but if you come at it with enthusiasm for something else you’re far more likely to be successful than just shutting this one down. Genuine enthusiasm is a great antidote for disaffected edge. I’d also suggest something that’s pretty significantly different and not just the SFW version of this game.

    8. Smithy*

      Completely agree with this approach, when it may very well be that the OP is looking to preserve their professional capital for other issues at work.

      While other commenters have given great options for pre-baked options, one thing that I found that worked very well at a recent office Zoom happy hour event was a scavenger hunt that involved a number of tasks where you had 30/60 seconds to run around and find your the best match possible in your house. It seemed to be pretty well appreciated and was nice to have a Zoom activity that involved a little movement.

      1. linger*

        Sounds a bit like the initial “item” round of Taskmaster.
        Each week, ask some (randomly-selected, but then pre-warned) subset of coworkers to find & demonstrate, for group discussion and comparison, their (for example)
        * best item of clothing
        * kitchest item
        * most beautiful picture
        etc, you get the idea, some (poorly-defined, and thus subject to debate, extreme quality) (general and easily-exemplifiable class of object).

    9. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes Jackbox has been my family salvation during the past year of zoom hangouts only; there’s enough variety to the games and the games are infinitely replayable enough that you could do it once a week and it never gets old. I would also recommend Wavelength, which is a physical board game but absolutely 100% perfect for playing over zoom.

      My only suggestion would be to change the phrase “it makes me uncomfortable” to “I don’t enjoy it.” Saying that something makes you uncomfortable will inspire countless arguments for why it shouldn’t. Saying that you don’t enjoy something can be more final and inarguable, and doesn’t inspire the douchier of your coworkers to explain to you why you’re being a weenie.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        There’s, if I remember rightly, a ‘give a presentation’ game that has another person coming up with the topic and random pictures that you have to work into the theme. It’s very dependent on the audience but we’ve got a number of great public speakers and/or standup comics in the team so it got major applause the one time we did it.

        Mine was on ‘why the moon is a lie’ and my coworker gave me pictures of a) a dog, b) a skeleton and c) a bowl of lemons.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          I would love to hear more about this game if you have a name for it or rules you can refer me to – I think it’d be a big hit with some of my social groups that have been struggling for “something to do” in an online environment rather than in-person.

          1. OP#2*

            My scientific society did something similar for incoming society presidents. They were given a powerpoint deck of 10 slides taken randomly from presentations throughout the meeting, then put on a stage and asked to give a coherent presentation from those 10 slides, without having seen them before. In front of an audience of about 500 people.

            It was hilarious, and they pulled it off extremely well. We called it “scientific karaoke”.

    10. Cascadia*

      I agree! When you want to switch the activity, come with a new activity. I’d say something like “I can do Wednesday for happy hour. I actually don’t enjoy X game, but I’ve really been wanting to play ____ game. Can we play that instead for this session?” That way, you’re not saying it has to be forever, and you’re mixing it up. Even if your coworkers all love CAH (which I’m guessing this is), it gets boring to play the same game every single time, no matter what game it is. I bet a lot of people would be excited to do something different just for the novelty of it. I have to run a zoom with middle and high school students as a teacher. Some of our favorites have been (pictionary online – you can even put in custom words), Scattergories online (swellgarfo), and Among us. Jackbox games, especially the drawing one, has been super fun with my friends.

    11. ImOnlyHereForThePoetry*

      There is an online game called Not All Bad cards which is a SFW version of CAH. It’s fun and there are a ton of different card packs you can use.

    12. Some dude*

      Also, it sounds like you are playing Cards Vs. Humanity, a game that should only be played by groups of 19 year olds in a dorm in 2010. My local game store actually got rid of all their CvsH stock and stopped carrying it because the company and the people involved in it turned out (shocks of all shocks) to be deeply problematic.

      1. Nonny today*

        And it’s sufficiently mainstream by now that TARGET had it last year (my last Target trip before deciding to try curbside pickup). That was pretty unexpected!

  4. Proofin’ Amy*

    I agree. I am assuming that the game referred to is Cards Against Humanity. Apples to Apples is essentially the same gameplay without the problematic content. Or how about a nice game of Fluxx?

    1. Analyst Editor*

      I Grew on proposing something else. However Apples to Apples is boring and has maybe three interesting cards which aren’t even that funny after being played twenty times in a row.
      CAH is not for everyone and also gets old (I played it into oblivion after a while), and not the game I’d choose in the workplace.

      At the same time, I don’t think under any circumstance LW should get on their high horse about hostile environments, and either – without complaining – say she can’t play then or say the game makes her uncomfortable, or bow out entirely, since this sounds like an optional social event anyway.

      1. Marni*

        It’s a “high horse” to be uncomfortable with coworkers throwing around jokes about anal sex and lynchings?
        CAH is so inappropriate at a work event.

      2. Observer*

        Look, I agree that the OP needs to be careful and may just need to find some reasons to just bow out.

        But, if the description of CAH is not exaggerated, it’s just wildly inappropriate. Given that it’s TECHNICALLY voluntary but there is pressure to attend, that makes it all the worse.

        1. curly sue*

          It’s definitely not exaggerated, is extraordinarily inappropriate, and can be screamingly funny played in the right environment, with close friends whose senses of humour are compatible with yours. The goal is essentially to find the most extreme ways to shock and offend, and even the most benign cards can be deployed to horrific purpose with the right combination on the table.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          The description of CAH is not exaggerated. I won’t play it in any context, and would leave the room when my friends pulled it out at game day. Apples 2 Apples took over once the kids started attending, thankfully.

        3. JM in England*

          The word for “TECHNICALLY voluntary but there is pressure to attend” is “voluntold”….

        4. Sylvan*

          The description of CAH is right on. It’s wildly inappropriate (and that’s kind of the point, and it’s really funny), but even playing with friends, I take some cards out of the deck… It shouldn’t be played at work at all.

        5. Xenia*

          CAH is wildly inappropriate at best, and extremely offensive/triggering at worst. How did anyone think it would be an appropriate workplace activity?!

      3. MsM*

        Funny, I was going to say that depending on the group you’re with, Apples to Apples can be every bit as dangerous as CAH. Which is exactly why I wouldn’t suggest it for a work event, either. Maybe OP could try Codenames?

        1. Mongrel*

          Any of the Munchkin games may be worth trying as well. They’re very competitive (to the point of ludicrousness sometimes) but they’re work-safe and they come in a whole range of themes so you should be able to find something to please most people

        2. Ariaflame*

          There’s an online version of Codenames too, so you can actually play it online easily.

        3. Shenandoah*

          Poetry for Neanderthals is another one that’s easily adaptable to a online environment.

      4. PspspspspspsKitty*

        CAH is sexist, racist, sexually explicit, makes fun of war and terrorist crimes, and turns victims into jokes. It’s not appropriate at work. If looking at porn, making sexually comments (even if it’s only talking about your own sex life) can get HR involved, then CAH definitely does not need to be played at a work event. There’s no high horse here. It’s wrong. If people want to play that outside of work in their private lives, that’s ok but that’s private. She certainly can make a complaint about it.

        1. What the what*

          I agree with Pspspskitty, and I would go even farther and say that more people should think about how “ok” it is in their private lives too. My sense of humor is considered pretty dark by those who know me, and I’m far from the most considerate and careful person in my language, but I will leave a room if this is being played.

          The game was created fundamentally for straight, cis, white nondisabled people (mostly men) to have a free pass to engage in the titillation of publicly making fun of other groups. The makers assume that including cards making fun of white people, men, etc., evens the playing field, with no sense that hurling fastballs at someone wearing kevlar armor is a whole lot different from hurling them at someone who isn’t.

          The game implicitly promotes the reasoning of those people who say, “It’s OK that I make racist and sexist jokes and am otherwise an asshole to women/people of color/LBGTQ+ people, because I’m just an asshole to everybody, that’s who I am.” It also promotes the idea that it’s funny and outrageous to say these things about the less powerful as long as they aren’t there in the room with you, or that if your One Black Friend is playing along, that makes it ok.

          People can “Lighten up, Francis” me all they want: whatever stress release it might provide for some is not worth the attitude it demonstrates and perpetuates.

      5. Frankie Derwent*

        Apples to apples can be fun but I guess that depends on your group. We play it at work and we do enjoy it. Anyway, it’s beside the point, which is that CAH is inappropriate for a work activity.

        1. GothicBee*

          Yeah, Apples to Apples will heavily depend on the group who’s playing as to whether it’s fun. I’ve played it at a couple workplaces and remember one time it was pretty awful because everyone in the group seemed to have such wildly different senses of humor (and several of the people were big on just picking the most logical answer, which takes the fun out of coming up with an answer).

          That said, I don’t know if I’d necessarily suggest Apples to Apples as a replacement for CAH (if that’s what the game is). Since CAH is just a more extreme Apples to Apples, I think the group may end up being disappointed with Apples to Apples. I’d probably go with a completely different game to avoid the comparison.

      6. Crivens!*

        I’ve got a CAH deck that I play with friends, after removing any card that would punch down at any group we don’t belong to or would upset my friends, who I know very well (plus we went through the deck together). But even then I wouldn’t play at work. It just isn’t appropriate and does indeed create a hostile environment.

        1. ThatGirl*

          And your friends appreciate your curated CAH deck – but even then it’s only appropriate with people you know well and are very comfortable with!! :)

        2. Nea*

          I’ve done that with Red Flags and What Do You Meme – gone through the cards and pulled anything that would ruin the mood at a party.

          At private parties we’ve replaced CAH with Bards Dispense Profanity, which has a Shakespeare quote for all the answer cards. But even that’s pretty raunchy for work.

