how to fire a jerk, is it OK to drink with the team I manage, and more

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

1. How to fire a jerk

One piece of your advice I’ve made use of many times is to think of a person struggling in their role as “miscast.” It’s not like they’re a terrible person or failing on purpose, they’re just in the wrong role for their skills. When the conversation turns to ending their employment, I can be kinder and more compassionate, as you’ve written, even when they have frustrated me greatly throughout their time with us.

But I worry I’ve gotten stuck when the reason someone’s been let go is for attitude. I’m thinking particularly of a time, awhile back, when I fired a person who no one could stand to work with — arrogant, smug, judgmental, correcting others’ work, and no self-awareness whatsoever of the way they came off. This person had middling skills, no star, but the reason they were let go was the “no assholes” policy, not because they weren’t right for the role. That’s not being miscast, so how should I approach that sort of termination meeting? It’s probably about to happen again, and I don’t want to be a jerk to somebody who’s getting fired and will stop being a problem for my team soon. But they’re not miscast — they’re a jerk! How on earth do I “kindly” tell them so?

I think it’s still about being miscast! While there are no job where it’s okay to be an asshole, there are jobs where it matters more and jobs where it matters less. (Jobs where it matters less might be jobs with almost no interaction with others or jobs in companies that don’t care about jerks.) This is a job where it matters and a company where it matters, so the person doesn’t match the needs of the role and thus is miscast.

As for how to talk to them in the termination meeting: with respect and dignity, as with any firing. You’re not there to teach them a lesson. You’ve made a business decision, one that will probably be unwelcome news to them, one that might cause serious stress and upheaval in their life. That alone is reason to be kind, even if they themselves are not. (And hopefully this won’t be the first time you’re talking with them about the problems; presumably there have been conversations about the issues before now, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to them. If that’s not the case, that’s something to remedy first if at all possible.)

2. Is it OK to drink with the team I manage?

I am a recently promoted country director for a global organization, working in an African country with a very challenging security situation. My team is about 50 people and consists of both nationals of that country and staff members from across the world. Many of my staff are on the young side, with the majority aged 25-35, but I am particularly young for my role at only 27 and have been rapidly promoted after doing well in previous roles within this organization in two other countries. As country director, I am overall management responsible for everything to do with programs, security, HR, finance, etc. and I interact regularly with every staff member in a professional context, although only a subset are my direct reports.

My question relates to how I should socialize with my team. While this situation below might seem strange to your readers, it’s not abnormal in my field. Quite a lot of socializing in this sector revolves around the organization, and international staff are also obligated to live together in organization guesthouses. I like to have fun and I’m a pretty big drinker, and for these reasons, I don’t feel comfortable socializing with staff in situations where I (or they) could be drinking heavily. However, they invite me to events all the time, including birthdays, after work drinks, cultural celebrations, etc. and I don’t want to seem cold or aloof, particularly because I’m the same age or younger than many of them. In my previous (more junior) management roles, I have received extremely good feedback on my management style, and I have never struggled with the balance between social and professional relationships before. I did go to parties and drink with my staff in those roles, but I was not the country director then!

Is it acceptable to spend time with groups of staff outside of work, as long as there is no drinking? Is it okay to spend time with some staff, for example, the upper management team? If I socialize with some, do I have to socialize with all of them? Or should I avoid all interactions outside the office?

From what I know about this set-up, it’s just not governed by the same norms — in large part because you’re living together and you’re often going through an intense experience together. But while the norms are different, a lot of the same risks of blurred boundaries still apply (more so, in many cases).

Ideally you’d show up to some of these events, have a drink if you want one (but only one), stay for an hour, and then head out to let them have fun without you. That way you’re getting some bonding in and not seeming aloof, but you’re still maintaining some boundaries. Do be careful not to create the appearance of favoritism within your team; don’t go to the events of some people under you but not to other people’s. You want to be equal opportunity with your attention and time. (You also don’t need to show up every time! It’s good to give people, and yourself, some space.)

You also might find it interesting to talk with peers or people senior to you in your organization about how they handle this. Bring a critical eye to those discussions because you’ll probably encounter some philosophies/practices that aren’t wise to emulate, but it might be a useful discussion.

3. How can I tell a good employee she’s not likely to advance here?

I’m relatively new to a management role. I recently received an email from an employee wanting to discuss her future with the organization and opportunities for advancement. I responded that we will be reorganizing the team soon (which is true) and relying heavily on her input on what responsibilities she wants to take on (also true).

My issue is that it’s unlikely there will be any opportunities for advancement on our team. My organization is very hierarchical and positions are determined at an organization-wide level with little flexibility for job duties or pay increases. Her current position is at the bottom of the org chart and any opportunities to advance her up the org chart would probably be in a different geographic area. The organization has a culture of employees working here for their entire career and turnover gets even lower the further up the org chart people get.

This employee is very valuable and has a lot to offer. I’m just concerned that she’s looking to be promoted on our team, which is unlikely. We’re a small team and I’m unsure if the positions she would advance into will even remain after some impending retirements.

How do I let her know that I think she does have a lot to offer, but would have my full support looking for opportunities elsewhere and would serve as a reference if she needed it? I want to be honest and understanding of her concerns and desired career path, but I don’t want to seem like I’m pushing her out. I’m also happy to give her more responsibilities in the meantime, but that would likely not result in additional compensation or a promotion here. I can advocate for her, but those decisions aren’t mine to make.

Be straightforward with her! As in, “I want to be transparent with you that there isn’t a lot of room for advancement on our team because ___. You’re very valuable to us and play an important role here, but I recognize that at some point you might want growth that we can’t offer. I hope that’s not in the near future, but whenever it does happen, you’ll have my full support in looking at other opportunities and I’ll do whatever I can to help you at that point.”

Truly, the most supportive thing you can do is to lay it all out for her so she can make good decisions for herself with maximum information. You won’t seem like you’re pushing her out as long as you frame it this way.

But also — while there’s not room for her to advance on your team, is there more room somewhere else in the organization? If so, offer to support her in applying for internal roles too. (It sounds like those might be in other parts of the country, but don’t decide on her behalf that that rules them out; explain the situation to her and let her decide.)

Read an update to this letter here

4. How can I share information about a sexist interviewing experience?

I work in tech as an engineer and am a woman. A while ago, I received an email from a company about a job and interviewed with them. During the all-day interview, it felt more like the men (and only men interviewed me) explaining things to me rather than them actually trying to understand my professional experience. They gave me a job offer. The job offer was basically entry-level despite my many years of experience. The offer was 60% of my current base salary with no stock options, which I currently get a lot of. I did not accept the offer and told them why. To me this reeks of sexism. I want to publish this information so other women do not waste their time interviewing with this company. How and where should I do this? Is it a good idea?

Glassdoor is made for this kind of situation. Write up your experience and leave it as a review there!

5. Why is hold music so bad?

Not so much a question as a rant. Are companies aware of how suckage their call waiting music is?

I have to make multiple calls to various business (large and small) during the day and I rarely have a pleasant experience. The on-hold music blasts in your ear, not to mention the choice of music or giant amounts of static going on. I actually don’t mind gentle repetitive background music — just make it static-free, not high pitched or with whistles.

