my employees ignore my wife

A reader writes:

I own a small business, with about seven people working in our local office. My wife runs accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, and handles all the books. Besides my wife and me, there is my assistant and four IT techs. We are all within the 25-36 age range, with my wife and I the oldest.

We used to be in a very small office, so my wife would work from home. Early last year, we moved into a new office where there finally was space for everyone. But then Covid hit, so my wife only started working in the office in August. Besides her regular tasks, she also now takes care of things around the office such as ordering coffee, milk, etc.

My wife, my assistant, and I work in one area of the office, while everyone else works in a different large room. However, the other employees need to walk past our area a lot, especially when they come to talk to me. And we have to pass their area a lot when we go to the kitchen, etc.

My wife is very friendly. She walks into the office in the morning and says “good morning” and she is ignored. If she passes an employee and says “hi,” 95% of the time she is ignored. The only employee who says good morning on a regular basis is my assistant. But they have no problem coming to her to tell her that we need more milk, or if they have a business-related request. My wife says that “it’s ironic that the office that she feels the most uncomfortable in is her own office.” When she used to work at other offices, people were friendly with her. And the two of the employees who don’t work out of the office itself but stop by once in a while to pick up things do say “hi” to her when they walk past her office.

I thought at first that it may be because they are intimidated by the boss’s wife. But while she may not be the most outgoing person, she has a very easy, friendly personality. And shouldn’t they be more afraid of getting on the bad side of the boss’s wife?

To be honest, sometimes when she is under pressure for a deadline, she can be super-focused at work and not that talkative, but when she says a direct good morning, there should be at least a response.

It has reached a point where she does not want to come to the office anymore because of all the times she is ignored.

To add insult to injury, it happens with clients too. My wife sits in in the office just next to my office, with her door wide open. Directly outside my office is where my assistant sits. A lot of times, when clients visit me, they of course acknowledge my assistant as she is sitting right outside my door. But they almost never acknowledge my wife. This is even if my wife is standing near my assistant when they walk in. And a lot of these clients know that she is my wife. One morning, the client walked in, said “good morning” to my assistant, and completely ignored my wife who was standing four feet away.

Any ideas or suggestions? How can my wife be more comfortable in her own office? Why in the world is she being ignored?

I think you both are taking this far too personally!

The most likely scenario is that people are just focused on their own stuff, not deliberately freezing her out.

But it’s also possible that this is about the fact that she’s the boss’s wife. The social dynamics with the boss’s spouse are often going to be weird. That’s just the reality of having your spouse work in your business.

Or who knows, it’s also possible that they do dislike her! But since actively snubbing the boss’s spouse generally isn’t the smartest career move — and would take pretty bad judgment — my guess is people are just caught up in their own work. Maybe they don’t feel terribly warmly toward her, but that’s okay.

If I’m wrong and these are active attempts to snub her, then something has gone very wrong: Has she alienated them in some way or done something that’s made them feel their trust was violated? Has her tendency to be “super focused” translated as rude? I don’t know what it is, but if people are going out of their way to be rude to the boss’s spouse, something is going on.

But the fact that she feels clients are also snubbing her makes me think that no one is, and instead she’s just reading way too much into how people do or don’t greet her. It’s very unlikely that your clients are deliberately ostracizing her! It’s much more likely that they’re there to get some business done, and they greet your assistant because she is your assistant and sits right outside your office (and may have been the one to set up their appointment, etc.) but they don’t greet your wife because she’s not part of what they’re there for.

If this is not true about clients, that would mean your wife has somehow alienated them to the point that they are deliberately ignoring her, which would be an extreme response … and if your wife is pissing off both clients and staff to the point that they are pointedly freezing her out, you both need to figure out what’s causing that. But that’s probably not the case; it’s far more likely that your clients — and everyone else — are just focused on their own stuff, and she is taking that too personally.

Ultimately, you just can’t have this kind of social expectation or hurt feelings when you have your spouse working in your business. Bringing a spouse in only works if you’re both able to stay low-key about it and accept that the dynamic might be a little weird for everyone. If your employees are doing their jobs well and are reasonably pleasant to work with, they’re meeting their obligations to your business, and the best thing you and your wife can do is to not stress about greetings.

P.S. When Jennifer of Captain Awkward and I were looking at letters for our collaboration last week, she pointed out this could be a Sixth Sense situation, and that is worth considering as well.

{ 421 comments… read them below }

  1. I should really pick a name*

    I do think it’s rude to not acknowledge a good morning, but do they only ignore it when your wife does it, or do they ignore it when anyone does it?

    I’m suspecting that your wife might be the only person saying good morning at all, and that’s why it feels personal, but they’d actually react that way to anyone.

    When you’re looking at this, you might want to think of her as your admin person instead of your wife, and de-personalize it a bit.

    1. What's in a name?*

      To add to this, it is different to ignore “Good morning everyone!” versus “Good morning Jim!”

      I expect clients are coming in and saying “Good morning, is Mr. Smith ready for me?” because they know it would be weird without the good morning but they don’t want to just chit chat. If they said “Good morning, how have you been?” to the assistant while the wife is standing nearby (not seated at her desk) it would be weird.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Yes – I’m wondering the same. If she’s seen as sort of ‘higher up’ on the totem pole, then it might be considered within her purview to openly greet the whole staff…but if she’s talking to a whole room, most people aren’t going to all stop their work and individually greet her.

        If she’s directly greeting people and they’re ignoring her that’s….odd. And makes me think something else is going on.

      2. Zelda*

        “Standing nearby” still isn’t enough information. Which way is she facing? Where is her gaze directed? There are a bunch of body-language things that signal “hello, I am paying attention and involved in this conversation” vs “I happen to be located nearby, but am doing my own thing.”

        I am also interested to note that when she is “super-focused at work and not that talkative,” that’s only natural, but if other employees do the same, it’s OMG so rude!

        I think an awful lot of this question lies in the sort of non-verbal communication that people who aren’t trained don’t think about consciously, and therefore have difficulty seeing. let alone writing accurately to AAM about.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            That’s my thought. Years ago we had a consultant come into my (rather small, fairly tight-knit) department and he basically just… showed up, and did a lot of talking with upper management. All the employees thought he was some kind of auditor or maybe an upper-level executive that we knew nothing about. It took a couple weeks before someone in management realized the extent of the confusion and fear, and introduced him and explained the situation.

          2. Ann*

            I wondered about that, too. Maybe, since she used not to work at the office, they are confused about what she’s doing there??

            1. Allura Vysoren*

              I think this would be more likely if she was newly arrived, but LW mentions that employees do come to her for work-related requests. I think it’s more likely to be a case of them being absorbed in their work or just not being the outgoing responsive type. If our VP walks into my department’s room and says “Good morning!” I don’t respond. I’m also usually wearing sound-cancelling headphones so I can be reasonably considered to not have heard at all, and I wonder if that might be a factor here too.

              1. Wenike*

                Also, it sounds like all the rest of the employees are IT folk, who are rather notorious for being introverts and quite happy with their noise cancelling headphones on so they can focus on their tasks. Especially if they’re trying to troubleshoot a tricky bug, they are not going to take the chance to let their train of thought be interrupted just to greet someone. Debugging and coding (depending on what sorts of IT folk are in the office) are almost similarly to a creative person with better work occurring while in the groove.

      3. LL*

        Also, if the staff all have cubicles/partitions, even though they’re all in the same room, people that aren’t directly in view of the wife when she greets them aren’t likely to respond, right? I’ve always worked in shared spaces, usually with partitions/cubicles, and everyone tends to view random conversations and greetings from “somewhere in the room but not right by me” as private.

      4. FrivYeti*

        Looking at the details, it sounds like she is actually in a separate office, just one with an open door. If I was visiting a business to see someone, I would *never* think to call out a hello to someone in a different office, regardless of whether their door was open, unless it was someone I already knew and was at least moderately friendly with. If she’s out in the common area, that’s another story, but if someone is in an office I assume that means they are at work, and their door is only open to let other employees know that they can come in if they need something.

        1. christy7h*

          agreed. I’m in a similar set up – my own office, in a suite with my boss (not working with a spouse though). People come in and just talk to 1 of us all the time. They don’t want to interrupt the other one.

        2. Cascadia*

          Yes, I can’t stress this enough! If I’m walking into a random office because I have a meeting with someone, I will certainly say hello/good morning to the assistant (presumably to say, “good morning, I’m here to see Jim”) and to the person I’m meeting. I would definitely not say Hi to anyone who is in an office with a door open – they are clearly at work and I would presume talking to them to be bothering them. If I knew them, I might give them a wave, but that’s it.

        3. MusicWithRocksIn*

          That’s what it felt like to me. I would never even imagine bugging someone in an office in someone else’s workspace. That would be *SO* weird.

        4. Glitsy Gus*

          Agreed. If we happened to make eye contact as I walked by I might give a quick wave, but calling out hello into another room would feel odd.

    2. Courtney*

      I wondered that too. I kept hoping the LW would include some details on how other people interact amongst themselves, or with the LW. Do other people just not speak to one another? Do they greet LW or respond to greetings?

      If I were LW or LW’s wife, I’d be looking for that sort of information — how people interact without the wife involved, like a control group to inform a hypothesis. The fact that very little information was included that isn’t about the wife directly makes me think Alison is right and this is someone overthinking things and not stepping back to look at the situation rationally and objectively.

      1. Queen of the File*

        Even still, it’s hard to say! For example if the 4 other employees in the office work together all the time (which it sounds like they do?) it would be normal for them to interact with each other in a way that’s different and friendlier than how they interact with people they are less familiar with.

        1. Amaranth*

          Its curious that LW says even clients will ignore her when she is standing a few feet from his assistant.
          When I go to an appointment, I go straight to the gatekeeper, and while I’d acknowledge someone who greets me or holds a door, it would be weird to say hello to each person in the entry. It seems like he’s expecting clients to greet her *because* she is his wife even at a business appointment. Something just feels skewed, I’ve been at a lot of places where people are really focused and honestly, greetings to the room or even passing in the hall are background noise.

    3. Colette*

      I think it’s possible that people are nodding, waving or otherwise acknowledging it in a way that’s not verbal – but it’s also possible that they don’t hear it or assume it’s directed at someone else. It’s also possible that the wife takes a response as an invitation to start a conversation, so people have stopped answering.

      Maybe they’re all just rude or they hate her, but those don’t seem as likely, since the OP comes across as having unrealistic expectations. If a client comes in to see the OP, they would naturally talk to the assistance, but it would be strange for them to talk to the wife who is in her office.

      And if the wife is talking to the assistant … if I’m going in to a business because I have an appointment, not only would I not greet the random employee who is talking to the person I need to talk to, but I would wonder why she’s still hanging around the assistant instead of working on whatever she needs to do.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, that’s a good point that if the wife is taking the social interaction into a conversation people will dial it back even further.

        But I walk by open door offices all the time and often won’t even say hello to dear friends in there. They’re working.

        1. Run mad; don't faint*

          “But I walk by open door offices all the time and often won’t even say hello to dear friends in there. They’re working.”

          Exactly. And when I have an appointment somewhere, I don’t walk down the hall saying ,”Good morning. Good morning” at each office door because I’m not here to see them and I don’t want to disturb them. I talk to the people I’m meeting and to the relevant assistants.

          1. Cascadia*

            Yes, I can’t stress this enough! If I’m walking into a random office because I have a meeting with someone, I will certainly say hello/good morning to the assistant (presumably to say, “good morning, I’m here to see Jim”) and to the person I’m meeting. I would definitely not say Hi to anyone who is in an office with a door open – they are clearly at work and I would presume talking to them to be bothering them. If I knew them, I might give them a wave, but that’s it.

        2. Sanders*

          Totally. I am anti-morning-greeting because it is SO distracting and sometimes people just start chit-chatting when I am in the middle of my most productive hours of the day. So I give as little a response as possible when people say good morning. And I don’t say good morning to my colleagues unless I accidentally make eye contact with someone. ;-) These are the norms in my office, and I appreciate it!

          1. Cat Tree*

            It depends on context too. When we’re not in a pandemic, I work on a huge site with a long walk from the garage to my desk. As I’m walking, I typically say hi or at least nod to the people walking past me. But we have an open office plan (blech) so once I’m in the office area I don’t greet anyone unless they explicitly make eye contact. When people are focused on work, it’s rude to interrupt just to say hi.

          2. Rainy*

            I spent something like two years entering via the back door of my office in the morning because the receptionist we had at the time always said something in that tone that’s sort of perky/shitty and looked at the clock whenever anyone came in. Your job requires being here at 8, Jane, not mine!

          3. 'Tis Me*

            I am anti-morning greetings because I am anti-mornings – people kinda know that if they want me to do more than smile and wave at them sleepily they need to wait til a bit later on in the day… The morning is not when my most productive hours are!!

      2. twocents*

        I was thinking along the same lines too, and that would also explain why the employees that don’t regularly work in the office are a little more enthusiastic. They may enjoy the social interaction when it’s so limited for them, only getting engaged in conversation once a month rather than getting sucked in every single day.

      3. Katiekaboom*

        Yes, to your second point. It seems like the OP is expecting the wife to be treated differently bc she is the wife. But if your book keeper is in their office working, and they were not your wife, would you expect a client to stop in there and say hi to them? Probably not.

        1. CCSF*

          It’s this exactly: “[I]f your book keeper is in their office working, and they were not your wife, would you expect a client to stop in there and say hi to them? Probably not.”

          In a similarly small office (10 people total, including CEO) if a client came in to speak with me, they would rarely chit chat or even greet with our bookkeeper or our event managers or our marketing person–because they did not deal with them. And they had to walk past all five of these folks to get to my office.

          1. TC*

            This was my line of thinking as well. Clients know who the boss’s assistant is, and acknowledge that person (and might need to interact with them for scheduling, etc). They wouldn’t necessarily acknowledge a random employee who happen to sit near the boss and/or assistant–might even think it’s rude to interrupt them. But that person happens to be the boss’s wife, and she’s perceiving it as a snub.

          2. londonedit*

            Exactly. Where I work, back in the days when we were actually all in the office, it was customary to say ‘good morning’ to the room in general when you arrived, but the response to that was a simple ‘morning!’ or a smile or nod of the head. If I went into another room to speak to a colleague, I wouldn’t greet the room in general, because people are working – I’d just go up to my colleague’s desk and say hello to them and speak to them at a volume that wouldn’t disturb anyone else.

          3. KimberlyR*

            And even if they know she is the boss’ wife, this is not a social call. The client is there to see the boss, not visit with his wife who also happens to work there. I still wouldn’t see it as rude if the visiting client knows the boss and wife personally and still doesn’t greet the wife, if they have no specific business with her.

            1. Amaranth*

              Well, if they socialize outside of the office, and she is standing nearby or looks up, I can see it being seen as rude not to give a smile and nod, but the boss and his wife should be familiar with the concept of ‘time is money’.

      4. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        I also suspect clients see her as “office manager”, not necessarily “boss’s wife”. Unless it’s the kind of business where they wine and dine clients as a couple, anyone there to do business with the company probably doesn’t realize that she’s married to the boss, or it doesn’t register as something that warrants special social attention.

        I don’t mean to be harsh but I’m wondering if she has a certain image in her mind of what being “the boss’s wife” entails, and it isn’t matching the reality – she’s seen and treated as the office manager rather than treated as an extension of the boss.

        1. CEMgr*

          Agreed totally. I’m struggling to imagine a boss writing in to Alison about how their non-spouse, regular employee, office manager is not getting their fair share of greetings from people speaking with the boss. This is a work, not social situation, and therefore office manager is properly seen as just the office manager. The role of “boss’s wife” technically doesn’t exist in a work context.

    4. Moe*

      If she is walking into an open office area where people are focused on their work, saying good morning to the group, and expecting an in unison response, she might be putting people off. I would roll my eyes if any coworker expected that kind of daily on demand attention.

      1. Midwest Manager*

        This reminds me of a restaurant I went to a few times. Every time a customer walked in the door, every employee was expected, in unison, to say “Welcome to RestaurantName!” It was entirely off-putting to get yelled at every time you walked in the door. That place didn’t last a year.

        1. Irasshaimase*

          Was it a sushi restaurant? It’s a common practice in Japan, and some restaurants in the US will do it too.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          Yup. My first visit would be my last. I am not against friendly social interactions within a business environment, but they absolutely don’t work when they are mandated from above, often tightly scripted. This is the opposite of a friendly social interaction.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            The thing to realize with this one is that it’s *not* a social interaction, it’s a business one, any more than “have a nice day” at the end of a transaction is an attempt to initiate a friendship. You’re not expected to respond, or start a conversation, and the staff would be pretty startled if you did. I’d recommend against visiting Japan, though, or you might end up pretty hungry – you’ll not only get it at restaurants, but at stores. At this point, I don’t even hear the “welcome to the store” when entering convenience stores. Amusingly, it’s a Pavlovian response on the staff’s part – you’ll see 7-11 clerk do this when people leave the store, triggered by the sound the door makes when it opens.

        3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          Lol I worked in a fast food like situation that did that. It was weird and I would think off-putting but I am fearful of talking to strangers

        4. Your Local Password Resetter*

          That’s almost fractally wrong if you want people to feel welcomed. Was everyone required to stare unblinkingly at them and play ominous music too?

        5. OyHiOh*

          One of my favorite fast casual/take out places feels like stepping onto the Cheers set, at least when they see regular customers. It’s surprisingly charming to get a chorus of “hey, Oy!” walking into the place.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Sure, but it has to be organic, at most ratcheted up just a bit. This cannot be reproduced via mechanical corporate mandate, however much corporate overlords try. The result of trying is at best awkward and fake.

