my boss won’t stop calling my dogs my children, hiring the boss’s girlfriend, and more

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

1. My boss won’t stop calling my dogs my children

My boss, who is an intelligent and competent person otherwise, will not stop referring to my dogs as my children. I am a woman in my late 30s who, for medical reasons, is unable to have children, so her essentially pointing out that I have pets rather than children, is especially painful. She has not always been my boss at this company and prior to this reporting change, we were personally friendly so she knows the reason I do not have children is that I can’t.

I’ve tried telling her I’d rather keep our check-ins professional, I’ve tried just ignoring and moving on with my agenda, but she does it EVERY WEEK. When I’ve asked her to stop, she’ll stop for that meeting but do it again the next time. It makes me dread our meetings and, honestly, when more jobs open up in my industry as the pandemic situation improves, I’ll probably look for a new job; I just hate reporting to her that much. I loved my job before this reorg. Is there anything else I can do?

What on earth — it’s one thing for her to make this stumble initially, but to keep doing it after you’ve asked her to stop?

When you’ve told her to stop, how explicit was your wording? If it was on the softer end of things — like “oh, I’d rather not talk about my dogs that way” — it’s possible (even likely) that you would get better results by being more explicit. For example:
* “Please stop calling my dogs my children. I find it painful.”
* “You keep saying that after I’ve asked you not to. I’d really like you to stop.”
* “It feels awful when you say that. Please stop, not just for this meeting but all the time.”

If she doesn’t stop after you’re that clear and direct, something is very off with your boss.

2. My husband’s boss wants him to hire the boss’s girlfriend

My husband’s boss wants my husband to consider hiring his girlfriend to work in my husband’s team. My husband knows the girlfriend since they all worked on an assignment before at a different company. My husband thinks he can get a better candidate, but the boss talks as if it’s a done deal and the girlfriend will be the one selected for the position. Also, the boss doesn’t want to be up-front with HR about this to make sure there are no rules prohibiting this; he says he will tell them when they get married, maybe in a year he said, and by that time he is considering moving on to another company.

My husband is worried that if he doesn’t hire her, his position is jeopardized; he is currently a manager and being promised a director position in the future.

Your husband should not hire his boss’s girlfriend; that is likely to be a management nightmare. What if he needs to give her feedback she doesn’t like? What if he has to fire her? What if she ignores him and goes over his head to his boss whenever she wants — for the projects she wants, or exceptions to rules, or blah blah blah? What about the perception of bias that will be in play whether or not it’s warranted, if people know she’s dating her boss’s boss? (None of this is a slam against the girlfriend or to imply she would deliberately use her relationship in inappropriate ways; it’s just that it’s human nature to talk to your significant other about work, especially when you work at the same place, and it is very, very hard to have a firewall on this stuff.)

Beyond all that, what about the legal liability to the company? There’s a reason most companies prohibit dating in your chain of command. It opens them up to allegations of harassment down the road. It’s a terrible idea.

Your husband should talk to HR about what’s going on and ask for help shutting this down — and for help in ensuring the boss doesn’t retaliate against him. (If he wants, he can tell his boss ahead of time that he feels obligated to clear it with HR.)

3. Saying “I” instead of “we” in job interviews

I’m currently a graduate student and I recently had a job interview where I fell into academic language norms in a bad way. It was for a research position so I think my interviewer understood where I was coming from, but every time I was discussing a project I led, I defaulted to “we.”

When giving conference presentations, this is fine because it generally is a team effort and it’s rude to not acknowledge that, even if I’m leading the work. But when it comes to a job interview, I heard myself doing it and cringed! I was the one who made the analytic plan, did all the programming and coding, generated the results and graphs, and published the manuscript! I’m listed as first author on multiple papers (which is the currency in my field, and generally indicates I indeed did all these things), but I still worry I didn’t properly describe my skills. I caught myself during the interview and clarified, “I realize I’m using ‘we’ a lot, but actually I was the one who made the decision to go that direction and did all the coding and writing for that,” and the interviewer laughed and did say they were wondering how much I was doing vs. others were doing in my lab. I tried to correct myself moving forward, but these habits are hard to break. I briefly clarified again in my follow-up thank-you note just in case.

Any suggestions? It’s such a huge norm, especially as a grad student, to be deferential and humble about the work, but I know this will undercut me as I go on the job market in earnest this summer. I’ll need to heavily code switch — it’d be a major faux pas if I say “I” in an academic setting, so I want to develop the skill but keep these parts of my brain separate. For what it’s worth, I’m a fem transgender person of color and I know there’s a lot of gendered and racialized layers to this habit too.

Would it help to mentally reword the interviewer’s questions into, “Tell me what you personally did/achieved on this project/in this situation?”

It’s not that interviewers aren’t interested in the broader context — sometimes they are — but ultimately they’re looking for an understanding of what you contributed and how you operated. That doesn’t mean you need to strike the word “we” from your vocabulary in interviews; you shouldn’t. But at some point in each answer, make sure you’re clarifying specifically what you did.

To complicate this further, the opposite of this can also be off-putting. A candidate who only says “I” and never says “we,” even in cases where clearly a “we” was in play, can come across as problematic too. The point is to get the balance right — to acknowledge your team where it’s relevant, while still being clear about the role you played.

4. People keep booking “getting to know you” meetings with me

I’ve been with my rapidly-growing company for quite awhile now. We have lots of new folks joining constantly. Somehow I seem to have made it on to other managers’ lists of “people to book coffee with” when new employees onboard, I’m guessing because of my historical context. Random people from all over the company will just … put time in my calendar to “get to know you,” even if their teams or projects have absolutely nothing to do with mine and we’ll never work together.

I want to say no to these requests, I really do. They do me absolutely no good, and I feel pretty confident these new hires just forget our conversation in the deluge of onboarding context anyway! Am I being selfish? Should I just suck it up and donate the time? If not, how can I say no in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a(s much of a) jerk? (It’s about 1-2 requests every two weeks, and each meeting takes 30 minutes.)

This is not selfish! If it were, like, one request every few months, that would be one thing — but 1-2 a week?! That’s a huge amount of time.

When people try to schedule these meetings, it should be fine to say, “I’m sorry, I’ve had a lot of these requests lately and I’m having to say no to them because my plate is really full. I know Jane probably suggested it, so I’ll let her know the situation. That said, welcome to the company and I hope we get a chance to talk at some point!”

Then, talk to the managers who you think are behind all this and explain the situation — “In theory I’d love to do it, but I’m getting multiple requests a week for it and realistically I can’t do this many. Since I’m having to turn them down, could you direct new hires to someone else? Thank you!” (I bet each manager thinks they’re the only one who’s thought of this and has no idea you’re being deluged by others too.)

5. Who owns my work?

I work as a coordinator for a small medical office. I wear many hats and one is as a social media manager. The issue with this part of the role is that I was told I would be signing an NDA so that all social media videos, posts, etc. I made would be the property of my boss. This is fine except that I haven’t done this and I’ve been at the job since December.

Does this mean the work is mine? I use my personal account on media planning sites to make the videos, etc. so it’s never under my boss’ name or the office’s name.

No. Assuming you’re an employee and not an independent contractor, what you’re doing is considered “work for hire” — meaning your employer has hired you to do that work and they own it.

An NDA — non-disclosure agreement — wouldn’t have any relevance here; NDAs are about keeping things you learn in the course of your work confidential. They don’t govern who owns what. People mix up legal terms all the time though, so maybe they meant something else? But there’s nothing you need to sign to assign ownership of your work to your employer, assuming that you’re an employee and the work is part of your job for them.

It would be different if you were, say, an accountant and were writing a book in your downtime. Your employer wouldn’t own the book because it’s not part of what they hired you to do. But part of your job is to manage their social media, and the law considers the employer to own “work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment.”

{ 328 comments… read them below }

  1. Four lights*

    OP 4: If for some reason people think these meetings still need to happen, maybe you can change it to one meeting with all the newest hires every 3 months.

    1. niksu*

      Exactly what I was thinking! Also, try to find out what the managers hope the new hires will learn from you.

      1. allathian*

        Indeed. I wonder if the LW’s manager knows just how much time these meetings are taking and how often they happen.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          I question the benefit of these meetings, and wonder if a seminar with coffee available would be better?

          1. Snuffleupagus*

            I work a finnicky technical job that, while few people actually interact with ME frequently, most interact with my work or things I’m in charge of fixing errors in. I tend to send out a short email to new hires who might run into my work and say “Feel free to reach out to me with questions about XYZ” – to be honest I can’t image they would benefit from a meeting with me or even know what to ask about my hidden technical bits of work without the context of coming across it in their own work!

          2. LilyP*

            I think with so many people remote currently managers are leaning more on scheduled intros to replace the ad-hoc met-someone-interesting-at-lunch connections new people would normally make. I can see the benefit in theory, although I agree it sounds like too much for one person

    2. PX*

      Agree with this.

      Or perhaps write something up and have it as part of an on boarding manual? You mentioned historical context as one of the reasons you keep getting asked to do this, which screams to me of new company growing pains. Document stuff which you think might be useful to new people or which keeps coming up, and then get someone else to turn it into a standardised document + procedure.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        love the on-boarding manual idea! Sub sections for different departments, and an FAQ :) Just make a link to it on the intranet.

      2. Chilipepper*

        We have a “who is that” page on our SharePoint. Creating something like that might make sense. We include some, getting to know you Q&A and a photo.

        1. PeanutButter*

          On my company’s Yammer we have a default group that is specifically for asking “Who/what department can help me with [issue/project/idea]?” It’s really useful, and while I’ve never had to use it, I’ve discovered resources I didn’t know about from reading other people’s questions.

        2. Zephy*

          My old job had a big org chart on the wall outside of HR. They took pictures of employees on their date of hire and used those photos to make magnets, then used those magnets to make the org chart.

          My current job just upgraded to a new HR software suite that also includes an org chart, which being digital can theoretically update in real time. We have multiple locations throughout the state, so a digital org chart is much more useful than a whiteboard on the wall in meatspace at HQ.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      If the company is growing that quickly, this isn’t a bad idea.

      I also get these requests sometimes, though at a rate where I’m generally pretty happy to accept because the people are in positions where I am likely to cross paths. But if I got one I wasn’t thrilled about, I’d probably go with a slightly softer approach than what Alison suggested, and say something like “My calendar is really slammed for the next few weeks so I need to decline. If you find that you have questions on X, Y, or Z, please reach out and we can schedule something once you’ve settled in a bit!”

      If they do have questions on X, Y, or Z, I probably do want to meet with them eventually (maybe combining if I know multiple new people have similar questions). If the requests are really coming from left field, though, most people will let it drop or fail to follow up once they’ve been there for a few weeks or months and better understand that the connection won’t be that helpful.

    4. bigdipper*

      Came here to suggest something similar. My company does a program where it randomly matched you with someone outside your department once a month for a “get to know you” chat. It’s a built in cap on this kind of thing.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      That was my though too. Do not accept the meeting invite they send, but keep their name, and invite them to a meeting that you schedule every month or so. Even a monthly meeting reduces the LW’s meeting by 3-7 meetings a month.

    6. Bernadette*

      This seems like the best move.

      I’ve worked in cultures where these get to know you meetings were routine, and it would have been a weird look to refuse to participate in them. Batching them on a more infrequent basis sounds like a good compromise, especially if OP is in a role where they’re sharing genuinely valuable context with new hires.

    7. Ann O'Nemity*

      I have a standing monthly meeting to connect with new hires. If no one new has started in the last 30 days, I don’t have the meeting. If we have multiple new people, I meet with them as a group. This set up seems to work for everyone.

  2. PollyQ*

    OP#2 — If your husband violates company policy and hires his boss’s girlfriend, he will also very likely not be promoted to director.

    1. Sue*

      Yes, I can see this turning out badly for him if it ever came out that he was aware of the relationship and hired her anyway. He needs to tread carefully here to protect himself. Alison’s advice seems just right.

    2. Antilles*

      When they find out about this (not if), they’ll immediately assume your husband was entirely complicit in breaking the hiring rules – after all, if he recognized it as a problem, he would have either not hired her in the first place or brought it to the attention of HR/grandboss/etc. The fact he didn’t is going to be assumed that he was okay with it.
      Frankly, even if they accepted your husband’s explanation that he didn’t want to but felt uncomfortable standing up to his boss (the absolute best-case), they’d *still* wonder about your husband’s ability to make the tough calls.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah, I would approach HR and phrase it as gathering information about company policies so that he is fully informed. I’m also guessing that the boss in this situation has no intention of putting HR in the loop, so definitely also ask about protections from retaliation if it turns out that hiring the girlfriend isn’t the way to go and boss takes it very poorly.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I agree – unless I misread something, it sounds like the boss is explicitly not disclosing the relationship to HR, which tells me he knows it’s a problem. He’s expecting the husband’s loyalty to him to override the interests of the company, and that’s not a fair ask. It also makes me wonder about this person’s ethics in general. This definitely needs to be brought to HR.

        1. Homophone Hatty*

          Not just the interests of the company, but the husband’s own interests. Husband is putting his professional future at risk if he does this (as many have pointed out).

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          And frankly, it’s not in the husband’s best interests to be loyal to the boss over the company if the boss is saying he plans to leave within the next year or two. OP, tell your husband if he plans to outlast his boss at this company, he needs to place himself on the company’s side of this.

        3. tangerineRose*

          “the boss is explicitly not disclosing the relationship to HR, which tells me he knows it’s a problem.” This. The boss sounds untrustworthy at this point.

        4. Huttj*

          The moment someone says “don’t tell HR” I think “I should probably tell HR.”

      2. RC Rascal*

        This is a good approach. I would be cautious about telling the boss you intend to consult with HR. Then you run the risk of him telling you not to, which a boss this sleazy is likely to do. Once he tells you not to talk to HR, the pickle gets even bigger.

        It occurs to me there may be a more delicate way to handle it. HR can insist on a candidate pool, include more folks in the hiring process , then it gets easier to justify not hiring the girlfriend. a candidate pool plus a 5+ person sound robin interview schedule will but more voices in the hiring process & help derail boss’s agenda.

    4. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. He knows this is not right and if he does it anyway, then that will be on him, not the boss. I think he should take this discussion to HR.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I’m normally a bit of a cynic when it comes to HR, and am in the camp of “remember they’re there to protect the company, not you.” In this case, though, protecting the company is exactly what the OP’s husband needs them to do, so it makes absolute sense to go to them.

        1. Ashley*

          Yes and if you know HR sucks, I would find someone above the boss that I had a good relationship with and do a fact gathering mission that way.

    5. Paulina*

      Also worth keeping in mind that the boss has said he’s planning on leaving in a year or so anyway. So the boss is leveraging OP’s husband for something that could have long-term negative repercussions for the husband, and boss plans to then walk away.