      7. Firecat*

        Wow. I love me some CAH but would be super uncomfortable doing it at a work context.

        I don’t want to explain to HR the reasoning of any of my answers… That alone is reason enough to not play at work. I’d also worry about offending someone. Especially race or gender based. What if someone thought I really felt that way?

        No thanks. Not at work.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Even among my (diverse!) group of friends, when we played, we often had to be like, “This does not represent my personal worldview” while laying our hand down because the hand was just THAT cringey.

      8. boop the first*

        I always found that the joy and challenge of apples/apples! Everyone wants to make a funny, edgy joke, but in apples/apples you have to work harder for it and actually be clever about it.
        The first time we played CAH, it felt like there was no choice, no skill, no thought in the matter. You could put down anything and other people would snicker, but most of the time, you have a hand full of cards you can’t use because they’re disgusting.

    2. MBK*

      I’ve played CAH with coworkers and colleagues who happen to be friends, but never (ever, EVER) in a work related setting – even a work happy hour or a conference social activity – and I can’t imagine how anyone could think it was even remotely OK to do so.

      1. Lionheart26*

        Agree. Old-work used to do an annual family camping weekend, which sounds horrific but was actually quite fun (totally optional and no organised mandatory activities). One night someone brought out CAH after the kids had gone to bed, and I agreed to play. But then my manager and some coworkers I didn’t know well joined and it just became…..awkward AF. Never again.

        1. Trotwood*

          The first team I was on at my current company was definitely on the rowdy side (albeit in a fairly conservative industry) and CAH came out at a happy hour…one experience with that was definitely enough. I vividly remember one of the managers pressuring a young employee to read one of the sexually explicit cards out loud and how obviously uncomfortable she was. Any surprise that that manager was later fired for his ongoing inappropriate behavior?

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      OP — are there are any employees who join the game that you’re close to or trust? Perhaps you could check in with them and ‘take the temperature’ of how much everyone seems invested in the game (eg, are all your colleagues really enthused participants, or are 1/2 vocal people really pushing the game?)

      You might be able to band together and suggest another game under the guise of wanting variety.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      Exploding Kittens is quite good, too, and I think there’s a similar one with unicorn cards.

      You could just say that you aren’t very into CAH and would rather play something else, here, how about [whatever], it’ll be so fun? Honestly I would be surprised if this entire group is so wedded to CAH that this would be a problem, and if you keep the tone positive then it shouldn’t come off as complaining.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        Seconding the recommendation to swap the game, and Exploding Kittens does have an app version (not free though as far as I know) which makes it suitable for remote play.

      2. Allonge*

        Yes, that would be my way forward, too – to say, hey, CAH is not my jam, can we do something else, e.g. [whatever]? It has the added value of providing an explanation as to why you are not attending, without bringing up the questionable wisdom of playing such a game in a work setting.

    5. Patty Mayonnaise*

      I personally wouldn’t suggest Apples to Apples as it would make it obvious what the LW is trying to do and they might get the same pushback as if they had said they were offended. But suggesting a whole new game is a great idea!

      1. Prague*

        Yeah, but LW has family commitments. So “young kids will be in the room on my end this one time that I can make it” (if not a parent themselves, can be nieces, nephews, young cousins, young neighbors) is a great excuse for a swap. Or “my super-religious mother-in-law” or “my prim grandmother we are convinced hatched all of her children.”

        Of course, it’s both a reason to ask for AtoA / an alternative game…or to look visibly frazzled and need to leave to go handle family issues.

    6. Koalafied*

      I’m guessing they’re playing some kind of online version of the game? A game that relies on a physical deck of cards being dealt out, as well as requiring cards to be put into a pool without identifying who added each card, seems logistically impossible if it’s not facilitated by some kind of virtual gameplay framework. So any game she suggests as an alternative is one that either doesn’t rely on a card deck, or has a free virtual way to play.

      1. Smithy*

        This is what I was thinking – and would present the biggest problem in “just changing to Apples to Apples”. I imagine part of the appeal is that CAH has an online version where no one needs to do work/prep.

        At this point, I do think there are more resources out there around Zoom games that could be found that might help the OP in coming up with an alternative suggestion.

    7. Wintermute*

      There’s at least a dozen games I can name off the top of my head that qualify. I worry by zeroing in on CAH we’re kind of limiting the applicability of the advice.

      I think a bigger obstacle is the group is now “primed” for that sort of fun– whatever the game is, there’s plenty of games that CAN be clean or can be very blue depending on the mindset of people going in, and if they’re primed for a raunchy game night, you may find it hard to redirect that easily because they’ll take the low road every time when given a game that lets you have the option. This is a culture problem, not a problem with the game itself.

    8. Autumnheart*

      I really like the game Dixit. I think it would make a good work game. The premise is that everyone is dealt a hand of cards, and one person comes up with a clue to describe the card they’re going to play. Then everyone chooses a card out of their own hand that *could* match that clue. They hand them in face-down to the active player, who lays them out, and then everyone has to guess which one was the active player’s card. Points are given based on whose cards are picked as the answer.

      It’s a really cool game because the illustrations on the cards (all G-rated) are kind of neat in a surrealistic way, symbolic and thought-provoking, and it’s also a good all-ages game.

  5. Jay*

    #2: If you are in a position where just saying that you don’t want to be a part of the game night or that you don’t like the game can get you in trouble, can you try pitching it as a weird personal quirk?
    Like “Oh, that kind of game is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. No real reason why, they’ve always been like that. You know, like how some people don’t like dogs, or cherry ice cream. I don’t want to rain on anyone else’s good times, so I’m just going to bow out.”
    The fact that you don’t really like gross stuff SHOULDN’T be your problem, but it looks like, in this situation, it, unfortunately, is.

    #3: I’ve had bosses try this crap on me before. If it works, it’s a great way to keep your top performers killing themselves while never having to pay them for all that they do above and beyond requirements. Sadly, I usually fell for it.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Re: 2 —

      I think this is also a situation where a little fibbing isn’t a terrible thing if you think it would go over better than a decline.

      “I played this once at a party and it devolved into a huge fight, now I avoid it.”
      “Happy to join if it’s just chatting, but I really don’t like card games”
      “My friends used to play this at work but they ended up getting their heads bit off by HR, and the experience soured me on it.”

      To be clear — I think it would be fine to be direct, but if you’re uncomfortable with that, you don’t necessarily owe them directness in an enviornment that doesn’t reward and encourage it.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’d probably go with ‘My mates played this at work and got in horrible trouble with HR so I’m not willing to try it’.

        Even if HR themselves were joining in I’d still say that. If it’s the card game I’m thinking of it’s too easy to degenerate into ‘let’s see what everyone’s triggers are’ which is a horrible environment.

      2. EPLawyer*

        I would not mention HR. HR is probably already aware of it. It will sound like complaining HR is not doing their job — which will lead to retaliation against OP. “Oh you thought CAH was too extreme, what about that episode of [insert tv show here] you mentioned. That offended Fergus. Going to have put a reprimand in your file.” Would that be reasonable? No. But HR is already NOT reasonable.

        Suggesting another game or always being too busy are the best alternatives. You need something really structured though. As mentioned above, this group will probably find it HILARIOUS to even turn Go Fish into something sexually explicit.

    2. BS*

      I’m sorry LW#2 is being pressured to join happy hour. I’d hate to work someplace where simply saying, “I don’t feel like it,” wouldn’t be an acceptable excuse

  6. Birch*

    For #2 the approach depends on whether you want to attend the happy hours at all or not. If not, continue using family obligations as an excuse and make it clear that you are generally not available for socializing outside of work. Some people will be weird about that, but it’s a boundary you’ll have to draw. But if you do want to attend but are put off by just the game, say that! Say you’re uncomfortable with that particular game and would rather play something else, then suggest another game. Either way you’re making it more clear what your actual dealbreakers are and avoiding people coming up with ways around them like they are now by suggesting that you choose the times.

    1. Reba*

      I wonder if it would work for OP to “drop by” the happy hours to say hello, basically put in an appearance, and then as soon as a game is suggested, oops there’s the oven timer, or my kid’s crying, or my Zumba class, got to go!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Have to say this would be my approach. Come and make myself “visible” for the opening bit of the Happy Hour, and just as whatever card game this is comes out – kid blows up in the background or some other preplanned diversion that someone else in the house triggers for you (preferably loudly enough that it gets picked up by your mic) to get you out of the game. Then it’s, oh man, sorry gotta run.

      2. Cat Tree*

        The benefit of having a cat is that he gets fed at 5 p.m. so I have a hard stop. I can also pretend he’s puking if I need to get out of something at a different time, but I try not to overuse that one.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I think my cat reads AAM. I read your response and 5 seconds later he yarked up a hairball onto my computer desk…

          1. Cat Tree*

            My cat is apparently reading it too. I was just thinking about how great it is that he rarely pukes (my previous cat puked all the time), and he decided to puke on my carpet. I honestly can’t remember the last time he puked but it must have been over a year ago.

  7. Anono-me*

    OP 1 – The headphones thing really worked well for me. I used it when working the same office with a very loud and grumpy complainer.

    I wore headphones all day. I never responded to the grumpy person’s first or second grump. I waited until they raised their voice to get my attention. Then I would press the stop button on my Walkman (I’m old.), remove my headphones and in a pleasant tone say “I’m sorry. Were you talking to me? Could you repeat that please?” It quickly became too much work to grump at me.

    Confession, I never turned the music on.