        6. Lizzo*

          LOL – if they’re going to yell at customers, they should just go full-on Ed Debevic’s and say mean stuff to all the customers. Snark sells!

        7. nonegiven*

          OMG, the grocery store, once in a while, will crack down on all employees greeting each customer when you walk in the door. I went in there when it was fairly busy once, three cashiers turned in unison and greeted me, while still checking other customers out. It was Stepford kind of creepy.

      2. SlightlyLions*

        I had a coworker like that. Every day as soon as she entered the room (far end from where anyone was working) a loud and overly cheery “hello everyone!” some people would say hello back but I never would. I’m sure she thought I was terrible rude because I wouldn’t stick my head up over the cubicle wall and shout back at her from 10ft away.

      3. Koalafied*

        Yes, tbh my first thought was, “4/5 of the staff ignoring her are IT tech? that…is not entirely surprising.” It’s a stereotype that obviously isn’t universal and plenty of people outside of IT can be this way, but if anyone is known for/hired for their technical ability more than their interpersonal skills it’s people who work in IT. Then the further detail that the assistant – the only non-IT person in the office – does in fact say good morning only reinforced it.

        There have been some classic AAM posts around this:

        It’s definitely a thing you can see in some of the comment threads on those, and it’s more common in highly technical jobs, for some people to come to work with the attitude of, “Socializing feels unnecessary/like a waste of time to me, they hired me to code/analyze data/keep the servers running/crunch numbers, why should it matter if I say good morning or not?”

      4. 'Tis Me*

        *Good morning class everyone!”
        *room rises*
        “Good morning Mrs Boss!”
        “Please be seated”
        *everyone sits back down to work*

      5. RD*

        What Moe said! I had a coworker who was second in command who walked into our open office EVERY morning and announced “hello!” or “good morning!” to the whole room. It always felt to me like he was requiring a response from all 7-ish of us, which really did rub me the wrong way. I ended up almost always ignoring him for that reason :)

        It’s certainly possible that’s what’s happening here too.

    5. MistOrMister*

      I had a coworker that was constantly crying to the boss about how I wasn’t talking to her. Granted, I definitely did not like her. But I always said good morning and good night to her the same as with everyone else. Her problem was that I was not stopping to have a half hour conversation with her whenever she wanted. But…I was not hired to be her friend!! I wonder if something similar could be at play with OP’s wife. If she is throwing out a general good morning as she passes through the office, I could understand if no one speaks up. (My brain and mouth are not always on the same wavelength, so usually by the time I realize someone is greeting me if they’re passing by, I don’t have time to respond). If she is, say, walking up to someone and saying good morning and they ignor her, that’s different. Also, I wonder if she is wanting more from the interactions that just a greeting and that is making her feel ignored.

      1. Lizzo*

        “Also, I wonder if she is wanting more from the interactions that just a greeting and that is making her feel ignored.”

        ^^Yes, possibly extrovert/introvert differences in personalities at play here, too? Or communication styles?

        1. onco fonco*

          Mm, this is possible. I know someone (not at work) who, because I had merely greeted her/waved for a few days in a row rather than initiating a full conversation each day, built up a belief that I was Not Talking To Her and had a minor outburst about it the next time we had a coffee together. I was…perplexed. It’s not like I was pretending she was invisible, I was just busy!

    6. turquoisecow*

      My first thought was the office is full of the type of people who pop up here all the time about how they don’t want to be friends with their coworkers or even say good morning to them. Even if they’re the boss’s overly friendly wife, she’s still a coworker and they’re working.

    7. Mimi*

      I don’t know. I feel like the expectations for “good mornings” and how one replies to them vary pretty widely from office to office. There are places where it would be a dire insult to not verbally acknowledge a good morning, and ones where it’s natural to assume that if someone doesn’t greet you when you say hi, it’s because they’re absorbed in something, perhaps didn’t even register that you said something. In an extreme example, in the workplace described in WORD BY WORD, a verbal “good morning” would be a breach of etiquette equivalent to peeing on the floor (maybe worse). And certainly some IT workplaces are squarely in the “if you didn’t get a response, they’re working” camp.

  2. kittycatcorn*

    I truly, truly, TRULY hope it *is* a Sixth Sense issue. Either that or Lars and the Real Girl.

    1. New Mom*

      This coupled with the experience relative to her former, friendlier workplaces. When my husband and I talk about our respective workplaces, he thinks my coworkers and I chit chat way too much and I think his office seems frosty but we are both individually happy with the arrangements. I think he’d feel drained working at my office and I’d feel lonely working at his.

    2. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

      No, because everybody in town loved and responded to Bianca. I love this movie so much!

    3. raincoaster*

      It took me way too long to get that joke today. Time to give up on the caffeine-free and switch to regular tea.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        I’m still trying to figure out what is meant by ‘Sixth Sense’! Is it that everyone in LW’s office is dead? That the LW’s wife is dead? I don’t get it!

  3. I see office people*

    I don’t know if I understand the Sixth Sense reference – his wife is a ghost and only he can see her?

    1. Anon Dot Com*

      Yes, exactly. But the assistant talks to her, too, so I guess that makes the assistant Haley Joel Osmont?

      1. anonymouse*

        Or pas de deux where assistant and boss both believe the fantasy.
        Or assistant like his/her job and if the boss wants to pretend he has a wife there, hey, there are worse quirks (looking at you pouring-pee-in-the-sink-boss).

        1. TheLayeredOne*

          LOL! It’s telling that “my boss believes his ghost wife is running our accounts department” would not win the worst boss award here.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            Wouldn’t even place.

            However, in comments there would be useful advice about the legality of employing the dead (legal in the US), potential liability for poltergeist events, and the now-compulsory warnings about black magic as an occupational hazard.

          1. I see dead people misclassified as contractors*

            Let’s have both! We can make the crowdfunded movie a ballet.

          2. Mr. Shark*

            This site is great! You learn something new everyday: folie a deux — a phrase I think I will be able to use!

    2. Midwest Manager*

      I went to the Capt Awkward site and searched the term. I think it’s referring to that “gut” feeling you get when someone feels a way about you but aren’t articulating it (e.g. SO’s best friend has a crush on you, BFF is angry with you, etc.).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No! It’s not a Captain Awkward term. Sixth Sense is a movie where Bruce Willis is a ghost but that’s not clear until the end of the movie.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Spoiler alert!

          Just kidding. If someone hasn’t seen this movie by now, they’re probably not going to see it.

          1. Stormfeather*

            I haven’t seen it and may or may not someday as friends get me to watch it. >_>

            That said I’d already been spoiled on that, so…

            (Still though, I’m in the “definitely don’t blurt out major spoilers to things, even if you figure “oh everyone should have seen/read/played it” camp, unless you know darn well your whole audience already has.)

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              Spoiler alerts don’t count if the movie you’re “spoiling” has been released in a prior decade.

              1. Mr. Shark*

                It’s been over 20 years, so even if you haven’t seen the movie, the idea behind it is so prevalent in pretty much any film discussion.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes, I think that’s an established rule of spoilers! Also, this one has become a pretty key cultural touchstone that’s referenced regularly; it’s like spoiling that the ship goes down in Titanic.

                1. Zephy*

                  What??? Next you’re going to tell me Darth Vader is actually Luke Skywalker’s father. /s

                2. Muze*

                  You’d be surprised. I once had to read about someone complaining how their history teacher spoilt the end of Hamilton, the musical.

                3. Jennifer Thneed*

                  Apparently a lot of people *were* surprised by that when the movie came out. And only some of them were teenagers….

                4. Slipping The Leash*

                  Hah! I was watching Apollo 13 on VHS with a friend back in the day. We were interrupted about halfway through and she got pretty pissed that I said, “It doesn’t matter – it’s not like we don’t know that they make it back safely.” Never occurred to me that she didn’t know that.

                5. The Prettiest Curse*

                  Thanks (or no thanks) to streaming, time since release/first airing has no meaning any more when it comes to movie and TV spoilers. Nowadays, there’s always someone out there who didn’t know the plot twist and was planning on watching that very thing tonight.

            2. James*

              I’m the opposite. I don’t care about spoilers. A good movie/book/TV show/song/whatever should be able to stand up to repeat viewings, which means it should hold up even with spoilers. A different experience, sure, but a valid one. If media is only good the first time, it’s not very good.

              I mean, I’m not going around blurting out spoilers randomly or maliciously (outside of Dune and LOTR, which spoilers really don’t apply to for various reasons). I’m just not concerned about their existence.

              1. Crowley*

                Well yeah but it’s valid to want to be able to have both the unspoiled experience and the, errm, sullied experience.

                1. James*

                  Agreed, but both parties have a responsibility here. If you want to have an unspoiled experience with a movie, you should be able to find a way to do so within a reasonable timeframe. Maybe a year or two? Five? Something less than a decade, at any rate. If you haven’t seen it in that time, it’s simply not reasonable to expect everyone else to keep you protected from casual spoilers. (Deliberate ones are something else entirely.) And as always relationships matter here–if my wife knows I’m planning to start watching a movie this weekend, giving away major plot points is just spiteful. In contrast, if you (someone random on the internet, who doesn’t even know my real name) casually mention a major plot point, that’s on me.

                  I MAY have given this issue too much thought over the years. :)

              2. BubbleTea*

                I often deliberately spoiler myself for tv or film, because I find the tension of not knowing too much, or because I need to be able to skip over animal cruelty/death as plot device. The website Does the Dog Die is excellent for that! But I generally don’t like high tension situations, I hate roller coasters and extreme sports. I know some people love surprises, but not me!

                1. Elenna*

                  Same! I don’t watch a ton of movies, but when I’m reading books/fanfiction, I often skip to the end to see if it has a happy ending, or to reassure myself that things are going to turn out alright, or to figure out how long the stupid rom-com misunderstanding is going to last, etc.

                  That being said, I do try to avoid spoiling other people, who obviously may have different preferences. But I’ll agree that after a certain length of time, it’s not super reasonable to keep putting spoiler warnings for the rest of forever. The real problem is getting people to agree on that length of time…

                2. Lizzo*

                  Sometimes, if you know where the plot is headed, you can appreciate the intricacies of how they get there as you’re getting there. :-) An alternative approach is to read the book twice, but this first method is much more efficient!

                3. onco fonco*

                  Ditto! I even love horror movies, crime shows and stuff but I have to know how it ends first, and if anything bad looks like happening to a child then I’m out.

          2. Data analyst*

            I disagree. New people are constantly being born and then getting to an age where they might become interested in watching some famous movies from the past. I watched Psycho in a group all of who were born after it came out, and it turned out that it was 100% ruined for us because of how referenced it was in the culture. A totally meh experience. It’s basically impossible for anyone younger than 60 (who grew up in our culture) to experience it as a suspense movie.

            1. Elenna*

              This admittedly isn’t really relevant to your overall point, but: I’m 24 and grew up in Canada and I had never heard of Psycho, let alone had any of it spoiled for me. You just gotta have weird niche interests (which don’t include movies) and completely ignore anything outside those interests. :P (I had also never heard of Sixth Sense.)

              1. Barbara Eyiuche*

                I suggest you go watch Psycho then, unless you really can’t stand movies. It’s awesome. Sixth Sense has been spoiled for you in this thread, but Psycho hasn’t been.

            2. MK*

              Are you sure it was the spoilers and not just that you didn’t love the movie? I found it meh too, and I wasn’t spoiled.

              That being said, it’s not reasonable to expect people not to make casual references about popular stuff because they might spoil the young. After all, the reason younger generations have access to a lot of things is because they became popular enough that became cultural references.

              1. onco fonco*

                Yeah, honestly – people are still interested in Psycho because it became iconic and we talked about it a lot. You can’t have that AND have everyone keep the ending secret. Watching a classic film is an inherently different experience from watching a recent release.

            3. onco fonco*

              That’s why people are still making suspense movies, though! The reason people are still interested in watching Psycho after all these decades is because it’s a pop culture icon, and you can’t have an icon that nobody talks about in too much detail for fear of spoilers. After this much time, the film becomes a different experience for viewers than it would have been on its first release. That’s inevitable.

          1. Gray Lady*

            Captain Awkward (Jennifer) was just making a joke that the LW might be the only one who actually sees the wife.

            1. Estrella the Starfish*

              I love Captain Awkward but I’m very confused by all the references to her in this thread in relation to the above letter. I thought maybe it was a crossover post but doesn’t seem to be – can someone fill me in?

                1. Arts Akimbo*

                  It’s ok, you can’t be expected to keep up with human affairs, being an echinoderm and all. :)

      2. Flabbernabbit*

        Saw the movie, read the letter, and still can’t connect the letter with the “sixth sense” analogy. The wife is a ghost to employees and the boss & wife are on to something they can’t pin down from a professional point of view? Or they are seeing a problem where there isn’t one? I don’t get it.

        1. TheLayeredOne*

          The joke is that the wife is a ghost but doesn’t realize it (like the Bruce Willis character in the movie).

          1. Crowley*

            But it doesn’t work because if OP’s wife was a ghost *OP* wouldn’t be able to see her! I’m not surprised people are confused. :)

  4. katelyn*

    I wonder if there’s a perception issue at play here too. In the letter, she’s continually referred to as Boss’s Wife and not by a job title – if that happens in the office, too, I can understand why people wouldn’t be the most open to her; she wouldn’t come across like a real employee who earned the job on its merits. This is probably compounded by her not sitting in the same room as everyone else.

    1. Loraine*

      Add to that she does the invisible work of accounts and the visible work of office help (keeping office caffeinated and probably fed)

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      There also may be some resentment over the fact that she gets a private work space and everyone else is stuck in one room.

      1. Zephy*

        She also does the accounting, she doesn’t just get a private office because she’s the boss’s wife.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Is accounting for a company of seven people a full-time job? Honestly curious, but when I worked for companies of that size, the accountant was someone who came in once a month or so and was never seen otherwise.

          1. Zephy*

            Since their money-related business functions are handled in-house, why wouldn’t they have a dedicated space for them with a door that closes and (presumably) locks?

            1. L.H. Puttgrass*

              A dedicated office for someone who comes in once a month would be a waste of space in the (few) very small companies where I’ve worked. At one of them, the accountant would set up shop in a conference room. I can’t remember what happened at the other one, but I don’t remember any offices being set aside for occasional visits by the accountant.

              But maybe accounting really is a full-time job at this business; I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking whether companies this small usually need a full-time accountant.

              1. Natalie*

                Generally no, but with a few employees and client billings she probably comes in more often than once a month.

                It’s really not at all weird or inappropriate for the HR, payroll, and accounting stuff to have it’s own room with a locked door, even if she doesn’t work full time. That’s considered a pretty basic control – in addition to the employee files she likely also has check stock, company credit cards, etc. She also very likely has to have confidential conversations either in person or on the phone.

              2. Llama Llama*

                I think it would really depend on the business and also her job isn’t just accounting or “the books.” In my limited experience an accountant isn’t usually doing accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll. These together could definitely be a full time job depending on the business and the business model. At most businesses you couldn’t just have a person come in once a month and do all of that. I worked at a business with more like 30 employees where each of those tasks is it’s own full time job so scaling down for one person to do all four those things makes sense to me.

                1. Rainy*

                  I did AR/AP, billing, and processing for a small business when I was younger and “the books” were literally A, singular, book and it lived in the safe when I wasn’t using it.

              3. Observer*

                But maybe accounting really is a full-time job at this business; I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking whether companies this small usually need a full-time accountant.

                OP’s wife is not the accountant. Her role is far more bookkeeper / HR person / office manager.

          2. Campfire Raccoon*

            We have 11 employees in the company. Accounting does not take up all my time. I also do payroll, HR, answer phones, purchasing, and do all the scheduling. However, I have worked at small companies that due to the nature of billing/government contracts, it was a full-time job.

          3. Hamish*

            Totally depends on the type of company. But doing all AP/AR, bookkeeping, accounting, payroll and the random other financial admin tasks could be full time for a place that size. Probably a pretty relaxed full time. (It sounds like she’s also doing office manager stuff, though.)

            If your company had an accountant who just came in once a month, some of those functions were probably happening in other ways that you weren’t seeing. Ex. using an external payroll service, sales people were sending out their own invoices, etc.

          4. Observer*

            Is accounting for a company of seven people a full-time job?

            It doesn’t really matter – she needs a private space for the accounting (and probably HR related) work that she does. And that office cannot be shared.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I read the title and wondered why it even mattered that employees ignored the LW’s wife, but I then I saw that she’s also an employee in a small business owned by LW. Alison often picks the title and in this letter she is continually referred to as “my wife” rather than her office role so using it in the title makes total sense.

      It’s just messy. Did the the client really ignore the wife or did the client say a blanket hello to both wife and admin and the wife make an assumption that she was ignored. I wonder if the wife is too sensitive about it and isn’t really being ignored to the extent she imagines or has she has somehow offend everyone include clients in someway. Unlike the LW I don’t think they’re doing this to her just because she’s his wife and decided to mean to her. If it’s really happening then it’s probably because she did something to get off on the wrong foot with them.

      It should be treated as a problem between employees for the LW to fix as manager/owner and not a husband fixing his wife’s problems.

      It does make sense to me the payroll/accountant/book keeper is in an office with the admin, near the boss when the other 4 people in the open area are IT techs. It does sound like LW’s wife has a unique role with a requirement for a more private workspace and that the 4 people in the open office all have the same role.