    6. Artemesia*

      yes this is CYA time for him. ‘Clearing it with HR’ is the way to go unless you have a worthless HR that will only respond by going to the boss. If that is so then he needs to think about talking to his grandboss about his concerns. But in no case should he go ahead with the hire especially if that means not hiring a more competent person.

    7. JJ*

      This is also t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e for the girlfriend. I was at a place one where the boss did this, and EVERYONE knew and NO ONE respected that poor woman.

      To be fair, she was not qualified at all, but I did feel bad for her. She lasted maybe 3 months.

  3. Pierre D*

    “Assuming you’re an employee and not an independent contractor”
    How does it work if you are an independent contractor?
    In my case I write articles for a website as a 1099 contractor (my pen name is posted as the author), do they own the articles since they paid me for them?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends on how rights are assigned in your contract — they might own them outright or own non-exclusive rights or so forth. If you have no contract with them or a contract that doesn’t assign them the rights, creators generally own what they create (outside of a traditional employment relationship). More here:

      1. Pierre D*

        Thanks for your reply.
        There was some language about it in the contract which I have kicking around somewhere.

        If they do own them I don’t know how that affects me or what I could do with them in the future, they are not proprietary information nor are they new research.
        The only real personal use for them that I can think of would be to showcase my writing ability for any future jobs I may apply to, though anyone can read them online.

        Are there situations where ownership might matter that I am not considering?

        1. Uldi*

          For the articles you’ve already written? The only thing I can think of is another publisher approaching you with a paid offer to publish the articles on their site, or in some other format like a physical newspaper or magazine.

          There could also be issues if you decide you (or another) want to publish those articles in collection.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, or if you wanted to publish them on your own website. (Often you can negotiate that even if the publication owns the rights, you retain the right to publish them on your own site as well, sometimes with a clause like “90 days after their original publication” or similar.)

            1. Pierre D*

              I do have the contract in digital form but being almost 3am I’m not in the technical document comprehension zone.
              I do seem to recall it saying something about 20(?) days but I do not recall for what exactly.

              I’ve been wanting to start my own website/blog in a tangentially related area, but I have no idea how to start such a site or how it would work if they want some articles for cross posting in the future. I’ll have to cross that bridge when it comes.

          2. Pierre D*

            Interesting, I never considered these angles.
            At this point none apply but who knows what the future will bring.

        2. TootsNYC*

          Or compiling them into a book.

          I worked at a major consumer magazine, and an author called to find out what sorts of rights we still had to the stories she’d written for us. (I guess she didn’t keep her contract; we didn’t have them anymore either.)

          Her reasoning: she was putting together her will and wanted to designate an heir to her copyrights. She thought they might compile her writing into a book.

          I went looking into our contracts, and it turns out almost all of our pieces, we would buy “first North American serial rights,” plus the right to reproduce it in the context of its first printing (public relations, promotional materials, etc.), which meant that once we’d published them, they were hers. I don’t think we could have compiled them into a book without purchasing those rights again from her.

          I’ve worked at places where they deliberately bought more rights than that because they reused the content, put it on websites, and frequently compiled it into books.

          But at that time, about 20 years ago, “first N.A. serial rights” was pretty standard. There wasn’t much worry that the exact same piece would be resold, because very few pubs would run a duplicate like that. Having it appear in a book prepared by someone else would be more likely, and we didn’t need to be part of that.

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          When I’ve hired writers, our contract specifies their writing is a work for hire and that we own the copyright outright. However, it wouldn’t stop them from using the work as a writing sample.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Copyright varies significantly by jurisdiction and medium. It’s definitely worthwhile getting a copyright expert to review your contracts and agreements ahead of time.

          However, LW is not using her employer’s account to post, but her private account. The employer really shouldn’t be encouraging her to do that. Quite aside from the strict legal ownership questions, there are some practical considerations about continuity etc if LW moves on, or the employer expands the team.

          1. Allison Wonderland*

            Yeah, I was confused by that, because it doesn’t sound like it would be a very effective form of social media promotion if it’s only appearing on an employee’s personal account and not the business’s account.

    2. Nanani*

      Consult a lawyer. Read your contract carefully (if you have one), but double check with an expert before you do anything one way or another.

  4. AstralDebris*

    OP1, I’m so sorry for your situation. I think you’re going to need to have one direct, straightforward conversation with your manager about this.

    I get the impression from your writing that you tend to let your nonverbal communication – your tone, facial expressions, how quickly you change the subject, etc. – do the heavy lifting to convey your discomfort with your boss’s questions about your dogs, and a lot of the time that works fine! But in this situation, unless you’ve already been very clear and direct with her, your stoic disapproval is not going to do the trick because you’re expecting her to connect a lot of very disparate dots here.

    Frankly, lots of people who don’t have children will casually refer to their pets as their kids. Yes, even “otherwise intelligent” people. And asking about someone’s pets, unless you know that person’s pets are in crisis, is often just a warmer, friendlier version of the “how are you? good thanks, and you?” call-and-response, and doesn’t generally strike people as an unprofessional, overly-personal question. And while you told her a while back that you can’t have children, was it clear in that conversation that you want them and it’s a source of pain for you that you can’t have them? (It’s totally fine if that wasn’t the thrust of the conversation! It was a long time ago, and I’d completely understand not wanting to share something that personal even with a friend at work. I just bring it up because now, in the context of her questions about your pets, it may be that she has no idea that this is a painful topic.)

    If you’ve already been direct with her (and I mean super direct, as in “Martha, you know I’m not able to have children, and it makes me really uncomfortable when you refer to my dogs as my children. Please don’t do that again.”) and she’s still doing this, then she is being incredibly cruel. But if you haven’t had an explicit exchange yet, I really encourage you to do that before writing your job off entirely. Best of luck to you.

    1. MK*

      Intelligent people do refer to pets as children; what they don’t do is refer to a specific person’s pets as children, when that person has told them they don’t consider their pets children. And I find the notion that the OP needs to parade their pain in front of her boss to get her to stop doing this extremely distasteful.

      1. JM60*

        The OP should need to inform their boss that what they’re saying is painful. However, the clearer the OP is the more likely the boss is to stop. It’s possible that the boss is too clueless to know that it’s painful for the OP to hear. They say they’ve told the boss to stop, but I’m not sure if they told the boss the reason why they want them to stop (because it causes pain). It’s possible the boss is taking the OP’s request to stop as a request to shift from personal-related check-ins to work-related topics.

        It’s also possible that the boss knows it’s painful for the OP to hear, but is a jerk.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            One very specific, pointed request is needed here, in case she’s not been clear enough. Because as much as we all want to think people remember everything we tell them, sometimes they don’t. These days people reveal personal facts that may have been kept secret in the past, and deserve to be treated w/respect. But sometimes a person just doesn’t remember something they’re told. Then our ego is offended; “You mean you AREN’T consciously talking about me!”

            Or boss may remember this subconsciously and it’s coming out verbally when it shouldn’t.

        1. Shorty*

          OP has asked the boss to stop. That sounds pretty clear to me. The reason for the request is irrelevant. Any incorrect assumption on the part of the boss is on the boss.

          1. JM60*

            They asked the boss to stop, but the boss may be misunderstanding what the OP wats them to stop. What they say is:

            I’ve tried telling her I’d rather keep our check-ins professional, I’ve tried just ignoring and moving on with my agenda, but she does it EVERY WEEK. When I’ve asked her to stop, she’ll stop for that meeting but do it again the next time.

            Saying you want to keep things personal is very different from saying you don’t want your pets called your children (because it hurts). The boss may be interpreting it as “Let’s move on from personal-related chatter to work”, rather than, “Stop calling my pets children.”

            The reason for the request is irrelevant.

            The reason for a request can affect how egregious not honoring the request is. If you request someone refrain from doing something because you find it slightly annoying, and a person forgets about the request, that’s very different from if it causes you a lot of pain.

            1. Willis*

              Yeah, this. Does OP say specifically stop referring to my pets as children, or does OP say “let’s stop chatting and get to work”?

      2. OhNo*

        It’s not clear from the letter that OP1 has explicitly said that she doesn’t view her pets as her children, so if that hasn’t happened yet it definitely needs to be step one.

        After that, if “reminders” are needed (they shouldn’t be, but it sounds like this boss might not remember preferences like this very well :/), they can get increasingly stern. I don’t think talking about her inability to have children needs to be the next conversation, but it is an option that might get through to the boss if others don’t.

        1. Sarah*

          OP here. I do actually view our pets as our children, as they are the only ones we’ll ever be able to have, but I don’t refer to them that way publicly because I don’t want others referring to them that way. It feels condescending, especially when it’s coming from people who know we can’t have human children, and is usually is paired with a comparison/contrast “oh you know x because your dog is just like my daughter Susan!” I just don’t know why it has to come up in a work context at all other than the fact we’re all now home and occasionally she hears a bark.

          1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

            Same situation here, we can’t have kids, and our dog is just everything to us. It does feel condescending when people with children are trying so hard to include me by asking about my dog during a conversation about their kids. I mean, they probably think it is worse to not include me. What has helped me is try and find out more topics we can connect on because they often get lost in their kids, but are often so jazzed to be able to talk about the latest episode of whatever, and feel connected to what’s going on in the world. Getting a couple colleagues hooked on TikTok just to share interesting videos and start convos about different topics helps too. Sounds like your boss is just focusing on that one connection she has to understanding you, so give her more :)

            1. Shenandoah*

              I think this is a great reminder for parents to make small talk about stuff other than our kids. I have been guilty of this – whenever I’ve had a big life event (marriage, house buying, kid having), I’ve leaned on that thing as small talk fodder. But there’s always other stuff that can be mined for that that could be a little more universal.

              1. Natalie*

                If there’s anything I’ve learned from this site, it’s that nothing social can be assumed to be universal. I bet real money someone saw that TikTok thing and groaned at the idea about being asked about social media because they don’t use it on principle. And while the LW doesn’t say whether their boss has kids, I also note that asking after someone’s pets *is* talking about something other than children.

                There’s sometimes a tendency to read these possible explanations of someone’s behavior, and extrapolate some kind of rule, but I just don’t think you can do that. Expect maybe a rule that despite what you read on the internet, the people you work with are individuals and will have their own constellation of preferences and pet peeves.

                All of that said, the boss didn’t write in. The LW did, and from their letter and comment it seems most likely to me that the boss just hasn’t understood their hints. So as uncomfortable as it might sound, they are probably going to need to be more direct and clear if they want this behavior to stop.

                1. Smithy*

                  This is very well put, and if anything I think that COVID has put all sorts of small talk questions into far more fraught spaces. Questions about family, what you’re doing on the weekend/for the holidays, etc. have all of a sudden become potentially more loaded.

                  On the flip side, I also think managers are also under pressure to cultivate relationships with their direct reports that are supportive. Even if it’s entirely pragmatic in regards to work and wanting to make sure that people are taking care of themselves as much as possible, I think a lot of people have felt exposed in trying to build personal connections when it’s difficult.

                  My boss asks me every week, what I did/will do on the weekend. For my living situation – there really is almost no difference in answers week to week. But I do get that part of this is trying to stay connected and once I make it less about me….it’s easier to direct the conversation to topics I’m more comfortable talking about.

              2. TootsNYC*

                also, making small talk about my kids is gossiping about a real person who has a real life.

                I like to respect their privacy. Of course, they’re grownups now, and their lives are very much “not my life,” even more than when they were toddlers. But even when they were in junior high and high school, it didn’t feel right to talk about them as if they were conversation fodder.

                1. anonymous 5*

                  Not to derail, but whoo baby do I ever appreciate that you respect that your kids are real people with real lives, and that you don’t want to use them as gossip! Huge respect from an internet stranger. :)

                2. Environmental Compliance*

                  Adding in another note of appreciation!!

                  I have had coworkers just outright gossip about their children, even the grown ones. It’s…. very cringey, at the least, and downright alarming at worst (no, previous boss, the entire office did not need to know the intricate details of your adult son’s *reproductive/gastrointestinal* issues or your adult daughter’s mental illness issues, especially when you follow it up with “well they’ve asked me not to tell anyone”!!!).

                3. Shenandoah*

                  FWIW, I think you’re right, and that something future me will have to consider. But my child is a toddler and saying “Hezekiah is learning lots of new words” doesn’t feel like gossip.

                4. Ramona Q*

                  Respecting your kids’ real people selves is great! It’s confusing, though, that you equate the mere act of talking about them with gossiping. Human beings, as social creatures, generally talk to others about our loved ones! It doesn’t have to be nefarious or harmful.

                5. Quill*

                  Knowing the boundaries of people is helpful! It’s less likely to get you put on an information diet in the future when they know they can tell you something and you’ll use actual discretion about telling everyone and their dog about it.

                6. peasblossom*

                  Seconding Shenandoah here. While it is a great and wonderful thing to respect the privacy of children, there’s a huge difference between polite small talk about kids and gossip. When my mom tells people that I’ve started a new job, she’s sharing public knowledge in a way meant to celebrate me; when my grandmother tells people that I’ve got a new job so that she can use it as a springboard to dissect my romantic life, she’s using my life for her own entertainment.

                7. Anon Lawyer*

                  Yeah, I think there’s a not that subtle line. “Tommy is having trouble with his girlfriend and is down about it” = gossip. “Tommy is enjoying his soccer team and they’re going to the state finals” = casual small talk regarding non-sensitive info. Similarly, you probably wouldn’t feel bad telling a coworker that you were going to see your friend’s roller derby team or that your dad was really getting into golf.

            2. Duckles*

              This is really interesting, because I don’t have kids and frankly do think of my dog as more or less the same as coworkers’ kids, especially when they’re young enough they’re dumber than my dog. It’s a lot of the same issues— have to leave early to take care of (pet/child)! (Pet/child) woke me up last night and threw up on my bed! It’s so hard to find a caretaker for (pet/child) you trust! So I DO want to be included in those convos in that way, if we have to talk about kids. I think it’s just a good reminder to assume good intent because as noted above there is no one-size-fits-all.

          2. hbc*

            Interesting. Do you think she’s actually being condescending or do you think she’s kind of…reacting to the true state of your relationship with your dogs from a place of (incomplete) understanding? It doesn’t mean you can’t ask her to stop, but I’d have very different feelings and probably different approaches depending on the motivation.

            If she is supportive, I think you can say something like, “Can you just call them my dogs? I love them to pieces, but it’s really jarring to hear them called children.”

          3. DataGirl*

            I work with a bunch of cat ladies (myself included) and we all exchange pictures of our cats, include them in meetings, text/email about how they are doing, and refer to them as each others babies (some of us have human kids, some do not). So it really depends on the crowd- in some work places chatter about pets is appropriate and normal. It sounds like OP does not want it though, and that’s fine too, it just needs to be communicated clearly to the boss.

            1. PT*

              I’ve never called my cat my child, but I call her my baby multiple times a day. I wonder if there’s a hair-splitting like that here too.

              1. Anonny*

                Same here – my dog is my ‘little baby girl’ (or sometimes my ‘little baby monster’) but she is not my child.