    1. OP #1*

      Headphones are sadly not a workable solution for me because of the nature of my job – I need to be available to students if they drop by, and I need to seem welcoming and not make them feel like they’re interrupting me. I close the door whenever I can get away with it, but she’ll just come knock or save up all her complaints for when my door is open again. Quite often she’ll have one or two useful tidbits of information buried amongst her complaints, so that makes it harder to shut down as well.

      1. Gettoffmylawn*

        Shes probably my age (over 60) and moving books all day every day for the past two weeks. I’d be grumpy and negative too. In your down time perhaps you can help her. Just saying, have a little empathy. She’s retiring soon. What an awful way to spend the last few months of a career.

        1. OP #1*

          My letter was submitted about 2 months ago; the books have all been moved at this point and she is still finding things to complain about. The weather, politics, her children, occasionally the students, the fact that someone sent her a sympathy card when her dog died, the list goes on and on. As I mentioned in the letter, it wasn’t the work she was doing, it’s just her personality. Other colleagues have commented on it as well in passing – I’ve realized that everyone just knows that “Lisa” is A Complainer and we just put up with it as best we can.

          1. EPLawyer*

            Four months to go until she retires. Just use the “gotta go, work to do” excuse as much as possible. Or use Alison’s other approach which I am a big fan of: you are an anthropologist studying the strange life form known as “The Complainer.” Just take mental notes and then roll your eyes until you can see your brain when she is gone.

            1. OP #1*

              Yeah that’s been my general response! Things are getting a big busier now so it’s easier for me to use work as an excuse. It also seems to help if I remain seated at my desk and partially turned toward my desk, and occasionally do some typing/mouse clicking while she talks. This is harder when she knocks on my closed door and I have to get up and open it – the door locks automatically when fully closed – but I’ve just been trying to move back to my desk rather than stand at the door while she blathers. We’re both vaccinated through work, so I still try to keep as close to 6 feet between us as possible but she’s not as vigilant and will sometimes stand within 3 feet of me unless I’m actually at my desk. She does still talk to me when I’m at my desk, but will usually keep it more brief.

            2. Sue*

              And if you can switch to pity for her poor family instead of internalizing all her negativity, it might help you cope somewhat. I know how exhausting that type of personality can be so concentrating on how much worse it is for those who have to live with her may benefit you.

          2. Sara without an H*

            I’ve worked with people like this. Sometimes it’s part of a “culture of complaint,” although in your co-worker’s case, I suspect that this is just how she sees the universe. It’s sad, really.

            That said, if headphones aren’t a possibility, the only real option is some variation on “Gee, that sounds tough. Right now, though, I have to get X done. Sorry!” (“X” can be browsing the AAM archives, but you don’t have to tell her that.) Be as bright and cheerful as possible and DO NOT enter into a discussion of her complaint. That will only feed energy into the cycle.

            For your own entertainment, you might try finding a count down app for your phone, and watch it count off the days until Lisa retires.

          3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

            I had this coworker at a past job. I went full Pollyanna on her. Every time she popped by with a litany of complaints I cheerfully pointed out the silver lining. Or suggested advice with a smile on my face. I would interrupt her in my (very pretend) eagerness to “help”. One time I even put a very concerned look on my face and said “You really seem to have so much negative things going on in your life. What’s going good?” She decided I wasn’t sympathetic enough and found a new victim to listen to her tales of whoa.

          4. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I once put together an excel macro that just counted down the hours, minutes etc. until a very loathed coworker retired. It was behind several layers of security, I never sent it round, but every time I felt like losing it at another of his remarks (think the most sexist, transphobic stuff you can imagine then multiply by a factor of 20) I opened up that sheet and it made me feel a bit better.

            (Note: this was coded and stored on my own device)

            1. PT*

              Timeanddate dot com makes individualized countdowns, to pretty much anything. It generates a random URL so you can just bookmark it on your browser (phone browser.)

        2. Allonge*

          In my experience after a certain threshold empathy is inversely proportional to the number of complaints. Also: she is free to resign, if this task is too much for her, or ask for a different assignment? Bothering a random coworker with it is not the way to solve this issue. And when you are a librarian, moving books is part of the game.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I wonder if you can do the “Yes, you’ve said that before” approach.
        And there’s always the “‘hmmm,’ but not really listening” approach.

        1. TootsNYC*

          or the, “You seem really unhappy lately; it seems almost every conversation is a complaint. Are you OK? I’m a little worried about you.”
          But be genuine! Don’t let the tiniest bit of snark enter.

          Or there’s “What are you going to do about it?” but ALSO in a very conversational, friendly and interested manner. You are curious about her solution! You believe she -can- do something about it!

    2. Anono-me*

      I’m sorry the headphones with a mini theater performance isn’t a viable solution.

      I think I’ve Escaped Cubicle Land’s suggestion of going super Pollyanna would also work. But personally I would have trouble after about the 10th” Atleast we can be grateful we____.” out of my own mouth.

      Wishing everyone at your library a happy pt librarian’s retirement soon.

  8. Coffee*

    LW #2, could you try playing… badly? Just match cards together in a boring way. One, you won’t have to pretend you think things are funny when you’re actually finding them excruciating. Two, they might stop being so keen on playing the game with you? (Or not.)

    I would also try to chat as much as possible, in a friendly but de-railing way, if you’re comfortable with that. Then you’d spend more time chatting and less time playing. Plus you’re being very social, which would help prevent retaliation. Going for an “Wow, OP is so friendly but so bad at card games” vibe.

    Good luck.

    1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      That strikes me as the OP having to subject themself to something that makes them uncomfortable, which is what I thought we’re trying to avoid.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        Yeah, unfortunately it’s not just “cards can be interpreted in ways that makes them offensive” — there are cards that, if you said it out loud at work, would get you sent to HR. Having to sit there watching your coworkers, who you might like and respect, create extremely offensive phrases, especially ones that might go after parts of your identity? Hard pass. In high school I thought CAH was the height of humor, but I’ve soured on it.

        I agree that OP#2 is best served by suggesting a new game. Variety is the spice of life?

    2. Antilles*

      Presuming that it’s Cards Against Humanity (or something similar), that’s not really the way it works.
      First off, OP’s attempt to intentionally being boring won’t succeed. There simply aren’t many completely innocuous cards. Most likely, OP would end up still playing cards that are offensive or sexual, but doesn’t quite fit the ‘topic’…with a few times that by pure chance, all of her potential cards actually work quite well.
      Secondly, in all these sorts of card games (whether CAH or a tamer version like Apples to Apples), having to “throw away” cards because you don’t have anything that works is a common occurrence, so nobody really notices it. Oh sure, at the end of the game, someone might notice “man, OP got zero points?” but nobody is thinking about it more than that.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Also, the gameplay is designed to reward players for cleverness and originality. Does OP want to portray herself to coworkers as lacking these qualities?

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      I think that participating-but-doing-badly is kind of a last resort. It sounds like the OP hasn’t tried any other options yet like telling them she doesn’t enjoy the game or suggesting alternatives, so I think she should try those before resigning herself to playing a game she doesn’t want to play.

      1. Coffee*

        I’m just concerned about the grandboss holding a grudge. OP said she’s concerned about telling them she doesn’t want to play that game, so if she’s forced to play, how can she make it better?

        Ideally she can get them to switch games though. Or have her internet suddenly and mysteriously cut out mid-Happy Hour (or rather, at the end of Miserable Twenty Minutes).

    4. Sylvan*

      Unfortunately, how badly and inoffensively you can play depends on the cards in your hand. If OP tries this, they could still have a pretty bad time. And I don’t think they should try to play at all, because they don’t want to.

      If they did want to play, I’d suggest asking to take the worst cards out of the deck first. They could ask to take out anything race-related.

      1. Sylvan*

        It’s really common for people to remove cards that cross the line between “offensively funny” and “just offensive,” for obvious reasons, so people would probably be happy that they asked.

      2. BRR*

        When I used to play CAH we would draw a random card as a “ghost” player which would often win.

    5. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Unfortunately, OP will still have to hear everyone else’s cards and there are things on those cards I never want to hear out of my husband’s mouth, let alone my coworkers’ mouths.

    6. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      Assuming this is CAH, part of the awfulness is when it’s your turn to judge and you have to read everyone’s responses to the prompt out loud. I’ve only played it once (not at a work event), but I deeply disliked having offensive words put in my mouth like that.

  9. Juniper*

    I’m curious — are there any complainers out there who have seen the light? That is to say, somehow they were made to realize how miserable they were making everyone else around them (and likely themselves) and found a way to shift their mindset? The reason I ask is that how to deal with a complaining colleague is a perennial question. And while it admittedly has few options for recourse in a work setting, I hate to think that this is a lost cause type of problem where the best you can do is limit your interactions, or if under certain circumstances it can be addressed. I had one of those Debbie Downer colleagues who was also, oddly, a friend, and sometimes I wish I had said something. Instead I grated my teeth, tried to redirect the conversation, and mostly just lived with what I realized was a pretty toxic work dynamic only after I left. But she was a smart woman who had a lot of other great qualities, and I wonder if I didn’t do her a disservice by not pushing back against the onslaught of negativity.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      I was! But I was also a teen at my first workplace at the time. A coworker a year older turned around one day and said, “Is all you do complain?!” and walked off. It was a wake-up and probably not what OP can do in the circumstances. It sounds like this coworker had turned to complaining to maybe attempt to build a relationship because commiseration works a lot of the time. I’d say six months is not that long, hang in there, and pretend to be busy, because of all the factors at play.

      1. Juniper*

        That’s very true, commiseration is a powerful social force! And probably played a part in the dynamic I experienced with my coworker (and that I wasn’t entirely innocent of, either).