It’s really, really terrible. So you call, wait, put the music on quiet, but then the speaker suddenly comes on and doesn’t give you time to jack the volume back up. What gives? .

I don’t know what gives but googling it turns up a lot of interesting info, like that (a) supposedly people are more likely to hang up if you don’t play hold music, possibly because they think the line is dead, (b) people estimate their hold time as lower if you play them music and more if you don’t, and (c) classical music rarely sounds right over phone lines because it has to be compressed into a low-quality format to work. (This is a particularly interesting article about what companies look for in hold music.) Some companies, like Apple, give you the option to choose music or silence, which I very much appreciate.

{ 503 comments… read them below }

  1. Lime green Pacer*

    #5: A year ago, a family member was hospitalized for six weeks during COVID lockdown. There was a strict no visitors policy, so we phoned them daily in hospital. Same hold music every time, for 5+ minutes. Talking to their care team at the hospital? Exact same piece of music. On repeat. The music was okay, but the associations it has for me now are quite unhappy. And other businesses use the same track.

    Please, have some options or variety. Being on hold is neutral at best, and can be pretty stressful, depending on what you are waiting to hear.

    1. Retired Prof*

      The hold music at my pain doctor’s office is literally painful to listen to – loud, high pitched squeals – imagine anything painful in music and this ditty has got it. I nicely pointed out to the person who finally answered that this is a CHRONIC PAIN clinic so maybe they could have music that doesn’t hurt to listen to, She said I’m not the first patient to point this out. They’re still using it a couple years later.

      1. Pennyworth*

        They must be using the same music I had to endure recently – it almost hurt my ears. I ended putting my cell phone on speaker then buried it under a pile of papers to muffle the noise until a human came on the line many minutes later.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I wonder if you’ve got the same pain clinic as me! Although my lot did eventually change their on hold tone because I pointed out that for quite a few epileptics like me loud sharp repeating noises are a seizure trigger. (I especially hate car alarms or building fire alarms)

      3. MusicWithRocksIn*

        The hold music at my doctors office stops occasionally – making you think “Hey, I got through!” but then it plays a ad for some of their services and goes back to hold music. It makes me so angry. The hold music I can tune out, but the ads are grating, and the stupid flair of hope I have only makes it so much worse. It doesn’t even happen at the end a song, the music will just cut out totally at random.

        1. Quickbeam*

          I’m on the phone all day with MD offices for my job. The music is universally awful with lots of shilling for your next surgery…”Have it here!” ….like its a Bat Mitzvah.

        2. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Scratchy, garbled, three years out of date “new pop country” that’s too low to actually hear words but is just grating. Yeah. The pediatrician’s office, so I call there a LOT.

        3. Jayn*

          Some places have those breaks at absurdly short intervals too. After three or four in as many minutes I just want them to shut up.

        4. Marzipan Dragon*

          My hospital does this, only the “ads” are the hospital cheerfully telling you how turning the hospital into an outpatient clinic and sending everyone to a hospital an hour away is a good thing. I’m assuming it’s a ploy to increase sales of blood pressure medication by keeping the public riled up at their poor decision-making.

        5. A Poster Has No Name*

          OMG, I hate that. Just as much when the voice that comes on and says “Thank you for continuing to hold. Your business is important to us..” If it was, you wouldn’t keep getting my hopes up that I was going to get a human by giving me a recording, jerks.

          1. Krabby*

            YES! I was just dealing with this yesterday. Every 45 seconds the music stopped to thank me for holding and got my hopes up, to the point that when someone answered I was totally tuned out to it and they almost hung up on me while I was scrambling to grab my phone again.

          2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            EXACTLY. I hate those things with the fire of 1000 suns. They are the worst. Especially if the hold music itself is loud, screech, or staticky. Or all 3. By the time a person actually picks up my call, I’m usually in a much worse frame of mind than I was originally. It sucks.

          3. Julia S*

            Also, the voice that tells you “by the way, do you know about our website? The URL is [whatever]. You won’t have to queue there at all!”. I’m phoning you because the thing I need to do is either not possible at all or ridiculously convoluted on the website! Also, I’m not sure if you know about this newfangled thing called “looking stuff up on the web”, but your website is where I got your hotline’s number from in the first place.

            And the hold music that fades in and out, letting you believe every minute or so that maybe now you’ve finally reached the top of the queue, only for the music to fade back in. Argh!

            The worst experience I’ve had so far was with my local unemployment office’s choice of hold music. It’s Eric Clapton’s Believe in Life. If I’d encountered it under other circumstances, maybe I’d’ve liked the song or maybe not, but after having to listen to it (on countless calls, in eternal repeat) when I lost my job and needed to get unemployment services going, I’ve come to hate it passionately. I just lost my job! I’m down in the dumps! I need a cheery song about believing in love and believing in life like I need a hole in the head!

            I used to go to a clinic that interrupted the hold music every minute or so in order for a computer voice to tell you where in the queue you were. That was useful and also made the waiting (and the music, however inane) actually bearable.

            All that said, if I encounter nice hold music against all hope, I always make sure to tell the person at the other end of the line.

        6. talos*

          I had to call a car dealership recently, and their hold audio was literally only a loop of ads for their services.

          It was awful.

        7. Filosofickle*

          Right! I can handle the music, just let the music play! I was recently on hold for a vaccination appointment and literally every 30 seconds it would stop and talk. Hold times are bad enough, but at least make it usable time and let me read or watch TV. The constant disruption makes it more stressful than it needs to be.

        8. SusanIvanova*

          I discovered the unicorn of hold processing once – they’d break in every so often to tell you how many people were ahead of you in the queue and offer to take a message. Usually the number dropped at an encouraging rate, but if you were #100 and had been for several iterations you knew it was time to give up.

          1. Ollie*

            What irritates me the most is the constant reminders to use their website. If I could do what I needed to do on the website I would not put myself through the stress of sitting on hold.

        9. DataSci*

          That is 1000% the worst. My kid’s pediatrician is the same way. Music stops, you hear a voice – but it’s just letting you know that yep, you’re still on hold, blah blah blah. I can tune out hold music and do other stuff, but especially since I have typical Millennial phone anxiety the kick of “OK, time to talk on the phone now” every minute or so is really not necessary.

        10. MissBaudelaire*

          Yes! Mine does this too! You get put on hold and hear “All our operators are busy. Please stay on the line.” and then you hear tinny music and then it’s “Are you or someone you know pregnant? We have….” tinny music. Pause. “All our operators are busy…”

          Just… just… play the music. Quit telling me I’m on hold. I know I am, because the music is still playing.

    2. Keyboard Cowboy*

      I feel the same way from calling many many vets about my late dog’s cancer diagnosis. A few weeks ago I needed to ask my partner to mute their phone while playing hold music!

    3. Jay*

      I worked for a hospice agency for about ten years. When I first started, I didn’t have the number for the back line so I called the regular public number to speak with the nurse manager. They put me on hold – and I realized the hold music was “Here Comes The Sun.” For a hospice.

      They changed it.

      1. Phony Genius*

        Reminds me of an early Simpsons episode where Homer calls the Department of Missing Babies. Their hold music was “Baby Come Back.”