                (Familial relationships are an affectional diminutive when it comes to pets, not a statement of fact.)

          4. Momma Bear*

            Regardless, if you want her to stop and you’ve been clear about wanting her to stop and the relationship is so bad you want to quit…are there other boundary-crossing behaviors that you need to address? Is anything she’s doing HR-worthy?

            “I’ve told you before that your comparing our dogs to children is painful. I don’t understand why you persist in this hurtful behavior. Do you have further comments on the Llama Grooming Report?” It would be reeeaaallly tempting to compare her child to a dog…something tells me she would be less pleased if it was reversed.

          5. I'm just here for the cats*

            I understand your feelings on this and that it seems to be causing problems. However, I doubt that your boss is deliberately trying to hurt you. You say ” I just don’t know why it has to come up in a work context at all other than the fact we’re all now home and occasionally she hears a bark.”

            The reason why your boss (or anyone) mentions your dogs is she is trying to connect with you and be personable. Just as if you had human children it’s courtesy to ask. “hey how is Jonah doing” or ask about your parents or a number of other ways to connect on a human level. Not everything has to be 100% about work. I’m not saying you have to be friends or anything but you should be friendly.

            If you haven’t already, please tell your boss to stop referring to your dog as your child as it reminds you that you cannot have children and it hurts you. My bet is that if you do your boss will not refer to them as your children, but will still ask you about your pets.

            1. JM60*

              If you haven’t already, please tell your boss to stop referring to your dog as your child as it reminds you that you cannot have children and it hurts you. My bet is that if you do your boss will not refer to them as your children, but will still ask you about your pets.

              I agree with this. From what the OP said in the letter, I wonder if the boss may be interpreting the OP’s request to stop as, “Let’s stop chatting about personal stuff and move on to work,” rather than, “Please don’t call my dogs my children.”

      3. Jean*

        Agreed – this is a very personal, individual thing. I have a human child and 2 pet children, and I refer to my pets as such often. But I would not presume to refer to someone else’s pets as their children, especially in a professional relationship/setting. That’s over the line. ESPECIALLY if they’ve already said something about it, for pete’s sake. Taking the letter at face value, it sounds like this boss has some serious boundary issues or else just doesn’t know how to listen. This kind of thing should NOT have to be brought up or requested more than once, and OP definitely should not have to turn it into a therapy session to get the point across.

      4. Deborah*

        In my experience, people often do refer to other people’s pets as their children. I had a boss who did this specifically. She did it in the same way that she asked about my co-workers’ children, as a kind of personal gesture to make “how are you” more personalized, or to seem to include me after talking to a coworker about their children. And in retrospect, I think it was a little condescending in context of being literally next to talking to someone about their kid’s first day of school or whatever, and because I have cats and I know she doesn’t like cats (she’s a dog person). But I didn’t really think about it because it wasn’t painful to me.

        Ultimately, I think this is one that OP #1 will have to ask the boss to stop specifically. “I’d like to keep our meetings professional” is likely to just make the boss think they’re aloof and prickly without communicating that the boss should stop referring to the animals as children, because the boss probably thinks of that as part of the pleasantries that begin every conversation. You wouldn’t expect the boss to understand from that that they should stop asking “how are you?” or saying “have a good day.” And I bet the boss has this in the same category in their head.

      5. Artemesia*

        This. The tendency to refer to pets as children is something that has become dominate in the last decade or so. This was rarely true and then a bit laughable in my youth and middle age, but now it seems everybody I know with pets is their ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ and refers to pets as their ‘babies’. I find it creepy but in the OP’s situation it is worse than that. She needs to be very clear since hints haven’t worked and unfortunately explicit about why it upsets her. Lots of people in management who have zero emotional intelligence.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      I think the other part of this is that even people who don’t have infertility/ other personal reasons for not wanting their pets referred to as children may still heavily dislike it.

      A lot of people love their pets with all their hearts, would run into a burning building for them, etc, but still think it’s kind of icky/creepy when people call them kids or worse, “furbabies”. But some people who *do* like to call pets that, maybe as defensiveness against people thinking it’s icky, can tend to imply that people who *don’t* use those terms are cold/unfeeling/don’t love their pets as much, and persist in doing so.

      Definitely not everyone! But it does happen, and the point is, people should follow others’ lead with what they call their pets. And my second point is, you don’t have to remind her of the painful infertility angle, as there are other reasons to really dislike this and want it to stop.

      1. londonedit*

        Absolutely. Not to mention the fact that the ‘Oh, you don’t have children so you have a pet to fill the void in your life’ trope gets really old really quickly. It’s as if some people can’t comprehend the fact that women/people can indeed be happy and fulfilled without children, so of course if you don’t have kids but you have a cat, then the cat is your ‘child substitute’. No thanks.

      2. ThatGirl*

        I love my dog, I will occasionally call him my furbaby, but … he’s not a child and I would never compare him to one, and I would definitely not like it if my boss/manager called him my child repeatedly.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          Same. I love my dog and call him “baby” sometimes, but how rude would I be to suggest parenting a dog was the same as parenting a child! He may get into things and make questionable decisions, but at least he doesn’t have thumbs.

          Meanwhile, I have a friend who refers to her dog completely seriously as her son, and for some reason that skeeves me out so much more than someone saying “my furbaby.” I suppose we’re all on a spectrum of dog/child vernacular tolerance.

      3. Natalie*

        For whatever it’s worth, I read Astral Debris as just speculating that the boss isn’t as aware of the fertility issue as the LW thinks they are. Essentially, this is just as likely to be someone who is oblivious as it is to be someone who’s condescendingly needling you. I did not take it as a suggestion that the LW has to share this detailed personal struggle to make the request.

        1. AstralDebris*

          Thanks, that is what I meant. I just get the impression that the OP hasn’t been as clear with the boss as she thinks she has been, because this is an important topic to her but it likely in the harmless pleasantry for her boss. We don’t know if her boss remembers the conversation about the OP not being able to have kids, and while the OP says “I’ve tried telling her I’d rather keep our check-ins professional, I’ve tried just ignoring and moving on with my agenda,” it’s not clear to me that the OP has connected that request specifically with the dog-children comments, and it’s not unreasonable to think that the boss wouldn’t connect those dots herself if the OP hasn’t been more direct.

          OP, I’m not suggesting you bare your heart to your boss and I’m very sorry if I came across that way! I just think you need to make your request more specific if you haven’t already, because I can easily see your boss not understanding that your request to keep things professional is directly tied to your discomfort with her referring to your dogs as your children.

          1. AstralDebris*

            Meant to say that it is likely in the category of harmless pleasantry for the boss. I need to remember to reread *before* clicking submit…

      4. Daffy Duck*

        Yes, “furbabies” and “pet children” make me cringe. I love my pets deeply and find the implication they are stand-ins for human children extremely demeaning on both sides. Enjoy the animals for what they are and care for them in ways best for their species (herd animals have acceptable conspecifics, etc.). I certainly wouldn’t refer to someone’s child as a puppy or kitten (although kitten, chickie, etc. have historically been used to refer to women these aren’t respectful terms).

        1. Cathie from Canada*

          It used to really frost me when my childless sister would “top” some story I would tell about my kids with a story about her dogs, and also when she would give me advice about a child-rearing problem by talking about how she ran into “the exact same thing!” when she was training her dogs.
          Then I realized it was really just her trying to connect to me and to my kids, and find common ground. It still frosts me a little, but I no longer have such an intense desire to riposte “Its not the same thing at all! Its people, not animals!”

          1. Paulina*

            IMO the tendency to respond to a story immediately with a story, rather than interacting with the original story, can be annoying. Not that I don’t sometimes do it myself, but it’s nice when I can get the sense that we’re having a conversation rather than just alternating being each others’ audience. There’s something that feels very “listened to” about someone talking about what I’ve said, and very not about them just launching into their own thing. Of course, then I also need to ask about them explicitly too.

            1. Artemesia*

              I grew up in an extended family whose conversational style was trading long stories about themselves. It is a habit hard to break as that was what I grew up with as normal conversation (and of course I am doing that right now LOL). It takes me enormous conscious effort to converse by asking follow ups about THEIR story rather than me sharing my personal anecdote. I have noticed that lots of people converse this way. And I have also noticed that people who are popular and considered charming are the ones who respond to the stories of others rather than hijacking the conversation to their own experiences.

      5. kathjnc*

        Adding to the chorus here of while I love my dog to pieces and she has been my stalwart companion for ages I gag a little inside whenever someone calls me her “mom”. Ugh, no. She is not a child substitute.

  5. Not Australian*

    OP3, another mental trick you might try is to consider it as a two-part question and answer it accordingly. “We did such-and-such and it had this result; my individual contribution was so-and-so.” I think mentally (or even literally) inserting a deep breath and a moment of preparation between question and answer here would be a really good thing.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I think this could have a great effect–it might make the OP seem like a person who works well collaboratively.

    2. Paulina*

      Yes, this. OP needs to talk both about the project as a whole and also about what their individual contributions were, role on the team, etc. I suggest something more multi-stage, if a longer answer or discussion is called for: quick statement about project, quick statement of OP’s own contributions and role, then dive back into talking about the project. Reiterate role as items come up that are specific to what the OP did or tie it up at the end. The idea is to make the OP’s specific role clear early so that the discussion of the project is viewed in that context, and you don’t lose it while getting into the research discussion. (A good research discussion can really suck you in! And that’s good, as is demonstrating being able to talk about the project as a whole, as long as you don’t put much attention on things you weren’t significantly involved in.) And then ensure the final focus is on you.

      Also, practice doing this, eg. with your supervisor and fellow students, getting comfortable with switching between “we” and “I” as appropriate, which can be a good guide to listeners as to which aspect you’re addressing. The same information is usually what’s looked for on fellowship applications: discuss the project *and* your role, skills you’ve acquired and demonstrated, etc. You’re selling yourself not just your results.

  6. Shira*

    LW1 – Oy. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. If you hadn’t mentioned that your boss knows you can’t have children, I’d have assumed that your boss is the kind of Dog Person who refers to all pets as people’s babies – which would understandably be personally upsetting to you but not really about you. But the fact that she *knows* and is doing this is…oy. That makes it a lot more about the specific dynamic between the two of you. I agree with Alison about being very direct, but in your shoes I would try to avoid framing it as painful, because then I suspect for her it would turn into a whole thing where “Children are a Painful Topic for LW” and just create more awkwardness.
    Wishing you the best.

    1. Sue*

      I’m reading this as if maybe this isn’t the only issue the OP has with her boss. This might be the most egregious or the most identifiable but I sense that it isn’t a good relationship and even if this dog issue stops, there would be other problems.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        If boss admits she doesn’t recall being told about her not being able to have kids, is LW going to be as upset about that as she is that she IS mentioning it?
        That’s the problem w/sharing such personal info. — how important it is to you is not necessarily how important it is to the person you tell, they may not realize your pain. Or care. You may try to sound casual when you reveal a personal secret at work, because you don’t want to get emotional.
        Boss may her her OWN feelings around this issue, too, maybe it’s on HER mind and she just hasn’t shared it w/you.

  7. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    OP1, I’m sorry this is happening. This behaviour is really tone deaf.

    It sounds as though she is doing it on autopilot – you may get better results if you address it with her outside of these meetings. Perhaps you could send her an email explaining that you don’t consider your pets to be your children, and that every time she refers to them in that way, it’s a painful reminder of your situation (followed up with a note that you would prefer not to discuss this in person). I think she needs to actually feel horrible about what she’s doing, in order for it to sink in, as gentle / subtle requests aren’t working at all.

    1. Dee*

      Regarding your last sentence, it’s possible that the message wasn’t clear enough and, once it’s clear, she’ll stop regardless of how bad or not she feels.

    2. Norra*

      This might work! When it is in writing it is easier for you to avoid any potential emotinal breakdowns! And I’m so sorry. My worst fear was inability to have kids, I can only imagine the horror these meeting starters are giving you. And if she really is just cruel person, you can also point out it is affecting your ability to properly consentrate for the rest of the meeting. And she doesn’t stop go to HR, go over her head because then it becomes bullying and she needs to be stopped. Good luck on the job hunt <3

    3. Empress Matilda*

      This is a good idea. The email will reinforce the point that this is really important to you – and it might also s spare you a big Feelings Bomb from the boss.

      Because I wouldn’t be surprised if she responds with something like “Oh my gosh I am so sorry I had no idea it was so hurtful for you of course it was very thoughtless of me and I am a terrible person and of course I will stop immediately please can you ever forgive me my cruelty and of course I love all children and dogs and everybody but I just wasn’t thinking and I am so very sorry and…”

      Which, not only does it not meet your goal of never having to talk about this with her again, but it puts you in the position of having to reassure her that everything is fine between you. Nope.

      So I think email is the way to go. Hopefully she’ll have her Feelings Bomb by herself in her own office before she responds, so by the time she does get back to you it’ll be along the lines of “I’m so sorry, that was really thoughtless of me and of course I’ll stop immediately.” Then one or both of you can change the subject and ask about the status of the TPS reports, and that should be the end of it. Good luck!

  8. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    With regards to OP5’s question, I’m clear on the ownership of actual work product such as social media posts, but I am interested in people’s views on the IP we carry around in our heads.

    I work in a field that combines creative and analytical thinking, and relies heavily on effective workflow, processes and templates, but doesn’t have “one size fits all” standards. We need to understand what customers want, and deliver it in a pleasing and cost-effective way, and the output needs to be co-ordinated across multiple disciplines / teams / skillsets. And it needs to be technically feasible and conform to legal and regulatory requirements. Wherever you work, you will find a different approach and implementation of the overarching principles and processes.

    I’ve never worked in a restaurant kitchen, but I imagine it would be similar – basically, creating menus and dishes that please customers, aligns to food trends, resonates with the brand, makes use of the equipment and skills available, is priced appropriately, doesn’t waste food or create food safety issues, can be prepared and served elegantly, etc, etc, etc.

    When I start at a new job, I bring with me all my learnings from previous jobs, projects, and work interactions. This includes things like templates, processes, and other “tools” that I have either developed or adapted over the years. Those tools are part of what makes me valuable to my current and future employers.

    So my question is, if I develop a template or process at one job (which is usually based on knowledge I brought with me to that role), does the company have any legal claim on that material, if it was done not as a specific deliverable but as a way to improve my own / my team’s work?

    1. OP5*

      Hi I’m the OP5, and this is exactly what I was thinking as I do plan on leaving this job and to maybe look into social media roles (using the knowledge, skills, templates, etc,) I learned in my current role!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Knowledge and skills are yours; you own those and take them with you. But with things like templates, if you develop it as part of your job and it could be considered proprietary, they’d generally own it. Whether they would care about you using it again somewhere else is a different question (and to some extent that might depend on norms in your field).