        That’s awesome that you came around! And ballsy of your coworker, I must say. Sounds like all you needed was a little wake-up call though, than an entire attitude readjustment.

      2. Sandman*

        I had a friend say something similar to me in college, too. I think I tend toward the melancholy and have to fight to see the bright side in general, but if he hadn’t said something I wouldn’t have realized that I have this tendency and that it’s bothersome to people. This was a lot of years ago and I can’t say that it’s turned me into a beacon of light and possibility, but I do really work at expressing positivity in a way that I didn’t before.

      3. TootsNYC*

        This reminds me of the colleague who said to me, after my umpteenth complaint about “being fat,” “What are you going to do about it?”
        She said it in a very friendly and interested way, as though she was interested in the answer. It came out a bit abruptly, which was part of its appeal.
        And it carried the message, “I’m tired of hearing this, and if you care about it, you CAN actually fix it.”

    2. Liz*

      I might fit this category? In my case, it was mostly stemming from difficult life circumstances and cycles of depression. Obviously treatment helped, and being able to make changes in my life soon followed.

      A big thing that made me realise as well was being on the receiving end of it. I had a friend who seemed to call and complain about things CONSTANTLY. Every little call or text would start with “ughhh…..” and I would immediately roll my eyes thinking “here we go again…” I realised after a while that I was projecting and it made me cut back on my complaining. My friend still does it though, so clearly it’s not a two way street, or I have set some sort of precedent.

      I have noticed some people are chronic complainers because they just see it as conversation. They don’t expect you to advise, sympathise, console, or get emotionally invested. They just like to talk about annoying or negative things that have happened like it’s an amusing story. “A rude customer did this – can you believe it?!” They’re almost confused that it might be perceived as negative rather than just neutral and actually seem to build their own sense of okayness by sharing these kinds of things back and forth so they don’t feel alone.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I improved my complaining ways when an even more negative co-worker joined the team. There’s nothing like seeing your own worst qualities reflected back for a wake-up call. Alas, the same improvement has yet to be seen in complaining colleague and it’s been three years.

        1. Forrest*

          Ha, so this is a possible tactic for LW–for everything that your co-worker complains about, top it with something worse!

        2. Sylvan*

          +1. Getting to know a complainer made me complain less; getting to know a perpetually late person made me be late less. It’s frustrating, but it works. :/

    3. allathian*

      Seems to me that six months is short enough to just not bother. Even if the OP strongly prefers going to the office, maybe WFH for six months would be less onerous than listening to the constant complaints? I don’t think it’s worth it to try and get this complainer to change her ways.

      I tend to become a very negative person when I’m feeling down, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that I don’t have to spread that negativity to others. Making others as miserable as I’m feeling won’t make me feel better, after all, although I was all of 30 years old before I fully understood this.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Or not even a full work from home, bust a partial one. oP, I know you said that you prefer being in the office, but maybe a day a week you work from home? That little break from the complaints may help give you patience on the other days.

        Also, can you give her a few mins to complain and then say it was nice chatting but you have to get back to X? That way she gets to feel heard, but you are limiting the amount of complaining time.

    4. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I think this can be situational — a lot of people will fall into this rut if they’re in an environment where someone is complaining to them often, or if they’re nervous and the complaining has become a ‘knee-jerk’ conversational topic.

      Sometimes too, people may not realise that they’ve hit a wall in their job/relationship/life and there might be a cycle of complaining before they recognise and course-correct.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Yes, first job at age 21. I had a lot going on wrong in my life (some medical, some social) but I turned every day into the ‘everything wrong with Keymaster in under 24 hours’ rant.

      Finally my boss told me to get help because I’d burnt through any pity reserves people had. It was a harsh, but fair, statement.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        “…get help because I’d burnt through an pity reserves people had.” Well said!

        It probably sucked to hear it at the time, but that boss did you a real kindness. I have a former friend (now at best an acquaintance) who did nothing but complain about how hard her life was and how bad things seemed to always happen to her. At first everyone was always sympathetic, but after a while we realized that a majority of her problems were caused by herself, and she never tried to change anything and never ever wanted to hear advice, only sympathy. I get wanting to vent, but it was near constant, and she never wanted to hear your problems. Being monologued at is tiring and boring, and you can only listen to the same episode of a soap opera so many times in a row before you want to change the channel.

        It’s just as your boss said – all of our pity reserves dried up.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Yeah. I made some absolute clangers in my work history. Some I’m surprised I wasn’t fired for. I’m not an ideal person.

          But, I try to not repeat the same error twice. Experience in coding taught me that if your code blue screens the machine it’s probably not worth running it again. Rewrite it.

          1. linger*

            Heh, “blue screen” seems especially apt…
            I’m a pessimist by nature myself, but as a mitigation strategy, I at least try to be entertaining in how I complain. Cf. SJD’s song “Black is a Beautiful Colour”:
            Just a note to say hello, while I watch the garden grow.
            There’s a weed, and there’s a thorn … and there’s a welcome I’ve outworn.
            Just spilling ink, I’ve torn the page: green for envy; red for rage;
            Blue is something I can’t hide; black is just too beautiful to keep inside.

      2. virago*

        Been there. One of my best bosses took me aside for a similarly sobering talk. She told me that although I was very good at my job responsibilities, I brought “a gray cloud” with me into the room and it was affecting other people’s performance. It hurt, but it was an incentive to change.

        In this situation, though, I’m not sure there’s a way to reach the complainer. Honestly, I wonder if Debbie Downer sees OP as a captive audience because she knows that OP has to maintain cordial ties to Debbie’s influential husband and doesn’t want to alienate Debbie.

        I agree with the people who suggest that OP try to WFH at least a day a week, to give OP some breathing space. Otherwise, the frustration might boil over.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Agreed. I think a lot of my coworkers at the time took numerous ‘cig breaks’ just to get away from me. Half of them didn’t smoke…

    6. Cat Tree*

      I used to be a complainer. There were several factors, both internal and external. Fortunately I eventually realized that I was making myself miserable and I got professional help in learning strategies to better deal with stuff (while in therapy for other reasons – the complaining wasn’t the main driver). Unfortunately for readers here who deal with complainers, I’m pretty sure that my revelation had to come from within and an outside person couldn’t have convinced me to change.

      At least in this OP’s situation the complainer will be gone in 6 months.

    7. Koalafied*

      I have/had an off-and-on friend like this. When we first met I really liked hanging out with her except for the fact she was awfully negative, so I kept her at something of a distance. She actually did change, for maybe a year or two – I don’t know if someone talked to her about it or what – but then reverted to the negativity again after a while. We’d become very close after her initial reform, but eventually I started to pull back again as she got more negative again, and I wasn’t the only person in our group who decided to start keeping her at arms length around that time. It seems from Facebook that maybe she’s gotten better again, and I think she started therapy, but I’ve never gotten close to her again to really see for myself how much she’s been successful at changing that part of herself.

    8. Mockingjay*

      Yes. My complaints stemmed from working in a series of male-dominated, very sexist work environments (unfortunately my industry has not evolved). My wakeup call was when my teens began copying my discontent and frustrations. I realized that every facet of my life was a series of complaints but I wasn’t doing anything myself to fix things.

      How I changed: I discovered AAM which helped me deal with the toxic job while I job searched and to better assess companies so I didn’t fall into the same trap. At work, I’ve instituted the “24-hour” rule, in which I take time before I respond to a problem or comment. Takes a lot of the emotion and stress out of things. On a personal level, I now try to find one good thing in each day.

      If I do have an irritation or problem, I keep them to myself unless I am asking someone (work or home) for advice to resolve it.

      I’m happier. Not perfect, but happier.

    9. BadWolf*

      I think so? At least on the work front — I was sort of wallowing in complaining about work. I don’t know what the spark was but eventually I had some self awareness that I was being too negative and either I needed to curb it or get another job. I think I managed to curb it (these things are hard to self judge).

      In my general life, I get annoyed when people complain endlessly about the same thing but don’t want to make any changes. So, when I’m falling down the complaint path, I ask myself “Is there something you’re going to do about it?” if no, I don’t voice it. I mean, sometimes you just need to complain and commiserate, but like the OP is suffering with, there’s the “too much” category.

    10. MCMonkeybean*

      I am a complainer, primarily because if I don’t say pretty much every thought that passes through my head out loud (or typed out) then it will roll around in my brain on repeat for hours (I think it’s maybe part of my ADHD?)

      But I generally direct all my complaining to my very patient husband. If I find something particularly upsetting I might send venting messages to a couple of friends as well to really get it out of my system. I try pretty hard to maintain a positive appearance at work.

    11. Kiki*

      I don’t know if I’ve necessarily seen the light, but I’ve definitely recognized my complaining was weighing on other people in a way I didn’t expect or like. I think two main things were contributing to all my complaints: I was definitely depressed and my mom is a complainer. Being treated for depression helped A LOT. Once I was less depressed, I was in a better spot to recognize how negative my mom is and that she complains to bond, which I had picked up. This actually isn’t uncommon and isn’t always bad (some of my best friendships were formed due to share loathing), but I recognized that while it can be received well by some, it can be extremely off-putting to a lot of people. I’m not chipper at this point, but I definitely reign in my negativity.

    12. Cendol*

      Yep! I do think the change has to come from outside work though. I’m a glass half-empty person and it took my best friend saying to me, “Wow, that’s so incredibly negative” and “I hate how you always manage to put a negative spin on things” for me to reassess my behavior. (To my credit I don’t think I ever inflicted my gloomy thoughts on my colleagues. My worksona is disturbingly upbeat.)