        1. Crivens!*

          They used to do this a lot. He was also once on hold with the Fatherhood Institute and the hold music was Cats in the Cradle.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Got another one–a medical clinic whose theme was Muzak MASH theme–the title of which is “Suicide is Painless” (at least it wasn’t a a mental health hotline…).

    4. TCD*

      There’s one track I know well from my various doctor’s offices, and it consists of a ridiculous amount of “wooshing” sounds as the primary sound overtop of light music. It makes it painful to hold up to the ear but just sounds like static filled garble if you put it on speaker – so you can’t tell if someone picked up on a bad mic!

    5. NerdyPrettyThings*

      Yesterday I called the sheriff’s office to report a disabled car that was blocking the road, and their hold music was creepy carnival music. It was really weird in that context.

    6. yala*

      For me, the hold music isn’t usually horrible (around here there’s half a chance it will be jaunty zydeco, and half a chance that it’ll be mellow new-wave)

      But the way that the automated voice cuts in every 30 seconds to ask me to please stay on the line or tell me for the 20th time about their credit card options etc…can I opt out of that and just have the music. or silence.

      1. Ya Girl*

        YES! I have to call the provider line for insurances as a major facet of my job, and they are the worst for that! One has ads every 15 seconds, I timed it out. It’s so grating!

    7. Junimo the Hutt*

      The hold music at my vet’s office is loud and strangely crackly. Since we have to wait with our pets in the parking lot for their appointments to begin, I’ve had to listen to it for 10+ minutes at times during the past year. It haunts my nightmares, not just for being a bad song, but for sounding like it’s playing on a radio with incredibly bad reception in a horror movie.

      1. ursaminor*

        I recently had to call Mastercard and they actually had an option to choose the genre of hold music. It was still terrible but it was nice to be given the choice at least

        1. Nanc*

          Press 1 for a selection of folk songs played by beginning bag pipe students.
          Press 2 for lounge standards interpreted by singers gargling razor blades.
          Press 3 for ditties banned at your high school dances as being too provocative but are now hold, store and elevator music standards.

          1. Sleepless*

            LOL at option 3! My grocery store plays a really odd playlist of 80s music, and I did a double take the other day when I heard “Nasty Girl” by Vanity.

      2. Megabeth*

        The hold music at the cats-only vet that I used to use is music from Cats: The Musical. Yes, you guessed it: “Mr. Mistoffelees” on a loop. When my little guy needed emergency surgery and I called to check on him, that was what was screeching in my ear. The vet we go to now just plays ads for their services and I’m not even mad about it, tbh.

      3. Linda C*

        My vet’s hold music is those recordings of popular songs made by recording cats’ meows and playing them as notes? Which always cracks me up, plus they’re good about getting to the phone, so it’s not long enough to be tedious.

        1. Not Your Sweetheart*

          I used to work at a music store (in olden times, when people bought physical tapes or CDs), and we would play this after closing if customers weren’t leaving on their own. I almost always worked.

    8. Manager B*

      There is a licensing issue when playing hold music, a lot of companies pull the “least worst” from what is offered with their system. Otherwise if you don’t play music from the public domain, you are liable to pay royalties etc. Most companies don’t want to bother with this hassle.

    9. Professor of Teapot Studies*

      Oh lord. Medical Offices. The major medical group in my town plays this obnoxiously loud music, which alternates advertising the services of the medical group (having trouble with a wound that won’t heal?) and telling you how to recognize the signs of major life-threatening events like heart attacks and strokes. And it just loops constantly – Wound Clinic – Stroke – Diabetes Testing – Heart Attack – MRI Center. Repeat. While I appreciate what they’re trying to do, it’s not good for someone like me with health anxiety – especially if I am already miserable with a sinus infection or whatever and am just waiting to talk to my doctor or her nurses!

        1. Former Employee*

          Thank you. By the time I get someone on the line, I am wondering what other things I may have wrong that I simply am not aware of…yet.

    10. Junior Dev*

      The one I hate is when I call a phone number because the organization’s website won’t let me do something or isn’t working, and they interrupt the music periodically to encourage me to use the website. I KNOW.

    11. Llama face!*

      The worst hold music I’ve ever encountered was on a line for a mental health clinic I had to call regularly for work purposes. Their hold music was basically psychological torture. You think I joke but no, really, the sounds they played would not be amiss in some movie where a prisoner was deliberately being driven mad by incessant unpleasant sounds and sleep deprivation. It was some kind of instrumental devil’s offspring of the beat (but not the actual music) of a particularly angry rap song but the rhythm was too fast and/or out of sync and so it didn’t quite resolve. And then that was combined with occasional sharp clangy noises and a low pitched thump like when someone’s base is coming through the walls. All of this in a really fast rhythm that made your heart rate try to speed up to match it. I got anxiety* just listening to that “music” as a relatively mentally healthy person at the time. I cannot begin to imagine how much worse it would be for one of their patients in crisis to get when they called in! I reported it to the person I spoke to but apparently the doctor picked the hold music and so nothing changed.

      *When I say got anxiety I mean it actually took a good 20 min or so after the call to recover from the unpleasant stressed feelings that the hold “music” gave me. It was that bad.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Sounds like the music they played for my MRI (though the backbeat of the clunk/clunk of the machine wasn’t too bad, I could have worked with that for something for a metal group).

    12. Yellow Warbler*

      My friend is a pharmacist, and their hold music is The Notebook soundtrack. Apparently people calling for drug interaction advice want to hear depressing music from a lousy 17-year-old movie about selfish idiots ruining other people’s lives so they can bone.

    13. Florp*

      Gonna hijack the top comment to plead for understanding! Most businesses get their phone system through an IT company and are stuck with whatever hold music comes with the system. We literally don’t get to choose! And the smaller, cheaper systems don’t come with high quality. I’ve only ever worked for small companies, but large companies I’m sure see this as an area to cut costs, so they probably have cheap systems too.

      Also, we don’t usually know when our hold music has gone haywire, because we’re not usually calling ourselves and sitting on hold! So please do let a manager know if you hear squawky static (the receptionist or call center person can’t do anything about it). Some won’t care, but some of us really don’t want to piss off our customers!

  2. alienor*

    #5 I hate when it’s not music, but hold messaging that loops. Hearing the same ad AGAIN just makes me remember how long I’ve been on hold, and if it’s a stressful call already, it’s even worse. Gah!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The worst hold music I’ve ever heard is USAA’s and it lodges in your head so that you’re still hearing it hours later. I tried to find it online so I could link to it but could not. It’s a relatively inoffensive track of music but every 30 seconds they cut in with a weird “USAA” chant. I cannot figure out why they think it’s a good idea.

      1. it's-a-me*

        The worst I have come across lately is what seems to be the default for some phone service provider, as it appears on multiple calls I make to other people.

        It’s like someone playing elevator-appropriate classical music on a xylophone made of scrap metal which is also broken, recorded on a headset microphone from the 90s.

      2. Amazed*

        It’s likely intended to evoke soldiers chanting at formation, given that they market so heavily to those who serve in the armed forces.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          FYI it doesn’t just “market to the military”–it was specifically designed to serve current & former military members & their families. The way a credit union has a designated membership base.
          That doesn’t excuse bad hold music.
          I’be gotten to the point where I’m just glad if the music & the interrupting vocals are both at the same volume.