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        As someone in an IP-focused industry, I use the following guideline: if the aspect is general, I can use it. If it’s specific, it belongs to the company. For example, I have built many financial models to analyze market data. The knowledge of how to do that is mine. Each specific model belongs to my company. So when I join a new company or get a new client, I can build a new model (and have it include elements I’ve learned elsewhere, as long as they are not specifically confidential to the company), but I am starting from scratch. I cannot store a template financial model on my personal computer and use it for every company I have joined.

      3. Jinni*

        OP5 the most worrying part about your post was the use of your personal account(s). It would be best for everyone involved if you/they established business accounts for SM matters going forward.

        1. saassy*

          That stood out to me as well, having done that kind of work. I’d strongly recommend that OP set up a series of separate accounts (and keep the list of passwords separate in a free tool like 1pass or lastpass) for just work items on things like Canva, Buffer, Iconosquare, Hootsuite etc. – whatever you’re using. (I read it as them using personal planning tools, not personal social accounts!) Keep your personal accounts for noodling but leave all templates and tools and schedules in work-owned accounts. It makes it way easier to off board when you move on, and then there’s no question of who owns which and they don’t need your personal passwords. It’s worth a bit of an admin headache now to move that over vs doing it last minute as you leave and having to potentially give them access to your accounts later.

          1. saassy*

            Separating it also makes it easier to make a case for your work to pay for those tools if you ever need to make a case for a paid version!

        2. OP5*

          This is a very disorganized environment where the SM role was forced onto me (but the skills I’ve learned has actually helped a lot), so I make all social media posts and videos using my own account – manager/boss doesn’t want me using the office email (which does not make any sense). I also have to upload everything onto my personal phone, accessing the office Instagram & Facebook on my phone which is something that also unsettles me.

      4. AVP*

        OP, it’s pretty normal to take the skills, methods, and lots of screenshots and metrics to show off what you did and help you get the next job or project. If you made a basic generic form (like, “this is what a voice document looks like, this information goes here and that information goes below it) you could save it as a generic so you don’t have to redo the work later, that’s also pretty normal.

        What I wouldn’t take are any templates, unique stylings, visual ID or voice documents – anything specific to the client that you created especially for them. And anything that has client logos or information specific to them needs to be sent to them for their files and scraped from yours.

        And really, you’ll want to start fresh with those for your next client anyway, it’s no fun to just reuse that stuff.

        Re: using your accounts – I can’t tell whether you meant your using your personal log-ins for things, or your work log-ins. If you’re using your personal for Buffer or whatever, change that to your work email or make them give you a generic email! When you need to leave and turn all of that stuff over to them you’ll be really happy it’s not on yours anymore.

    2. MK*

      A process is not the subject of copyright; it could be the subject of a patent, but that’s a different set of requirements.

    3. Unfettered scientist*

      This is an interesting question in my field and honestly I just assumed I would be able to take any methods developed by me or used by me to wherever I go next (science). I get what others are saying about re-deriving everything each time, but honestly that seems ludicrous for my field. Taking the skeleton of code or adapting it to fit another situation just seems more efficient than artificially starting from scratch each time. Also, everything is on Github under an incredibly permissive license so I think that means I’m free to do whatever I want with it? (As is everyone else in the world). Though perhaps this is something that will be different moving from company to company rather than academia to company.

      1. ArtK*

        Everything on GitHub is not on a permissive license. If it’s a Gnu Public License, or Creative Commons — Share Alike, it’s extremely restrictive. So restrictive that my last 3 employers have had clauses in our employment agreements that using GPL-ed code is a firing offense. They’re called “viral” licenses for a good reason; once you included code from one of those licenses, you are obligated to make your code freely available. There are safer licenses like Apache, Eclipse, BSD, MIT and a few others.

        One of my jobs at IBM was producing a Certificate of Origin for each release of our product. I had to demonstrate that we didn’t include anyone’s IP without clear permission and proof that the person who claimed to be the owner actually had the license and that there were no issues with where the software came from or who contributed to it.

        Also, processes that you develop may be covered by patents (if the company filed) or trade secrets. Be very wary of using these for someone else. When in doubt, talk to an IP attorney.

        1. ArtK*

          Addendum: Software for your particular field may be on a safe license, but it’s always a good idea to check every time

        2. kt*

          I believe the parent poster is referring to their own work on Github, and they seem to know what the license is for their own work.

          1. ArtK*

            No matter whether it’s the poster’s own work and has a permissive license, if it was paid for by a particular organization, they may well have the rights to it (and the license is wrong for the situation.) If the permissive license is the organization’s policy, then the poster is likely in the clear. Some academic institutions do put everything on an open software license, but not all.

            1. Unfettered scientist*

              To clarify, yes I was referring to my own work as part of a lab at a university. The license is very permissive on purpose to allow others to use what I’ve coded. This would obviously be different if I was a part of a company, but in academia, sharing work is incredibly important for the progress of the field. The work was funded by the US government.

              1. Unfettered scientist*

                It’s also interesting that at least in my university all the code is listed on the coder’s personal Github page (there are no lab-wide ones here that I’ve ever seen). This is good for me; my work is easily attributable to me, but maybe a little awkward for the lab?

        3. Arvolin*

          The undesirability of share-alike licenses depends on what you’re doing. If you’re using the code for your own internal purposes, there’s no problem. If you’re distributing it, then the license’s features kick in, and you are required to release source code and allow free distribution of the GPLed software and any software linked into it. Most software is written for in-house use, but it’s something you need to be very aware of if you might give or sell someone outside a copy.

    4. Arvolin*

      This is a field I have something of a personal interest in, and I’ve noticed some things. First, the law vary wildly from state to state, and asking the same question in California or Texas could produce very different answers. Second, there’s details in the laws that can confuse things. Nothing I poked my nose into is really simple. An agreement with your employer that you have rights to something you do is almost certainly valid (assuming the agreement is signed off on by someone with the proper authority), but an agreement that you don’t will depend on state.

      The bottom line is that, if this is important to you, find an IP lawyer in your jurisdiction and ask. It’s usually possible to get a brief initial consultation with a lawyer inexpensively (at least in the US), and getting this wrong can be expensive, either in terms of money or missing out on opportunities you thought you had. Consulting a lawyer early in the process is likely the best way of avoiding legal entanglements later.

  9. London Lass*

    Op#2: “Your husband should not hire his boss’s girlfriend; that is likely to be a management nightmare.”

    It already is. The boss is already applying pressure to get his girlfriend the job against your husband’s better judgement and all good hiring practice, and he knows this is wrong because he is conspiring to hide it from HR. This needs to be nipped in the bud right now, and if HR don’t deal with it decisively then something is very wrong at the company. The fact boss doesn’t want HR knowing is a good sign though, presumably he realises they probably would take issue with it if they did.
    Good luck!

    1. Dan*

      When I started at my org, they basically told us, “if it wouldn’t look good on the front page of the Washington Post, don’t do it/say it/write it.”

      My one question for OP is whether there’s any written proof of this. If they go to HR without any written proof, it could get ugly.

      1. Observer*

        All of this.

        The second paragraph presents a significant potential problem for the OP’s husband. OP, please make sure your husband has some way of documenting this.

        And, if they can’t trust HR, then he should start looking for a new job, because his situation is going to become untenable.

      2. LW#2 wife*

        LW#2 wife here. There isn’t solid proof in writing. Not sure if the boss is watching what he is putting in writing or it just didn’t happen to have a conversation through Teams or email on this topic.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I agree. The boss is already showing favoritism to her wanting her to be hired before an interview takes place. The LW says that he knows her work and expects there to be better candidates who apply.

      This will be badly very fast. HR should be informed.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Not only favoritism but a willingness to ignore the rules. Even if there is not a no relatives policy, there is probably something against having someone you are in a relationship with in your chain of command. Hence, the hiding the relationship from HR until she is hired.

        If he is doing this NOW before she is hired, what will happen after she is hired? Oh you can only take either Thanksgiving OR Christmas off but not both, well I get both off and I want to spend them with my girlfriend so she gets them both off, someone will have to work both so we have coverage. No overtime, well girlfriend needs to make her car payment this month so she gets overtime. He is already showing he will make exceptions for her.

        1. Ama*

          Even if there isn’t a formal policy, it could be one of those instances where “we didn’t write that policy because it didn’t occur to us that anyone would ever even TRY to do that” and as soon as it is brought to HR’s attention they’ll shut it down.

          I used to work with a person who was a master of staying just within the letter but not the spirit of the law (although it wasn’t on stuff as bad as this, mostly “well the expense reimbursement policy doesn’t say this exact item I have bought is not reimbursable, even though it is 80% similar to something that is on the not reimbursable list”). His favorite method was to go ahead and do his questionable thing without asking because so we couldn’t tell him no in advance, and then argue that since it wasn’t expressly forbidden, this time he got a pass (and it worked far, far too often).

          I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that was the case here — Boss is trying to get the girlfriend hired before HR catches on, and then when they do he’ll say “well we don’t have a policy expressly against it.”

        2. TootsNYC*

          OP does something as a boss that annoys GirlFriend; she goes home and gripes to her S.O. We all do, right? But her S.O. is OP’s boss, so now the boss is getting a negative framing of him from the GF.

    3. TootsNYC*

      yeah, if there ever were a situation in which such a hiring wouldn’t be a disaster, it would NOT look like this.
      It would be boss saying, “Hey, my GF has those skills, and you know what she’s like to work with; you should put her in your candidate pool.”
      And then say, “But if it’s going to be awkward, don’t hire her.”

      This pressure, these “it’s a done deal” comments, and the explicitly stated intention to lie to HR by omission–these are clear warning signs of a disaster.

  10. There is no I in lab*

    “Would it help to mentally reword the interviewer’s questions into, “Tell me what you personally did/achieved on this project/in this situation?””
    Hmmm, I feel like this suggestion doesn’t always work. For research positions, like for academic job searches, often the people are asking questions about the research. Say that you were working in the Fergus lab and found that enzyme Y influences Z. You’ll get questions like, “Didn’t the Wakeen lab find that Y does V?” Then, to defend yourself, you need to describe any experiments you did to show how the Wakeen lab’s findings about V relate to your findings about Z, in addition to describing what literature is about there about V and Z. In these conversations about the research, the questions aren’t directly about you or what you did, but you still end up saying “we did this” and “then we did that” a lot.

    I would tell the OP to remember that a big reason for the convention, aside from acknowledging everyone’s work, is that when you hear bigshot Prof. Fergus giving a talk, honestly, it’s not Prof. Fergus who did any of the experiments. Prof. Fergus has been stuck in his office for years writing grants. YOU as a member of the Fergus lab did the experiments he’s talking about, and it would be completely wrong for him to use “I.” You as a trainee actually did the stuff, so it’s completely OK for you to use “I.”

    When I was on the job market, I did mock interviews and job talks with other people from my postdoc lab, and I explicitly practiced using “I” when it was actually me who did the stuff. It’s especially important when it comes to things like writing and idea generation, because sometimes PIs actually do that stuff instead of trainees. I found that switching to “I” for job talks takes intentionality and practice, but that it’s entirely doable.

    1. OP3*

      Hello! I think the way you’ve phrased it does a great job of laying out the issue. I think the other turn in this, I’m not in bench sciences (more like big data/computational) so it literally takes a huge team to pull off any study, whereas if it’s an experiment, I would feel more ownership because it’d truly be my hands generating the data. For example, one of my projects is using data from many, many other studies as part of a collaboration/consortium-type deal. So saying “I” and “my” when it literally is someone else’s data feels out of bounds. But I like what you mentioned about basically doing both, which will probably highlight my cool contributions even more with the contrast.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        But you looked at the research, identified the original experiments’ commonalities, strengths and weaknesses, aggregated the data/results to assess novel/larger-scale concepts to strengthen/counter existing theories and observations or to find previously hidden correlations and hypothesise on causes, potentially helping to shape the future directions that research could take… It might be existing research but you looked at it in a new way.

      2. PeanutButter*

        I am also a big data/computational lab person. Do not be afraid to take ownership of your contributions! The stereotype that we in Comp Bio just “run pipelines” and “parasitize data” are part of the reason our salaries are so depressed in academia compared to industry, even though we may have done the lion’s share of actual work for a paper, but have to fight tooth and nail for ANY authorship beyond an acknowledgement. I struggle with this too but one thing that has helped is explicitly outlining in my reports or data club presentations the story of the raw data and how much work it was getting it into a usable format and researching different analysis tools and methods. My PI and lab mates (I’m an orphan bioinformatician in a lab where everyone else can barely use the command line) have much more respect for how much work goes into the “pre-analysis” since I started doing this.

      3. Anon Scientist*

        Hello! Scientist now working outside of academia here.

        One thing that helped me was actually writing out the stories I wanted to tell in job interviews. My format is almost like a mini grant proposal in more conversational language. You don’t have to memorize the whole thing like a script, but spending some time thinking about the framework and the key information you want to share about each project is really helpful, and it’s a nice way to organize your “talking points” before a practice presentation or practice interview.

        For each paper or method or whatever I wanted to talk about, I’d write down:

        Background & Significance: What was going on in the field and/or my lab that led to this project being started. (This is often “we”-focused, but maybe “I” noticed a big unmet need in the field and decided to initiate the project with the support of my PI and team. Or, maybe someone else defined the problem but then “I” had an idea for how to address it.)

        Hypothesis/Objective: The specific goal that you were working toward in the above context. Maybe it’s a testable hypothesis, maybe it’s a more efficient method for analyzing a certain dataset, whatever. Perhaps others helped define the goal, but then “I” took the lead.

        Methods: What “I” actually did, and the many, many problems I had to solve along the way… (Giving credit to labmates and collaborators when appropriate.) Be sure your story about this work shows how you innovated and improved upon what others may have done before.

        Results: “I” learned X from doing the above methods and “my” paper on the project was published in the Journal of Stuff last year. (And/or maybe “we” published those results as part of a paper where someone else was first author.) Be sure to include the “so what” of your findings and circle back to the “Background & Significance” to put your results into context.

        Good luck in your job search!

    2. Sara without an H*

      I like the phrase “intentionality and practice.” I also really like the idea of doing practice interviews and job talks, because I think that’s probably going to be the solution to OP#3’s problem.

      And I say this, having spent my entire career in a field where this is a HUGE problem.

      1. PostalMixup*

        I agree, give practice talks! And if you have friends who have already made the jump to industry, see if they’ll give you feedback. The practice talk feedback I got from my lab was actually counter-productive, because the mindset can be different between academia and industry. For example, in academia it’s pretty common to talk about a lifelong passion or fascination for whatever-research-area. In industry, that can make people wonder if you’ll leave in a year because the work isn’t in that exact field and you’re feeling intellectually restrained. The feedback I got from someone who already worked at my company was so much more valuable!

        1. OP3*

          This is also useful for me to keep in mind–I’m applying for academic and industry jobs coming out of my PhD, and my brain is having trouble switching across styles so much. Moving forward, I’m trying to schedule preparing applications in chunks so I can tailor the voice of the app better (e.g., try to apply for mostly industry jobs one week, and then academic jobs another week so my cover letters fit the norms).