      I can see how it would be impossible to say something in OP1’s shoes, given the politics, but in other situations I do think it might be worth having that awkward chat with your negative coworker/friend. Speaking for myself, I was just trying to relate to my friends in the only way I knew how, and I was grateful that one of them spoke up before I got on their last nerve!

    13. Seeking Second Childhood*

      1. Someone from an another department commented on how much co-worker “Pat” complained about everything and asked if we couldn’t avoid bringing them into the meeting. I had already seen myself starting to pick up their negativity.
      2. A manager calmly said “it would be helpful if you’d suggest solutions instead of just pointing out problems.”
      This was not long before I started reading this site…that has reinforced the lesson.

    14. Filosofickle*

      I was never a complainer on this level (at least I sure hope not) though I’m definitely more of a complainer than not. “Negative noticing” is what I call it. I remember in high school someone observed I always answered “how are you” with “ok” and never “good”. That was true! Not complaining, but not positive either. I thought (and still think) I am realistic moreso than negative, but that was an early lesson in perception. Honestly, though, it took being super annoyed with my critical grandmother and a complaining friend to really drive it home. It’s a drain on others regardless of my intent. I’m glad people told me, but damn it hurt.

      My particular flavor of complaining is tiny stuff — Seinfeldian anecdotes about nothing, no big dramas — as well as criticism and worry. The critic side of me is frankly what makes me great at my job, so I don’t want to be rid of that, so I compensate by being less critical socially + limiting unnecessary complaining in other ways + providing more positive commentary overall about other things. For example, I have to critique your work. It’s part of my job. There may not be a lot positive I can say sometimes. But I can make sure to pay compliments or say positive things in other contexts so it doesn’t seem like everything I say to you is negative. Overcoming my automatic settings is work I have to do literally every day.

      1. Autumnheart*

        I always like to answer “How are you?” with “Not too shabby!” which, depending on tone, could covey anything from “It’s Monday being Monday” to “Pretty good, actually!” It’s not unduly chipper but also not a “sad trombone” response either.

  10. Elle by the sea*

    OP2, in the past I worked for a company (one of the biggest tech companies in the Silicon Valley) on a team (all female + LGTB men) which had the habit of playing this game in happy hours, but without the manager (she knew about it, but had other commitments and only came for a few minutes to happy hours). The founder of this company was famous for creating his satirical anti-Trump version of this game. We found the original version too vulgar, so we created our own team-specific version which was slightly inappropriate, too, but not as bad as the original one. I wasn’t particularly fond of this game and some and there was one person who opted out.

    You have absolutely no obligation to participate! You can tell them clearly that you don’t think it’s a work appropriate game. If you are not comfortable with being open about this, you can just continue skipping these events because of your family commitments. If your manager has a problem with that, then your workplace culture is toxic. I can tell you that most workplaces who push these kinds of games as a team building activity are boundary crossing and tend to discriminate against people who are not 20-something party animals with no baggage and no commitments. I was let go from this job because in my managers’ opinion, I wasn’t a good fit for corporate culture and didn’t share their values. Sharing their values meant you don’t have your own ideas, are doing what is considered “the trend”, give lip service about diversity and inclusion (and be sexist, racist and ageist in reality) and have no life outside work.

  11. Jay Barry*

    Cards Against Humanity has no place in a professional setting or between work colleagues. Keep it for between friends who don’t mind dirty jokes. Trust me, some of the ones in the Star Wars theme you’ll want to keep a galaxy far far away from any work context.

  12. NYWeasel*

    Re #2: For smaller groups (<10), Among Us works great for a work activity as long as everyone is comfortable with comedic murder. The way the game is structured, the humor comes from trying to deceive each other by talking about really mundane tasks, so it’s much easier to keep the discussion SFW. I mentioned Kahoot up thread as well, as you can create a unique trivia quiz for your team.

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      I’m curious your experience with the noise level. (My own experience with Among Us is with the middle school aged set. And they’re distinctly NOT quiet. So I’m curious!)

    2. Cendol*

      “As long as everyone is comfortable with comedic murder,” lol! This is a great idea. I would kill (har) to play a game of Among Us with my team. We stick to a much more staid and “normal” Zoom happy hour…

    3. comityoferrors*

      +1. There’s also Jackbox (only one person needs to own it and there’s a variety of games), (totally free online pictionary), and the vast expanse of (also free – or maybe one person pays, I’m not sure).

      OP, I hope you feel comfortable suggesting a different game if you want to participate in the happy hours without the racist/sexist/offensive overtones. If not, it’s okay to keep bowing out!

  13. LabGirl*

    OP#1 – The quickest way that I know to shut down a chronic complainer is to purposely BE overly pollyanna-ish. This is only a good strategy in my opinion if you really are a positive person and believe in the things you’re saying otherwise yours just being passive aggressive.
    Hate the move? Think how nice it will be once you get into your new space!
    Too hot? Oh, I’m always cold, I’d love to be too hot!
    Weather’s crap? I love moody days like this!
    Don’t feel well? You should go home and pamper yourself!
    Didn’t get good sleep? I love naps!
    I could go on, but like I said, only try to do this if you can be genuine. If she gets no negative feedback the interactions will probably be a complete letdown for her and she’ll stop seeking you out or maybe even stop with the negativity. If it doesn’t shit it down after a little while though I think you’ve set up good groundwork to say something like “I’ve been really trying to keep things positive while the worlds so crazy right now. Can we talk about something a little less gloomy?”

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Passive aggressive is underrated. It has its place, and I would say that this is one of them, dealing with someone you have no real reason to interact with, but who you have to be polite to despite their being an insufferable bore. I wouldn’t go the pollyanna route myself, but it is totally legit.

      1. Not Australian*

        Not unlike my mantra that the best way to p*** someone off is to forgive them absolutely and unequivocally; when someone is setting out to press your buttons and get a rise out of you, it is always very satisfying to treat them with exaggerated courtesy as if they are a naughty child and you know they couldn’t help it. Like naughty children, they soon get bored and move on to the next thing…

    2. OP #1*

      I’m not really a super positive person, which is part of why her complaining bugs me so much! I already have enough trouble maintaining a positive attitude without her dragging me down. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable being passive-aggressive either – I sometimes pull that on my husband, but it seems like it would backfire in this context.

      1. Laure001*

        Op1, can you make her laugh? I have a wonderful friend who has a tendency to be over dramatic and negative at first…. But she reacts very well to jokes and making fun of “our” troubles, she joins the joking and we have a good time afterwards.

      2. MassMatt*

        This coworker would drive me nuts, too, but the details you’ve shared about her long tenure and her spouse being a higher-up you need to work with means you probably need to tread carefully.
        If she only has 6 months left, 1) maybe she is scared of retiring/leaving and that’s what’s really driving her complaints 2) count down the days, try to realize the problem is her, not you. 3)Maybe try to make a game out of it. “What will she complain about today? Will the over/under be 45 complaints, or 50? Let me check my card and see if I have scored a Complaint Bingo!”. Good luck!

      3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        When I was going thru a hard time in my life I started writing 1 Happy Thought A Day. It didn’t have to be earth shattering. It could be something as simple as hearing a bird in the yard singing. But I made sure I posted 1 happiness every day of social media. It started as a challenge (statistically most people will fail before they hit 100) and I started doing it just to prove the statistic wrong. But it helped retrain my brain from seeing the negative to looking for the positive. The more positive you get the more you will notice and guard yourself against the negativity in others. Someone once told me that you can do 3 things with any problem. 1) Find and implement a solution 2) Accept it. (which means you get to complain about it once and then move on) 3) Avoid it (leave your job/significant other/etc) The Pollyanna routine will usually drive the Negative Nellies to find a more sympathetic victim. I’ve used that route successfully before.

    3. LQ*

      I’m going to relate a story here that I’m not 100% sure is the OPs situation but hopefully close enough and why I disagree about overly pollyannaish (unless you are by nature).

      Coworker who was a relentless complainer and a bad social interactioner would use complaints as a bonding method. Trying to shut down, block out, support, or fix didn’t work. 3 minutes of wow that sucks and mutual complaining and then stop the complaining and move onto another thing worked well. It’s their way of saying, “You and I we are in this Together.” So if you respond with a “Yes we are.” Then you can have other conversations and move on.

      1. irene adler*

        Yeah, that’s a viable tactic.
        Only, with some, you become their ‘go-to’ whenever they want to kvetch (which is often). Thus increasing exposure to the negativity. It gets worse if this is all they want to talk about.

    4. Threeve*

      I’ve actually had success with the opposite. When my endless complainer started in, I would just have fun hijacking the complaining but in the most boring ways I could think of.

      “I’m having the worst morning! I had to reboot my computer like five times, and I feel like the screen is dimmer than it should be? But it’s on the brightest setting. Honestly, it’s going to give me a headache.” And “I don’t know what’s going on with the lock on this drawer, because it’s getting stickier and stickier, I swear it took me like five minutes to open it yesterday. Like, don’t expect me to keep things locked up if you don’t give me a lock that will work, right!? I know it’s minor, but I’m SOOO annoyed about it.”

      Bland as sand. Nobody wants to stick around for that. ;)

      1. OP #1*

        I struggle with some mental health stuff, and I have to actively work to stay positive sometimes to avoid getting dragged into a spiral of sadness and negativity, so I think this would probably not be the best approach for me. I appreciate the suggestion though! Maybe a bit of minor griping back at her would work, without going all out.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          As one who also struggles with the mind gremlins at times there’s a tactic I use with my perpetually negative distant friend – I become deliberately ridiculous. Like complaining how the moon isn’t as bright last night as it was during the full moon 2 weeks ago, or that you can’t get taco bell in the uk.