    4. Sue*

      Yes, and if this setup is causing drama and/or creating a wedge between OP and the other employees, it may be worth rethinking her working in office or even working there at all. Something has either caused a rift or she is too sensitive to perceived slights and OP is getting pulled in. Sounds exhausting to me.

    5. Forrest*

      I am wondering very much whether “my wife” gets introduced to clients as “my wife”, “my wife who handles our …” “our head of operations”, “the co-owner of the business” etc. Is she introduced by her personal role or her business role? Do clients recognise her as an employee, someone who is co-equal with OP in terms of having a stake in the business, or someone with a personal connection to the boss who just hangs around a lot? I don’t think OP and his wife are particularly clear that these are different roles and that how people might interact with them are different, and which one they think she is and which one other people think she is.

      1. Yorick*

        Yeah, it sounds like OP could be presenting her as “wife who’s just always around” instead of “co-owner of the business,” which is what she’s probably functioning as even if she doesn’t legally own half of it.

    6. Smithy*

      I also wonder if some of the OP’s wife feeling snubbed is that the idea of working in the office might open more social interaction. Whether her desired level of social interaction is outside the norm or just outside the norm of this office, the fact that she’s being bothered by the lack of interaction afforded by clients that she knows socially does make this seem more like there’s social engagement that she’s missing.

      It may just be worth a broader check-in between the OP and his wife around how they’re doing more holistically, particularly given the last year of quarantine.

    7. Kalico*

      I noticed this too, and I think it’s the root of the problem. LW wants his wife to get some special consideration as the wife, but doesn’t seem to quite realize this is the case, and the employees seem to be either treating her as a regular employee or are uncomfortable and confused about the expectations they perceive from LW and wife regarding her role in the office and are just trying to stay away from a mess in the making. I’ve worked in a situation that was almost exactly like this. I think the employees would probably have some interesting stuff to say from their side.

    8. tamarack and fireweed*

      *This* is what I came to say. Is she “Alice, the accounts payable/receivable person, who also happens to be the owner’s wife” or “Alice, the owner’s wife, who also happens to run accounts payable/receivable … and the role of general dogsbody?”.

      My guess, notwithstanding anything Alison said, is that attitudes will vary from one to the other option.

  5. intrigued*

    Can you elaborate on the PS? Like, who is the person who… doesn’t realize something basic about themselves? The OP or the wife?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It’s a joke – in the Sixth Sense the character is dead and doesn’t know it.

      1. Crowley*

        Yeah but it doesn’t really work because presumably OP is alive and if his wife was dead he wouldn’t be able to see her and complain about her being ignored. It seems clear to me that Intrigued gets the reference but doesn’t understand how it works, and I can totally see why.

          1. Crowley*

            I mean it’s possible that I’m taking this too seriously, but that wouldn’t work, because the kid KNOWS the people he sees are dead and OP presumably thinks his wife is alive.

            OP’s wife = Bruce Willis
            OP would have to be Bruce’s wife, surely? And one of their employees would be the kid. OP, does one of your employees always look slightly nervous when your wife is around?!

  6. Mily*

    I really don’t understand why she expects clients going to a different office to stop at her office to greet her.

    1. MissM*

      Yeah, that’s when it seemed that OP and OP’s wife’s expectations were really skewed. Generally I speak with the person that I first see walking in, to let them know I’m here and then the person the meeting is with. Especially since OP’s wife has never been in the office prior to the last year, there’s no reason people would know her personally from prior projects either and she’s not involved in the core business (not to denigrate the work that keeps the machine running).

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Same. If I’m there to see Kenny I’m not going to say hello to Jill and Marty on the way in unless they catch my eye and wave because I assume that they’re busy and would rather not be interrupted by someone who didn’t even need their time.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yes – if I’m picturing this office correctly, the wife is in a separate room working (although with door ajar) and the assistant is in front of the OP’s office (where the clients are going).

      I think most people wouldn’t greet your wife in that scenario, as it would seem like they were interupting her.

    3. Cat Tree*

      When Alison warns us of small businesses that claim to be like family, this letter is a perfect example of that. OP is thinking of the workplace as a social gathering more than a transactional exchange. Yes, it’s good to follow basic social niceties among a group of people you spend a lot of time with. But the employees don’t have to be friends with OP’s wife to the extent of going out of their way to greet her.

      It’s a good sign that OP is looking for advice, and hopefully they have the insight to realize that they need to view the situation differently.

    4. The Cosmic Avenger*

      To borrow from restaurant lingo, it sounds to me like the OP is the “front of house manager”, and the wife is “back of house manager”; the OP has been in the office more, and sounds like they are hands-on involved in the core business and dealing with clients, while the wife does accounting and office management, which are support/overhead tasks. Clients certainly might perceive the OP as the primary owner/founder, and the employees might too, fair or not, just because of the nature of the roles. Which brings up, how clearly are their roles defined to employees and clients? There may be a perception that the wife is “just helping out”, and while it’s sexist and unfair, once it’s identified it could be addressed more easily.

      1. Cathy Gale*

        This is what I was thinking – that she’s perceived as “helping out”. Even someone who’s just “hanging around” and interfering with business.

    5. anonymouse*

      I think wife was at assistant’s desk, client came in and said, Good morning, I’m here for my 11 am.
      the good morning should be enough for both. If I were the wife, I think I’d say, good morning back to him, even though client was looking at assistant, because that’s why he’s there and not really think anything of it.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        Yes, and it’s while she’s at the assistant’s desk (not in her office). A general good morning to all.

        “This is even if my wife is standing near my assistant when they walk in.”

      2. Az*

        I was thinking about this too. Like if I go to the pediatrician’s office and say “Good morning :) I have Brunhilda here for a 11:00 appointment” and there’s someone else there who was previously talking with the receptionist, I don’t think I would do a separate hello to that extra person. Not to be rude, just because I don’t have business with her at the moment.

    6. PT*

      I had a boss like this, she was a nightmare. She had all sorts of social expectations for people (women, of course, never men) that were above and beyond those expected as part of one’s normal job, and then she’d get angry at people and say they weren’t doing their job for not following the social rules that existed only in her brain. It was exhausting to be accused of being unfriendly (and thus unworthy of promotion or growth) for not saying Good Morning correctly to someone who was visibly swamped with work and clearly did not have time to be interrupted.

      1. Icy Dead People*

        Yep, looking at this through the lens of a very dysfunctional relationship I survived, this is what I projected into my interpretation of the story. My ex would have uncommunicated expectations of how people should behave around her and then get furious about them not being followed; and instead of communicating or proactively being social with other people, would blame me and expect me to somehow fix it.

    7. Jennifer*

      Yeah, if she said hello to me, I’d definitely say hello back, but other than that I’d be nervous I was disturbing her.

    8. Forrest*

      That’s what makes me think she sees herself as co-owner/partner of the business. If she sees herself as a partner, then it does make a bit more sense for clients to say hi to her even though their actual meeting is with LW: it’s kind of an acknowledgement of the social dynamic between the owners of a business and its clients. Whereas it’s really weird to assume they should step into her office to say hi to her if their relation to her is “the boss’s wife” or “the head of operations.”

      But LW describes themself as the owner, and her as an employee. I wonder how much of this is a real lack of clarity about whether she is a partner in the business or his employee.

    9. TurtlesAllTheWayDown*

      Yes! I’m picturing the setup like my own office in the Before Times. Most people were in the open work area in the middle. At the front door, you had our AP/AR/admin person who would greet guests. If you walked in the front door, to your left would be the first conference room, then a door to my boss’s office, then the President’s office, then the CFO’s office. A lot of people coming in would have meetings with the CFO or be there to drop off a check. Unless they were somehow previously acquainted with my boss (due to be a current or previous client with a long working relationship) they weren’t going to stop, knock on her door, introduce themselves, and have a conversation with someone who is clearly working in the middle of a work day just because they were walking in the vicinity of her open door.

  7. AuntAmy*

    I do not love this part of the letter: “And shouldn’t they be more afraid of getting on the bad side of the boss’s wife?”
    Fear should just not come into play in a healthy workplace. And I agree that both LW and the wife are taking this way too personally! The Sixth Sense comment made me chuckle, though.

    1. juliebulie*

      Yeah, if it’s that easy to get on her bad side, then it might not be such a great place to work.

    2. Anon Dot Com*

      Agreed. And the LW is taking this “snubbing” really personally on behalf of his wife. It’s understandable, but this is exactly why you have to be really careful about professional boundaries when mixing work and family. Does LW present/relate to his wife as The Boss’s Wife in the workplace, or as Office Admin? Does LW’s wife have unrealistic expectations of how she should be treated based on her status as The Boss’s Wife? It seems to me that LW’s wife may just be out of step with the prevailing culture. (Think of the comment wars here over whether coworkers should say good morning to each other…) The Boss-Wife-Assistant office setup also seems to be reinforcing this dynamic.

      1. twocents*

        Your last comment makes me wonder: if the bookkeeper wasn’t his wife, would she get her own private office?

        Maybe the answer is yes! But maybe they’ve taken their private relationship status and think it should also lead to an elevated workplace status.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          This is what I was wondering the whole time I was reading this letter and I have a thought experiment for the LW.

          LW, if your wife did not work in your office and her job functions were being carried out by another employee, and that employee came to you to say that people in the office weren’t talking to them enough, would you take that complaint as seriously as you’re taking this?

    3. CCSF*

      Simply replacing part of the sentence makes it super weird, too.

      “And shouldn’t they be more afraid of getting on the bad side of the bookkeeper?”

      Because who would be afraid of getting on the bas side of the bookkeeper, for Pete’s sake?

      1. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

        *angrily throws handfuls of beans at you*
        Although when I was at a previous job, people who got on my nerves did get their expense reimbursements moved to the bottom of my pile….

      2. Jerusha*

        Anyone who wants their invoices paid, their clients to pay, or their expenses reimbursed sometime before the coming of the next ice age? Depending on the duties of the bookkeeper, anyone who would like their paycheck to be generated on time for the correct amount? Their payments for the benefits they’ve enrolled in to be made on time so their benefits don’t lapse?

        Most bookkeepers wouldn’t do anything of the sort. But the reason for not getting on the bad side of the bookkeeper is the risk of discovering that you’re working with one of the exceptions…

    4. meyer lemon*

      Maybe this is uncharitable, but I got the sense that the LW is expecting employees to show an unusual amount of deference toward their wife. It’s possible that some employees are picking up on this and it’s making them less inclined to talk to her.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        I know we’re supposed to avoid speculation, but I can’t help wondering what this company does. There’s the boss, the boss’s wife, the boss’s assistant—and four IT techs. That’s an interesting company roster, and I wonder if the techs see themselves as the ones who do the “real work.” If so, it wouldn’t take much for them to harbor some discomfort at the discrepancy between boss-and-boss-adjacent employees and themselves. It wouldn’t be the first small family company where the “hired help” did all the work and the owner and his family got most of the benefits.

        1. Sylvan*

          +1, having worked somewhere with a loosely similar dynamic. (The person who wanted attention and deference was the owner’s child, not their spouse.)

        2. T. Boone Pickens*

          Joining you on the rampant speculation I wonder if it’s computer/smart phone repair or something of the like.

    5. boo bot*

      Yep, that was the line that stood out to me. Is this about her wanting to fit in and feel welcome? Or is it about wanting the employees to be hyper-conscious she’s the boss’ wife? I think she can have one or the other, but not both.

      Ultimately, I agree that she is taking this way too personally – none of the things described seem directed at her at all. The other thing I would consider is this: she started in the office in August, meaning her whole in-office time has been during Covid. If everyone is wearing masks, she’s likely missing non-verbal communication (smiling!) that she would otherwise understand as a response to her greetings. It’s also possible people are trying to avoid unnecessary conversation (to minimize breathing on each other) especially if you’re *not* all wearing masks. Social cues in general have gotten a little wonky lately.

    6. Snow globe*

      I think you are misinterpreting that comment. I think LW was theorizing possible reasons why the employees might be doing this and was discounting the idea that they might be snubbing her *because* she is the boss’s wife. Because why do something so blatantly that, as far as the employees know, could get them on the wife’s bad side. So that theory doesn’t make sense.

      1. twocents*

        Agreed. I don’t think LW was literally suggesting people should cower in fear, but just logically, who would deliberately go out of their way to be a jerk to the boss’s spouse?

        1. meyer lemon*

          I don’t think the LW literally wants employees to tremble in fear before their mighty spouse, but it does reveal that they may be going into this with some expectations of a natural antagonism between workers and management.

      2. Jill*

        I think it’s possible they could be doing it because she’s the boss’s wife but in order to not seem overly friendly with her and keep things professional since it seems some lines have been blurred so far, trying to avoid even more favoritism.

      3. boo bot*

        Oh, that makes sense, thank you! I hadn’t considered it that way, and I hope the LW will suggest that explanation to their wife.

    7. Gray Lady*

      A charitable spin on that would be “Wouldn’t you expect they would be more afraid…” rather than “Shouldn’t they be…” and maybe just a poor choice of words? People can be afraid of offending their boss even when the boss doesn’t give them reason to, it’s just the way human nature runs in some people.

    8. Mrs. Hawiggins*

      That comment makes it sound like it’s easy to get there…

      I would agree that completely NOT saying good morning to someone when they’ve said it to you is a weird one. As many have said if she’s saying it to a room full of people maybe someone needs to be appointed “Good morning monitor” for the week. For me a quick, “Hi, morning,” is all I tend to reply and then if I know the person is a chatterererrr, then off to the coffee maker/bathroom/mailroom I go.

    9. Amaranth*

      I read this more as LW being perplexed that even if they don’t like her, why are they not at least showing self-preservation since in most cases people make an extra effort with the boss(es).

  8. GigglyPuff*

    This may sound stupid, but if they’re all working in one large room, couldn’t they just already be wearing earbuds? And you just can’t see them. Otherwise I agree, I think you’re taking it too personally, with an added element of the boss’s wife awkwardness. Though if I’m already focused on work, I can totally not notice people talking to the room at large.

    1. michelenyc*

      I don’t think it is stupid. In my old office with an open sitting plan I wore my earbuds all the time to tune everyone out so I could concentrate better. You would have to come and stand next to me to get my attention. So I could see people not acknowledging her because that can’t hear her.

    2. beach read*

      This is the first thing I thought of. Most of the time I can’t tell if someone is wearing them.
      I remember years ago I worked on a team that most team members start time was an hour prior to myself and another woman. When the other woman came in, she’d drop off her purse at her own desk and then walk around to each cubicle to say an individual good morning and chat. I would never ever do that, people have been hard at work for a good hour! I would typically say a soft good morning as I passed by and got started on my own day. Goes to show, everyone is different! (Same woman also made a point to say good night in the same manner to anyone still at work when she left.)

  9. Retired Prof*

    LW says the wife has a friendly personality but the spouse is often the worst judge of this. If people actually are not responding, I suspect it’s because they have learned it’s best not to. Maybe the wife says inappropriate things, or is one of those people who starts a conversation while you are trying to think. Or maybe the employees worry that anything said to the boss’s wife gets reported to the boss, perhaps with a spin they never intended.

    1. a sound engineer*

      Also, because the wife is referred to as “the boss’s wife” the whole letter, I wonder if they have set her up to be viewed through that lens at work vs. just another employee. (Especially because OP wonders whether employees should be scared of getting in the wrong side of his wife – the answer is a NO, fear shouldn’t belong in a workplace and as long as they treat your wife professionally they shouldn’t be punished for perceived warmth towards her.

      1. anonymouse*

        How Alison always tells people who going to work at companies where a parent works, it’s fine, just refer to them by their first name (or however employees refer to each other there) and don’t default to “my mom says…” “my dad thought…”
        Does he introduce her in a way that comes off like, “this is my wife, she does bookkeeping” instead of “this is Lucinda, she’s our bookkeeper and also, (full disclosure) my wife.”

      2. Anononon*

        Yeah, that’s a weird term to use consistently when the wife is actually also a full time employee. At least when I read it, it really undermines the work she does.

        1. Phoebe*

          Yes, I found that really weird, too. It not only undermines the value of her work, but it also seems to imply a weird power dynamic in the office, where LW is trying to intimidate employees into acting “right”. I’m not saying this is what is going one, just that it kind of comes across that way.

        2. Cat Tree*

          Yeah, I went into this letter expecting to hear about a wife who isn’t employed by the company but visits often and/or hangs out for long periods. It sure is a weird phrasing throughout since she seems to work there full time.

    2. What's in a name?*

      You make me wonder if the boss’s wife is the kind of person that turns a “Hello” into a 15 minute conversation and people have learned to avoid engaging.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        That’s my guess. That is an obvious possible interpretation of “very friendly.”

    3. annakarina*

      Yeah, there’s too much bias from the spouse here to get an accurate read on why people aren’t responding to her. Naturally the spouse would see his partner in the best light because he loves her, and isn’t going to see her in the more business way the other colleagues would.

    4. Campfire Raccoon*

      I am the boss’ wife at our small company. This is definitely an OP/Wife problem, probably due to OP’s bias.

      There is some reframing that needs to happen, as well as acknowledging she is probably never going to be “one of the crew” just by the very nature of her relationship to the boss.