          1. BatManDan*

            In some states, they are required to offer the products to all citizens, not just military / ex-military (and their families). In those states, they do “market to the military” to let them know that the company was formed to serve that subset of the population. I have no memory of their “hold music;” I just say “representative” over and over until I get a person.

      3. Heather Chandler*

        I absolutely hate hold music that has interruptions. If there is still music, I assume I am still in the queue. I don’t need a voice breaking in to tell me such making me think at first that I have actually finally gotten through to a person.

        Interrupting every 30 seconds sounds especially terrible.

        1. nnn*

          That is my biggest pet peeve! Last time I was on hold, it would start a piece of classical music, then interrupt after 30 seconds to talk at me, then start another piece of classical music, then interrupt after 30 seconds…

          Just throw on something instrumental, let me put the phone down and do something else, and my irritation level won’t increase too much!

          1. MsSolo*

            Yes! Though some I’ve called recently it’s 20 seconds, just to be 33% more annoying. And it’s not even where I am in the queue, it’s the same “you’re in a queue, we’ll be with you as soon as possible” message, like I might have forgotten and thought I’d called a pop music line (because it usually is something relatively recent and boppy, and I’m actually quite enjoying it!).

        2. Birch*

          This is my peeve too! Especially when they fade out the music at the end of a phrase, there’s a silent pause, and then THANK YOU FOR CALLING CUSTOMER SERVICE. THERE ARE 15 CUSTOMERS AHEAD OF YOU
          I do a mad dash to pick the phone back up every time the music stops.

          1. Anon for this*

            YES EXACTLY!

            Do not have ANYTHING in your hold music that sounds like your customer service representative picking up that is not a real person getting on the line.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Or the random spoken commercial for some other product or service the place offers (as if we were unaware) while waiting on hold to talk to a person…..

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              “Did you know that in addition to Llama Grooming services, we also offer Llama Training? When you’re connected to a representative, ask about how you can take advantage of Llama Training today!”


            2. TheMonkey*

              My favorite is when I’m calling my cable company to report an outage, and they refer me to their website with a cheery recorded message. I am calling because I CANNOT GET TO THE INTERNET SO HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO GET TO YOUR WEBSITE?!


            3. Nessun*

              What really gets me are the “did you know you have the option to NOT phone us” messages interrupting the hold music! Lady/Sir/AI-Demon, if I could have got through to someone without a phone call why in all that is great and good on this whole green earth would I have USED THE PHONE?! (particularly annoying with ISP providers when there’s an internet issue – no I can’t use your friendly chat option on your web page, THAT’S PART OF THE PROBLEM)

              1. Nanani*

                THIS. I wouldn’t be calling if your website was working/the internet wasn’t out/the thing I need from your agency was doable literally any other way.

        3. Tuesday*

          Yes! I’m okay with pretty much any hold music, but don’t keep breaking in with a voice recording so that I have to turn my attention back to the call! Don’t “talk” to me until you’re ready to talk to me. I’ll just let my mind move on to other things in the meantime.

          1. river*

            I agree!
            The hold “music” I have to deal with consists of widely separate shaky piano notes with no discernable connection between them, on a background of incredibly rough static. The notes are periodically submerged by the static then struggle their way to the surface again.

          2. misspiggy*

            I read somewhere that this was a deliberate strategy to encourage people to get out of the queue.

            1. BatManDan*

              I’m 100% certain this is true. Just like, for awhile, McDonald’s chairs were built to keep you from sitting too long

              1. Anchee*

                I’m not sure about that. Call centers usually track abandoned calls and a high number for that metric isn’t a positive thing.

          3. EPLawyer*

            The WORST is when you are on hold and they keep telling you that they have a website you could go to resolve the problem. Dear Company, if your website actually had ways to resolve my problem I wouldn’t be on hold for half an hour listening to your crappy music.

            1. Lore*

              Dear internet service provider, if my internet was working, I wouldn’t be trying to contact you!

              1. PT*

                We are doing this *right now.*

                Internet chat: Please reset your router.
                Spouse: Then I will be disconnected from chat.
                Chat agent: No you won’t.

                Guess who disconnected from chat?

            2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Dear Dr office,

              I would gladly schedule online it the scheduling widget was working. In the mean time I’m stuck listening to your Muzak selection.

            3. Joielle*

              Yes! If there was literally any other option to solve my problem other than sitting on an interminable hold listening to this infuriating message, I would be doing it.

              On the other hand, my spouse works for a huge company and interacts with the call center people a lot (though he doesn’t answer calls) and apparently it’s very common that people are calling about issues that could be solved with the (many) resources they have online.

              The products they make are most likely to be used by elderly people though and many callers are VERY resistant to the suggestion that they could look at online resources. They just want to call and have a person walk them through it. I get it but I personally cannot relate!!

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                In fairness, my grandpa falls into this age group. He will try online first – but frequently finds his declining vision not compatible with the website. That is when he calls the help line.

        4. Bagpuss*

          I don’t mind so much if the interruption is to update you as to where you are in the queue, as it gives you an idea of how fast the queue is moving.
          The ones which really annoy me are where they repeatedly say ‘you can do x,y, and z on our website’ – partly because I’ve normally only called if I’ve already tried the website and the information / process can’t be done there, but also because I feel if you need that information you only need it once.

          I’ve come across one or two businesses where you can select to get a call back rather than holding. I’ve never had one where you can select to hear or not hear music but I’d love that option.

        5. Cat Tree*

          I especially hate how it gives you false hope that you finally got through to a person. The music stops, you hear a voice and get excited, then nope it’s just a commercial.

          Being on hold and convoluted menus are two reasons why so many people hate phone calls. I’ll be honest, if a company has online booking/communication I’ll choose them over a phone-only business even if they cost more and maybe even if they have worse reviews.

        6. JHS*

          Yes, this! Definitely my biggest pet peeve!

          I will say though, I’ve found that the best hold music ever was Ikea playing Abba songs…

        7. turquoisecow*

          I had to call the pharmacy the other day for something not related to Covid and while I was on hold, a recorded voice kept popping in to tell me how I could go online to check vaccination appointment information. Very nice, but that’s not why I’m calling you, which is why I didn’t select that option from the initial menu.

          Same with companies who remind me that I could access x, y, or z services online. Yes, I know, but that doesn’t apply to my situation or I wouldn’t be sitting here on hold!

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            I also hate the voice option mazes that lead you through four menus then go “Just try to do it online.” Okay, but I looked online and it said to call you, so let me speak to a real person. Good Lord.

        8. Case of the Mondays*

          I posted about this issue on another site and I learned it is intentional. If it is just music, you will drift into concentration on whatever other work you are trying to do to pass the time. When the rep comes on, you will need a few seconds to switch gears and remember your questions. That apparently cuts into their bottom line. So they want to prevent you from focusing on anything else so that you are ready w/ your question the second they hop back on.

        9. MCMonkeybean*

          Hard agree, that is my least favorite. I promise I know that I’m still on hold, you don’t have to have a robot tell me that!

      4. KR*

        Ahhh I like the USAA hold music! I recently had to change my insurance over to a finicky state and was jamming out to the hold music.

        1. Self Employed*

          I have had Ting for cellular and their hold music is the end titles from Buckaroo Banzai (the scene when the characters are walking down the LA river basin). It works surprisingly well over a phone connection.