          I feel like with academia, there’s a lot more performativeness for that “lifelong passion” like you mentioned. I’ve found it kind of liberating to be able to say “I don’t know where I’m ultimately headed, but this sounds very interesting and I’m good at it” and that being a sufficient answer for industry interviews I’ve done so far.

          1. hbc*

            I think it could be as simple as stating up front (maybe after they ask the first question) that you’re probably going to be using “we” a lot out of habit and that you’re happy to clarify if they need to know how much was you versus the team. Showing self-awareness is going to work better than relying on perfect context switching.

          2. Retired Prof*

            I’ve been on a lot of academic hiring committees and we have NEVER been interested in a lifelong passion. We primarily want to make sure that your research interests are compatible with our institution. That might mean that you could pivot to a new research area if necessary – if you can’t get funding once you leave your existing research team, for example. We actually wanted faculty who could involve more students in research, and were interested in people who could adapt their research to do that. But it is also really important to separate yourself from your existing research team in your interview or we can’t tell if you are just riding Dr X’s coattails or are capable of launching your own research effort.

            1. PostalMixup*

              Interesting. Maybe that’s a quirk that’s more specific to the trainee/postdoc levels. I saw it plenty there.

          3. OtterB*

            Given how fast things change in computational/data related science, one approach is “I’m interested in general in solving such-and-such kinds of problems” or “using Big Data to help people do such-and-such” and then talking about the specifics of how your current research does that. Because things are going to change anyway.

            Also, agreeing with others that the framing of “what the project did” and “how I contributed to it” can be helpful. I used to ask some questions like this of new undergrad students with only internship and college lab experience. In that case I knew that they weren’t driving the project, but even if they were doing data entry or something equally mundane, I wanted them to have some notion of the overall project and how their work contributed to it.

    3. AMR527*

      One way to reframe this linguistically when you’re asked a question is to start your response (when you can) with “My role in the project was to [do X, Y, and Z…]” rather than “I/We [did X, Y, and Z…]” One of the great things about this phrase is that it can come in the middle of a response if you find yourself going back to “we” a lot more than you’d like to.

  11. ..Kat..*

    OP 5. I recommend you stop using your personal media accounts for work. This can cause a tangled mess. Set up accounts through your company. These accounts would then stay with the company when you leave.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Agreed. I can see the letters to AAM a year from now:

      – From the OP: “I recently left my company. I told them that they needed to move their social media onto their own company accounts but they never bothered, and now they are calling and emailing me, asking me to make updates. Can I just ignore them?”

      From the OP’s boss: “Our social media consultant just left the company and we no longer have access to our social media accounts, which are under her own name! She’s not replying to my messages on FaceBook. Can I call her new manager to complain?”

      1. BlueFairy*

        FYI, some social media platforms explicitly require company pages/accounts to be managed by personal accounts. It can be awkward, and at least two people at any org should have access at any time to prevent the kind of hand-off problems you’re talking about. However, the last time I checked, if you tried to create a fake company “person” to “own” your company Facebook page, you were in violation of their terms of service and they could shut down your account. (Not that people don’t do it, but they are taking a risk.)

        1. jp in the heartland*

          I was just going to say that. I have managed social media at the last three places I have worked, and, at least with Facebook, you have to use your own personal account. I always make sure somebody else is on it, and when I left, I gave up my editor status. I have never understood why it is set up that way–makes no sense at all.

          1. TootsNYC*

            well…This has me thinking.
            I was on a grand jury for about a month awhile ago; and I noticed that EVERY piece of evidence was backed up by a person. Sometimes it was a form from the state DNA lab, but there was a big point of reading it into the record, along with reading in the name and identity of the PERSON who signed the form. Video evidence came via the person who gathered it, and they were required to tell where and how they got it, and how they knew it was the right evidence. And they had to describe what was happening on the screen.

            I realized, only people can be cross-examined.

            And when I was the PTO president at my kids’ school, I came to realize: People are the only actors. Organizations don’t do anything. The people who make up those organizations do things.

            So Facebook would want a person to be linked to that account, and responsible for it. Now…should they create a way to have business accounts linked to an actual person, so that people could have their own account, and yet still be personally responsible for a business account? Yes.

        2. Observer*

          FYI, some social media platforms explicitly require company pages/accounts to be managed by personal accounts.

          It’s massively stupid. But the way to deal with that is for the OP to set up an account that’s tied to their work email rather than their personal email. That allows work to have the access even when they leave. (And the work can change the address linked to the account, if the platform allows.)

    2. Claire*

      She said she is using her accounts for social media planning sites; these are different than social media accounts themselves.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Sometimes this can be worse though, because many such sites have rules about personal vs business use. She could be violating the rules of the site by not registering a business account.

  12. JM in England*

    Re #2

    Assuming the company has an anti bribery & corruption policy, perhaps the husband can point out that hiring the boss’ girlfriend violates it through being a conflict of interests.

    Re #3

    I think that saying “I” exclusively in interviews could lead to the interviewer perceiving as not a team player. The OP could say “we” (the team) achieved X as the project’s overall result and “I” (the OP) contributed Y to that result….

      1. JM in England*

        When I had antibribery and corruption training at current and previous jobs, it included conflict of interests and avoidance thereof; not hiring relatives and/or spouses/romantic partners was listed as such a conflict.

        1. Hillary*

          They’re often wrapped into the same training, but they don’t fall under the same laws. In the US antibribery and corruption mostly fall under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The EU and UK have similar but less stringent laws. 9 of the largest 10 FCPA settlements were with European companies for actions that were legal or gray in the EU but illegal under American law, and they’re subject to US law due to having American subsidiaries.

          Conflicts of interest aren’t usually illegal unless you’re a public official or participating in a government contract (in the US and I believe EU, I don’t know the laws for other countries).

          1. Observer*

            Legally, it’s a lot more complicated than that. And morally, ethically and practically it’s a distinction without a difference. This *IS* a corrupt practice. This is an attempt to push someone into a position because the boss wants to benefit themselves and their romantic partner regardless of fitness for the role and it attempting to explicitly bypass the rules that the company has set in place. Even if it’s legal, it’s corrupt.

      2. Observer*

        I really don’t think this is what antibribery and corruption is meant to include.

        It absolutely IS. At least it’s ONE of the things intended. This is the boss explicitly trying to push his GF into a job, regardless of suitability. That’s a total non-starter in any organization that is worried about corruption vs integrity.

  13. PspspspspspsKitty*

    OP 4 – I worked with two companies that do get-to-know-you type of meetings. I find it useful because my work impacts their work, even if indirectly. At some point, they will see me, even if I don’t do projects with them. I also met with people that I would communicate now and then to get my work done. I say if it’s any of these situations, meet with them. If they aren’t going to work with you, talk to you about work related stuff, or have any impact on your work, decline the meeting and use Alison’s scripts.
    If it helps, new hires are typically pushed with some pre-made training sheet to go to these type of meetings. They’re just trying accomplish what they were given. They most likely won’t be heart broken if you decline meeting with them.

    1. introverted af*

      If I was given a training checklist at starting a job and someone I was supposed to meet with just said “no,” with no context, I wouldn’t be heartbroken, I would be frustrated. Just starting at a new job does not seem like a time to assume that your onboarding instructions are optional. Of course, I would be talking to my boss about that and hopefully get more context of “yes this is optional and I just thought it would be helpful” or “no, you really need to talk to them, let me ask.” And I tend to take instructions pretty literally but that would not at all be my assumption.

      That doesn’t mean the LW needs to be taking every meeting or can’t find a better solution for what they need, of course. Just communicate about it, don’t just stop taking meetings. I like the other suggestion that was made about having one meeting a month/every other month for all new hires in that timeframe.

  14. Dan*

    #3 (Interview I/we)

    I wouldn’t worry about this *too* much, although I acknowledge this assumes some level of skill/competency on behalf of the interviewer:

    1. First things first, if you can’t break the I/we habit, then practice interviewing until you can portray confidence. A “we” speaker with nervousness suggests the person isn’t confident in what they’re saying, which can lead an interviewer to think you’re trying to take personal credit for others’ accomplishments. OTOH, a confident “we” speaker is going to portray that you know WTF is going on. Basically, practice owning the room in mock interviews. Hesitancy and speaking without confidence is probably the kiss of death for these kinds of things.

    2. A skilled interviewer is going to keep probing into your “we” statements. They’re going to try and figure out what *you* did. Confident answers (see #1) will convey that you know WTF you’re talking about, regardless of the I/we language.

    3. An unskilled interviewer may just outright ask what *you* did. In those cases, flat out answer the question.

    4. That said… answer “you” questions with “I”. If they ask what *you* did, and you respond with “we”, you’re probably toast. Take the cue.

    All in all, big picture: Your confidence is going to indicate mastery of the material. A hesitant/nervous speaker is going to portray that they don’t know the material all that well, regardless of the pronouns used. A confident speaker is going to portray competency, regardless of the pronouns. Just don’t take personal (“I”) credit for things you didn’t do.

    1. Venus*

      I was thinking this as well.
      Practice, practice, practice!
      And a good interviewer will know that your responses show an understanding of your work.

    2. OP3*

      Thank you for the advice! I think ultimately, I am quite confident and charming in interviews :) So it’s helpful to keep in mind that that is a skill/plus in of itself and can help diffuse some of this awkwardness.

      1. Firecat*

        As someone who has hired before, I disagree with the above advice that you will be fine.

        Sure I will probe to find out what *you* did. But maybe only dig in twice per question and after a few questions I would be done trying to cajole the details out of you. I’d be left thinking – is OP this unclear on whose responsibility is whose on assigning work and projects? Can I trust op to identify the what and sometimes who, is responsible for things going sideways?

        Those aren’t great thoughts to have about a candidate. I recommend you practice because this can be an issue not only in interviews but also in work. Alison has an article from a while back about a manager whose employee was too collaborative so his work couldn’t be evaluated. In your quest to share credit, don’t let it obscure your role or make it seem as if you are trying to hide behind a group.

        1. Unfettered scientist*

          Ooh that sounds like an interesting letter. Could you share the date or link?

      2. Paulina*

        Confidence and charm helps you put yourself forward, but sometimes it can paper over things only in the moment. Being able to speak confidently about your work suggests that you were closely involved, but I have seen otherwise, especially with charm. You don’t want potential employers to be looking back on your discussion and realizing that you hadn’t said what you specifically had done, when you’re no longer around to explain.

  15. Myrin*

    #2, your husband’s boss is already being annoying and unreasonable and the girlfriend isn’t even hired yet – that’s a good indicator that he’ll be even more annoying and unreasonable once the girlfriend works there. Better to set a very hard boundary now, and I agree with another commenter above that it’s likely a good sign that boss doesn’t want to be upfront with HR – that’s probably the case because he believes they will put a stop to that, and very rightly so!

    1. NoviceManagerGuy*

      I agree, the LW’s husband is already in a no-win situation and the only way to minimize damage now is to do everything by the book, which means going to HR for guidance.

      1. Observer*

        I was thinking about this, too.

        OP, this is a RIDICULOUS situation for your husband. All risk, no upside.

        1. LW#2 Wife*

          I thought about that as well; what if they break up. It will be an even bigger mess! Yes, this is a ridiculous situation and I can’t believe that a supervisor is even thinking that this is an option.

  16. Red*

    It’s tedious but I usually set up a different email when I change jobs for that specific job use when they don’t give one. What this does is separate my work emails and personal ones and I can just leave that account to the successor of my role/company for archiving or email tracing or whatever.

    1. Firecat*

      Same here – our company gave everyone apple phones and lots of people connected to their personal accounts – only to be understandably pissed later when the company installed and used remote wiping, monitoring, and security files which hit some of their cloud data.

      I set up a account for this and their software used about 90% of the free space.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      I have 2 different gmail accounts: one is personal (with a silly username), and the other is professional (where the username is This lets me keep things strictly firewalled, and on occasion where my new workplace hasn’t set up an email account fast enough, it gives me something to use with new colleagues.

  17. Forrest*

    Good heavens, just IMAGINE being LW2’s husband’s boss, and thinking, “ahh yes, I’ll get my report to hire my girlfriend, HR need never know, nothing could possibly go wrong here!” How do you get to the place where you’re managing managers, and you know perfectly well that HR would come down on this like a ton of bricks, your report is reluctant so you KNOW there’s going to be conflict here– but the gains still seem worth the risk?

    It would make more sense if he were genuinely clueless and was like, “Sure, let HR know, there’s nothing wrong with this plan so I’m sure they won’t mind!” But knowing that it’s almost certainly frowned upon or against company policy, knowing that at least one other person knows about it, and still not seeing any giant red flags? Wow!

    1. TechWorker*

      Yeah, plus marrying them wouldn’t make it better, he’d still have his partner in his mgmt line which is often against company policy. Maybe he’s thinking ‘well once she gets a job at this company she’s set and we can move to different departments’ but then just… get her to apply to jobs elsewhere in the company..

    2. RC Rascal*

      Eh, boss is a sleaze ball. I worked for one who would have done this. The answer to your question is this: they don’t think long term about anything. It’s always what’s in it for me TODAY. if there is a problem tomorrow they plan to deal with it by lying , blame shifting & gas lighting.

      Once these types get in power it’s amazing what they can get away with.

      1. Paulina*

        Yes, this. Notice that the boss is also saying that they should be able to hide it until they get married in about a year or so, by which time he’s planning to move on anyway! He’s not interested in the consequences, just in what he can get away with now.

        Do not follow instructions from someone whose long-term strategy is “it’s ok if things go bad because by then I’m quitting.”

  18. Helvetica*

    On LW#1, could we also expand this to not generally refer to other people’s pets as children?
    I have a cat. I don’t have children but maybe I will in the future. I absolutely *hate* when people call me a cat mom and/or refer to my cat as my child. My cat is my pet and I am her owner, this is my firm stance. While I get that some people do this with their own pets, the default should not be to expect that everyone does it. I will push back on this in the moment and on the other side, I would never call someone’s pets their children unless that person says it first.

    1. Captain Raymond Holt*

      Same! I’m adamantly childfree. I don’t want children. I have a cat because she’s not a child. She’s a pet. A lovely cute pet. But still a pet.

    2. Kristin (Germany)*

      I agree! I do have children and a dog and I have never once referred to a pet of mine as my child or my baby. He’s not my kid, he’s my companion. I wouldn’t ever impose my opinion on someone who refers to their own pet as their son or daughter, but honestly I mentally roll my eyes whenever I see that terminology used. Not many people have talked about me being my dog’s ‘Mom,’ but every time it’s happened, I’ve responded with something like: ‘Huh. No, I don’t see our connection in those terms. He’s a pet, not my offspring.’ I find the whole fur baby thing to be frankly bizarre, although, again, I wouldn’t say that openly to someone who chooses that wording for themselves and their own pets.