    5. Roscoe*

      Exactly. Of course the spouse isn’t an objective judge here. I’m not saying she isn’t nice. But just that OP isn’t exactly unbiased

  10. Bripops*

    Personally I think it’s because she’s in an office and the assistant is outside the door. When going to an office I’d greet a receptionist but not someone in an office even if the door was open. I’d expect to say hello to a front desk person and be acknowledged by them, but anyone else I’d automatically assume was working and not interested in conversation, even if it turns out that they’re very friendly and open to talking to people!

    1. I edit everything*

      Yeah, same. I’m imagining myself walking into an office, and the assistant/receptionist is talking to someone else, then greets me. I’d greet them and state my business (“I’m here for my 9:15 meeting with Alphonse.”), but not greet the other person, who isn’t relevant to me.

      1. On a pale mouse*

        I’m the same way – if I’m at work, I’m focused on what I’m doing, not having a conversation with everyone I see – but there are people who find that a bit cold. Like, there’s another human being standing right there, at least acknowledge them with a nod or something. LW/wife may be people who feel that way.

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        Yes, and also, for better or worse, backoffice functions such as payroll and accounts payable/receivable are often treated as completely transparent to external partners or clients. I wouldn’t even know if it was welcomed to greet someone who has no overlap with my function. Well, except accounts receivable maybe :-)

        The situation with the employees is a bit different. It sounds very much that there’s unclearness about the role of the boss’s wife and the techs default to aloofness. By unclearness I mean it would be healthier if she was strongly identified by her job role first, and only secondarily as the owner’s wife.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      This. It would feel like I was intruding on the person sitting farther back, minding her businesss and doing her work. The public-facing person is public-facing for a reason: I’m going to interact with that person. I’m not going to wave and “Hi!” at someone behind the public-facing person unless I have a genuine reason to do so. Good morning is not enough of a reason to interrupt someone.

    3. Colette*

      I agree – and I think that fundamentally the OP is thinking of this as a social thing and not a work thing. Clients aren’t coming to the business to have social conversations; they are there to do business. At a party, if you walked up to a couple and only talked to one of them, that would be strange; it’s not strange to only talk to the people you need to talk to in a business context.

      1. TheLayeredOne*

        This. It is (or it should be) irrelevant to the client that the Accounts Payable person is the owner’s wife. LW and the wife need to reframe their perspective. I would not be surprised if there’s a weird dynamic going on in the office and the employees are responding it by being cool towards the wife.

      2. oranges*

        My coworker and I made an agreement years ago that we don’t have to say “good morning” and “good bye” to each other when we past desks each day. It’s fine. The admin likes to greet people, so we happily respond to her, but I’m not trying to be unnecessarily chatty with people. He and I communicate just fine about work things, but we don’t need to do daily social things too.

      3. JustaTech*

        The other thing it could be (besides the OP’s wife thinking of this as a social thing) is if she’s also an owner then she’s probably more involved in the business decisions than the clients realize. So if she thinks of herself as an owner, then I can see why she might want to interact with the clients more.
        And this wouldn’t have been a thing when she was WFH, because she wasn’t physically there to see the clients.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      This is, upon some reflection, exactly how I operate.

      If I’m going to Site A to diagnose/replace their network switch which has inexplicably fallen in the toilet again I will say hi to the security guard, the receptionist, the person I’m meeting to let me into the secure location. There’s probably a lot of other people there (distancing properly or they had better be) but I’ve not got any incentive or purpose to great them all.

      Simply put, I don’t have the spoons for anything else. And talking with others increases the risk of someone pulling down their mask to chat ‘better’ and no thank you.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        *(yes we have a remote site where the comms gear is kept in the same room as the bog. Very old building. Like Brunel era)

        Another thought crossed my aching head: if she’s primarily known as being the boss’ wife above any job description and there’s a feeling that if you piss her off then the boss will get angry then…I might seriously curate everything I say to her – and this next bit please take from the perspective of someone with schizophrenia- I’d be terrified of even talking to her because I might think she’ll take offence at anyone ‘lower’ on the hierarchy daring to talk back.

        (Atypical response I know. But I’ve only worked with one woman who was married to the High Boss and yep I was scared)

        1. IndustriousLabRat*

          “…replace their network switch which has inexplicably fallen in the toilet again ”
          I thought you were being figurative, and then:
          “… a remote site where the comms gear is kept in the same room as the bog”
          The explanation is that, if we’re also to take “bog” literally, and not as a regionalism for the loo, they’ve got to call Beowulf in to forcibly evict Grendel from the site.

          Sorry to go off-topic, but this made me cackle louder than it should have.

      2. Llama face!*

        “If I’m going to Site A to diagnose/replace their network switch which has inexplicably fallen in the toilet again”
        This is wonderfully bizarre and specific. Should I be asking for the whole story on the Friday open thread?

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          See above! Did a very recent talk to a (virtual) classroom of girls aged 15-16 on my experience as a woman in IT and why it’s a rewarding career and did add ‘you’ll never run out of amusing stories to tell groups of people. Ever.”

          (The school is doing a series of talks with women in the science and technology fields. Doubt I was as interesting as the pharmaceutical chemist researcher but I tried!)

    5. kittymommy*

      Yeah I agree. I just thought about how many offices I pass in a particular hallway on my way to the back to see a specific person. I don’t think I ever say hi to any of them. Ever really. Occasionally I may hear a “Hi” but by that time I’m halfway down the hall and it’s just awkward to yell back (and I would imagine disturbing to others).

    6. Campfire Raccoon*

      I have never worked anywhere where it was acceptable to interrupt a coworker working in their office, even if their door was open. If you wanted to say hi, you’d stop, knock, and wait for acknowledgement. If they happen to glance up when you walk by, you wave and move on.

      If I was visiting a vendor or client, I would go out of my way not to be unobtrusive to the employees working there. I would say hi to the admin and/or any customer-facing people. I would never, ever, ever bother HR or Accounting.

    7. Person of Interest*

      Yes, it would be weird in most offices to say hello to someone sitting inside their office if that wasn’t the person I came to see. And even if the OP thinks of their clients like family and we all know each other etc., it’s likely not the norm for the clients.

  11. a sound engineer*

    Are people so wrapped up in work that they’re not acknowledging her at all? Or are they nodding back or something and just not explicitly saying “good morning? To me there are a few degrees between flat-out ignoring and a cheerful verbak response. Unless other things are going on with this to make it seem like she’s being frozen out, I don’t really think this is the hill to die on. And given that you mention clients as having the same behavior, I’m inclined to agree with Alison that you’re probably reading too much into it.

  12. AndersonDarling*

    Is this a situation where the wife is walking in and announcing “Hello!” to the whole office, or is she making eye contact with an individual and greeting them personally? If it’s the latter, then there is some deep snubbing going on. But I’m guessing it’s the former.
    I can say from my own experience, when the owner’s wife comes in and announces “Hello!” it really means “I’m here, so you better be on your best behaviour!” Or, “Get ready to do my bidding!” Neither one of those announcements required a response.

  13. NYC Taxi*

    I wonder if they changed the person who was doing the wife’s job to regular employee if they would even notice if anyone was “ignoring” them. I don’t know why they are expecting this extra deference to their wife.

    1. a sound engineer*

      Yeah, it seems to me that OP and his wife are expecting the wife to be treated as boss #2 when from his description she’s at the same level as the other employees

      1. serenity*

        Expecting a response to “Hello” or “Good morning” isn’t unreasonable or “extra deference”. There’s a lot of guessing going on in the comments – maybe people are nodding a greeting in return but the letter says pretty plainly that she’s just being ignored. That’s not cool and OP should probably ask themselves the questions Alison mentioned.

        1. allathian*

          I would expect that they’d answer in some way if it’s a direct greeting, with a wave if nothing else. However, I wouldn’t expect external clients visiting the office to go out of their way to greet her, even if she was standing somewhere near them. They’d greet the person they’ve come to see and the assistant, not random employees necessarily.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Exactly. Would OP be as worried about “snubbing” if it were Agnes the office clerk rather than Boss’ Wife? If the answer is yes, then okay address it as “in this office we are friendly and greet each other.” If not, then OP needs to step back and not see this as his WIFE being snubbed but that just people don’t greet each other in the office.

      I think the person up above who said the Boss sees this as social and not work is also part of the problem. this is an office, not a social gathering. The normal rules of greeting everyone do not apply.

      Also, I cringed at the “friendly and outgoing.” To me that means, I will start talking to you about non work things when you are trying to work and see YOU as rude if you don’t want to talk right then.

      1. NYC Taxi*

        Haha yeah, when I hear ‘friendly and outgoing’ I think ‘chatty and me having to waste time on frivolous conversation when I’m busy’.

  14. Vin Packer*

    It seems to me that the employee’s are just reflecting OP’s own attitude. OP doesn’t say “my wife and I co-run a small business” and then describe how they are equal partners in it. Instead, it’s more like “I run a small business with my wife as dutiful helpmeet.” Which is fine, if everybody’s into it, but why should the employees treat her like a co-CEO when you are just treating her like your wife?

    1. Rae*

      That stuck out to me as well. For example, I work for my father. But I am introduced as “Rae who takes care of llama grooming, who happens to be the boss’s kid in case someone asks but it rarely comes up” instead of “The Boss’s kid Rae, who also works here” (I should say I’m in my 30s). Major difference.

      1. TC*

        Also the case for my spouse who works has worked for their father for eons, as one of the only employees. Or if the familial part comes up first, it’s only to say how much they do to keep things going at the office, so it’s still about the job, but in a parental pride kind of way.

    2. Autumnheart*

      I was thinking something similar. Does the wife have an actual title? Because it seems like she handles a lot of duties (accounting and payroll ain’t nothing) but why does everyone think of her as “Boss’s wife” instead of “Director of Accounting” or even “CFO”? Because it seems like people treat her like a mom instead of like a boss–including OP.

      If OP wants his wife to be given the same consideration as other employees, he should give her a title and use it around the business.

    3. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      This was also something that struck me. I’m essentially in the opposite (I assume) position, where I am co-owner of the business my spouse runs and do have a lot of weight when it comes to big-picture operations. I occasionally lend a hand with office management/bookkeeping because my full time job is as a CPA, but don’t actually operate as an employee of the business.

      So therefore when I do stop by the office I would find it a bit odd if I were snubbed – I am, after all, one of The Bosses. But the employees who do know who I am (maybe half of them, since I’m not there a lot) also know that I am Bean Counter, The Co Owner. I’m not Bean Counter, Owner’s Wife Who Helps Out.

  15. Weekend Please*

    I think feeling slighted when she is in her office with the door open seems a little extreme. Even if the door is open, she is in a different room. I don’t go into people’s offices at work just to say hello unless we are very close. Just because their door is open does not signal to me that they would like to be interrupted for social niceties. This is doubly true if they tend to get hyper focused and not talkative.

    As for ignoring her when she says hello, is it possible that they are focused on work and don’t realize she is talking to them? It doesn’t sound like this is happening in the break room or at lunch. I think she may be taking this way too personally.

  16. fposte*

    “When do you say hello?” is a weirdly fraught question in offices, where most people are trying to avoid saying hello to the same people repeatedly. The statement mentions a setup several times where the wife is in an office with an open door that people are walking *past*. That is very much not a situation where people, especially regular co-workers who are in the space all day, should be expected to say hello, and a lot of people in such offices really would be annoyed if they did. I would also say that clients generally don’t say hello to other employees of the business, just the support person who’s handling their meeting and the person they’re meeting.

    The good mornings are a different thing–if she’s really saying a first good morning on arriving to a group of people and nobody looks up or responds, that’s closer to a rebuff. But the fact that you both seem to think your staff are unfriendly for not saying hi when they pass a working co-worker (and are indignant that they still come to her for tasks that seem to be her job) seems to signal that the expectations are excessively social here.

    1. Sacred Ground*

      As for not responding to a good morning, I missed at first that these are IT workers. It could well be that they are this focused in the moment when working they honestly don’t notice.

      I shared an apartment with a coder who built AI systems. His home office was in the shared living space. He would get so hyper-focused on his work that it would take a LOT more than a cheerful good morning to get a response. His dogs could get his attention better than I could but they were more willing to bark at him than I was.

  17. Erin*

    If she is sitting in her office, maybe people don’t want to disturb. In my organisation, we keep our office doors open sometimes, but even with the doors open, we expect that the person inside is focused on their work and you only address them if you actually need them.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      We always have our doors open unless we’re doing something that really need silence, but everyone still knocks and waits before coming in (and if the door is closed they wait until it’s open to knock unless it’s a screaming emergency).

    2. Drago Cucina*

      That’s not unusual. The questions for me pop up here:

      “This is even if my wife is standing near my assistant when they walk in.”
      Is the client giving a general hello and not wanting to interrupt a conversation?
      What does standing near mean? The vicinity? Next to?
      There are no many variables.

  18. chewingle*

    I agree with Allison here, but I want to move my focus to another thing.

    It appears your wife does an awfully lot of work for your business. I realize this is normal for small businesses. But it’s enough that she has her own office. So is she your wife or your employee? When on the job, I find it very important (having worked with my husband for a few years—many people didn’t even know we were married for a long time) to be vigilant about separating those titles when in different situations.

    And maybe you don’t flaunt your marriage at work, but some of way this letter was phrased made me wonder how much emphasis there is on her being your wife rather than an employee at work. If it turns out you’re right and your employees are snubbing her, doing this could make them more comfortable with her when they’re not saying, “Good morning” to the boss’s wife and are just chatting with Jane from accounts payable instead.

    1. Nonprofiteer*

      Good point. It seems like the wife is expecting a chorus of greetings each morning because she is the owner’s wife, not just the accounts payable and coffee buying coworker. Not a great dynamic. Your employees (and customers!?) are there to trade labor for money, not play Upstairs Downstairs.

  19. Formerly Ella Vader*

    Is there any chance, OP, that your wife wasn’t introduced to people as the bookkeeping manager or admin assistant or whatever, but as your spouse who will be doing X, Y, and Z? The more you and she can decouple the family relationship from the job title, the more likely it will be for other people to treat her as the bookkeeping manager or admin assistant or whatever. I’m not saying that it’s all your and your spouse’s job to fix the current awkward situation, but there might be some things the two of you could do that would help.

    In some small companies, a person doing those tasks would have a small room with a door that locked, because payroll is private and billing is commercial information, and the person doing those tasks would not be dealing with clients who walk in, just sending them invoices. In others, the person doing those tasks might also be doing receptionist duties and so would be the first point of contact for many visitors. Either way, maybe sitting with you and your assistant isn’t the right physical setup.

  20. Cranky Lady*

    This sounds similar to my old job where the CEO’s wife had a similar role and was really bad at it. Any mention that something she had done wasn’t perfect (not paid bonus, forgotten legal forms) got a loud lecture about how much she did. She also misconstrued conversations that then got you in trouble with the boss. The result was keeping a safe distance but at least most people were polite.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      This happens so much. Even if this isn’t the situation at the OP’s workplace, I’d still stay away from the wife (or kid, or best friend, or mom, or any relative) unless I absolutely had to. One silly overheard remark could haunt me for years.
      This is what happens when you run a family business. There is the family, and then the rest of the employees.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Ugh, yes, I was going to bring up this point as well.

      I worked for a small business where the owner’s partner was one of the employees and was absolutely terrible. It caused a LOT of issues. And it was sad, because I really liked the owner and wanted her to be successful, but partner was really bringing things down IMO.

  21. Haley*

    Can someone explain the Sixth Sense comment? I’m interested, but not an avid reader of Captain Awkward (who I’m sure is great)

  22. AnotherSarah*

    Substitute “our financial admin” for “my wife” and see if you feel differently. I suspect that people are treating her the way they would treat anyone in her role (for better or worse). The reason they are chatty with your assistant is that they need to go through her to get to you.

    1. Bernice Clifton*

      As an Office Manager, this is what I was thinking.

      I’m a career admin support person and have never been involved with a supervisor. Sometimes when you work in a job like that, coworkers do ignore you until the coffee or the toner runs out or they need to know when an invoice will be paid. Most of my colleagues over the years have not been like that, but it does happen.

  23. Fashionable Pumpkin*

    I’m curious if people realize she’s an employee, and not just in the office to help out with the kitchen and coffee (as the owner’s wife and not as an employee). Or maybe they view her as a low level admin, if they don’t realize what her role is (either as payroll or as the spouse of the owner)? If the work was mostly remote before, and she hasn’t been properly introduced, people may feel uneasy asking and are making assumptions about her position in the business.

  24. old biddy*

    Is she mildly hard of hearing or does she speak quietly? It might be the cause of part of the problem.

    1. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

      This has happened to me. I didn’t understand why I would say “Hello” or “Good morning” to coworkers walking by me when that wasn’t our office culture. It turns out I was speaking so softly that no one heard what I was saying. I now actively make myself project my voice when I’m around coworkers and it helps.

      1. Kammy6707*

        A similar situation happened to me – someone would say good morning to me and I would reply with “good morning” back, but I said it so softly they didn’t hear it (it also didn’t help that we were in a room with several humming printer/copiers). Over a year or so later, she finally exploded at me over it – and I was so confused! I explained I had just said good morning, but maybe I said it more softly then I intended? But the damage had already been done – and it finally made sense why everyone else in the office always seemed to ignore me! I did attempt to start saying good morning to her after that, but she then ignored it. I eventually left that place – thank god. People need to consider other alternatives rather than “they are rude.”

    2. it's-a-me*

      I came here to ask/suggest the same thing. I had a coworker who was always complaining that no one ever greeted her in the morning, I sympathised until the one week I came to work earlier than her and heard everyone and their dog greet her on the way in. She later complained about being ignored again and I pointed out that she had received multiple replies every morning, and even some unprompted greetings which she seemed to ignore.