          1. KaciHall*

            But you never get to listen to put for long, because Ting has the best customer service I’ve ever had ANYWHERE. I’m a little sad their plans didn’t make sense financially for me any more. My new provider is absolutely terrible for customer service.

      5. a sound engineer*

        The worst one I experienced was when scheduling my vaccine – maybe 60 seconds of music, followed by 10 minutes of silence, with no messages or anything to indicate that you were still on the line until right before it looped.

      6. Insomniac*

        I have heard it too often and please don’t link it! You’ll put your readers into a hellscape they can’t turn off!!

      7. Keymaster of Gozer*

        My definition of worst hold music is one that causes you to turn down a romantic evening with your partner later because that dratted song is on a loop in your head.

        Thanks! (a certain UK bank)

      8. NYWeasel*

        The absolute worst was years ago waiting on (Ticketmaster?) and they were running an ad for Dawson’s Creek. Every 20 seconds or so you’d suddenly have Paula Cole screeching “”I DON’T WANNA WAIT….!”

        The second worst was at a company I worked for. Occasionally I had to call in through our customer service lines to get a hold of certain managers that handled that business. The hold music was Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”. In that case I was able to mention to the person who managed the system that they might not want to remind customers on hold that there were lots of better uses for their time, lollll.

        1. Lime green Pacer*

          Clearly Ticketmaster was being run by a supervillain who knew exactly what the chorus was: “I don’t wanna wait for our lives to be over, I wanna know right now what will it be… Will it be yes, or sorry?”

      9. EnfysNest*

        Disney World’s hold music includes the song from the Haunted Mansion ride (Grim Grinning Ghosts) and it’s *awful* on the phone. It’s a poor quality recording, it comes through very static-y, the volume is way too loud, and the track includes a bunch of ghost noises and lyrics about, y’know, death. Haunted Mansion is one of my favorite rides at Disney, but it is an absolutely horrible choice for call music. Plus, at least on the line I called last, they hadn’t updated all their messages since COVID, so there was still one that would come on and say that you could order Annual Passes online, which is not currently true. And I’ve seen reports that hold lengths have often been counted in numbers of *hours* over the past year at certain times, so… yeah, not fun.

        1. Sue D. O'Nym*

          A friend who works for Disney says they get the Disney music loop on hold for internal calls too.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Reminds me of high school (grew up just outside the BLOOP loop in FL), when the marching band got invited to actually participate in a Disney parade. It was awesome – till we got there to march and found out the parade would take 45 minutes and we weren’t allowed to stop playing at all during the parade. And of course the idiot director picked a Disney song for us to perform.

            I no longer am near there – but I still can’t go on It’s A Small World nearly 25 years later…….

      10. Cafe au Lait*

        A former director had my company do an exercise where we closed our eyes and raised our hands when we thought thirty seconds was up. Since I count everything (ADHD trait), I was one of the three people who actually got to thirty. People started raising their hands around the count of twelve, and most people had their hands up by the count of twenty.

        His goal was to demonstrate how much callers underestimated thirty seconds.

      11. LL*

        I think the worst is Schwab Bank’s hold “music” — it’s just info on the stock market, DOW, etc. and it bores me to death.

      12. Chel*

        For me it’s the VA’s hold music. And I’m never on hold for less than 20 minutes with them. PetSmart recently changed their hold music to the same song and I almost hung up when I called to let them know I was there to pick up a curbside order. I thought I had somehow called the VA!

      13. NerdyKris*

        I mentioned in another comment that the reason for the intermission is so people feel like the system hasn’t forgotten about them. If it’s just non stop hold music, it’s like a progress bar that never moves. People start to worry that the system froze. Just having it change up once in a while lets them know the system is still working.

      14. M. Albertine*

        I have fond memories of listening to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy on a loop for many, many hours on hold with the IRS, although it drove me nuts at the time. I left public accounting about the same time they changed their hold music.

    2. Double A*

      But did you realize that they are experiencing very high call volumes and you can take care of many of your requests on their website? Maybe if they remind you every 20 seconds for the next 20 minutes?

        1. Elenna*

          This. Please stop telling me that my call is important to you every 30 seconds! If it was really that important, you’d have hired more people and I wouldn’t be waiting this long!

          1. yala*

            I always remember that dilbert (sigh) comic: “Your call is very important to us. Please hold while we ignore it. You call is very important to us. Please hold…”

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          “Your customer support hold time is…. three days, six hours, and fifteen minutes”…

      1. BubbleTea*

        Ha yes! Unexpectedly high call volumes at that. If the call volumes are high every single time I call, then it’s *not unexpected*, is it? Either hire more staff or be honest: “Your call is not as important to us as our profit margins. We are experiencing the normal high call volumes and you will be waiting a long time.”

        1. BatManDan*

          Yup! The lies that are told on voice systems! Why do they think we believe them any more?

        2. Pennyworth*

          I would stick with a company that honest. I wonder why no one has done it as a joke to keep callers amused. Airlines have funny safety procedures, why not call waiting?

      2. KRM*

        I was on hold for 20′ with my new mortgage company, with a voice every 45 seconds telling me that I could do All The Things on their website. Except that I was unable to log into the website with my new account and that was the problem. It felt extra frustrating!

        1. JustaTech*

          I just re-recorded the greeting for my in-law’s business and the first bit of the script we cut out was the “Please listen carefully as menu items have changed recently”.
          No they haven’t! They haven’t changed in 10 years!

          (My in-laws genuinely did not recognize my “presenter” voice at all, not even when I repeated it to them over Facetime. They thought it was a computer voice.)

      3. Alex*

        I always want to say to that voice, “I am a millennial. I am well aware that many requests can be handled on your website because I already spent 45 minutes desperately searching it for a way to avoid making this phone call.”

    3. Gen*

      Hold messaging that pauses the music just long enough that you think someone might have picked up, but no it’s the same ‘your call matters to us’ audio for the eighth time.

      My therapist office has the synth version of Ode To Joy from Clockwork Orange, which given the themes of that movie always seemed like a stunningly inappropriate pick for a mental health organisation

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        I wonder if they don’t realize where it’s from and just thought they found a hold-music-quality version of ode to joy, which seemed relatively inoffensive? Might be a favor to tip them off. Plenty of people have never seen that movie so wouldn’t recognize the music.

    4. Jackalope*

      At one job I had a phone number I had to call to help a customer. Imagine that I worked for a big box store and this was a furniture company which had given a special phone number to the staff to call when a customer had their furniture delivered in a damaged condition, or something like that. But the furniture was only available to special member customers, and staff weren’t allowed to become a member customer to avoid the appearance of favoritism. When I had to call them, there were 2-3 hold messages that would play in a loop, starting every 17 seconds (I eventually timed them), advertising for the company. Note that this was a ph # specifically just for store employees, calling to help member customers, on a line that customers were not allowed to use (if the call center workers got a customer on the line instead of a store employee they would politely give the customer phone number and then hang up). So WHY were they playing their advertising loop every SEVENTEEN SECONDS to someone who was not allowed to get their products??? I had a call where I had to wait on hold for 40 minutes. With the messages playing every 17 seconds. Gah indeed!