      But this is a very different thing. The most charitable interpretation here is that the boss hasn’t connected the dots to see how her talking about LW 1’s pets as her children when she is unable to have actual children is painful and awful, and that if she had that realization, she’d be horrified and immediately stop doing that. The other possibility is that she’s deliberately poking her in a sore spot. LW 1 needs to push back on this behavior to get it to stop and I think it would be most useful to strike a tone of ‘*Of course* you would never do this on purpose, but as you know, I’m unable to have children, so talking about my pets as my children stings. I’m asking you to be aware of how hurtful this is to me, even though it would be harmless to other people in other circumstances, and to stop.’ LW could say this the next time the boss brings it up, or say it at the end of a meeting, or put it in an email, which has the advantage of creating a written record of exactly what was said and when. In any case, once she’s made it explicitly clear that to her boss that her boss’s language has been painful, she will have very useful information about her boss if the language doesn’t then change, and an escalation to HR is warranted.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I agree, as a parent it makes me think a person is really clueless if they think owning a pet is equivalent. Have kids or don’t, no judgment from me, have pets or don’t, whatever, but it’s not the same.

        (Obviously I’d never make a show of this, but it does internally weird me out.)

        1. Mx*

          Agree. I am childfree, and a former pets owner. I would have never call myself a parent, no matter how much I loved them.

        2. Dark Macadamia*

          Yep, I wouldn’t say anything about it out loud but I find the whole thing incredibly weird. Pets aren’t children, children aren’t pets. It feels similar to when stay-at-home parents refer to parenting as a job – you don’t have to compare one situation to the other to express its validity or importance.

          1. Just Saying*

            Stop gatekeeping words. People with pets can call themselves parents! Stay at home parents can say it’s their job!

            You don’t get to decide what words other people use.

            1. IEanon*

              Gatekeeping is ridiculous when you’re trying to restrict the words people use in their own homes/relationships/spaces. It’s like the weird virtue-signalers who show up to say that parents can’t call their own children assholes or goblins when they’re talking to each other and to other parents.

            2. Observer*

              So? No one is telling anyone that they can’t refer to themselves as parents. They are asking that people do not call THEM the parents of their pets.

              That they think is weird is not really relevant here (as long as they keep those thoughts in their heads, which they are.)

              1. Just Saying*

                Not true.

                If I said that I think having children is “weird” but I would never say it out loud to a parent, I’d get dog-piled on about how I’m terrible. Learning to avoid mentally labeling things you don’t understand as “weird” is part of being an adult. And it means that they’re probably reacting negatively when a co-worker DOES refer to themselves as a pet-parent or whatever.

        3. Just Saying*

          I LOVE when people with children gatekeep those terms.

          I’ll be a dog mom all I want! My furry kid is probably better behaved than your “real” kids. Also cuter!

        4. Just Saying*

          You aren’t better/more worthy of using the words “mom” or “dad” because you have human children. Of course having a pet isn’t the exact same as a child, but it is similar in many ways. That doesn’t make me clueless, it just means I have a different view of the words than you do.

          Parents do not get to own words because they popped out a baby. I’m so tired of the superiority of parents and how no one who isn’t as super special as them can possibly understand anything. It’s so condescending.

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Dogs used to be ‘man’s best friend’, now they are furbabies. I just don’t think that is an improvement for the dog.

        My cats are not infants, they are adult (or young adult) animals. My ‘kitten’ would probably be pregnant with her first litter about now if she was feral. My grown cat would probably be a great grandma at least. Either would be in charge of feeding themselves and keeping themselves safe. They are not babies just because they are cuddly and adorable.

      3. Myrin*

        As an add-on to your first, more general paragraph (which I concur with completely), I’m pretty sure one can also see how language and culture fit into that because, well, German simply doesn’t do the whole “fur baby” thing. Before reading your comment, I would’ve said it’s not a thing at all, but seeing how you have had some people call you your dog’s mother, I would have to concede that okay, maybe it happens, but it’s certainly very rare (so much so that I’ve personally literally never heard anyone say something like that to or around me except for my landlord, who is Australian and had a really hard time adjusting to my family’s horror whenever he referred to our cat in familial terms; he now calls himself her “Uncle Rick” which is kinda adorable so we let him, but I always cringe so hard when I hear him tell his own cat “Komm zu Papi!”).

        1. Kristin (Germany)*

          Myrin, I should clarify that I’m an American who lives in Germany and that when I’ve gotten comments from people calling me my dog’s mom, it’s been universally other Americans who did it, so there’s clearly a very strong cultural component to this. At home, my husband and I call each other our dog’s Herrchen and Frauchen, as in when I egg on my dog’s excitement at my husband getting home with ‘Yes! This is so awesome! Your Herrchen is home!! Hooray!’ (For non-German speakers, Herrchen and Frauchen are the equivalents of master and mistress. Oddly, I would never refer to myself as my dog’s mistress, even though it’s a correct term.) In English, if I use a term for myself, I call myself Sammy’s human, like SomebodyElse says below, or possibly above, depending on how this comment nests.

        2. Helvetica*

          Oh, same, it’s also not a concept in my language. Fur baby seems uniquely English to me. I have heard people refer to themselves as cat/dog moms, though.

    3. IEanon*

      I tried to be like this when we got our dog, but after everyone from my mother to the doggie daycare staff to the postman referred to us as pet parents, I kinda just gave up. I still don’t do the dog mom/dad thing in public, because it feels weird, but it feels equally awkward to tell the dog, “Don’t look at me, “Stewart” was supposed to feed you today.”

      Like, it feels too formal to refer to one another by our first names to the dog.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        Whenever I call doggy daycare I refer to myself as “Hi this SomebodyElse, Fluffy’s human”

        To the issue at large this is one of those topics that for the most part* people need to need to assume good intentions and grace. It’s clear from the comments both here and on similar topics “I need sick days to take Sparkles to the vet!” “Why don’t I get bereavement leave for Toonces” that it’s just something that will never have an ironclad social rule on.

        *In the OP’s case I think if it’s been clearly stated that it’s not preferred how the manager is referring to the dog then they it sucks, but probably not one of those things that is easily fixed with the manager.

      2. Retired Prof*

        We tell the dog “get the man to let you out” or “did the woman feed you breakfast?”. Like we’re pretty sure she doesn’t know our names, but she knows what “the man” means.

      3. Not A Manager*

        This is hilarious. I agree that first names are far too formal, but “mom” and “dad” are a bridge too far.

        I suggest “Uncle Stew” or maybe a nickname like “The Stew Man.”

      4. Joielle*

        Same here! At home we refer to each other as mom and dad when talking directly to the pets, but not when talking to each other.

        I’ve yet to figure out a non-weird way to talk to the vet and dog daycare though. Last time I called the daycare I didn’t think out my sentence beforehand and ended up saying “Hi, my dog Jet is… your… client” as if I’m his secretary. Which, maybe is the most accurate, actually.

        1. IEanon*

          Ha! I’ve done the exact same thing. I’ve also said I’m my dog’s owner (ugh), parent, person, etc. Thankfully I can call my doggy daycare guy and just say, “It’s IEanon. Do you have space today?” He knows us!

          Our boarding place refers to the dogs as guests, so that’s my default there.

        2. Hrodvitnir*

          Ha, yeah we routinely called clients their animal’s parent (used interchangeably with owner) when I was a vet nurse. My friend once said “oh, are you Harry’s Dad?” and a client went on a rant about how he’s his [i]owner[/i], actually. It was pretty funny when a few minutes later the [male] vet brought out his dog and said “here’s Dad!” to the dog.

          I personally cringe at the word “furbaby” and similar (I keep that to myself though!) I would never literally call my animals my children, and don’t love people talking about them as my children, but my partner and I definitely call each other “Mum” and “Dad” to the animals. *shrug*

    4. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Piling on to agree with this. It’s weird when people do it. If I ever heard my vet do this, I’d switch immediately.

    5. HauntingTorgoTheme*

      I think you just gave to go by the individual person’s preference, which you can usually oick up. As seen in an earlier thread many people feel just as strongly that their pets are like their children. Not human children, but still their “babies.” My mother calls her dogs her babies and my siblings, and she obviously has a human child. I just listen to how the other person talks about their pets and go from there.

      1. allathian*

        I think there’s a difference between saying a pet’s your baby and saying they’re your child. I don’t know where the difference lies, but I feel there is one.

        When my parents’ cats were still alive, they sometimes referred to the cats as their “catbabies” and as my sister’s and my “brothers”. For us it was a family joke, I’m pretty sure they didn’t refer to their cats that way to other people.

        I think that there’s a risk of humanizing your pets too much if you think of them as your children. Pets are animals and should be allowed to live a life that’s suited to their species and breed, rather than being forced into some sort of unnatural existence. I think clothes on dogs are completely ridiculous, unless they’re necessary to keep the dog warm and dry. Don’t get me started on the people who dye the hair of their dogs and paint their claws. I really pity the poor dogs. All that said, though, I don’t think that people who consider their pets to be their children are automatically guilty of humanizing behavior, but the risk is there.

    6. Ray Gillette*

      I call my cat my baby, but in ways that I hope make it obvious this is a joke and not intended to be taken seriously. Of course a cat isn’t the same as a human child. For dogs, this is why we have silly internet words like “pupper” and “doggo” in case saying “dog” on its own feels insufficiently cute.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        I like to call my cat my “son” or “firstborn” because it’s sooo ridiculous. My human kids do NOT appreciate me saying he’s their older brother.

      2. onco fonco*

        I call my cat baby when I’m talking to him, mostly in combination with various insults (‘who’s an awful-smelling bebe, who’s a nasty boy, YOU are, YOU are’) but not when I’m talking about him to anyone else, and I never think of him as my child. I love him, I’m responsible for him, I’d be devastated to lose him, but he’s not my child. He’s my cat. I would strongly prefer that no one ever refer to me as a cat parent, because personally it weirds me out.

        I have no beef with anyone else using the term for themselves, though! I’d feel weird doing lots of stuff that other people do as a matter of course. It’s not a criticism, just a thing.

      3. Hrodvitnir*

        Yes. Some people get very weird, but most people calling their pets their “babies” aren’t literally comparing them to actual children. We just don’t have the vocabulary for the space pets occupy now, as it’s changed a lot in the last few decades; in good and bad ways.

        I personally despise the words “pupper” and “doggo” though (again, I keep this to myself and just cringe internally), so just goes to show you can’t please everyone. Haha.

    7. Alldogsarepuppies*

      Or we can not make general sweeping standards without other people’s preferences. I aboslutely call myself my pet’s mom, and my mom loves being a pet grandma. I don’t compare my furball to human children, but I would be very annoyed if someone calls me her owner. She is a living thing and not a piece of property like a tv or a book – which is why I hate the term owner.

      1. Unfettered scientist*

        Yeah I agree this is a situation where people just don’t all agree on what they like to be called relative to their pets. If you treated everyone the same, there would definitely be angry people no matter what side you picked.

      2. Just Saying*

        People looooooove to gatekeep being a parent. In case people forget how extra special they are because they have ~~~kids~~~~ and the rest of us need to remember our inferiority.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I liken this to people’s pronouns: believe them when they say what they want to be referred as.

        My MIL refers to my cat as her ‘grand kitty’ which is cute, I like.

        However, if my boss started to refer to my cat as my ‘son’ I’d ask him to stop doing that.

      4. Helvetica*

        Sure, but I’d also not call you her owner if you referred to yourself as her mom. And that’s fine. I just ask that nobody define the relationship a person might have with their pet by defaulting to parenting language, which somehow seems very prevalent. As I note downthread, I am more likely to refer to your cat as “your cat” or “Snuffles” and not tell you “oh, what a good cat mom you must be”, unless I’ve heard you use that term.

    8. Dust Bunny*

      How about we take this on a case-by-case basis instead of trying to dictate it for everyone else? I guarantee you that everyone who thinks this is annoying has some other language convention that they think is reasonable that is annoying for somebody else.

      1. Myrin*

        I’m pretty sure you and Helvetica are in agreement – she suggest to “not generally refer to other people’s pets as children” and that “the default should not be to expect that everyone does it” (emphases mine). That seems like someone in favour of talking on a personalised/case-by-case basis.

        1. Helvetica*

          Yes, indeed! My point was that I’d wait for how the person refers to themselves in relation to their pet.

          In general, I also rarely come up on instances where I want to call a person a cat mom or owner when I learn they have a cat. I’d rather ask “how’s your cat?” or “how’s Snuffles?” than “how’s your fur baby?” and from the person’s response, you can find out quite easily which one they prefer.

    9. meyer lemon*

      I suspect part of the reason for the popularity of children language is that the traditional ownership/property language around animals increasingly feels out of sync with the actual relationships people have with their animal companions. There is something a bit clinical about it. That being said, I’m not a huge fan of the children language either because I think it can contribute to broad misunderstandings about animals and what they actually need for their wellbeing, although I wouldn’t give anyone a hard time for using it. I’m not sure if there is a great middle path.

  19. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #4

    At my previous company, we had a monthly breakfast meeting (I think it was called Breakfast with Leaders?), which featured a different manager each time. It was one hour, the company paid for Panera goodies and coffee, and people could sign up to listen to the manager talk about themselves and how they got to where they are now. It was really interesting and it was a good way for people to get to know the managers in a more casual roundtable-type setting, and for managers to be exposed to people they normally wouldn’t cross paths with.

    Is something like that an option? If not, then I agree with Alison. Take less of these meetings and spread the word to other managers that your time is limited.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      My workplace has recently started something very similar as part of our new hire orientation/onboarding process. I think it’s a great idea to get new people acquainted with higher-ups when they start (as someone I know put it, “so you don’t say something embarrassing to them in the elevator without knowing who they are”). Doing it in a group like that instead of one at a time is definitely more respectful of the time of people who tend to be extremely busy!

  20. Richard Hershberger*

    LW4: A few weeks ago we had a discussion about shared calendars where any random person could schedule you for something. Today’s letter is exactly the sort of horror some of us imagine. Yes, you can cancel it. But at that point you are affirmatively reversing something that has already been done. This is different from receiving an email requesting a meeting. In that scenario you can make a polite apology while explaining that you have too much going on right now. As it is: What the hell?

    1. Nikki*

      In most online calendars, scheduling a meeting with someone else doesn’t automatically add it to their calendar. The calendar’s owner has to accept or reject the meeting request and can include a note with the response if, for instance, they want to apologize and say they’re too busy to take the meeting.

    2. Green great dragon*

      You can still decline the meeting and make a polite apology! Nothing goes into the calendar as confirmed until you actively accept it, and until then all that ‘has been done’ is that an invitation has been sent for a specific time.

    3. it's just outlook*

      why are we all pretending these are mystical shared calendar systems we’ve never heard of. They mean outlook. they’re using outlook. it’s a meeting request, just like how meeting requests have worked since the beginning of time, which is someone sends you a request and then you say yes or no. this person needs to say no. it’s not rocket science.