      She just hadn’t been hearing them at all.

  25. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    If she’s standing right next to the Assistant, it could be that the client greeting was all-purpose for everyone in the room, even if they can only look in one direction while saying it, and since they’re checking in, they look at the person who will check them in.

    Here’s what I do suggest. If your wife addresses the “room” when saying good morning, usually the class…I mean the employees…do not feel that the comment was specifically addressed to them so they don’t need to respond. If she wants a direct response, she can address them directly, “Good morning, David.”

    What I DON’T suggest you do is give any adult what you consider to be an etiquette lesson. That never has the intended result you think it will. I worked in a small family business similar to what you describe and one time the wife sent out a scold email about that we need to “ask” the boss politely for our vacation/sick days and not just notify them we are taking the day off. My attitude is actually that this time is my earned compensation, and I will take it when I need it, because i own it, and they aren’t my parents.

    1. Sled Dog Mama*

      Your first point is very good. It can be hard to tell the difference in
      “Good Morning, Nancy. Is Jim ready to see me?” Greeting only one person and asking a question, ignoring the second person standing there and
      “Good Morning. Nancy, is Jim ready to see me?” General greeting to all present in the room, then asking a question of only one.

  26. Sara without an H*

    OP, I wonder if there’s some role confusion involved here? It’s possible that your staff and your clients are avoiding engaging with your wife because they’re not sure who she is or what’s she’s doing there. You describe her role as “Boss’s Wife.” What is her actual role in the business? Is this primarily your business and your wife is “helping out?” Or is she an equal partner in the business? Is she there as your wife or as chief financial officer? And if she’s chief financial officer, why is she ordering coffee and milk?

    People react differently to “Jane, the Boss’s Wife, tell her if you’re out of coffee,” and “Jane Efficient, Vice President for Finance.” You and your wife may find it useful to work out which one she is.

    1. Blisskrieg*

      YES!!! Came here to say this. Unless your wife is an assistant, I would have someone else order the milk and take care of other housekeeping-type items. In looking at her other responsibilities, that seems out of whack. Your office may indeed have a real confusion about her role. I’m sure with small businesses, and especially family-run and -owned businesses, there’s some blurring of roles. But because you do have an assistant, that seems like the better personnel to do those kind of office management roles.

    2. Paris Geller*

      This was my take too. The employees & clients aren’t greeting her the same way they do colleagues because they don’t recognize her as a colleague, but instead as the boss’ wife who does some work for the small business. It makes a big difference–if she’s the boss’ wife who does some work for the business, then her presence in the office may come off as more social than work, even if she’s working full-time hours.

  27. EnidWhatever*

    I agree with others – I think the IT people aren’t into being social or don’t realize they’re supposed to respond, and clients don’t want to bother some other person who happens to be working near the person they’re visiting.

    At my company a lot of people are in shared offices; if I need to see Terri, I’m not going to interrupt the other person I don’t know who is at their own desk in the same room.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I can only base this on my own experience in IT but; we IT people can be magnificently uninterested in anything that doesn’t have a power socket and an error message.

      1. RosyGlasses*

        Yeah – I was thinking this too – I work adjacent to software engineers and I wouldn’t expect them to be overly talkative unless I was specifically scheduled to meet with them about some piece of code. The nature of their work means they need to be head down/focused.

  28. I edit everything*

    I’m curious how much of it is because she hasn’t historically worked in the office. Maybe she’s just less in tune with the office atmosphere and norms, or no one really knows her and are used to going about their days without interacting with her. It’s not a conscious snub, just different habits and expectations.

    1. CCSF*

      Especially in super small offices, bringing in a new person can drastically change the dynamic.

      Extrapolate it on a larger scale… if you had 70 employees and brought in 10 new ones, the dynamics and social norms would certainly require an adjustment period.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      I was thinking it could be kind of a self-fulfilling loop for this reason. Moving from WFH to the office is a big change for her but doesn’t really affect her co-workers all that much. If she came in really nervous and excited and everyone else was “business as usual” it could’ve shaken her confidence, and then it becomes a thing where every time she says good morning it’s a little more fraught because she’s reading something personal into it.

  29. WellRed*

    “But the fact that she feels clients are also snubbing her makes me think that no one is, and instead she’s just reading way too much into how people do or don’t greet her.”
    Bingo! And I think if she weren’t your wife, you would have seen this.
    I do think it’s weird for your wife to say good morning and not have anyone respond. That’s just weird and rude.

    1. Temperance*

      I don’t think this is really going against that principle. He’s married to her, and reporting his wife’s take on things. Alison and others are providing additional context that he may not be seeing.

      No one is saying that he’s a liar etc., or anything similar.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I think we are – no one is accusing him of lying (or suggesting anything outlandish, like maybe all the employees go temporarily deaf between the hour of 9:00 and 9:30) — we’re all sticking within the facts presented in the letter, but wondering if OP’s wife is missing some cultural context.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Also – I think part of what people are getting hung up on is that this letter is lacking in a lot of detail that you would normally expect in a letter about snubbing. Like: are the employees rude to her in other ways? Do they chat warmly with each other but not her? Are they making eye contact and not saying anything? Do they greet OP every morning?

        It makes it really difficult to get a sense of what’s going on — but if OP’s wife was being deliberatly snubbed, it’s unlikely that it would only surface in the manifestation of ignoring greetings.

        1. James*

          Exactly. No one’s disputing the facts–it’s just that the facts in the letter aren’t sufficient to draw conclusions. It’s not an attack against the LW to point this out; it is, in fact, a way to demonstrate that we’re taking them seriously. We’re trying to find ways to resolve the problem. All the “What else could be going on?” comments can be reframed–and mine were certainly intended to be so–as “You didn’t mention this aspect of the business; maybe you should look at it.”

        2. Amaranth*

          It comes across rather like LW doesn’t necessarily observe any of this themselves. I think its because I’d expect more detail, like ‘Sue and Peter weren’t busy at all and just looked at her then back at their desks.’ It sounds to me like she might say hello as she goes past the other office but if his assistant responds, everybody but her thinks she is greeting the assistant.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Sometimes the letter writers provide the rope to hang themselves — see the Leap Day Birthday letter writer.

      1. Bernice Clifton*

        Or the mom who was supervising her daughter and had someone complain about her anonymously.

    4. DyneinWalking*

      I’ve always taken it to mean “assume the LW is truthfully stating the facts as they perceived them“. Basisally, assume that all the facts are true, but the interpretation of the situation might not be. After all, the LW is never an omniscient being. They can’t know all the facts, and can only guess at other people’s intentions.

      Here, Alison and the commenters are not disbelieving a single fact stated in the letter (that LW’s employees and clients don’t wish his wide good morning – something that LW can easily verify). They are merely pointing out that there is a good chance that LW’s interpretation is false (that the employees and clients are intentionally and maliciously snubbing LW’s wife – something that LW cannot know, it’s just an assumption).

      Furthermore, the alternative interpretation that Alison and the commenters here suggest isn’t simply pulled out of thin air – it’s based on various of LW’s statements, plus some extremely common social dynamics. There’s of course still a chance that LW’s interpretation is right – it’s just that, based on the facts that were stated in the letter, LW’s choice of words, and LW’s choice of including/excluding information, a different interpretation seems more likely.

      1. twocents*

        I’ve been reading “Thanks for the Feedback” and that’s something the authors emphasize: there is a difference between facts and interpretation of the facts, and it’s easy to rapidly draw a conclusion that’s not necessarily accurate or helpful.

    5. nonegiven*

      My husband comes in with a bit of news, like so-and-so had a baby it was a [gender.]

      I ask: How much did it weigh? What did they name him/her?

      He has no idea if anyone even said because he doesn’t pay attention to that stuff.

      I wonder if what the wife told the OP didn’t contain more info and he just has no idea any of it was pertinent to the question? The wife should have been the LW for this question.

      1. nonegiven*

        Also, if the wife is at the assistant’s desk when the client comes in, is she greeting the client, first?

        I wouldn’t worry about if she is working in her own office when they come in. As far as the client knows, she isn’t involved in why they are there to meet with OP.

  30. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

    OP – are they friendly and polite when they come speak to your wife about work-related requests? Is it a chatty office in general or does the team tend be on the quieter side?

    Assuming that it’s a relatively low-socialization office and they’re being polite about the work-related requests they bring, I think this is just likely to be an issue of different norms around greeting.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      If they were trying to ‘send a message’ as it were, it’s unlikely it would only surface in morning greetings; you’d see evidence elsewhere.

  31. Myrin*

    This letter is very focused on a once-a-day greeting and not at all on the broader office dynamics when I think that is where it’s at.

    I do think that it’s weird that literally no one seems to be answering her morning greetings which are presumably aimed at the whole larger office space where everyone else is located (I have a hard time believing every single one of those four or five people is so deep in thought literally every day of the week that they can’t even muster a “Good morning to you, too!” or a wave) and I disagree with some commenters above me saying that as a client, they wouldn’t greet a random employee standing by the assistant they’d want to talk to – I’d absolutely acknowledge that person – but I also don’t think that either of those happenstances are likely to be significant if the general atmosphere in the office and the behaviour towards OP’s wife is friendly and polite.

    If there seems to be animosity beyond the greetings, that’s a much bigger problem and would be a problem in itself even with everyone greeting everyone else all the time and needs to be “investigated” and approached independently.

    But in either case, I think it would do the OP and her wife good to not focus on the greetings aspect of this but on how people get along in the office in general – with the wife, with their clients, but also with each other.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      But the wife isn’t standing next to the assistant when the clients arrive – she’s in an adjacent office. (Door ajar, sure, but still working in an office.)

      Company cultures vary, but every place I’ve worked at you wouldn’t say ‘hi’ to someone working quietly in an individual office unless you were there to speak to them. The assistant is different because when you’re meeting someone for a professional appoinment, their assistant is a professional proxy for them. As a client I would assume the assistant would want to confirm I was there and that the appointments were going as planned; I would expect to go via the assistant to get to my appointment.

      1. Myrin*

        I was referring to the “This is even if my wife is standing near my assistant when they walk in.” part of this letter – I absolutely agree that in situations where the wife is inside her own office, even with the door wide open, it’s pretty natural for someone just passing by (especially with a purpose, which in this case would be approaching the assistant) to not acknowledge her.

        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Oh, thanks – I missed that originally! That is a little more notable than not greeting the wife when she’s in her office, but as you said: absent other signs of disrespect, it’s probably just different ideas of when it’s polite to greet people.

        2. Not Me*

          But the rest of that was that the wife was standing 4 feet away from the assistant. It’s not like the two were standing together or right next to each other. I think it’s probably reasonable to assume, as Allison said, perhaps LW and Wife are reading into things a bit, and “standing near” might be a stretch after already feeling slighted by others.

          1. Myrin*

            Four feet (which doesn’t tell me anything so I just looked it up and it’s 1.2 metres) is hardly anything at all – I would absolutely qualify that as “standing near” someone, nevermind that it’s not completely clear whether these two instances refer to one and the same situation. But I also don’t think it’s hugely relevant here. I agree with what you’re saying re: reading into things but I also maintain that if wife was standing in assistant’s general vicinity, it’s polite to greet her as well unless she is clearly otherwise occupied.

            1. Not Me*

              My point is that 1.2 meters when the two people aren’t interacting with each other may be enough distance for the client to only greet the person they need to interact with. I suspect had the wife and assistant been literally next to each other and visibly a “pair”, the client wouldn’t only speak to one of them. It’s far more likely the wife wasn’t that close to the assistant, and LW is finding slights where there aren’t any.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Good point. If someone brings in donuts and dramatically offers them to everyone but the wife, that is definitely snubbing. Or IT updates everyone’s desktops except for the wife. Or the wife is left off of important emails.
      But even if everyone goes to lunch or a happy hour and leaves the wife behind, well, I can’t really blame them. You can’t get past that she is the boss’ wife and you can’t speak freely when your conversations will be repeated to the boss.

    3. Roci*

      I agree. When I’ve encountered weirdly “cold” or “friendly” dynamics around greeting/not, I look at how people act at social get-togethers and lunch and so on. If people are friendly with you at social events then it must just be that they’re not big greeters. If they are cold to you regardless, then they don’t like you, and now you know the problem is bigger than just greetings.

  32. Jill*

    You keep referring to her in the office as your wife but we don’t even know her official job title, if I were your employee I would be hyper focused on treating her like just another employee and not your wife at all. Going in to someone’s private office just to say hello isn’t really something you would do unless you had a friendly relationship with then, I think you’re expecting them to treat her similarly to you because she’s your friendly wife but to them she’s “the boss’s wife with a private office who does accounts payable and maybe other tasks.” I’d probably start looking for a new job if someone told me I needed to be nicer to the bosses wife.

  33. Jennifer*

    Ignoring a ‘good morning’ is pretty rude imo but maybe they aren’t a ‘good morning’ kind of place. I didn’t know those kinds of places existed until I started reading letters here. The rest of it I think could be because they are going to see the boss, so it’s normal to greet the OP and the assistant, not necessarily everyone in the general vicinity. I think if she wants a warmer relationship with the staff she’s going to have to make the effort instead of waiting for them to go to her. Greet people individually at the coffee maker. Compliment them on their cute kids or pets if there are pictures on their desks. Ask how their weekends went.

    If she starts doing that and they refuse to speak to her, then that’s evidence that there’s more going on. But I suspect they will be polite and professional.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I wouldn’t recommend trying to force personal socialization. The reality is that the business owner and his wife aren’t on the same level as the other employees. The employees should be business-polite not social-polite –there are two different rules for that — only communicating with the office manager about office supplies, or payroll administrator about payroll issues, is perfectly business-polite. Keeping their weekend plans or family news private is also polite. What wouldn’t be business-polite is if they make payroll complaints directly to the CEO or clients, or loudly complain to the room about a lack of coffee creamer in the hopes that the correct person hears them down the hall and fixes it.

      1. Jennifer*

        I don’t think asking someone if they had a good weekend is prying. It’s pretty commonplace and it’s up to you how much or how little you want to share. “It was great. Really relaxing.” It’s not too much to ask that people have very basic social skills. It’s also a little strange to have family photos on your desk if no one is allowed to comment on them.

        I do understand that people can take forced socialization really far, but this is the bare minimum.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          Here’s the thing – if I ask Coworker A how her weekend was, I get a brief “Good, quiet. Did some shopping. You?” If I ask Coworker B, I get a life story of everything she has ever done since birth. So while I wouldn’t snub a good morning, I don’t go out of my way to ask for additional info. If OP’s wife is an oversharer, employees may have no time/ desire to engage.

    2. allathian*

      It depends. The wife’s described as “outgoing and friendly” and the employees are in IT, who mostly tend to skew more introverted. If the employees get the sense that to engage the wife in conversation means they’ll have to listen to her for 15 minutes or longer, they’re simply not going to engage.

  34. D3*

    Is she so friendly that saying “hi” back in the hall will result in an hour long conversation? Because I’ve BTDT and I stopped responding, too. I got work to do!

  35. C in the Hood*

    My thought is: how do your employees interact with each other? Do they greet each other every day, or talk with each other whenever they pass each other? If not, then it really isn’t a big difference from how they interact with your wife.
    On another note, I wonder if the main room is open office or cubicles; that makes a difference with people acknowledging you or not as well.

    1. Grump*

      This is a good point. Perhaps the boss’s wife needs to adapt her style to fit the office culture rather than her and the boss expecting everyone to treat her differently.

  36. Mockingjay*

    I was struck by the odd mix of duties the wife has. I think that confuses how the employees see her role. How does she want to be seen: as the company accountant or as the admin who orders office supplies? I don’t want to stereotype anyone – the wife or the IT techs – but the techs may not see her true value, only a perception that she’s the Boss’s wife who keeps the coffee going and does little else.

    OP Boss might want to clarify roles among all employees. Wife might want to remove herself from the coffee/admin tasks she’s picked up voluntarily. (Boss’s Assistant could do it – who did it before?, or in egalitarian fashion, post a list in the break room with instructions for all to add something when it runs low; reorder will be placed on the 5th of the month.)

    In the office, OP Boss and Wife need to treat each other as coworkers, not spouses, and follow the same processes and business rules as everyone else. I think the others are walking on eggshells around Boss and Wife because that boundary is not in place.

    As far as clients, I agree with others here. I’m not ignoring someone in an office when I greet a receptionist or assistant; I don’t want to disrupt their work.

    1. Jennifer*

      I was confused by her duties as well, but I don’t think it’s that odd for such a small company.

  37. James*

    “My wife sits in in the office just next to my office, with her door wide open.”

    This part struck me. If I’m in my office with the door open, it means that I’m okay with people stopping in–but generally it’s up to them if they want to or not. If I’m walking by an office with the door open, I won’t initiate a conversation with the person in the office unless 1) I have something work-related to discuss, or 2) I’m on really good terms with them and know they aren’t deep in some task. And I’ve seen others do the same.

    It’s a respect thing. The assumption is that if you’re at work you’re working, so you don’t interrupt someone without a valid reason. You respect their job sufficiently to treat it as important, in other words.

    It’s also worth observing whether your employees greet each other or not. In some offices it’s normal to greet each other and chat for a while when you first see someone, or as time allows. In other offices the norm is to come in and do your work, maybe with a nod and ” ‘Morning” as you meet at the coffee pot. I’ve worked in both. I prefer the former (I’m a talker), but the latter isn’t inherently bad. Some folks simply don’t want to talk at work. Greeting your assistant isn’t the same–that’s either initiating a necessary conversation (eg, “I need to see the boss”), or differential treatment due to proximity to power (it takes a special kind of stupid to annoy the boss’s assistant). If the workers don’t generally greet each other, they’re just treating your wife the same as they treat each other.