          I’ve zero experience in using this at work mind you. It does send my mind laughing instead of that dreaded slipped-in-tar feeling.

    5. Trillian*

      An alternative is to deploy the nuclear question, the one that treadmill complainers hate. “What are you going to do about it?” Almost inevitably, they’ll find all the reasons why they caaaan’t. The follow up question is, “What do you think I can do about it?” Most people aren’t quite shameless enough to say “Listen to me complain all day.”

  14. EventPlannerGal*

    OP2 – I really doubt that all of your coworkers feel passionately that they LOVE to play Cards Against Humanity over and over with all their colleagues on a monthly basis. By now some of them will surely be getting bored. I know you’ve said you don’t want to rock the boat, but if you don’t want to skip the happy hours entirely it could be as simple as “oh, Cards Against Humanity AGAIN? Why don’t we switch it up this month and do X?” Unfortunately the whole discussion about it making you uncomfortable (which is totally valid) may be kind of a can of worms, but it’s harder to argue with “this is getting kinda boring”.

    I know that when a whole group does something regularly it can give the impression that they are really set on it and will balk at changing, but I would be surprised if most of them actually care that much about which silly card game they play at happy hour.

    1. Smithy*

      My guess is part of the regular feature of CAH is that there’s a fairly easy online version that provided one person figures out how it works, it’s really low-no effort.

      For the OP, taking an hour or two to research other Zoom game ideas will probably have the most luck if there’s something similarly user friendly. If the Zoom trivia requires the OP to develop the mechanics of the game, create all the questions, etc. – then the OP should just be mindful that when they do join, they’d likely need to volunteer for that level of work. However, there may well be other similar online games that may support the larger team enjoying the simplicity of having a few options.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Good point! You’re being asked to pick the time, right? I’d just ASSUME it means you get to pick the game too!
        (I’m looking into scattegores myself.)

    2. Liz T*

      I honestly don’t know how anyone with a personality would enjoy playing that game REGULARLY.

  15. Richard Hershberger*

    LW1: Nothing to add to Alison’s response, but you have my sympathy. People like this are dreadful to be around. Ordinarily they could be passed around the building, but you are the only victim available. The kicker is that your presence is purely incidental. These people are uninterested in actual conversation, yet they feel the need to have a recipient of their monologue. If only they were willing to monologue at a cardboard cutout, everyone would be much happier.

    1. Liz*

      Agreed. My complainer-friend used to call treat phone calls like a sort of reverse radio service – she’d call and talk for an hour about how annoying everyone in her life was, and I’d leave the phone on the table and wander off. As long as I came back every few minutes and made some “hmm” noises she never noticed. Somebody else openly told me “I don’t really need you to say anything” when I expressed that I found their negativity difficult to handle and didn’t know how to respond. Now they prefix their moaning with “i am just venting, you don’t need to reply to these messages.” There’s nothing quite like the knowledge that your existence and participation in a conversation is irrelevant to make you feel valued as a friend.

  16. NewYork*

    OP3 — If she received a raise based on her performance, I think it is fair to factor in that performance in setting the bar

    1. Firecat*

      I don’t.

      Let’s say that, like at a lot of work places, your COLA and merit is tied into one and both are tied to your performance rating.

      You have a stellar year, and get a 3% raise instead of a 2% raise (big whoop).

      So next year, it’s not as stellar (sometimes those major projects to knock out of the park aren’t on the list that year) but you are still performing higher then your colleagues.

      Should you only get 1% raise instead of a 2% raise while everyone who is on cruise control gets their full 2%?

      That’s a great way to encourage everyone to perform an easy to obtain middling performance if you are eternally punished for not matching a stellar year.

      1. KHB*

        That actually sounds like a pretty good deal to me. If it’s easy to coast along at a middling level, and if doing so gets you almost the same financial reward as you get for busting your backside to knock the big projects out of the park, then why not just do that?

        This was, I think, basically the conclusion of the “how to become a slacker” post from a few weeks ago. So many of us are desperately trying to gain the approval from our employers, and then are perpetually disappointed when it doesn’t work out that way. But if you make peace with the fact that your job will never love you back, you can get on with looking for fulfillment elsewhere.

      2. Cj*

        Not only that, but you could have another stellar year, and you’d still only be “meeting expectations”, instead of “exceeding expectations” because stellar is what they expect of you.

        I’m a CPA who does tax return. The client expects them to be correct, and to give them the best advice possible to save them taxes however you can legitimately do so. If I do exactly that, and save them a lot of money, I am still only meeting their expectations, because that’s what they hired me to do. Unless they go somewhere else to have their return prepared for comparison, they don’t realize that I am going above and beyond what a lot of tax preparers do. Especially because there are ways to do a “correct” return but still miss out on options that save the client money.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          I’m in the same field, and I agree, plus one expects there will be continuous learning. A staff accountant who prepares the same return two years in a row will probably do it more efficiently the second time (and with fewer errors when it goes through review), unless there have been big changes with the client from year to year.

          So, in general, you can and should expect more of a second-year person than a first-year person. And this is also true at all levels to some extent: each person in the firm will also get better and better at doing more advanced stuff (like preparing estate tax returns or leading audits or whatever) each time they do it. For me, it would be no surprise that my manager was holding me (and everyone) to a higher standard than last year, because that’s what gaining experience — and CPE — tends to do to you.

      3. Loredena*

        Many years ago I had a manager whose reviews always boiled down to I was better than all my peers but I am brilliant and thus should have been spectacular and this I was always a meets not exceeds. Needless to say I was rarely motivated to reach for spectacular as coworkers received exceeds for poorer results

  17. Workerbee*

    OP #2, I’m sorry you are being shoved into team happy hours to begin with. Personally, it’s a ridiculous concept that bulldozes into time away from work whether or not the lines are already blurred because of being remote, and I’d say that even without the additional everything of the pandemic.

    If you can see no way around it, I suggest looking up Chatpacks or a similar thing online: Thought-provoking questions you ask of another. People love talking about themselves, and perhaps ironically, will see you as this great team player just by the fact of you listening (or appearing to listen) to them ramble.

    /not at all jaded by same

  18. Watermelon lip gloss*

    #3 The goals you set for yourself did your boss agree to the goals? and were they put down officially on your Goals for your job for the year? If so then in a normal year (not a World wide pandemic year) you should deserve less of a raise based off of what your goals for your position were. The Goals based initiatives are set up so you can learn and grow your role at a pace you and your manager set based on what you want to learn and what your team/department need (usually in large companies to get people the skills they need to move around). The piece that you want to add to your role is what you will need to move to your next role and essentially get the raise and job you want. The caveat here is that this year was a terrible year even if you were just stuck in your home it was hard and scary and raises should reflect that.

  19. Texan In Exile*

    I’d set higher expectations for the role with my high performance in previous years.

    This is such BS. I got that crap from a former boss – the idea that he expected high performance from me, so I “met expectations,” not exceeded them.

    1. comityoferrors*

      Yup. That wouldn’t fly the other way, would it? Well Wakeen, you did a subpar job last year, so I didn’t really expect much from you…so this year, you’ve met the expectations you set last year! Here’s more money!

  20. HailRobonia*

    #2: Ugh. I bet I know what game it is. I know it’s a very popular game and the company itself appears to be very progressive (has done special editions for charity, etc.) but I detest that game with all my heart. It really seems to be a way for people to express and reinforce their worst opinions and views with a paper-thin cover of “this is ironic.”

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s ‘let’s trigger everyone’ the game. Mentally I can’t handle it.

  21. Philly Redhead*

    RE: #4, “unnecessary cosmetic surgery”? That sounds like it goes beyond unprofessional and sounds transphobic.

    1. drinking Mello Yello*

      “Unnecessary cosmetic surgery” is textbook transphobe rhetoric and shows up in a good chunk of transphobic rants out there. That conversation was 100% transphobic harassment. :/

    2. Letterwritter 4*

      It was definitely the sort of thing that didn’t sink in fully at the time but is, uh, Yikes looking back on.

  22. B Wayne*

    LW#2: I have no clue what this game is as I have missed out on anything like this but it sounds like a card game I wouldn’t want to play with team members or friends either. Reading AAM has opened my eyes to what goes on out there! I would have had no clue happy hour, on line, adult card games that involve very explicit descriptions of sex and politically incorrect descriptions of gender and race even existed or that a manager could suggest this is a good idea to do with his/her team. And this is bonding and team building? It sounds so middle school boys to me, surely HR would have a field day with this manager. Please try to decline on principle.

  23. boredatwork*

    OP #3 – I’m right there with you. I’m a top performer and my boss constantly harps that he NEEDS the last 5%. I can do my job with 95% accuracy and proficiency, but he’s decided that I need to be perfect.

    I have yet to figure out a way to push back, and tell him, no, I’m good, thanks.

    1. KHB*

      What’s the consequence of continuing to perform at 95%? If it’s just getting an average raise each year rather than a high one, can you decide that you’re OK with that?

      1. boredatwork*

        The raise is 3-6% so, it’s not great but at my salary level its still something. I would 100% be okay with not getting the “great” raise, but that doesn’t get him off my back.

      1. boredatwork*

        Eh, he’s annoying, but I have what most people would consider a “dream job”. High pay, flexible hours, and total autonomy.

        He’s just read one too many management books.

  24. EngineerMom*

    I’d try suggesting another game – if you’re not sure, go to your local board game store, and ask the owner for some suggestions. Be specific – “This is a group that enjoys X game, but the explicit nature of the game makes me uncomfortable. I’d like to introduce them to another game. Do you have any good suggestions?” Knowing about how many players there will be is helpful, too.