    5. Perstephanie*

      Not long ago I had a task I tried to complete online, but the company’s website was down. So I had to call instead. The hold messaging consisted of a tape loop telling me all the advantages I would have enjoyed had I just completed this task online instead.

      1. londonedit*

        HMRC (UK tax people) do this. Do you really think I’d willingly be on hold to HMRC if I could find what I was looking for on the website?

    6. Hopeful*

      I used to work at a call center and there were a few times that I had to call out to other organizations. One time, I called a university where the hold music was a very compressed, staticy version of their fight song, which was interrupted with a voice telling you facts about the university, and that voice was interrupted with another voice thanking you for your patience, your call is very important to us, etc. I had to stay on hold for so long and the constant loop of interruptions was driving me insane.

    7. Liane*

      Oh, yes, the repeated messages interspersed between terrible music, especially when the messages really mean, “If you were smart you would’ve used our website’s (or phone’s) automated help options. So maybe hang up and do that.” But you are holding for A Real Person on the phone because your issue isn’t doable without a person, internet is down, the phone tree is glitching…

    8. Moo*

      A hold “music” I remember with fondness. There was a loop of music and a space for the company to record a message (like “your call is important to us”). The company had not recorded anything – the person obvious pressed the button to skip, but in that moment someone behind them loudly sneezed. So my listening experience was 30 seconds of jingly music punctuated by a loud sneeze. I still think about it sometimes and laugh.

    9. Lacey*

      YES. Or, benign music interrupted periodically with, “Thank you for calling XYZ, your call is important to us, here are some more ways you can spend money with XYZ….”

    10. MCL*

      One of my favorite things that I’ve encountered more frequently lately is the (rare) hold line that will keep my place in line and call me back. Magical!

      1. Phony Genius*

        I tried this option once with my cable company. I’ve been waiting 3 years and my spot still hasn’t reached the front of the line.

      2. CoveredInBees*

        My phone has the option to do this now. I want to give it a try on something low-stakes first and haven’t had an opportunity for that yet.

      3. Filosofickle*

        Recently I decided to use the callback option, given the projected hourlong wait. A couple hours later, they called back, I picked up, but there was only dead air. I left it for about a minute, giving the rep a chance to switch over. Nothing. I stupidly hung up and lost my spot. Shoulda left it sit a few more minutes!

    11. Save the Hellbender*

      Yes!! and the worst is when it’s music AND a looped message, so every time the music pauses, you’re hopeful it’s a real person until you hear “Your call is very important to us.” Frustrated just thinking about it!

    12. Phony Genius*

      Some companies can’t even modulate the volume properly. Every 30 seconds, it alternates between too loud and too soft, on the same recording.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I can’t help but wonder if they do this intentionally because it’s so jarring and so common. The inconsistent volume & annoying interruptions feel intentionally designed, not accidental. Not sure if it’s to keep us engaged or drive us away TBH.

    13. Dust Bunny*

      Especially if it’s messaging about how important I am to them. If their customers are so important they should employ enough people to answer calls!

    14. CoveredInBees*

      I had those intermittent interruptions of “Hello. Your call is important to Llamas Inc. Please continue to hold and we will be with you as soon as possible.” I can start to tune out most of the music, but the interruption makes me think a human has picked up the call.

    15. AnonInCanada*

      Or worse, the “your call is important to us…please hold for the next available operator…thank you for your patience…” line repeated over and over and over and over. Like if it were that important to you, you’d think of hiring more call centre staff to answer the bleepin’ phone!

      Okay, rant over, but just think how worse it could be: imagine the on-hold music being “Baby Shark Dance” repeated ad nauseum? Do do do do do do… excuse me while I throw my phone up against the wall!

    16. PT*

      CVS! CVS has the WORST hold music.

      And now it has a zillion reminders about not calling them about COVID, before you get to their terrible hold music.

      1. Turtlewings*

        I literally just got off the phone with CVS and YES ALL OF THIS. Horrible wavery, staticky, too-loud hold music and constant reminders about something they CAN’T do.

    17. meyer lemon*

      Or hold music combined with long announcements–my doctor’s office phone line has a five-minute spiel that you have to listen to at the start of every call, including the weekly availability of each doctor at the office. If you haven’t given up by that point, you’re stuck in hold music limbo until you get disconnected and have to re-call and listen to the announcement message again.

    18. Slow Gin Lizz*

      United Airlines has forever ruined Rhapsody in Blue for me. It would be okay if they played the entire 20+ minute piece of music, but noooooooo…they loop the beginning and end of the piece over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over until you hang up out of frustration or someone miraculously answers the phone. It’s most unfortunate, as it’s otherwise a pretty good piece of music.

    19. Richard*

      My kid’s pediatrician’s office has a particularly awful mix of the two. It plays 15 seconds of music, then a voice breaks in for a “Thank you for your patience” message, then plays a different 15 seconds of music, then plays the same message. Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseum. To boot, the message is not very well produced, so it sounds like a real person picking up. Just the worst.

    20. Happy Lurker*

      Boss was conned into one of those systems. I left it alone as a battle I couldn’t win. Then a customer complained and I listened to it. It was terrible. About a week later it became unplugged, many times over a few months. Until one fine day the power cord was lost…and that kiddos is called a happy ending.

  3. My Dear Wormwood*

    #1: I’m heartened to see a “no assholes” policy actually being enforced. Long may it reign! (And long may it be before you have to fire someone again.)

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Apparently Michael Schur enforces a ‘no jerks’ policy on all his sets. Obviously I have no way of knowing if that’s fact or just good PR, but I very much hope that is true!

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        That policy comes up several times on “The Good Place: The Podcast” (which I highly recommend if you’ve watched the show). Some of the writers and actors explicitly said they will say “yes” to anything Mike Schur asks them to be a part of because they can count on that policy.

        1. CoveredInBees*

          Yup. I think it is how he has also gotten so many great ensemble pieces made and it seems like the casts genuinely like each other and stay in touch after shows have ended.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’d love to have a ‘no jerks’ policy on staff, but since I took over as manager I’ve been a bit more forceful with the ‘no sexism, no racism, no homophobia, no antisemitism, no ableism, no transphobia, no Covid denial’ etc. kind of stuff which jerks tend to gravitate toward in my experience.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        I’ve worked in publishing where, if you can write brilliantly, you can be less likeable because the work speaks for itself and the public sees it. It may go viral. But writers can be freelance and seldom around. The readership decides, based on the writing not the personality.
        In the workplace, the rule I like is:
        “You can be as much of a jerk as you are brilliant.” The more amazing you are, by consensus, the more you can get away with. Maybe there’s a nice way to say that when firing him. Mediocre skills don’t support bad attitude.

        1. Daffy Duck*

          I used to work in academia where “brilliant jerks” are fairly common, unfortunately. Staff do not like working with them, and when one very smart, very jerky professor became department head about a quarter of the staff suddenly decided they were going to retire early/take that transfer/move with their spouse. None of us said out loud we didn’t want to put up with his BS, but it sure made it easy to leave and was definitely a brain drain for the department. I’ve noticed the acceptability of jerks is directly proportional to the lack of having to deal with them by the decision makers.
          I’ve also noticed that the very top echelon, those having lasting impacts on public policy and regulations, have good social skills and generally beloved by staff and students. If you can’t convince other good folks to work with you the impact will be limited.