  38. Suni*

    It’s because she “sits in her office” even though the door is wide open. If her desk was outside right next to the assistant, guaranteed staff and clients would say hi to her if she waves or says good morning. But sitting in an office is different—even though the door is open, you would hesitate to bother them or interrupt.

  39. OhNoYouDidn't*

    If I’m understanding correctly, the wife sits in her own office with the door open, and she’s offended that clients don’t greet her when they walk by her office? Where I work at a social service agency, everyone has their own office and works with their doors open. Clients regularly walk down the hallway with the the person they are there to see, passing many, many, occupied offices and don’t look in and say hi to those other employees. As a matter of fact, it would be weird for them to stop say hi to each person in their open offices. I think OP’s expectations are way off base here.

    1. Adultiest Adult*

      OK, this reminds me of a story from my similar agency. First, we have absolutely had clients who have attempted to greet random people in the office (we use it as an opportunity to have a conversation about boundaries, and it usually doesn’t happen more than once.) But we had a client once who switched to working with another worker because of a personality conflict with her first one. One of her early appointments with Worker 2, she was leaving and walking past Worker 1’s office, in which Worker 1 was working with the door open. The client actually hurled a lollipop she had gotten from Worker 2’s office through the open door at Worker 1, possibly accompanied by an expletive! That was a very quick and very stern conversation about appropriate behavior, and is now a legendary story!

    2. Campfire Raccoon*

      Agree. It’s would be weird to say hi to random people. It would be even weirder to interrupt The Wife, if you happen to know she’s The Wife. She’s working! Not bothering her is a sign of respect.

  40. Salt & Vinegar Chips*

    I run my husbands small company’s (technical consulting business) AP and receivables and do his general bookkeeping, before Covid I came into the office once or twice a week or as my full time Work from home job (finance for big insurance) permitted. I have never been introduced to clients, and the staff only greeted me when I brought in snacks (not the office snacks or birthday treats, Snacks that I picked up for no reason). It seems so out of touch for your clients to meet your bookkeeper or need to greet her (being your wife doesn’t apply). It is also very odd that you want to threaten your employees with the boss not likening them for not accommodating the wife’s odd need to be acknowledged by everyone. I would love to hear what your employees really think is going on because I think you are really out of touch with the way an office should run, and honestly how people are reacting to you and your wife. I hope you read the comments here and change how you and your wife operate, if she is really upset about this think about having her work from home all the time because this isn’t something that should be put on your employees.

    1. Campfire Raccoon*

      I am also The Wife. The OP needs to reframe this in his head, bigtime. She is An Employee, Who is Also The Wife The Man Who Controls Our Livelihood. It’s not a social club.

      She’s there to do a job, as are they – it would be so very unprofessional for employees to interrupt accounting/HR/payroll each time they passed by. On the same vein, clients should absolutely not be greeting the bookkeeper or anyone working with an open door. It’d be disruptive and strange: they’re probably going out of their way to treat her as a non-entity employee to avoid any nepotistic weirdness.

      1. A*

        Yes, as a client if I’m meeting with a 3rd party I will introduce myself / check in at the front desk or their assistant depending on the setup. It would never occur to me to wander around introducing myself to random employees regardless of function/title. Only exception in this case would be if I had long standing social rapport with both OP and Wife in which case I might also greet Wife individually. Otherwise this is a really strange expectation.

        Honestly, the whole time I was reading the letter I kept imagining Wife’s desk as having a plaque that says, rather than her job title, “THE WIFE”.

        1. Campfire Raccoon*

          Can you imagine if they didn’t know she was The Wife and just…randomly chatted her up? That would make them The Creeper.

  41. boop the first*

    I was ready to get my feathers ruffled but this does sound mysterious.

    And I bet it’s a mystery because you aren’t being given the whole story. It warrants a bit of investigation, but it sounds like you haven’t actually started investigating yet. Can’t even guess with this one!

  42. Adultiest Adult*

    I think there’s probably a combination of things going on here, many of which other commenters picked up on but don’t appear to be clear to the OP. First, the wife’s presence around the office is a relatively new thing, and it may be that the employees don’t really have a framework for interacting with her, except for mundane requests like milk or strictly business requests. And I agree 1000% with the people saying, what is her role exactly? Is she the CFO, Accounts Payable, or the “boss’s wife”? OP may find that employees interact with her differently if they are more clear on her business role, and less on the details of her relationship to the boss.

    Second, how social is this office in general? Do people tend to be engaged in tasks that require intense concentration such that interruptions, especially social ones, are perceived as a distraction? This is explicitly IT we’re talking about, which tends to have lots of deep-concentration work and people who tend to have a more functional and less social view of communication. The wife’s (and the OP’s) expectations of social interactions may simply be a mismatch with the culture of the office, although failing to respond to a specific greeting is still rude. OP can work on changing that culture if it’s really important to them, but will probably have more success if the requests can be framed as business expectations rather than “so the boss’s wife doesn’t get upset.”

    Speaking of expectations, other commenters have called out some odd expectations on behalf of the OP and wife, such as people (and clients!) greeting her when she’s in a separate office and presumably focused on other work, and the really strange comment about not wanting to get on the boss’s wife’s bad side. OP and wife could benefit from taking a step back, gathering some more information about how the office typically functions, and hopefully they will realize not to overly personalize social interactions around the office. And hopefully will also gain and provide more clarity for everyone about the boss’s wife’s role in the office at the same time. She deserves to be respected for the work that she does, but ultimately, boss’s wife is a social title, not a business one.

  43. Deborah*

    I think it’s more a “Psycho” situation than “Sixth Sense” – it’s the boss. It’s ALL THE BOSS.

  44. Dark Macadamia*

    Any chance Covid has an impact here, since she didn’t work in the office pre-pandemic? For example if everyone is wearing masks they might murmur a greeting without looking up but you can’t really tell because their mouth is covered. Or if she tends not to give enough space during a conversation they might be trying to head her off before she approaches, etc.

    1. Allypopx*

      This is a good point. I have been WFH for the majority of COVID and I bet I’ll offend someone or act like some kind of social alien once we’re back.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        Ooh, yeah even just like… if this is her only in-person interaction she may be coming on too strong or relying too much on the office as a social outlet, too.

    2. ender*

      I used to occasionally greet people near me in the office when I got in, but since talking spreads aerosols, have mostly stopped since we started learning more about COVID and how it’s transmitted. We were encouraged to minimize all in-person interaction. Not always practical, but I often IM or email people sitting close to me rather than saying hi out loud!

  45. Exhausted Trope*

    Not sure what the exact situation is in the office but if I were greeting employees individually every morning, I’d expect some responses. But if it were just a general greeting to the entire room, I would expect maybe a few waves and/grunts in response. Not everyone is a morning person.

  46. Sparkles McFadden*

    I would think it’s because she’s the finance person and not directly involved with the day-to-day work with the IT people. Our IT floor was a wide open space with offices here and there and I freely admit I did not say “good morning” to people in every cubicle and office I passed unless it was my staff or my direct boss. I said good morning to those people because those are the people who needed to know where I was. The finance people weren’t affected by my presence or absence and so, no greeting.

    But, I am not much of a social person so I wouldn’t notice or care if someone didn’t say good morning.

  47. Lorax*

    Others have noted this, but I wonder if the OP’s wife has some expectations about how office interactions should go that simply aren’t realistic. It sounds like she worked from home a lot before transitioning into an office environment; if she didn’t already have a lot of experience being in an office, she might think casual chit chat or passing acknowledgement is more common than it is. I almost never greet every single person I happen to pass! Particularly if they’re in their own offices or engaged in work. I assume they’re busy! And frequent interruptions are kind of annoying, so I don’t want to be the cause of undue distraction.

    Sure, if it’s a direct statement like, “good morning, Jim,” ignoring it entirely would be rude, but if she’s just issuing a general “good morning,” — or worse, just a “hi” hanging out there alone in the conversational void — I’d expect only a brief acknowledgement, like smiles and nods, not necessarily a full blown response. People might not even know she’s looking to engage with them! If she’s actually interested in getting a response from people, I’d recommend (1) addressing people individually and (2) asking questions. Not just a general “good morning,” but “good morning, Jim. How’s it going?” Or “Hi, Martha, how about this rain we’re having? Did you have trouble making it in this morning too?”

    1. Canadian Girl*

      What I was wondering is if she was excited to be around people again after working for home and being more isolated and her expectations of how that would play out are different then what is happening. Maybe she was thinking that moving into the office space would mean a lot more social interaction then she’s getting so she’s feeling like nobody likes her rather then it just being a case of the office not being really sociable to begin with and more of a head down get to work kind of place.

  48. AthenaC*

    What I’m confused about is clients stopping by / walking by two people and only speaking to one of them. Isn’t it rude to approach two people and not at least acknowledge the presence of both, even if you have business with one of them and not the other?

    1. Colette*

      No. The client is there for a purpose; she’s talking to the person she needs to talk to for her purpose. It would be nice of her to smile at both of them before addressing the assistant (which isn’t really a thing while wearing a mask), but she doesn’t have to greet both of them. I went to the bank on Saturday; I said hi to the teller who helped me, but didn’t talk to the other one.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      I don’t think so. If I walk into an office where three people work and I only have business with one of them, I’m only going to say, “Hi Jane, did you have a chance to review the papers I sent yesterday?” I think it would be weirder to say “Hi Jim, hi Fergus, hi Jane. Jane, did you have the chance to review the papers I sent yesterday?” This isn’t a social interaction, it’s purely business.

      1. AthenaC*

        I’m not talking about physically making the rounds and addressing everyone in your line of sight. If you walk up to one person that you have business with, and there is another person right next to them actively engaged in conversation, how is it not rude to pretend that the other person is invisible? How do you not briefly make eye contact and say a brief “hello”?

        1. Grump*

          I think all of this is probably complicated by masks these days. I’d nod and smile, maybe, or make some other nonverbal acknowledgment of the other person’s presence, but not actually say “hello” unless the person we had in common (the person I came to see) introduced us. Directly addressing someone I don’t know just because they were talking to someone I *do* know seems weird and awkward.

          1. AthenaC*

            Even with a mask you can: 1) make eye contact; 2) smile. Yes they can’t see your mouth but they can tell by the way the rest of your face moves that you’re smiling.

            1. nonegiven*

              I don’t think people can see me smiling in a mask. I’ve been told to smile while I am smiling and that’s without a mask.

          2. AthenaC*

            I happen to think it’s weird and awkward to pretend the person you don’t know is invisible …. but it’s clear I’m in the minority!

            1. All Het Up About It*

              I think this is one of those areas where we don’t have enough details. When the OP says they aren’t greeting the wife when she is near the admin, we don’t know what “near” means. How close really? What way is she facing? If she’s standing right by the admin and they were having a conversation she should be acknowledged. But is near just at the copy machine that is four feet to the left of the admin’s desk?

              Also – we don’t know that these people aren’t acknowledging with “smiling and eye contact.” Perhaps they are, but because they don’t say “Hello Admin. Hello Wife.” she is interpreting as they aren’t greeting her. Everything in the letter is referring to verbal acknowledgement, so I think most of us are focusing on that. And it would be very weird for someone to walk up to a reception/admin desk and say hello twice to the two people who happened to be standing next to it, instead of one universal “hello.”

        2. Jill*

          A general hello to both and an apology if you’re interrupting definitely, but the examples given were her in her separate office with the door open, and the “nearby” example was one time when she was 4 feet away from the assistant, I think it would be a separate path and conversation to acknowledge her both times.

        3. Jennifer Strange*

          There’s nothing to indicate that the wife and the assistant were actively engaged in conversation, though. LW just says she’s standing near the assistant. (which could mean anywhere from directly beside to in the same room but six feet away). And as Colette says above, these are clients, they are generally going to only speak to the person who is meant to help them (i.e. her example about going to the bank).

          1. AthenaC*

            I mean, if I walk up to a teller in a bank, and another teller is in their “space” I’ll at least smile and say hello to the other one before starting my business. Just seems rude to me to ignore people in your “path” but maybe I err on the side of being too friendly because I don’t want anyone writing into AAM about how I’m rude? Who knows.

            1. Myrin*

              FWIW, I agree with you, but this is one of these topics that kinda require a million qualifiers and are hard to talk about in terms of general rules. It matters if Person A is occupied with something else? Are they turned away? Do we make eye contact (this is a big one I think)? Is there something between us that hinders our line of sight? Do we know each other? Are we mortal enemies? How big and how open is the room we’re in? Are they standing close to my target, Person B? Are they standing close to me in relation to the room’s size? And so on.

              1. AthenaC*

                I mean, if person A is turned away and occupied with something else, I assume they’re not worried about me walking in and addressing person B? Seems to me it would only be an issue if person A is nearby and looks up at the person walking in, while the person walking in pointedly ignores person A.

                If this were a “mortal enemies” situation I think the OP would have mentioned that. To me, whether you know them or not doesn’t matter, except it may upgrade the greeting from eye-contact-and-smile to eye-contact-and-smile + “How are you? Good to hear, how are your folks?”

                1. Myrin*

                  That’s exactly what I meant by “a million qualifiers”. You can really only guess when you’re actually there in that situation. (And the “mortal enemies” part was tongue-in-cheek; I was imagining something like IDK Batman and the Joker.)

            2. Jennifer Strange*

              But what does “in their space” even mean? Again, the LW just says his wife was near the assistant (and in his one example stated four feet as an example). Most bank tellers are about four feet apart, but presumably if they were each behind their own areas you wouldn’t turn to each in turn and greet them, you would greet the one helping you, yes? And there is nothing to indicate that the wife was in the client’s “path”. Four feet could mean she was over by the filing cabinet and the client walked straight toward the assistant’s desk. I just feel like there’s a lot of assumptions about the set up which the LW didn’t include.

              1. AthenaC*

                Bank tellers typically have dividers between them. If I see two tellers on the same side of one divider (i.e. one is in the other’s “space”), I’ll acknowledge both of them.

                Outside of that very specific concrete division of space, 4 feet is really close to someone. I have a hard time picturing how you can walk up to one person, not acknowledge someone who’s very close to them without being rude.

                But again, maybe I’m the “weird” one because I don’t want someone to feel ignored or invisible because of me! Clearly that’s not something the majority of people think about, based on the replies I’m getting.

                1. Jennifer Strange*

                  I think you’re underestimating what four feet can be. If the wife was behind the assistant’s desk, for example (i.e. in her “space”), I could see your point, but there’s nothing to indicate that she was, so I would approach it the same way as one would a bank teller with dividers (in this case the desk is the assistant’s side and there an invisible divider separating it from the rest of the room). If the wife was filing things or taking inventory or what have you when the client entered, they may even have chosen not to acknowledge her BECAUSE they thought she was busy and didn’t want to interrupt her work.

                  It’s really great that you don’t want someone to feel ignored or invisible, and in social situations (where people are there to talk and interact) I think that’s wonderful! But I think in work situations it’s a different dynamic. People aren’t necessarily there to talk, and you may even distract/break their concentration through such niceties. Obviously the wife in this situation doesn’t feel that way, but the client has no way of knowing that!

                2. Jill*

                  I think it’s still a nicety though, not a requirement. If I’m filing something in a cabinet 4 feet away it would be nice if someone acknowledged I was also in the room, sure, but if they were there for a specific reason not involving me and it didn’t happen I wouldn’t get so offended I’d have my husband thinking he should write in for advice about it framing it this way (especially with the power dynamic, LW is comfortable enough to joke they should be afraid to make her upset because she’s the wife), it’s definitely not that much of a faux pas.

                3. AthenaC*

                  Social elements are still very much relevant to work situations, though. I guess I’m just taking the OP at their word that the wife is expecting a normal, basic level of acknowledgement in a work context and it seems very clear to me from the specific details provided that no one is giving her that. I guess I’m just taking the OP at their word that if their wife were busy / occupied / turned away / etc. that their wife wouldn’t worry about whether someone acknowledged her. Clearly she is bothered by it, and from the details provided it seems perfectly obvious why.

                  I guess I’m just confused how most of the people commenting have a million and one reasons why it’s not rude to ignore people, but in fact seem to think it’s “weird” to make eye contact with someone you don’t know.

                4. Jennifer Strange*

                  Social elements are certainly relevant, but not in the same way and not the same degree. I am also taking the OP at their word about what their wife wants, I just think in terms of the clients she (and the OP) are expecting too much (I’m only talking about the clients, not the employees). The client is there to conduct business, so unless there is a reason to speak with the wife I don’t see why they would (especially if they don’t know her the way they do the assistant). I don’t see where the OP states that “if their wife were busy / occupied / turned away / etc. that their wife wouldn’t worry about whether someone acknowledged her” so I’m not sure where you’re getting that or what that has to do with anything.

                  And no one is saying that it’s not rude to ignore people; we’re saying that much like how, when you go into a bank and each teller is behind their own space you don’t greet every single one of them (only the one assisting you), in this case it sounds like the assistant and the wife were each in their own space (again, unless the wife was literally sitting behind the assistant’s desk) so there was no reason for the client to greet the wife, only the assistant who was helping them. And I don’t think it’s weird to make eye contact with someone you don’t know, but I also don’t think it’s weird not to do so.