    However, given that this group, or at least the leader of this group, adores this game, there is a good chance that no matter what other game you pick, they’ll find a way to turn it explicit or generally insulting. I’ve been a part of groups like that – dirty and inappropriate jokes all around, no matter the context (fortunately, never at work – these groups have always been in social situations where I don’t have to deal with much backlash other than being called a prude).

    If that’s the case, just say you don’t want to participate in after-work happy hours at this stage of your life (helpful if you have young kids at home, but really, this can apply to any life stage!).

    My dad hated work happy hours. He’s an engineer, and has worked in several different companies, and several positions in each company. Every happy hour devolved into a bunch of guys sitting around complaining about their wives. My dad adores my mom, and has a lot of respect for her. He also has zero patience with guys who don’t respect their wives, so having to sit at a bar while men bitch about the wives they *chose* to marry was pretty insufferable for him. So he just didn’t go. Didn’t hurt his career, fortunately – he’s always been good at the work he does, so didn’t need that particular networking aspect.

    1. gamesgamesgames*

      If the group can switch to Jackbox games, there is enough variety of games that everyone can find something, and the games that they can turn dirty probably won’t go as far as CAH can.

      I’d recommend going that direction, there are triva, drawing, and submit your own answer games.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      There’s a channel I follow on YT: Dicebreaker. They review tabletop and RPG games and a lot of their recent stuff has been, of course, geared toward stuff you can play with friends over Zoom/Skype/email.

      Done a few RPG oneshots with the team, and even recommended a few solo rpgs that people can play then share their experiences with the rest of staff based on their recommendations. Think they’ve done a few Jackbox games collaborations with other channels too.

      (LGBTQ friendly channel and there’s no swearing or slurs)

  25. KHB*

    #3: I’ve gotten reviews like that, and I think I figured out what was going on. There were several of us on the team doing consistently excellent work, and none of us was head and shoulders above the rest. But there was a limited pool of raise money, with only so many “top performer” raises to go around. So the boss would cycle through who got the top rating each year.

    Money-wise, that makes sense to me. If the same person is getting the highest raise year after year, that can lead to a big salary imbalance that’s not commensurate with the difference in performance. But a side effect was that we all had to deal with the confusion of getting an “exceeds expectations” rating one year and a “meets expectations” rating the next, even though we were performing at exactly the same level.

    1. JM in England*

      This must be one of the worst things about being a manager, having to pick a top performer when all of your team are equally excellent; yet another reason for me not wanting to become one. Did senior management ever get wind of this boss’ idea about cycling through who got the top grade each year?

      1. KHB*

        I’m afraid I have no idea – I had to do some considerable filling-in-the-blanks just to figure out what was going on with my own boss. I assume there was a reason he couldn’t just tell us what he was doing (maybe because not everyone on the team was part of the top-performer cycle, maybe because he’d be breaking confidentiality if he told me I didn’t get the big raise this year because it was Jane’s turn, maybe because if he gave Wakeen enough information to figure out that his next turn to be top performer was in 2023, he’d slack off for all of 2021 and 2022).

        And I think that, to me, would be one of the worst things about being a manager – being privy to information about my team and being unable to share it, even if it would help people.

        1. LW 3*

          Yes, I expect it’s something similar to that. As a manager myself, I know how hard it is to apportion raises when there’s a limited pool of people who can get high ratings. I would rather hear an honest explanation than be told that a middling rating is actually good, though.

          1. KHB*

            So it sounds like it’s not so much that the “middling rating is actually good,” but rather that your rating can’t be an accurate reflection of your performance each year – because there are more people doing good work than there are high ratings to go around. (It’s not Lake Wobegon – not all the children can be above average.)

            I don’t want to say “pay no attention to the rating,” because ratings correlate to money, and money is important. (And if there’s any chance that the boss is always giving the high ratings to the same people and the song-and-dance routine to all the rest, that’s cause for concern, especially if the disparate treatment is along protected-class lines.) But if your boss is generally a reasonable person, has given you high ratings before, and tells you in words that you’re doing a great job, you can probably believe that.

            I try to get in the habit of asking my boss, “Is there anything specific that you’d like me to work on next year, so I can exceed your expectations again in the future?” Sometimes that gets a sensible answer, but other times it really doesn’t.

    2. Sans Serif*

      Happens to me all the time. My boss even said this year during my review that his whole team were top performers but he couldn’t give us all those ratings or those types of raises. At least he was honest.

  26. EngineerMom*

    OP #4:
    Holy crap. This is on par with asking a pregnant women exactly how she got pregnant.


    1. Observer*

      Yeah. And stuff like this happens ALL. THE. TIME. “Was this planned?” “Is this really a good time to have a baby?”

  27. Office Rat*

    OP #4 – I openly transitioned at work FTM, with both top and bottom surgeries. This was at a government agency, so I had to file paperwork for time off, and it was just easier not to hide anything because the office gossip was toxic and all over the place, and it would be impossible to hide.

    I got the most inappropriate questions from all sides. Pointed surgical questions, random political “What do you think about men int eh women’s room” gotcha questions, the works.

    I found just being blunt was really my only solution. I’d just tell them I wasn’t going to discuss my surgery with them. I’d turn it around and ask them if they’d ask anyone else about their genitals. (when I was getting bottom surgery?) This tactic mostly worked.

    Since I’ve been in multiple jobs and out. I find if it’s just one person, you can work with that. If it’s everyone? Your job is now a toxic nightmare, and it’s not going to fix because they will reinforce each other. I look for the first kind of workplace, because a minority of staff I can deal with. Sometimes I can educate them and say, “Hey, you might not know, but that’s really personal, and other transgender people will probably react very poorly to being questioned on that.”

    Good luck, nothing’s more challenging than being grilled on this crap while you try to work.

    1. SaffyTaffy*

      At least as a bystander I’ve seen that blunt approach stop people in their tracks. It’s excellent.

  28. Smithy*

    OP #5: I think that it largely depends on the kind of job you’re being recruited for – but one thing I have noticed is sometimes when a recruiter reaches out, that the hiring manager may push more “what appeals to you about this job???” I’m in nonprofits, so replies like “it’s an opportunity for professional advancement and more money” isn’t typically enough.

    I have found that at least trying to submit some kind of cover letter as part of a completely application package has helped my competitiveness. But again, this may be more industry sensitive.

  29. introverted af*

    OP#1 – Along with Alison’s suggestion to say, “I’m trying to focus on the positive things around me,” if you think it would help or carry any extra weight with your coworker you could frame it as, “My therapist has suggested I try to focus on the positive things at work.” and pivot the conversation somewhere harmless or unlikely to draw complaints.

  30. I Love Llamas*

    OP#1, you have my sympathy on this one. A chronic complainer can really be a mood killer. I have two suggestions.
    1) Have you tried the gray rock method and give her little to no feedback or engagement? I think that she feeds on any feedback, so when you give her the hint of empathy, it may encourage her. I know it is dicey, but perhaps a neutral look and a simple, “uh huh” but nothing else might slow her down. Maybe mix it up with some feedback but then wean her off to the neutral look, uh huh approach. 2) Stand up when she comes in (or shortly after) and either go to the bathroom, kitchen, copier — anywhere but remaining at your desk. This will physically force her to stop. Good luck and hang in there — only a couple of more months to go.

    1. OP #1*

      I’ve actually found the opposite to be true! Things are getting a bit busier now so it’s easier for me to use work as an excuse, and it seems to help if I remain seated at my desk and partially turned toward my desk, and occasionally do some typing/mouse clicking while she talks. This is harder when she knocks on my closed door and I have to get up and open it – the door locks automatically when fully closed – but I’ve just been trying to move back to my desk rather than stand at the door while she blathers. We’re both vaccinated through work, so I still try to keep as close to 6 feet between us as possible but she’s not as vigilant and will sometimes stand within 3 feet of me unless I’m actually at my desk. She does still talk to me when I’m at my desk, but will usually keep it more brief. I think it reinforces the idea that she’s interrupting me.

      Your advice has been helpful when she starts talking at me when I’m outside of my office, though – her desk is right by the little kitchenette area, so if I walk back there to heat up my coffee or get something out of the fridge she will often start talking. I usually will give her a minute or so of my attention (I don’t have much choice when my coffee is in the microwave!) and then will say something along the lines of “I hope that gets figured out/fixed/whatever!” and start walking back towards my office. Occasionally she’ll call something after me (usually a joke, like “gotta love the internet!” if she’s complaining about a database being down or something) but the “conversation” (i.e. her ranting a monologue of complaints) usually ends.

      1. I Love Llamas*

        Argh — good luck with that… least you are trying different approaches to see what helps…..

      2. meyer lemon*

        Might be a bit late for this, but have you tried giving her your undivided attention for a short period every day (like 10 to 15 minutes–whatever is feasible) and then redirecting her whenever she tries to complain outside of that? “Sorry, I’m really busy–I’ll catch up with you during our coffee break” type of thing. She might find that a short period of you actively being engaged will make up for keeping a lid on it the rest of the day, if she’s used to being half-ignored all the time. In my experience, I can deal with short, predictable bursts of this, but it’s very wearing when it’s all day long.

  31. Name (Required)*

    OP 2 – if everyone at the company wants to continue with games, you might have the most luck bringing to them a new game that works for professional settings (there are tons out there). Consider something like Pitchstorm, still fun and hilarious (I imagine more so if people are drinking) but safe for work.

    They do have NSFW cards – as I imagine everything does now – but this could be a way to make happy hours more appropriate, come in with new games to suggest.

    Not “can we try a new game” but “here is a new game we just have to try!”