        2. tangerineRose*

          If someone’s a jerk, I don’t care how brilliant they are. Jerks are a pain to be around and will drive off other people who may also be brilliant.

        3. Librarian1*

          I absolutely hate this. Maybe it works in publishing because you aren’t around the authors every day, but it’s so awful to be in a situation where you have to share a space with the jerk and they don’t get fired because they’re too brilliant. Also, that policy always seems to benefit white men over everybody else.

    3. Cat Tree*

      I find it really refreshing when a company is just willing to ever fire anyone. And of course it’s not something that should be done flippantly or frequently. But sometimes one person just shouldn’t be there, getting paid to do nothing and bring the whole team down. At my current company, I’ve known of two people who fired over 5ish years. And one of them worked closely with me. I can sympathize for him for losing his source of income, but I was so glad I didn’t have to deal with him anymore. It was exhausting to pry what I needed out of him. And I’m sure it wasn’t a surprise to him either because we get regular feedback and he had over a year to improve his performance.

      I’ve worked at other places where I couldn’t do my job because *multiple* people just blatantly surfed Facebook all day and got nothing done. Some of them even managed others. We nearly lost our ISO certification because of it. Being one of the few people who care in that situation is a recipe for burnout because I can’t do everyone’s job for them. One of my friends is happy to work at a place where no one can ever get fired, but that sounds like a nightmare to me. When I see someone get fired for legitimate reasons, it doesn’t make me scared for my own job. It makes me relieved that I can now do my own job better.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed. I love my current manager because she doesn’t put up with “retired in place” attitudes. You applied because you wanted a job. I have a list of priorities to get accomplished on every shift, and you will get a workload that a person with proper training (which she makes sure happens) can accomplish during any given shift. She have chances to improve, then managed out all the “retired in place” or “covid is fake” or “my disability accommodation means I don’t have to do 3/4 of my job” attitudes.

        (Reasonable accommodations she will gladly work with, and even help you get the right forms filled out. However, it is not a reasonable accommodation to say I’m not going to do tasks A and B when the job description is tasks A,B, and C are your responsibility.)

        1. tangerineRose*

          I used to have to work with a co-worker who wasn’t doing his job most of the time. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if management didn’t ask me to do stuff that he had neglected. Very frustrating.

      2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        I am torn on this one. I often desperately, desperately wish I could work at one of those “nobody is ever fired” jobs where I just warm a chair for fifty years and retire. Wouldn’t it be nice to just do your job, go home, and never have to worry? But I am also that person at work who acts like a border collie on amphetamines, gets really worried about work not getting done, and eventually takes over five FT jobs worth of tasks because oh my God you guys we can’t just NOT do that, we will get fined or close…. So in reality, that kind of workplace would be a complete nightmare for me.

        Anxiety is fun.

        1. Cat Tree*

          The problem is that those people don’t do their job and go home. They sit and do nothing all day while their job just doesn’t get done, and then they go home.

          You don’t need to work at a place like that for work-life balance. My work-life balance is *better* at my current job where people have occasionally gotten fired. The default here is that people we able to manage their work so there’s very little oversight. And because I’m no longer spending half my time prying what I need out of other people, I can focus on actually working my part of it and get it done in a shorter time. Most days I turn off my computer and I’m just done with work, yet I still get good performance reviews every year. People here don’t get fired for only working 40ish hours a week; it’s for not getting their work done within that reasonable time and/or doing it wrong even after feedback.

        2. PT*

          I’ve worked at a job where nobody is fired. It is awful, because people come to work (when they feel like it) and don’t do their work (and leave mountains of crap for other people to do) and are nasty to others (and there’s nothing you can do about it) and the managers are just like, “Well you have to get along with them, why aren’t you getting along, you must be the problem” to the employees who are scrambling to cover because someone is absent with no notice and hasn’t completed work right at a deadline and are being personally victimized by Regina George.

          1. JustaTech*

            There was a time at my company when no one (in the non-manufacturing jobs) was fired. But that was because we were having like twice yearly layoffs, so it was just easier for everyone to wait for the next round of layoffs rather than have the difficult conversations about “no, you can’t just stream anime all day while other people do you work” or “your coworkers are your peers, not your lackeys, you need to treat them with respect”.

            The layoffs cleared out all the dead weight, so after that a few people were fired for cause (no, you don’t get to say “I would have made a great slave driver back in the day” as a white guy talking to an all-Black group of your peers).

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Having good HR and a culture that support it is really key. I have worked under good and bad of both, and the good is way easier to get rid of people who aren’t performing. We don’t do it often or without a specific feedback/opportunity to improve, but we don’t hesitate for people that aren’t adding anything to the team or are not contributing to a professional work environment. The key things I’ve fired people for over the years are timecard/expense fraud, doing poor quality or quantity of work, and creating an uncomfortable or unsafe work environment for other team members. Firing people sucks, always, but sometimes it’s just not a good fit.

        I found that they key really is to have defined, clearly articulated expectations and regular feedback, both positive and negative so people know what’s expected of them and that someone is paying attention to what they’re doing. I can’t let a minority of jerks or slackers burn out my majority excellent team.

      4. EmmaPoet*

        Agreed. When Gerald the Groper or Louise the Lunch Thief or Frank Facebook is How I Spend My Work Day get fired, that’s a good thing for the rest of us. They’re being fired for legitimate, solid reasons, and the rest of us don’t have to put up with them anymore.

    4. Heffalump*

      Alison will disagree, but I think people who have been malicious and abusive to their coworkers (not just lacking in social skills) should be punished/taught a lesson. I’ve known a few of them.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Short of firing them, what punishment/lesson should they get? In my experience, nasty people very rarely feel shame or embarrassment, so firing them tends to be the only option. I am working with someone now whose reaction to being counseled for unprofessional behavior was not to feel chastened or embarrassed but to go into attack mode and make everyone’s lives more difficult. Firing them is the only way to make it stop, and I don’t see Alison disagreeing with firing malicious/abusive people.

        1. Heffalump*

          My take is that Alison definitely believes in firing these people, but it’s a matter of moving them out of a role they aren’t suited to, not of punishing them.

          If your coworker went into attack mode, that proves their managers’ point pretty neatly.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I guess my view is that as long as my team and I don’t have to deal with them anymore, I don’t really care. I have enough things to worry about to give jerks a second thought once they’re out the door.

            And the truly awful ones don’t see it as punishment, even if you intend it that way – they see it as a validation of their perception of how awful you are an how much you take their brilliance for granted. I fired someone for timecard fraud once, and she wasn’t the least bit ashamed. She told us she’d been doing this for quite a while and that it was our fault for not catching her sooner and telling her not to do it. Not at all chastened by being fired and mad we didn’t offer her severance.

        2. Heffalump*

          No, Alison and I agree that such people should be fired. As I understand it, Alison believes in firing them as a matter of moving them out of a role they aren’t suited to. For me, it’s a matter of punishing them, although moving them out of the role is also important.

      2. Observer*

        It’s not the place of a boss or supervisor to teach people lessons.

        That doesn’t mean you can’t do things that will teach people lessons (like firing them for being jerks), but that’s not what the action should primarily be about.