                5. Koalafied*

                  I have a hard time picturing how you can walk up to one person, not acknowledge someone who’s very close to them without being rude.

                  Honestly, I see this happen all the time in ordinary social situations. Often unless one of the two people who don’t know each other is really outgoing, if the person who knows both of them doesn’t make an introduction, the other two will just awkwardly ignore each other unless the conversation carries on for a few minutes and they begin to develop a rapport. Sometimes the person in the client or wife’s position will take the initiative to say, “Hi, I’m Client, nice to meet you,” but in my circles most of the people I’ve encountered will rely entirely on the hub person to make an introduction.

                6. Elsajeni*

                  I think some of the other details in the letter are leading some of us to suspect that the OP’s and/or their wife’s expectations are beyond “a normal, basic level of acknowledgement” — to me, the mention of the wife being in her office with the door open, and the emphasis on how often other employees have to pass by their area, suggest that the OP is thinking “it’s weird that people don’t say hi every time they walk past Penelope’s office,” which is pretty far off from office norms anywhere I’ve worked. That’s making me wonder a little bit about whether the “even when she’s standing right there by my assistant” situation is really as egregious a snub as that description implies, or whether it, too, might be describing a situation where most people actually wouldn’t say hi and the OP’s expectations are a little out of sync with the norm.

        4. Amaranth*

          I’d expect to make sure that they are finished, you’d at least nod at the other person but in this case it sounds like LW’s wife was just nearby and not interacting.

  49. germank106*

    I used to work with my husband for many years. We had very clearly divided roles and he would often feel ignored when people would come into the office to talk with me about invoices, scheduling, etc. and completely ignore him even if he was standing right next to me.
    OTOH I would feel ignored when someone would talk to my husband about schematics, deliveries, building materials and would not say so much as “Hi” to me.
    We figured out it’s as Alison says. People have something on their mind, they will talk with the person that’s responsible for their problem and ignore everyone else.
    In a social situation like the annual Holiday party or a company dinner, people would usually talk to both of us.

  50. staceyizme*

    It’s a really simple fix! Your co-owner should take a more central role in handling greetings and you should support her in this by introducing her, bringing her into conversations and by calling out instances of ignoring. You should also think WAY less about “wife” and think MORE about “co-owner”, “boss” and “administrator”. It’s unlikely to be an active animus and far more likely to be a confluence of “okay, not sure what the rules are, here” and “well, I have a boss, so I don’t know why I need her in the mix…. except for coffee milk”. Stop treating her as a glorified, unpaid admin and give her the gravitas and imperium due her status. Everyone else will follow along. She should be visible, accessible AND interactive. It should solve itself thereafter.

    1. D3*

      She might not actually BE a co-owner, though. My husband owns a company. It’s his company, I’m not a co-owner. I have stepped up and helped with things on occasion, but I am NOT a co-owner of his company. That’s not an accurate assumption.

    2. twocents*

      Ymmv, obviously, but my boss waltzing around the room with his wife to judge how warmly I say “good morning” sounds like the worst. At least wait until I’ve had my first coffee.

  51. Momma Bear*

    This. Our financial staff have offices where they may need to hold or lock up sensitive information. I think it’s entirely reasonable that she has her own space.

    That said, I also wonder if there aren’t some generational dynamics going on. I used to work with a small team and there was definitely a divide between the 20 somethings and 30 somethings. Also, people in tech can be socially awkward. We had one guy who made it a point to not let us know anything about him. He did his job. He didn’t engage in much banter. Work was just not a party for him.

    RE: the greetings, some of my coworkers say hi as they pass and some don’t. I am on a busy hallway and if everyone who walked by stopped to greet me, I’d need to shut the door. I say hi if we are in the hall, but not every time I pass their workstation.

    It sounds like they talk to her about business things and aren’t socializing with her the way she is used to. Maybe she should look for an outside social outlet so she isn’t seeking this interaction in the office as much.

    1. JustaTech*

      Back when people were actually in our open office area, people would usually say “hi” or “good morning” or just “morning” as they walked to their desk, and sometimes but not always the people already at their desks would return the greeting. I sit at the far end of the room, so I would usually say hi or at least wave to whoever was there (I’m usually one of the early ones), but people wouldn’t walk all the way to my desk to just say good morning, and I don’t think it’s rude when they don’t.

      Now that we have an open office there’s slightly more of this “general greeting” than when we had tall cubes (so it wasn’t always possible to see who was in from the walkway). It’s also not something that anyone discussed but a thing that just changed organically with the new workspace.

      When new people have started they usually observe how we exchange morning greetings (again, in an organic way, not in a “taking notes like an anthropologist” way) and then adapt to the norm of the room.

      I’m pretty sure that the folks a floor above us have a different tone of morning greetings, because they’re a different team with different dynamics.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      There was one guy at my very first US job, also an entry-level dev like me, who made a point of walking by everyone’s cubicle every day at the end of the day, and say good night personally to every person in the office. Don’t know if he did it in the morning too, because he seemed to get to work before I did. It was weird, and contributed to his reputation of being weird. I have never seen anyone else do this. I hardly ever say hello to people who are at their desks working (unless they make eye contact or something to indicate that they are okay with a hello and that it won’t be disruptive to their flow) and nod, smile or wave at people in the hallway.

      I also now recall that quite a few of my coworkers that I passed in the hallway when our offices were open, wore earbuds. I’d wave at them and they would wave back. If I just said hello, they’d probably not have heard me.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Also, very much this: Maybe she should look for an outside social outlet so she isn’t seeking this interaction in the office as much.

      for the simple reason that being work friends and having social chats about personal lives is likely not going to happen between these employees and the wife of their at-will employer. Too unsafe. I’d be up every night going over every personal fact I’d shared with her during the day, thinking if there’s a way for it to backfire and somehow be used against me. That’s the kind of three-dimensional chess I don’t want to play at work, I’m all for having work friendships, but maybe not with people that have a close family relationship with the owner.

  52. LTL*

    I’m late to this comments section, but I’m not sure if I agree with Alison. Not responding to a direct “good morning” or “hi” is incredibly rude. There should be some sort of acknowledgement, a smile, something.

    My read was less that “if the wife thinks clients are snubbing, it indicates that she reads too much into these things” and more “the wife has been snubbed so often that now she’s more sensitive and sees it everywhere” which is definitely a thing that happens.

    1. LTL*

      Someone above mentioned masks. Did not think of that. They may be acknowledging your wife but its hard to tell because of the mask wearing.

    2. TiffIf*

      Not responding to a direct “good morning” or “hi” is incredibly rude.

      I’m not seeing any indication in the letter if the good mornings are a general good morning that is not being responded to or individualized addresses. When I was in the office–I would certainly respond to my coworker in the next desk’s “Good Morning TiffIf!” but if there was someone giving a general “good morning” and either not addressing me by name or making eye contact with me, I would assume it was not addressed to me.

      If someone says hi in the hallway–my most common response is likely a nod and smile or wave. Which, as you have indicated might be inhibited by a mask wearing.

    1. Anon for this*

      Occasional conversations? Are fine. But if someone says good morning to you every day, and if you reply, will promptly suck you into an hour long conversation about your life, which you don’t want to talk about at work, that is not fine. We routinely try to get our morning meeting where we discuss what we’re working on for the day done before our boss calls in, because if we are still on the Zoom call when he arrives, we will lose at least an hour to him chatting with us and getting testy if we don’t respond and he asks us a question. Since we’re already badly understaffed and can’t get all our work done as it is, those wasted hours are a Big Deal. If we weren’t overworked, it would probably feel like nice team bonding, but as it is, it’s an hour we don’t have, wasted by the boss who has been telling us he doesn’t have the time to submit the paperwork to hire more people for months. Granted, this is a boss who I feel would be a strong contender for worst boss of the year if I actually had to write in to ask how to deal with him (I know how to deal with him, milk this experience for all the resume building I can then get out), so there’s a general dynamic of dysfunction to it, but still, not wanting to waste time on conversations isn’t an inherently bad thing, given extenuating circumstances.

    2. Colette*

      Of course it’s good to have occasional converesations with coworkers! But that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to have a conversation whenever anyone else wants to chat. You’re allowed to prioritize your own work (or social) needs.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      One of the cubicles I’ve had in my current job (we got moved around a lot during my time here) was facing a hallway and was apparently people’s beloved spot for having impromptu personal chats. Every day, multiple times a day, random people I didn’t know would stop right behind my cubicle wall, a few feet from my desk, to have a long and loud chat about nothing. I hated it by the end of Week Two, and was happy when we were moved from that building to a different one again. I am all for conversations between coworkers, but honestly, work comes first. And the social coworkers that parked themselves outside my cube, weren’t letting me do mine, in addition to not doing their own.

      1. TiffIf*

        Why do people do this!?

        Ugh–when I was in the office our area (where we were in cubicles in an open area) was a popular place for people from other departments to come and talk on their cell phones. We DID have slightly better cell signal in our area than the ends of the wings, but the same could be said of the conference room area just beyond us that had just as good cell reception and didn’t have a lot of people trying to work RIGHT THERE.

    4. Librarian*

      Has there been a movement to hire more introverts that I’ve missed? This comment feels bizarrely aggressive.

  53. Van Wilder*

    This letter reeks of a dysfunctional small business. If you’re taking perceived snubs against your wife personally and intimating that people should not want to snub the boss’s wife, you are probably creating an environment where one employee (wife) gets special treatment and employees are afraid to raise issues with her or with you. I would advise trying to create a separation where you treat her just like any other employee when it comes to work. If that can’t be done, maybe she should find a job elsewhere because you risk losing good people.

  54. Analysis Paralysis*

    Why is OP’s wife working at this business at all? It’s one thing to have co-owners of a small business, but that isn’t how OP describes it. It sounds like she works for OP as an employee, so I think all Allison’s previous warnings apply about close relationships between boss and employee apply. Even if no one in this scenario is behaving badly, this situation is already weird! Employees will suspect that OP’s spouse will be held to a different standard than they are. They won’t feel safe reporting issues about her to OP. They might be more guarded about having personal conversations around her, since who knows what she might judge them on or pass on to OP outside of work.

    It’s also true that IT office culture can be really different from other office cultures. If she’s not a co-owner of this business, and has no been happy and comfortable working in other offices, why not go back to that? It’s also safer for her career, since she can’t exactly ask her spouse for a reference if she’s job hunting in the future.

  55. bat cat*

    This is difficult. I worked in a smaller office where my supervisors wife also did some errands and covered my reception role when there was no one else (think vacations) and she was HORRIBLE. Just horrible. She WAS friendly and excepted to be greeted when she said hello, as anyone would. We all knew to be really nice to her and avoid her too.
    She was retired but needed ‘travel money’ so she liked to pick up a week or two here and there to make some extra cash. Often she would ask me to just take time off as she needed travel funds. I declined.

    One year we had a small in house Christmas party. Ideally all staff would get a chance to join, so they ‘called her in’ to cover reception for a bit so I could join. When she got there, and she was being paid, she dumped all her holiday shipping on me, to wrap and ship their presents out, instead of covering me so i could join the party.
    Then she made so many demands on how the party trays were set up, and her personal errands, i ended up with no lunch.
    my point is, to this day i am SURE her husband thinks she is super, and we all loved her. any other option was not an option.
    this may not be the case for the OP, but no one is a saint all the time. take an honest inventory of this, and decide what is most important to you. just be aware your staff might not agree.

  56. i'm new here*

    Alison’s response doesn’t sit well with me. It jumps straight from a gaslighty approach (she’s not actually being snubbed, this is all in her head and she shouldn’t take it personally) to a victim-blamey one (if she is being snubbed, it must because she alienated everyone in the office). Sure, either of those are possible. But it sounds like this is an IT/tech business, which is a field not exactly known for being a bastion of gender equality. I think there’s a third possibility, in which the employees actually do treat the wife differently as a woman and non-technical person, either consciously or subconsciously. I agree with others that the tone of this letter is a little strange, but that could also be attributable to the fact that, these types of slights and low-grade hostile environments are often really hard to describe because it can be subtle and difficult to pick out concrete examples. As a woman (at work but also just generally in life), I’ve certainly had the experience of people looking right past me and directing their communications to the man in the room. It’s usually a man that does it, but not always. Anyway, it’s hard to say for sure what’s going on here, but I wanted to put this out there because this is a rare time when the response feels off to me. Let’s please at least consider the possibility that the wife’s perceptions are indeed both accurate and valid.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Then why is the assistant not getting the same silent treatment from everyone in the office? The assistant is also a woman and non-technical.

      1. i'm new here*

        The assistant is the gateway to the boss. But also, why do you feel like you want to shut down this possibility and look for alternate explanations? I see you did the same thing above. It is a common reaction when people raise the possibility that an -ism (sexism, racism, etc.) may be involved.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          The assistant is the gateway to the boss.

          And the boss’s wife isn’t?? Won’t somebody think of the poor, discriminated-against wife of the company owner.

          why do you feel like you want to shut down this possibility and look for alternate explanations?

          Because my read is that the wife is coming from a position of power to demand (she doesn’t even exactly know what) from the employees and I’ll be frank, I don’t like it.

          1. i'm new here*

            Ok, so your read aligns with the second prong of Alison’s response, and that’s fine. As I said above, that is one possibility. My issue is with Alison’s response as it only considers that: (a) the wife is not able to accurately perceive the situation, or (b) the wife must doing something wrong to cause people to treat her poorly. There’s a third possibility, that the wife is both: (a) able to accurately perceive what is happening to her, and (b) not the cause of her own poor treatment. We really can’t say from the letter what is going on, but your attempt to poke holes doesn’t negate the third possibility. I think Alison’s response should have been more well-rounded.

      2. i'm new here*

        Also, we don’t know if the employees are treating the assistant differently; the letter is focused on the wife. The letter only states that clients acknowledge the assistant when they have a meeting with the LW.

    2. Tobias Funke*

      Not all words and concepts apply to all situations. I rue the day people started applying these to literally anything.

    3. Colette*

      It could be – but that’s not the complaint the OP wrote in with. And some of the examples (i.e. the clients don’t stop at her open office to greet her before meeting with the boss) are far removed from that interpretation.

      I’ve spent my career in high tech/IT. Is there sexism? Sure. Does it usually manifest as being rude to someone who seems to be acting as an office manager? Not in my experience.

      And based on the OP’s letter, the comments/questions should be directed to him, because he’s the boss, and she’s not.

    4. Jennifer*

      Ohhhhhhhhh, this is an excellent point. It’s possible they just don’t think she’s worthy of being spoken to. I don’t like the idea of telling women “it’s all in your head” either. It’s possible she really is being snubbed. It’s also possible some of it is just a misunderstanding, but to blatantly disregard someone saying “Good morning” is just plan rude.

    5. twocents*

      I’m not sure Alison is “victim blaming.” If EVERYONE treats you “poorly” even people who don’t know you (your boss’s clients) and people who have a vested interest in being at least not a jerk to you (your husband’s employees) then the most logical conclusions are that (a) you have misperceived the situation or (b) the common denominator in all these unrelated scenarios is you.

    6. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      Yes – this might actually not be it, or it might be one strand in a bigger picture, but I agree it’s worth considering.

  57. Noncompliance Officer*

    Several years ago we hired a new manager. Several people made off-hand comments after she had been here for a week that the new person was not friendly and would not say hi to them in the hall. I was talking to her one day and she casually mentioned she was dealing with a chronic ear infection and couldn’t hear well out of one ear. She was also confused why everyone seemed mad at her. It turned out that several people had tried to talk to her in passing or popped their head in the door, but no one had actually sat down and tried to talk with her.

  58. bookartist*

    “And shouldn’t they be more afraid of getting on the bad side of the boss’s wife?”

    No, they should not. Fear does not belong in the office. And surely you don’t want an office full of suck-ups, right?

  59. I heart Paul Buchman*

    I’m confused by all the references too the wife as ‘an employee’. Where I am small family business are the norm-often with the woman does the books and runs the office, man runs Operations dynamic. The woman is very much a co-owner of the business. Normally this is the case legally for tax reasons (trusts) and because marital assets are shared but also because the person who runs the office has a lot of input into day to day operations. This means that the wife is very much the boss.
    My husband and I run a small family business and he has the licenses but I have been involved from the inception and drive a lot of decision making, if you ask my role I would say I do the books but it’s more than that. I’d be mad if I was treated like another employee (because my husband isn’t!).

    1. Just Another Employee*

      I’m the opposite. I technically own half the company: he has the licenses, I have the degrees and professional background. I never identify myself as The Wife to customers, clients, or vendors. It allows for (the perception) of a chain of command and avoids issues related to nepotism. Those who know already knew, but I don’t actively tell people.

      Not identifying myself as The Wife has opened the hub’s eyes to how prevalent sexism, elitism, and ageism is in the workforce. He’s lovely, but I think he secretly thought I was exaggerating when I described sexism I experienced at other workplaces. Now he sees first-hand how bad it can be: people he’s worked with for 10 years show their bias when they get told “no” by, “That dumb admin girl who thinks she’s in charge.” Another female answering the phones may not feel comfortable reporting that sort of thing, where as I can send my husband an email that says, “That jerk from ABC company called me Sweetcheeks three times again. I told him to knock it off and he laughed. I told him to find another company.”

      That’s not to say I am unaware that I am The Wife of The Boss, and the dynamics associated with being so. It means I have to be extra careful about my professionalism, especially with employees. But to myself, and the way that I think of myself, I am Just Another Employee.