      1. Esmeralda*

        There are other calendaring systems. But they do all work more or less the same way.

      2. D3*

        Outlook is NOT the calendaring system my company uses. My last one didn’t use it either. There’s nothing wrong with other people speaking generically. Just because YOU haven’t experienced anything other than Outlook does not mean other systems don’t exist.

    4. Firecat*

      Except you get an email with the request … Without the inconvenience of having to create a list of availability which inevitably changes by the time it’s read.

      You can even propose a new time if you want to meet but their proposed timendoesn’t work.

      Declining a meeting is OK to do. I’m not seeing the philosophical difference between getting an email from someone that says – when can you meet Wednesday? – and you saying sorry I’m busy and getting a calendar invite from that person and saying sorry I’m busy.

      You can also block your calendar with non meeting appointments so you can dedicate yourself to work, lunch, or whatever too.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. I decline meetings all the time. Sometimes I’m too busy or the time doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s because I’m not the right person in the company (e. g. the meeting is on teapot lids and I work in spout design).

        It’s quite normal to decline an invite. I mean it’s good manners to say why but I’ve never found it very difficult saying no to them.

    5. Insert Clever Name Here*

      It’s really not a horror. I have three invitations I’ve received right now that I haven’t accepted and I show as “tentative.”

      If I care enough/the relationship means enough (the meeting with a colleague that I can’t attend because I’m meeting with my boss at the same time) then I decline with a note “meeting with Boss from 2-3” and it disappears and my colleague is neither horrified nor waiting for me to show up.

      If I don’t care enough/the relationship isn’t important (invitation to a town hall that will include 300+ attendees that I can’t attend because I’m meeting with a customer) I can either decline without a comment and it disappears or ignore it and it sits there and no one really cares.

      But different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

    6. Elenna*

      At least in Outlook, a calendar invite literally is an email requesting a meeting, it just happens to have an attached widget that adds the thing to your calendar *if you say yes*. If you say no, you can reply with a polite apology and nothing will ever be on your calendar, just as if it were a regular email.

    7. Observer*

      You’re just making stuff up. Seriously.

      Declining a meeting invitation is declining a meeting invitation, regardless of the format. This is not cancelling an event, because there is no event on your calendar till you accept it.

  21. Ubi Caritas*

    LW 1 – could you use the magic word “harass”? As in, “please do not harass me about my dog.” Or would that be throwing kerosene on a fire?

    1. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Words have meaning, you can’t just throw “harass” at any behavior you don’t like.

        1. merope*

          I think also in this case asking to stop harassment about the dog suggests it’s asking about the dog itself which is the problem, when in fact the problem is the way the question is being asked. The LW might be perfectly happy to talk about their dog, but not in the context of the dog being considered a child.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      “Harass” would be a strange, unnecessary escalation. All OP has to do is be more direct about it and not automatically assume ill intention.

    3. Firecat*

      Harass is not a magic word to be tossed around. Doing so degrades the term and minimizes actual harassment.

    4. Clisby*

      “Harass” is over the top, in my opinion. But if this were harassment, it wouldn’t be about the dog. It would be about the LW’s pain over not being able to have children.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. If the LW talks to her boss and asks her (it says in the letter that both of them are women) to stop referring to her dog as her child because it hurts her when she can’t have any kids, and the manager won’t stop doing that, then it could be seen as harassment by the general definition at least, I’m not sure about the legal one.

  22. I'm just here for the cats*

    Follow up to #5. What if you learn skills on the job but then incorporate that into work off the clock. So let’s say I learn how to do x,y,z. I write a blog and put publish a post on tips on how to do x,y,z. The blog is my personal blog, written outside of work. That should be fine, because XYZ are not trade secrets or anything.

  23. WritingIsHard*

    This is only tangentially related to OP4’s question, but it still blows my mind that some workplaces have a convention where you can just book time one someone else’s calendar. I would despise that.

    1. Leah K*

      I’ve seen companies like that. They pride themselves on having “open door” policy and actively encourage new employees to connect with the leaders by scheduling some time to grab coffee.

      1. Firecat*

        I’m lost here.

        Everywhere I’ve ever worked had a calendar share system… But that doesn’t mean I am going to be able to grab coffee with the CEO just because. For one they have admin assistants managing their calendars for them and if their calenders were simply first come first serve then that wouldn’t be needed would it?

    2. NoviceManagerGuy*

      You can also reject a meeting that gets added to your calendar, I’m not sure what another way to make this work would be.

    3. Shared calendars*

      this is how it’s always been done wherever I have worked – you search calendars for a mutually free spot and then send the calendar invite. The invitee can accept or decline. If we had to send an email first to ask and then people had to share back their availability, we’d never get any work done…!

      What are other options?

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. In my company you send a calendar invite explaining the purpose of the meeting and the recipient can accept or decline. I may IM them first to explain the issue and but it might depend how well I knew them and if there were other things I wanted to speak on. They are welcome to accept or decline.

        Recently someone quite junior asked me to have a chat to pick my brains about progression within the company during a really busy period. I declined the invite and said I was really busy but could they try again in 2 weeks time when my section has hit a major deadline. It’s an invite not a summons.

      2. miss chevious*

        Yeah, to me that’s the whole benefit of the calendars — that I don’t have to spend my time coordinating with someone who wants a meeting, they can look themselves. When someone does try to get me involved in the “when are you free” dance, my response is “my calendar is up to date.”

      3. Bernadette*

        What I have seen is this coupled with a norm that you give a heads up — “mind if I put some time on your calendar to discuss the XYZ project?”

        I get a little annoyed when people just send the invite with zero context about what we’re going to be discussing, but at least at smaller orgs it seems very normal for people to have access to each other’s calendars.

      4. allathian*

        Yeah, this is the way it works at my org. Sure, sometimes there are double bookings, but it’s also understood at my org that it isn’t always possible to attend every meeting. But keeping your calendar up-to-date is a requirement of every job at my org.

    4. meteorological spring*

      I find this extremely efficient. It’s not a mandate; I’m not summoning you. I’m just saying, ‘hi, I’d like to meet about this topic and can see we’re both free at this time – here are all the details you need to call in – what do you say?’ Obviously you don’t do this with everyone or all the time, but when you do it you haven’t taken control of someone’s schedule, you’re just consolidating a few emails.

    5. Environmental Compliance*

      I think in this there are some assumptions being made (overall):

      We have a group who are thinking… well, duh, how else do you send invite requests? in which the “booking” is sending the invite, which you are free to accept or reject as you wish.

      We also have a group who are thinking it’s much more forward that the above, in which “booking” is putting a nonnegotiable appointment on someone else’s calendar… aka, “I’m telling you that you need to be here for this meeting at this time.”

      I’m pretty solidly Group A here. I do not have the time to do the email back-and-forth of “when are you available? how about now? Now?”. I have a lot of meetings a week to go to, or coordinate, on top of my normal work. My calendar is up to date, use the scheduling function to see if it works for everyone who needs to be there. And, honestly, this is how nearly all of my workplaces (and my husband’s workplaces) have functioned. I get a request, I accept or decline. If I absolutely need to be present, then the coordinator of the meeting finds a different time/day (generally happens because they didn’t use the scheduling tool or look at the calendar first).

      And let’s say for some ungodly reason I wanted to set up a meeting with our global CEO/President/whatever their title is, who’s several levels above me…. could I technically send them that meeting invite? Sure thing. Would that be really, really strange of me to do? Absolutely. But they’d either ignore or decline it, and if I pushed it I’d likely get an invite to “discuss norms” with my boss, who would have heard from their boss, and so on. This is also why our upper levels of management have admin staff, who help keep all of that stuff corralled. When I have needed to talk to boss’s boss’s boss, their admin assisted in starting communications & setting up meetings.

    6. Elenna*

      At least in every company I’ve been in, Outlook calendars don’t mean you can “just book time on someone else’s calendar”. Generally you look at their calendar, say “oh we’re both free at X time”, and then send them a meeting invite asking if they want to meet at X time. It’s not forcing them to come in any way, it has exactly the same meaning to me as an email saying “do you want to meet at X time”. The invite just helpfully adds it to my calendar *if I say yes*, so that I don’t have to remember it.

    7. WritingIsHard*

      In the interest of not replying individually to everyone, I will just clarify my thoughts here. I understand you can still reject or accept a meeting request. I too am familiar with how shared calendars work. I’ve just never worked in a meeting-heavy environment and I’ve also always been on a small team where we have more regular direct communication, so this system would not work for me.

      If it’s more efficient for you or your workplace, fair. Although even then sending a meeting request to a person you’ve never met before still seems weird to me.

    8. Raja*

      I think the text of the invite matters a lot. If I am scheduling something out of the blue, I always include a note explaining the purpose of the meeting and making it clear I am flexible, something like: “Do you have some time to talk about x?” and maybe “Please let me know if another day/time works better for you, I’m flexible.” I’ve had all kinds of responses, from people accepting, to asking to reschedule, to “I don’t have time this week but check in with me next week,” to “I’m pretty busy this week but can make time if it’s a priority” to sending me back an email with what they think I am looking for to start that way instead.
      Maybe it’s just the culture of my company but we very much do not treat a calendar invitation as a summons. I think of it as a request to meet (that the person is free to accept/decline/modify) that happens to have a suggested time attached to it to cut out the next step if the person wants to accept.

  24. ApplePie*

    OP5: Why would you want to keep the work you’ve created for them? If you’re wanting to use them for a portfolio, ask them for portfolio rights – this allows you to share the work with others while letting the company retain ownership of your work. This is the most common setup I’ve seen in our industry.

    1. I Can't Remember My Name*

      It could be the kind of project where you could re-use the bones/structure and just change the specifics & variables for a different project. The question is, who owns the structure she created, and can she legally do that.

  25. BlueBelle*

    LW4 – have the managers told you what the objective is of the meeting? My assumption would be that they want you to give them a quick overview of what your department does and how that connects to their department/job. It helps new employees understand where there are in the big scheme of things and to give people a go-to person in that department if they need to connect with someone there. This is a very standard part of onboarding within our company. How long are you spending with them? 15-20 minutes should do it if you don’t directly work with each other, or ask the leaders to split it between you and one other person.
    I guess I like to do this sort of thing, I like to know who the new people are and I like them to know if they have a question about the department I am in they can contact me to help direct them to the right person instead of feeling frustrated and floundering.

  26. PolarVortex*

    LW1, man do I feel you.

    Coworkers have in fact called me a “fur mommy” – trans masculine means not only no but heck no. If you considering yourself a fur parent that’s fine but I am not a mom or a dad to my dog. Much less a “mommy” or a “daddy”.

    And because my dog is male said “now there’s a man of the house”, which No. I am the man of the house and even if my gender was female, that’d still be a no, I am both the man and woman of my house. Because 1) that’s a terrible phrase and let’s never use it and 2) it makes it sound like my dog is in charge of me which will never be the case.

    I had to politely laugh and say “not in the least”. But I’m still irritated by that comment months later.

    1. IEanon*

      That is unbelievably gross. You’re right that the connotations are super sexist, even notwithstanding the fact that they mis-gendered you!

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Unfortunately, Pet Parent, Fur Baby and all the many variations thereof are simply EVERYWHERE in the media, commercials and the shows. It was kind of cute at first, but like most things in America, it’s gone way overboard and now people don’t think twice before they speak things like “How are your fur babies doing?” or “Oh you’re a Pet Parent.”

        I never really thought much about it before this post though.

        1. Hello*

          I have run into people that are aggressively pet parents. In America it’s not popular to say you want to be childless, so perhaps some of them try to play defense on that by saying they are pet parents. It’s always worth a conversation about boundaries “we’re not going to have children but we are parents to three happy crocodiles” or “My dog is not my child, please stop referring them as such it makes me uncomfortable” or “Yes I have a cat but we don’t consider our cat to be our kid like our son Fergus”.

          It can be a strange conversation but always one worth having to establish that firm boundary.

  27. Seashells*

    I know Alison and most readers are against anonymous letters, but I would be tempted to anonymously notify HR that the candidate is romantically involved with the supervisor’s boss. Or somehow let it accidentally slip in conversation.

    At my employer, they ask during the interview if they are related to, friends with or in a relationship with any current employees. It is also expected of current employees to disclose if they have any sort of relationship with a candidate. Most of the time, it’s not an issue. We’ve had married couples work at the same location (different chains of command, no supervising each other) and my child worked here for several years without issue. The supervisor’s boss knows it’s a horrible idea and that’s why he wants to hide it.

    OP#2- I hope your husband doesn’t have to hire the girlfriend and bring unnecessary stress to his work life.

    1. LW#2 Wife*

      LW#2 wife here. The situation is already very stressful, I can’t imagine what it will be like if, for some reason, the girlfriend gets hired. I agree with everyone that HR needs to know and I bet that even if the company does not have a written policy they will still say that this is not a good idea.

    2. Colette*

      An anonymous letter is less credible than the husband just having a conversation with HR, and may not be acted upon.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, anonymous tips are sometimes necessary due to fear of retaliation, but also usually less effective. And in this case I don’t see it panning out. An anonymous tip about tax fraud could prompt someone to take a close look at financial records. But a tip that some guy wants to get his girlfriend hired, what is that gonna do? She’s not even an actual employee yet, and it’s also harder to demonstrate that they’re in a relationship since they’re not married. They also can’t really act on hiring her unless she actually gets hired, although they might be able to prevent it. But right now the boss isn’t in the wrong yet on this part. He’s wrong about pressuring his employee but how could they find evidence of that without it being obvious that they talked to the specific employee? That also means it can’t really be anonymous anyway, since the boss knows who he asked to hire the girlfriend.

  28. Bookworm*

    LW1: Yiiiiikes. That’s really terrible and I have no advice other than to agreeing with Alison. I’m so sorry and wish you the best.

  29. MCMonkeybean*

    For OP #3 I think honestly the best thing you can do it practice. Have a list of things you contributed to projects and stand in front of a mirror and talk about what you did, trying to use “I” whenever appropriate. Then after you do that a few times, maybe set up a video call with a willing friend and do it again to get used to saying it to other people. If you say it enough hopefully you can override your current “we” default and get to a place where saying “I” seems more normal.

    For what it’s worth, I think it sounds like you handled it okay in your last interview. It is important that you clarified you were the one who did most of the work you were talking about, but I think most interviewers understand that a lot of people find it difficult to talk themselves up during interviews. Out in the world it is so often seen as a good quality to be humble and not “brag” about your accomplishments so it’s hard for a lot of us to flip that switch in an interview and suddenly try to talk about how many great things we have done! But I’m sure after a couple of times your brain will make that switch more easily.

    Good luck on your job search!