    Then you may be able to alleviate your worry about rocking the boat – you will be rocking it but without ACTUALLY rocking.

  32. TootsNYC*

    #5, what that seemingly unnecessary cover letter offers you is a way to underline any points you may have underemphasized in the interview. You can bring up points you forgot, expand on things you’d like to emphasize, and react to questions or comments they had after having time to think.

    It can still be a powerful sales tool for you–it’s just at a different point in the process.

  33. SaffyTaffy*

    #1, can we just talk for a moment about exactly why this negative, complaining, unpleasant person is “very nice?” I see this over and over. “Bleminda is nice, but she won’t take down her swastikas.” “Blatthew does his job very well, but if he can’t be team lead on a project he cries and throws things.”
    She’s not nice. Maybe if you can reframe this as needing to set boundaries with a person WHO IS NOT NICE you’ll be able to be as firm as you need to.

    1. OP #1*

      I feel like there’s a wide gulf between “hanging up swastikas in the office/crying and throwing things” and “complaining a lot”. And . . . it’s hard to explain. It’s like she’s kind of jovially complaining? Like she doesn’t seem to be *angry* when she complains. A few people upthread have commented that some people use complaining as a means for bonding, which I think maybe is her. She will often make little jokes about whatever she’s complaining about. People can be nice and also negative!

      1. boo bot*

        I think the little jokes definitely suggest she’s complaining as bonding. I totally do this, too, although not so much in a work context; it’s just a mode of talking I grew up with, and I think people who do it (or at least people who are me) think of it more as “sharing stories about Life” than “complaining,” and don’t necessarily even think it’s negative in nature. She may think that by opening up to you, she’s giving you an invitation to open up to her if you want to.

        That doesn’t change the effect it has on you, though, and I think it’s totally fair to ask or encourage her to stop. Every once in a while I think I’m sharing a “Life! OMG, right?” story, and then realize that the other person thinks I’m complaining about a serious problem; at that point I know I need to change how I’m talking to that person.

        I think the suggestions to tell her you’re trying to focus on the positive are good; I also like the suggestion to ask her what she’s planning to do about it, although the answer may be a cheerful, “Nothing! I’m just complaining!”

    2. Myrin*

      Apart from the fact that “hanging up swastikas” is in a whole different ballpark from “petulantly crying when one doesn’t get their way” or “constantly complaining”, OP knows her coworker as a whole person and not just as the situation-biased glimpses we get of her through a condensed letter on an advice forum. People can have annoying or even downright infuriating habits and still be helpful/always willing to go to bat for the group/protective/good teachers, which would make others describe them as “generally nice”.

    3. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Well, from the letter she isn’t constantly rude/mean/destructive/racist/homophobic/ablest, she just complains a lot. Just because someone’s annoying to be around doesn’t mean they’re not an otherwise nice person, it just means…they’re annoying.

  34. Girasol*

    OP2: This highlights a larger problem that I’ve always wondered how to solve. What does an employee do when team-building involves an inappropriate activity (racist or sexist chatter, athletics unsuitable for medical conditions, excessive drinking, snorting coke, whatever) and the employee who declines is labelled “not a team player?” This is especially common among drinkers who imagine that the non-drinker is preachy, no matter how diplomatic he is in declining. I could see the OP here being labelled as “uptight” and “not one of us” for suggesting an alternate game. How does an employee fend off the dreaded “not a team player” when that label is used as an excuse to cold-shoulder an employee who won’t share in group misbehavior? If it comes from the boss it can have career consequences.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Speaking as an incredibly antisocial, non-drinker, disabled, etc. person here’s how I’ve handled it:

      Every time I turn down one of these events I suggest an alternative. That shows I’m still interested in being a team player but that the specific event is the issue, not me.

      Whole team going out on a 2k run? Cool, but I can’t go, have fun guys. I’d be well up for an online game of (xyz) or a ‘make up a funny presentation’ session though.

  35. Mockingdragon*

    LW3 – my god, it’s not a video game! Work doesn’t have to get harder with every new level. gh, this makes me so irrationally (or rationally?) angry. I would escalate this. If I’ve done work worth a good evaluation and it was being withheld for such a dumb reason, I’d want it on record how stupid it is.

    LW2 – In case you’re feeling a little nuts, I would also never play Cards Against Humanity with coworkers. I actually can’t handle it among friends unless I go through the deck ahead of time and remove a lot of cards. All the humor comes from intentionally violating taboos. Which can be funny! Don’t get me wrong. But it’s almost designed to be an HR nightmare.

  36. Mental Lentil*

    I once shut down a constant complainer by responding to everything with “oh, that sounds nice.” Once they realized I wasn’t paying the least bit of attention to what they were actually saying, they stopped.

    Given the politics involved for OP#1, however, this probably isn’t feasible.

  37. V$*

    Letter writer No. 1 – Honestly, if I was in your shoes I would do the following: 1. Listen politely. 2. When she’s done ranting about whatever thing she’s complaining about today, I’d say “That sounds awful. What specifically would you like me to do about that?” 3. Stare at her until she says “oh nothing, I’m just venting”. 4. Repeat every time she complains. Eventually people like that realize that when their audience isn’t just passively listening, but will require from them some response, they move on to someone else who’s more easy to complain to. Good luck!

  38. Sunny*

    If you’re looking for something as much like CAH as possible without all the offensive jokes, consider Cards Against Humanity’s family edition. It has a bit too much toilet humor for my family’s taste, but we pulled out the worst of those cards (also various celebrities none of us recognized; I’m sure Jojo Siwa is a lovely person but I have absolutely no idea who they are) and have used it successfully at family game time. It can go up to PG-13 (“What’s Dad doing in the garage?” “Mom’s friend Donna” is a valid play), but can also stay in an entirely work-safe zone much more easily than main CAH (“What’s Dad doing in the garage?” “Getting shot out of a cannon” is also a valid play). There are some political cards, but it’s only a few, they’re fairly easily removed along with the fart jokes, and “A Republican”/”A Democrat” is still quite tame compared to a lot of the CAH cards.

    The Jackbox suggestion is okay as long as everyone has the same sense of what is and isn’t appropriate, which I would not want to count on with people who think it’s okay to play CAH at a work event. I’ve seen where that goes with friend groups. You end up with a lot of bad drawings of male genitals. A lot.

    There’s just not a lot of extremely lightweight, freeform games that scale to the sizes needed that are actually enjoyable for adults, unfortunately. I know some games that might work if you actually wanted to play a board game (The Menace Among Us is a game about a spaceship’s crew dealing with having a secret saboteur, no offensive material in sight, distinct from Among Us the computer game with a very similar concept), but this sounds like less a game and more a sort of medium for social interaction.

    1. TootsNYC*

      We love Apples 2 Apples in my family, and in the bottom of the box is a stack of cards with the names of people my kids don’t even know. We find that even if we know who the celebrities are, they clog the game. Pretty soon people have a hand that’s 70% celebrities. It plays so much better with them all removed.

  39. CM*

    Oh, OP#4, I totally feel for you on being so startled by inappropriate questions that you just answer them honestly!

    I suggest that you practice some responses (literally, practice them out loud, in the mirror) so you’re prepared if this happens again. You can figure out what feels natural for you, but here are some possibilities:

    That’s very personal and not something I want to discuss at work.
    I don’t discuss medical issues with coworkers.
    That’s something I discuss with my doctor.
    It’s not appropriate to talk about coworker’s bodies.
    I understand you’re curious, but I’m not willing to have this conversation.
    I don’t want to discuss this.
    Let’s change the subject.

    1. TootsNYC*

      It’s just not a topic of conversation.
      I’m sorry, I’m focusing on something else; you’ll have to excuse me.

    2. Letterwritter 4*

      Oooh, that’s a good idea! It was *so* confusing at the time. I’d had barely two whole conversations with her up to that point, which let me tell you did not help with the shock of being asked.

  40. Betsy S*

    Another game that works well for ten people, and is free, is Codenames. It’s the one my friends and I end up playing the most because it is so social.
    You’d want two teams of five, and could play with one or two ‘spymasters’ (spymasters rotate each round)

  41. Betsy S*

    Another great game that works well with 8-10 people, and is free, is Codenames, which you can find at codenames dot game. It’s the one my friends and I end up playing the most because it is so social – fast to learn and rounds go quickly (although there is some potential for hopefully good-natured argument!) With ten, you could form two teams of five and optionally have two ‘spymasters’. spymasters rotate each round. It might be possible to give slightly risque clues but that would be a challenge.

  42. Elizabeth West*

    Oh man, if I overheard this in the break room, I would not be able to refrain from quoting a meme and loudly saying, “Oh my god, Jane, you can’t just ask someone if they [insert question]!”

  43. Sans Serif*

    #4 – “Unnecessary cosmetic procedure”???? That’s what struck me. That tells you right there what she thinks. For someone in the OPs position, it most certainly is necessary. And I’m sure the OP views the recovery time as well worth it. To casually devalue what I’m sure is very important and meaningful to the OP is revolting.

  44. Teapot collector*

    LW#1… I have had the same experience and it is so draining to listen to someone complain all day. It was just me and two coworkers in the office and one of them was constantly complaining. You couldn’t even get a “Good morning” in before it started! Whether it was about the traffic that morning or the bad server she had the night before at dinner she always had something negative to say. My manager spoke to her about it a few times, but it just resulted in her complaining that someone complained about her. And to top it off she was always in my business, she would IM me while I was meeting with a client. “Don’t forget to tell them about X”, “If they want to do X then they have to do Y” etc…. It was extremely frustrating.
    I started job searching because i couldn’t deal with her anymore! Luckily she ended up transferring to another office.

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