    2. D3*

      That’s not always the case and I don’t think it’s a fair assumption. Lots of couples have separate businesses. Your personal business setup isn’t the template.

  60. Lucy P*

    In our small biz, boss’s wife is also a company executive. There have only been a few who were rude enough not to respond to a “good morning” from her, on the other hand there have been many who haven’t wanted to work with her directly. It wasn’t a rudeness thing. I’m trying to find the right words to describe it.
    The boss works in the department that deals with our main work product. Thus, boss is very hands-on with the staff . Boss’s wife is more in a behind-the-scenes type of position, marketing, finance, etc. Most of the staff do not work with her on a regular basis. When they do have to interact with her, there is a certain hesitancy just because they don’t know her, but know that she’s in a position of power and is also the boss’s wife.
    Even now, when most of the staff have known her for years, they will not approach her directly but instead try to use one of the office assistants as a go-between.

  61. Florida Fan 15*

    I worked at a place once where the husband & wife co-owners had screaming marital fights at staff meetings, and the wife unloaded her angst onto the staff afterwards. We all learned WAY more than we wanted to know about their finances, their sex life (including that it wasn’t limited to the 2 of them, which she justified because of his “performance issues”) and much, much more.

    What I’m saying is that keeping business businesslike is not a bad thing. Leave the spouse labels at the door and proceed accordingly.

  62. drive-by commenter*

    Here’s my one quick take on this: my boss always wishes every employee “good morning” when he sees them each day. My first year here, it drove me absolutely nuts because he was really cold, demanding, and critical the other 99% of the day, so I felt like, “why do you even care about being so conscientious about wishing me good morning when you don’t seem to like me the rest of the time?” I wished he wouldn’t say it. I always said “good morning” back, but I can imagine another person refusing to answer. Of course, LW’s wife probably isn’t giving the techs work assignments or feedback, but yeah, if she’s been rude to them at other times (“Wakeen, why didn’t you give me the bill for the client on time so I could submit it, what’s wrong with you?” “Jane, you need to tell me *before* we run out of milk!”) then they probably don’t want to interact with her unless necessary. This is huge speculation on my part, it’s equally likely that she’s a nice and just slightly oversensitive person.

    (My boss’s spouse was very ill that first year, that’s why he was so bad tempered. We’re on very good terms now.)

  63. Huh*

    I’m surprised by folks’ responses here. I think it is incredibly rude not to say “hi” back to someone, or respond to “good morning” in some way, unless you have an iron-clad reason for ignoring them, like they did something vile to you. Yes, expecting more from the employees is probably too much. But responding to a mere “hi”? That’s just being civil.

    1. EH*

      Every time the subject comes up, we get another round of argument about it. I think it’s just one of those things a lot of people disagree about and each side thinks the other is offensively incorrect.

    2. Jennifer*

      It’s weird to me too. People have written long diatribes here about why they can’t be bothered to say hello without thinking that it would take a fraction of the effort it took to write that lengthy comment to just say hi.

    3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      I’m genuinely curious: Does your perspective change if it’s a “Good morning” to the room versus “Good morning, NAME”?

      In the latter situation, I agree it’s rude not to respond.

      I’m imagining it’s the former situation and, if I were on the receiving end of that in an open or even a cubicle office setup, I probably wouldn’t respond since I’m working, unless the office culture is to respond (though it would feel very classrooom-esque, I would keep that opinion to myself). It’s valid to say that I’m rude.

      1. Loraine*

        I don’t greet back the later. I only greet the former.
        But that’s in part because the only one doing individual names is a loud attention seeker and I’m not about to reward him for dragging me mentally away from work by saying my name.
        The general greeters can be acknowledged on autopilot while I’m wrangling numbers.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this is an issue that no matter what you do, someone’s going to think you’re doing it wrong! I’m fine with ignoring a general greeting if I’m busy. If someone greets me by name, which is pretty rare because I’m Finnish and here people will address others in the passive voice to avoid saying their name and it’s not considered impolite, I assume they have something else on their mind rather than just a general greeting. If they say my name just to make sure I hear their greeting and then just go on their way, I’ll be vaguely annoyed if it happens once and then let it go. It hasn’t happened to me, but if someone made a habit of greeting me by name just to get my attention, I might react in a similarly passive-aggressive way, with just a grunt or something.

  64. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    It could also be “The Others” (Nicole Kidman) where everyone is dead but they don’t realize it.

  65. AED*

    So I am not the bosses wife, but I am the bosses daughter. It took my coworkers two years – TWO YEARS – to stop seeing me as just “bosses daughter” and to realize I wasn’t a narc that was going to run to my Dad over every grievance.

    I know your wife has been working with you awhile, but has only been in office for six months – that really no time at all.

    I knew that working for my Dad that is was going to take a lot of work for coworkers to take me seriously and treat me as just a regular coworker – and honestly never expected to be “fully accepted” – and I thin you are wife need to have the same mindset. Your employees are probably seeing her as wife first and coworker second.

    This may be all off base, in that case, try to remember that I have never met a gregarious IT person.

  66. Trombones Geants*

    I do the Miss America wave, as I walk down the hall to my office, but I couldn’t tell you who, if anyone, reciprocates. I don’t bother to walk down the other hallway every morning just to greet people. It’s kind of disruptive.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yep, I’ve done this (or said “good morning everyone” as I walked through a row of cubicles to get to my desk). I also never kept track of who did or didn’t wave back. I do not have that kind of time.

  67. Bluesboy*

    I’ve had this situation! Except that it was the boss’ husband not wife.

    He had an office near reception, looked like he was working and got upset that people weren’t coming to say hello to him.

    It was compounded by him giving a ‘just treat me like any other colleague’ speech and then getting offended when we treated him like any other colleague.

    Honestly, OP, here’s the thing. Your wife is not, and will not be, ‘any other colleague’. She’s the boss’ wife. She isn’t going to make friends. If she is saying hello to people and they are actively ignoring her, that’s rude and should be dealt with. But if it’s just that people aren’t coming to say hello…that’s just life. It’s part of the dynamic in many offices, and here is exacerbated by her position. Sorry, I know that isn’t the answer you’re looking for.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Exactly. She is not “any other colleague”, she’s the second most powerful person in the company; in line to be the first if, heaven forbid, something happens to the owner. (I had friends who had it happen at their workplace. The owner’s widow took over the owner/CEO role and laid everybody off within a few months of taking over.) Sorry if this came across too morbid.

      And apparently, she knows it at least to some degree, according to the letter: “My wife says that “it’s ironic that the office that she feels the most uncomfortable in is her own office.” When she used to work at other offices, people were friendly with her.”. Her. Own. Office. As opposed to other places she worked at before, that were (correctly) not her own.

  68. Jeanne*

    I haven’t read all the comments, but could there be an element of gender stereotyping here? Is she the only woman in the office? Why is it her who gets milk and coffee etc? It may be that other employees see her as “the help” rather than the accounts executive. If both of you are still concerned about how she is treated after Alison’s response, what about doing a switch around of roles? Or work out what parts of her role could actually be done by anyone, and divvy those up between everyone?

    1. allathian*

      She’s not the only woman in the office, there’s an admin who’s the gatekeeper to the boss and whom visitors greet while ignoring the wife.

      She’s probably the equivalent of an office manager/bookkeeper. It’s a small business, and it’s entirely possible that there simply isn’t enough for her to do accounts full time, for example, and it may even be that this is one of the reasons why she was brought to the office in the first place. It’s also possible that she’s the kind of person who enjoys taking care of others, and wants warm relationships with employees in return, like an office mom or office grandma.

      In any case, I think it’s always better if some maintenance tasks are actually in an employee’s job description, because if they can be done by anyone, they often don’t get done at all. Or they only get done by conscientious, often junior, mostly female employees.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      We actually have no clue if the four IT techs are all men.

      We have women in IT too, you know. Strange, I know.

  69. MapleHill*

    First, that Sixth Sense idea killed me ROFL!

    Honestly, I do find it weird that people would ignore a simple hellos even if they are caught up in their work (every day?). But when LW says she’s ignored, does that mean there’s no verbal response but maybe they look at her and smile or wave but keep walking and to her that feels like being ignored? But Alison makes a point that if everyone (including clients) is actually ignoring her then there is a much bigger problem going on, but it’s more likely a perception issue as many others have touched on. I would focus on observing as others as mentioned; how do other employees interact with each other and not just your wife, could it be they treat others the same? And also, if so, how do you, as the owner and manager, interact with others? You set the example for the company culture through your behaviors; is it possible you’re unknowingly setting that example?

    I wonder if the other employees being in IT has anything to do with this? I’ve worked with a range of IT people with different levels of intro and extroversion so you can’t really stereotype them into one personality, but I have found developers tend to be on the quieter and/or shyer side. Sometimes if I say hi/morning, I’ll just get a smile and nod, few will even chat with me beyond that unless I ask them questions. We have one IT person (a people manager no less) who literally will NOT make eye contact in the hallway. It’s so awkward. Going down a long hallway and I’m looking at him to nod & smile and he will not look my way once. Every once in a while I’ll call out, Hey Bruce, and he may look at me to say hi, but that’s it. Is it possible the people they’ve hired are are that end of the spectrum and she’s just a more outgoing person?

  70. Phoenix from the ashes*

    Sometimes this is a finance thing. A lot of people seem not to like the accounts staff. I don’t know why. Maybe they think we’re paid more than them, maybe it’s because (in some roles) we know what they earn, maybe it’s because the other staff are producing stuff of value whereas finance is an overhead, I don’t know. But I’ve personally found this divide to be worse in small businesses. It’s just one of the joys of working in finance.

    1. Salt & Vinegar Chips*

      I have been in Finance for a while and I agree with this. I have had several (more than 10) people tell me over the years they don’t like me because I know how much money everyone makes since I handle payroll, I have been blamed for them not getting a good bonus. I handle payroll for 20,000 employees across the country I am not creating each check (wire transfer now), and I only set up the run for bonus’s I don’t choose the amounts.

  71. learnedthehardway*

    Honestly, it would be weird for people to have to greet everyone every time they come into the office. In fact, I think that most people would find it annoying to be interrupted if their attention was called for every time someone comes in from the shop floor.

    Similarly, clients aren’t going to a) necessarily know that it’s your wife or b) greet everyone in the office. They’ll greet the person they have to talk to to get to you (ie. the receptionist), and then you, because they have specific business with you.

  72. Former HR Staffer*

    if i need to walk past some desks to get from point A to point B, i’m not going to say hi or good morning to each and every person on the way there. and if someone says it to me, i may just nod in acknowledgement to not provoke an unwanted conversation.

    they all interact with the owner bc they have a business reason to interact with him. when they have a business reason to interact with her (aka order supplies), they do so with her. it’s a workplace, and they are acting accordingly. the fact that she’s seeking some sort of validation through social interaction tells me she’s probably trying to hard and it’s weirding everyone out… you’re at work, not high school.

    1. Huh*

      A nod would be totally fine instead of “hi.” I agree sometimes one doesn’t want to start a conversation. For sure!! I don’t think one has to start the process, but if someone says hi or nods to another person it’s kinda normal to acknowledge it in some way. So I hope you’ll nod at me when I say “hi.” :-)

    2. Esmerelda*

      This! I’m all for the nod. Acknowledges that they are human and exist, and then everyone goes on with their day. I do have a coworker who thinks the opposite, and it’s quite exhausting – he takes it as a huge personal affront when any of us don’t say hello each time we walk by his office. A nod does not suffice for him, but he’s not a great example of workplace decorum. His office has internal windows and each time he sees me walk by he waves frantically and says “Um hello!!???” as I walk down the hall. Each. Time. He has confronted me several times about how I am rude because I don’t say hello or stop and ask how his day each of the dozens of times I walk by. I’m not known for being a rude person at all – more the “too nice” kind of person – so it’s a little comical. And tiring.

      And guess what? He is not well liked at work. I now go out of my way to not walk by his office because he’s made this into such a thing.

      Like Former HR Staffer said, this isn’t high school. Don’t make drama where there isn’t any. Some people just don’t want to say hi every time.

  73. Student*

    Gonna default to the old Ask Amy stand-by here: “Unsolicited advice is always self-serving.”

    You know what’s in your letter that is particularly concrete to me? Your wife has told you she does not want to personally come into the office any more. You mention that the lack of wife-employee socialization is a contributing factor to your wife’s decision to stop coming into the office, and this seems to be the actual issue you want to fix – you don’t want your wife to stop coming into the office.

    You have not mentioned anything your wife has done to try to socialize with the employees more. You have not mentioned your wife actually speaking to any employees about the problem. You have not even attempted to justify why you seem to think you should be solving this for your wife. You should not be stepping into this to dictate social relations among your wife and employees. If people are treating your wife badly, she should attempt to address it with the person in question, one-on-one, by doing more than saying “Hello!” more cheerfully and insistently long before she brings the issue to you to fix. You should be stepping in if, and only if, her attempts to talk to the employees do not work out – but your personal relationship to her is blinding you to this office norm.

    OP, the thing YOU need to do is talk more with your wife about her wanting to not be at the office. Dig until you get something more substantive and actionable beyond that she doesn’t like the tone of the “hellos” she receives – you need a better understanding of the root cause, be it your wife or your employees or both.

    Consider that this may be a fig leaf for an issue she does not want to discuss with you, which is what this smells like to me – perhaps she wants to change up her career, perhaps she’s having trouble treating you as both boss and husband, perhaps she’s burned out at work and needs to get some time away, perhaps she really just doesn’t feel like she fits in at your office and wants something different, or perhaps this issue is really as shallow as what you’ve presented and you just need to set some clear expectations with employees to foster the office environment that your wife is telling you she needs.

    1. Amaranth*

      LW’s wife is also basing an awful lot on simple greetings. Has she tried sitting in the break area at lunch, and to get to know everyone? If the boss’ wife just occasionally tosses a greeting at the room then goes into her office, it could come across as not wanting to socialize with the regular staff. LW says she is a friendly person but that is in their personal life.

  74. Skytext*

    Okay I haven’t read all the comments yet, in case anyone else brought this up, but I’m still trying to figure out why the heck this OP thinks it’s his CLIENT’’S responsibility to greet his staff (and to the client the wife is just some random employee). His assistant should be the first one to say good morning to the client, not the other way around. And if the wife is out there in the vestibule near the assistant, then she should also greet the client and introduce herself if she wants to interact with the client. But there should be no expectation that the client must say good morning first.

  75. Esmerelda*

    I have mixed feelings here. I do try to acknowledge anyone who says good morning to me, and I generally try to be friendly with greetings. If I pass someone in the hallway, I usually smile at least (in pre-mask times) or say hello. BUT – if I walk past the same person a whole bunch in quick succession, say 42 times in the hallway in the same hour, I am honestly not going to say hello each time. It feels disrespectful to me to interrupt their work (if they’re at their desk) or just their thoughts (if they’re walking around getting things done) so often just for the sake of being polite. Personally, I don’t want to be told “good morning” 42 times in a row, and I’d honestly probably just stop responding after a while if someone did. It would just be too much for me. I wonder if something like that is happening in some of those situations here.

  76. Raida*

    Hey OP – do these IT people say a cheerful “good morning!” to each other? To you or your assistant?
    How do you know that, to them, it is normal and comfortable to do that?
    In other words, has your wife got an expectation – unspoken – that they aren’t reaching?

    I worked in a team where a new manager started and one lady said he “wasn’t very polite”. How’d she reach that conclusion? He didn’t say “Good morning!” to people when he/they came in to the office.” I pointed out to her that she’s not describing something people are on-boarded with, or happens in everyone’ home life, so her conclusion was based on rules she hadn’t told him and he was breaching without being able to do anything about it. *She* was being unfair. If she wants him to greet people she’s got to tell him, or let go of the presumption that it’s “rude” to not do it.
    She didn’t like that, but I told her that if she’d said that about me when I was younger what she’d’ve gotten is a firm refusal to greet her in response – b*tch about me and expect *better* treatment than everyone else gets when I come in for the day? Hell no.

    So find out if your IT staff actually do this, regardless of your wife. And go from there if you really need happy greetings in the office. FFS, we’re talking about IT staff – I’ve never worked in IT areas and had anywhere near the level of ‘polite’ greetings as in a Comms-focussed area.

    1. Raida*

      also – she’s not your wife.
      She’s the Accounts person.

      So if a client comes in and they aren’t talking about invoices they aren’t there to see Female Staffer #1. Unless you introduce every new Client as a married couple who own the business, that’s what she is. Just. A. Person. They. Aren’t. Here. To. See.

      small office? who cares – not everyone is raised to greet every person in a room, especially in a business setting where they are interrupting someone **working**

  77. Tara*

    I think there’s a distinct possibility that both OP and his wife are expecting these people to be MORE friendly with her than they are as standard. It’s not that everyone is saying good morning and chatting to everyone, and not her. It seems as if she’s being treated as a typical employee (but with an appropriate social distance put in place because she is married to the boss) and you both aren’t happy about it. People are clearly going to treat their boss (or in client’s case, the person they’ve come to meet) differently to another member of staff, particularly one that isn’t in the office very often.

  78. Hell in a Handbasket*

    One other possibility came to mind, since you mention the other employees are all youngish IT techs. Are they, as well as the clients, all male? As a woman in tech, I can tell you that I have occasionally been ignored while a contact or vendor directed all conversation to my male colleague. If this sounds like a possibility, consider whether you’re fostering a bro-like culture in your office where women are (consciously or subconsciously) considered inferior/unimportant.

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