  30. No Name #1*

    For LW #1, a lot of comments so far are suggesting that the LW explain again to her boss that she cannot have children. While this might be effective, considering LW has done this in the past and nothing has changed, I feel like this suggestion will put OP in yet another painful conversation when her medical concerns are really none of her boss’ business. I agree with Allison’s suggestion to remind the boss that she has told her repeatedly in the past not to refer to her dogs as her children and that these requests have been ignored. Something like, “In the past, I have told you not to refer to my dogs as my children, but you continue to do this and it makes me very uncomfortable. Please do not call my dogs my children in the future.” If you want to soften it a bit while making the boundary clear, you could tack on “I know that this is not your intention” somewhere in there.

    I think putting it in an email is a good idea if possible. As someone who struggles with maintaining my boundaries, I’ve found that it can be easier to be firm over email or text because during a conversation, sometimes people will engage in manipulative or defensive tactics like over the top guilt and then you get put into the position of having to reassure them. Having it in an email also provides a paper trail if you decide to take this to HR or your boss’ manager because you can demonstrate that you have been clear about this to your boss. I totally understand if LW is hesitant about going to HR especially if they assume that you not wanting her to call your dogs your children is more of a pet-peeve and not a serious violation of your boundaries. I think that if LW were to emphasize that this is a matter of 1) a boss using language that is disrespectful of the LW’s medical condition and 2) the boss has already ignored the LW’s repeated requests to stop.

  31. Firecat*

    #3 It wasn’t a faux paid to use I when discussing work I did when I worked in a lab…as long as I cited their work and spoke about any pieces others did that I built off of or expanded. Not sure if it helps to hear that “I” is ok even in academia!

    Personally I would practice practice practice. This is something you don’t want to do in a corporate setting beyond interviews too. There are plenty of people who are happy to take credit where none is due when you use We and will never, ever, return the favor to credit you for work you actually did. Practice advocating and owning your work now to prevent this bogging you down out of the gates.

  32. Sue Z Q*

    #1 – Many people refer to their pets as “fur babies” or “children”. You are an exception to the norm and you should expect to run into this issue with others. However, calling the dogs “children” makes you uncomfortable and you have the right to ask others to respect your feelings. It may require some reminders along the way because as I said, it is a common and widely accepted reference.

    1. D3*

      Many people do, but it’s hardly the norm. I think there are more people who make fun of people who call animals their children than there are people who actually do it.
      Pets are not children. If people want to pretend that their cat, dog, lizard or snake is their child, fine.
      But do not tell someone who is in pain over someone assuming that’s what she wants that she should get used to other people thrusting that nonsense on her. Pets are not children, and she is not an exception to the norm for understanding that fact.
      People who like to pretend that their pets are children should not expect the rest of the world to go along with that. No one wants to play along, no matter how much you love your pet.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      Even if it’s the norm (I’ve never hear anyone talk like this unironically or outside the internet), it’s definitely NOT normal to attach those labels to someone else and then continue doing it on a weekly basis, during a work meeting, after being told to stop.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      #1 – Many people refer to their pets as “fur babies” or “children”. You are an exception to the norm and you should expect to run into this issue with others.

      Huh? The issue is not the LW referring to her own pets as “children.” The issue is her boss referring to them as her children. And no, I don’t actually think that’s “the norm” at all.

    4. Not A Manager*

      I think this might reflect a confirmation bias on your part. Referring to pets as children and owners as parents is au courant in some circles and certainly on social media, but it’s not a general norm.

    5. Clisby*

      I’m not so sure that’s the norm. I have been known to refer to my daughter’s beautiful little tortoiseshell as “my grand-cat”, but … it’s. a. joke. The norm would be for me to refer to “Emma’s cat.”

  33. Mockingdragon*

    LW #1 (and others who’ve chimed in), I’m really curious exactly what wording people are using. I just…am having trouble imagining how someone could refer to another person’s pets as their children like that. Is it like “Hey, how are the boys?” (how my friends refer to their cats) “How’s your baby?” (which I agree would be really weird) “How are your kids?” (which I’ve never heard anyone say in regard to a pet).

    When people ask me about my cat it’s usually by name. “How’s Matilda?” doesn’t make any claim on whether I call myself her mom, so I’m just having trouble thinking of how it sounds. Different variations are different levels of egregious behavior.

    1. IEanon*

      I’m guessing the boss is saying something like, “How’s your furbaby?” Or talking about his/her kids, then asking “What about yours?”

      My boss does something similar, in that they ALWAYS talk about how their first “kid” was a dog and does refer to my dog as my furbaby when it comes up. Even as someone who does not mind the term, and who refers to herself and partner as mommy/daddy to the dog, it makes me uncomfortable in a professional setting. When my vet or doggy daycare guy does it, fine! My boss? Full-body cringe.

      I’ve just stopped talking about my dog at work.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      I assume it is something like “how are the kids?” or “did your children get you anything for Mother’s Day?” or something along those lines.

      1. Mockingdragon*

        Wow, that would be so weird to ask about a dog! Maybe I’m just around less strange people!

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I mean, I had a coworker who knew I was infertile say “your husband at least got you a Mother’s Day card from the dog, right?” so I can believe people will do anything.

    3. Alldogsarepuppies*

      When talking to my mom:

      “Your grand puppy was being a brat today.”

      When talking to my dog:
      “How’s my baby today.”

      When talking in my dog voice to myself :
      “Hello Mother”

      When talking about my dog to others”
      “Bert is a weirdo, but he’s he’s my furbaby and I love him”

      1. Mockingdragon*

        Oh yeah, no, I understand how a person could refer to THEIR OWN pet as a kid, but I don’t understand how they could refer to SOMEONE ELSE’S pet as a kid without sounding unbelievably strange.

  34. 2063065508*

    #4: 1-2 meetings with new hires every two weeks (so, average max. 1 weekly; I think Alison misread this as 1-2 weekly) isn’t that much, especially if you’re at a sizable employer. My company is admittedly very large and global, and onboards a few hundred people every week, but prior to this I was at smaller companies and this still doesn’t seem out of line. Obviously you know best whether what’s being asked of you is reasonable and can consider the suggestions people have given. Good luck!

    1. meteorological spring*

      That’s interesting. My opinion was once a week every week is a LOT for something that’s outside your normal job duties. I only red the letter 1x but it also sounds like these are a high volume of favors rather than a planned ongoing role. Is there anything about the way your companies handled this that you think would be useful for the letter writer?

      1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

        Would it be too cheeky to have them build out a FAQ onboarding sheet. They could respond to every request by attaching that PDF and denying the meeting invite.

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        In my experience, these are like 10-15 minute intros.. We do this at my current company and I’m one of the ones on the lists. Obv YMMV but 15 min or so weekly isn’t a huge commitment.. It may be happening more frequently for the LW though

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think it’s a lot! Having one more commitment in my schedule every week — a time when you have to stop what you’re doing, reorient to something else, make small talk, have the meeting, then reorient back to your projects again, every single week if you’re already busy … it’s a lot. Especially if you don’t really need to be the one doing these meetings and managers are just sending you new hires because they think you’re helpful or whatever.

          And I doubt it’s 10 minutes. Let’s call each one half an hour once you factor in scheduling, people who are long-winded, etc. That’s two hours a month. I could do a lot with an extra two hours a month in my work schedule.

    2. Nanani*

      Unless these meetings are part of LW4’s actual job, its WAY too much.
      Puts me in mind of how minority employees get asked to do all the outreach and inclusion committees, leaving much less time for their actual job than their peers, which in turn leads to burn out or at least less efficient work because, you know, they spend all their time in diversity outreach meetings.

      LW4 didn’t say anything about protected classes, but if they -are- being asked to like, tell new kids what it’s like being the First Woman In (Job), well, I wouldn’t be shocked.

  35. I'm just here for the cats*

    LW 4 This is probably outside of LW’s control but here are some thoughts.
    I think one solution would be that the company should set it up more like a doctor appointment type of schedule. So those who want to participate can block certain times and days that new hires can select from. Also, add that when a slot is filled there are no more available for the week. So lets say they can choose Monday at 2, Tuesday at 10 or Friday at 9. If someone chooses Monday at 2 the other slots disappear for that week so the person is not getting 3 get to know you meetings on one week.

    I’m wondering if everyone has this meeting option or if this was a volunteer-type of thing. Like maybe the LW had expressed interest at one time or maybe their boss just added them? If everyone has this option they really need to make this voluntary.

    I also think that there needs to be some regulation or guidance from HR or management to the new hires so they aren’t just bugging a bunch of random people in areas that would never cross paths. So maybe give them a list of approved of people based on their departments or what their job is. Then they can only meet with those people, unless they express interest in moving to a different department later. so they start off as customer service but have interest in moving into marketing.

  36. CarCarJabar*

    John Grisham is the only accountant who should be writing books. I had an accounting professor who wrote ‘tax mystery novels’ and assigned them as required reading. It was mind numbing.

    1. meteorological spring*

      Professors who assign their own work – gotta love it. And it’s never good, is it?

      1. IEanon*

        I had a professor who assigned his own textbook. It was a pretty good resource and he made it FREE! It works out sometimes.

        1. PeanutButter*

          Yeah, I had a prof who assigned us the rough draft of a textbook he wrote, which was $10 to get printed and bound at the local print shop, and you got a $10 gift certificate to the campus bookstore if you returned your copy to him with edits/suggestions/typos called out. It worked fine.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I had a professor who not only assigned his own book, but told the bookstore not to buy it back because he “changed it” every year.

        1. Quill*

          … I’m gonna beat him over the head with my lab practicum handbooks, which at least were cheap via university press.

      3. Sunny*

        I had one teacher who wrote his own Differential Equations textbook over winter break, then assigned it to us for spring semester. It was forty pages. You can’t teach differential equations in forty pages, especially forty pages that no one proofread. The class did horribly, which was obviously our fault because he’s a brilliant teacher and we must all just be lazy. (On the plus side, he didn’t charge us for the textbook.)

        I usually try to stay positive in course reviews for the school, because I know the teacher has a lot riding on those, but I don’t feel the need to be nice and helpful for someone who told the entire class we were just lazy.

        1. Clisby*

          Was this because of all the new brilliant research into differential equations? When my kids were in high school, I could never figure out why the school district would switch, say, Algebra II texts. Like, somebody’s had some breakthrough insights into Algebra II?

          1. IEanon*

            Usually it’s related to changes in the overall curriculum made by the school board on a set basis. This is most controversial when they select a new history textbook, particularly in places like Texas.

            There also tends to be a shift in math textbooks when a new way of teaching the content is mandated (hello, Common Core) or if there’s a shift in pedagogical techniques. So, not so much an insight into the math, but into the way it’s taught.

      4. Hillary*

        I had one who self-published his book because he thought textbooks were way too expensive. Apart from the fact that the text density made it hard to read sometimes (more text on the page = fewer pages = lower printing costs) it was very good. It’s one of the few books I still have ten years later.

        He had a couple grad students edit it when it first came out, and he’d go over it with one or two students to update it every year.

      5. F.M.*

        Had one prof assign a book he co-wrote, and he apologized for doing so but said it was the only textbook that covered all the material the class was on in one place; otherwise we would’ve had to buy multiple textbooks, each costing about that much.

        Brilliant book. I still have it on a shelf somewhere. It was clear, detailed, well-organized, with really good use of example cases and images, plus term & definition lists at the end of each chapter for a quick review of major concepts.

    2. Grace*

      …is it the guy who went a little bit viral with his forensic accountancy mystery novels? Dwight David Thrash? There’s a very fun KrimsonRogue review of one of them.

      If not, then there’s more than one accountant who thought it was a good idea to write mind-numbingly boring accounting mystery novels.

      (sorry, duplicate comment!)

  37. Grace*

    …is it the guy who went a little bit viral with his forensic accountancy mystery novels? Dwight David Thrash? There’s a very fun KrimsonRogue review of one of them.

    If not, then there’s more than one accountant who thought it was a good idea to write mind-numbingly boring accounting mystery novels.

  38. BSS*

    LW#4, could you schedule a monthly “Get to Know Me” meeting? That way when someone tries to schedule a one-on-one meeting, you can respond “No,” and instead invite them to the next monthly meeting.

  39. Arch*

    OP #4, can you block off one 30 minute meeting a month and tell anyone who asks that you’ve been getting a lot of requests and would prefer to save time and do a group meeting with all new hires?

  40. Not gonna watch Wandavision*

    OP #3, it’s worth pointing out that non-cis-white-men are typically questioned more about our accomplishments. This may not be something you can combat, beyond the good advice Alison and others have shared here. But so often in the workplace (non academic in my experience) cis-white-men are assumed to have completed all of the accomplishments they claim, or no one bats an eye if they claim the accomplishments of their team – even without sharing any proper thanks or acknowledgment. BUT that changes in a heartbeat for those of use who aren’t. (I’m a woman of color, leaving it vague to be anonymous here.) If I don’t thank the others on my team I’m seen as not humble enough. If I correct someone else who thinks Brian did something I did, some eyebrows get raised. Even if I’m just factual and breezy and “not making a big deal.” You probably know this, so I guess I am writing so other AAM readers remember this. (I realize interviews are a slightly different game than the actual working experience, but still wanted to mention.)

  41. irene adler*

    LW #2: a friend of mine was in a position similar to your husband’s . Only they hired the girlfriend.
    The girlfriend/his report would hand him back assignments he’d given to her and say things like, “that’s not what your boss wants you to do.” After many go-rounds of this, he gave up and completed his report’s work along with his own.

  42. shamajuju*

    OP3 –
    Longtime lurker, sporadic commenter, but when I read your letter, I had to chime in.

    First, you need to get The Professor Is In by Karen Kelsky. It’s all about job hunting and professional norms in academia.

    One thing she makes clear: Do not say ‘we’ in your interview or your job documents. Say ‘I’. Saying ‘we’, as you already noted, makes you sound like a grad student and the hiring committee wants to know that you can stand on your own two feet. She points out that in many fields of academia (including mine, and it sounds like yours), it’s assumed you’re collaborating – you don’t have to actually say it. If there are questions, they will ask you in the interview, and you can refine your answer on your specific contributions.

    I’m in the middle of the job hunt myself, and I will sometimes reference our collaborative team (e.g., ‘our team is applying for funding from x), but otherwise, I keep it as ‘I’ and I’ve not had any issues.

    Good luck!

  43. OP#2*

    OP#2 here: This is a stressful situation, because this manager and I have had a great relationship so far, and even worked together in prior settings, with great success (which is why he recruited me). This is the first time he did something questionable, so I’m trying to salvage this without going to extremes (i.e. costing him his job), while at the same time CYMA and avoid doing something that I know for sure to be wrong. At this point I am looking at a compromise, that I would consider his GF as a potential candidate, under the firm condition that HR is aware (and approved), and he stays true to his word of non-involvement in my supervising her.
    The additional stress is from him retaliating against this, and forcing me to go back to job hunting, barely a few months after landing this position, in a time that jobs are still a bit scarce (I was laid off for 7 months before landing this job)

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