        1. GothicBee*

          I also feel like teaching someone a lesson (or trying to) often has the opposite of the intended affect. Because someone who was a jerk and then got fired might eventually get that if they stop acting like a jerk, they won’t get fired, but if someone acts like a jerk and then you vindictively punish/teach them a lesson afterwards, they’re more likely to just write it off as *you* being a jerk.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You’re right that I don’t believe it’s a manager’s job to punish people. That’s not the job. The job is to keep things running effectively.

        Firing on its own is a huge consequence; it seems like wanting more than that is about issues way beyond a manager’s scope.

        (Also, keep in mind that if you say managers should consider part of their role being to punish people, you’re going to have the bad managers doing it too — probably far more often — and it’s going to go really poorly for those working for them.)

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          (Also, keep in mind that if you say managers should consider part of their role being to punish people, you’re going to have the bad managers doing it too — probably far more often — and it’s going to go really poorly for those working for them.)

          This. So much this. There’s no good to follow and it opens the door to so much bad that doesn’t just go away afterwards.

    5. Generic Name*

      Yes! I’ve worked with a few jerks/assholes in my career, and honestly, they just weren’t that great to downright awful at their jobs. One memorable jerk complained about me in such a way that had some crappy repercussions for my job, but I stuck it out and kept my head down and cranked out good work. Eventually my work spoke for itself while he was managed out of the company. Now he works for another company, and management at my company has decided that we will not do work with his company.

  4. Marion Ravenwood*

    #5: I forget the exact name of it now, but a few years ago a teleconferencing company I used in my OldOldJob had surprisingly good hold music – I described it as “like something that would soundtrack the highlights package of a World Cup in Latin America”. You did have a choice of others, but this seemed to be the default, and I always oddly enjoyed it. So some companies do get the hold music right!

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      The hold music where I worked was a dirge, and reminded me of music from a horror movie. I asked at a team meeting how others felt about our callers hearing this music, and it was universally. I connected with our IT team, and they added a nature sounds recording. So much better for our callers!

    2. Chas*

      The best hold music I ever heard was when I needed to call Nintendo’s tech support and was delighted when Gerudo Valley (one of the most beloved Zelda background/area themes) started playing.

      So, of course, my call got answered about 30 seconds later.

    3. ten four*

      My old company’s hold music was a song written/performed by one of our project manager’s bands. It was awesome and I still listen to it! Terrible Spaceship: Zontar’s Tango (minus the opening spaceship noise).

    4. SomebodyElse*

      I was hoping there was a “Good” hold music comment I could add to. Hands down the best hold music I’ve ever heard is for Sandals (the resort company). Bob Marley with infrequent cut ins of a mellow sounding Jamaican woman basically telling you to get ready for a great vacation.

      Any time I have to call (this was the only way to get an offered discount applied back in the day) I would just put it on speaker and zone out. It was sadly disappointing when the call would be answered.

    5. Kes*

      I’ve never actually heard it as hold music, but awhile back spotify recommended to me “Look Up!” by Aaron Sprinkle and it has always sounded to me like good hold music

  5. former_maiduguri*

    Question #2 belongs in the Aid Worker version of Ask A Manager I’d write in my dreams! Allison’s advice is great as usual. If this is one of the organizations I think it is, you should be fine going out but maintaining some distance. If curfews or driver availability are issues, I think you’re fine staying the typical amount of time, but drinking less and maintaining some distance (perhaps stick to the CD circle at the party, though I realize your relative age may make that awkward or difficult). Something I’ve also seen done well is for CDs to host (well, plan in the courtyard of your compound…) either a pregame dinner or brunch the day afterwards. That way you’re still socially participating, but in a lower-risk and slightly removed manner.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I’m in an international academic setting, and the rules would be similar. You can go, as the boss, but you can’t get more than slightly tipsy (and not that if you are at all inappropriate when drinking), and you should excuse yourself before it gets too wild, and skip any after party.

      1. M_Lynn*

        I also work in this field. I’d add to this that when at these parties, be extremely diligent to not talk about work at all! No one should get any information, whether it be context or your personal opinion, from you at these parties. You need to become good at having other things to talk about and directing conversations around you away from work topics.

        I’d also add a point of reflection that these parties are often one of the reasons there is a divide between expat and local staff, because you’re inherently favoring expats and giving them more face time when you’re constantly seeing them outside of work. Not all of it is direct, but often local staff have families and just can’t go out drinking like all the carefree singles. I recommend also using this as an opportunity to think about how you want to direct your org’s culture at this time too, and think more broadly about your relationships to all staff.

    2. Marzipan*

      It feels to me as though #2 is the sort of work situation where you have to regard yourself as always at work, and adjust your life accordingly. The thing that jumped out at me is #2’s mention of being ‘a pretty big drinker’ – in that context (where you live and socialise at work and can’t really have any outside social circle) my take would be that there’s no appropriate way you can continue to be ‘a pretty big drinker’ other than drinking alone (which is obviously not ideal). It does, of necessity, mean curtailing your preferred way of socialising and remaining ‘on’ all the time, and being friendly but boundaried with the people on your team. No big drinking, sorry!

      1. NYWeasel*

        Yeah, the phrase “Big Drinker” makes me feel that OP#2 might want to think a bit more about that side of the equation. I’ve worked with some pretty big drinkers (ie 5-6 drinks over a business dinner), and it was fine with them as they understood their tolerances and never came across as impaired**. But if OP#2 is concerned that they will drink to the point of significant impairment or mortification, it may be worthwhile to also take some time to figure out where your personal boundaries are (ie 1 drink? 2? None at all?). Social drinking for business is a common occurrence, and the expectations of behavior are very different than say, going to an outdoor concert with your pals where Fergus has agreed to be the designated driver.

        **Note: I’m sure the people drinking so much were impaired—this type of drinking is generally done on business trips at the hotel, so no driving required afterwards—they just continued to appear fully in control of their behavior.

      2. Sandbox Struggles*

        Having lived and worked in these environments, functioning as if you’re “always at work” is just not a sustainable or survivable state. It follows very few rules about normal workplaces, or normal life. It’s like a mix of unsupervised summer camp, but you’re also working on (sometimes) life or death situations, in dangerous environments, while being locked in a Big Brother house.

        Alison’s advice is very good, but all normal lines of work and life are blurred in these environments. And its seen as very very normal (including, especially, big drinking culture), and takes time to calibrate back to the outside world when you leave.

        (As an aside, Tina Fey’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot does a really good job of showing some of this life.)

        1. Smithy*

          Here to agree with this.

          Depending on the context and living situation, it may also really benefit the OP to aim to make more relationships with other CD’s/senior staff in other organizations. Both to enable having more social options that don’t include direct reports but also certainly can’t hurt from a networking perspective. I also found that spending more time with people not in my organization – even when drinking heavily – helped me switch off my work brain more. Even if we were still talking about the context or how much any given multilateral might be a pain point – I wasn’t blending my personal and professional life as much.

        2. Marzipan*

          I definitely don’t disagree with you that it’s a very different environment than a 9-5 office job. It’s not a setting I’ve personally worked in, but I do have experience in areas that are similarly immersive. I definitely agree that burnout is a real issue, and I absolutely agree that the OP can and should socialise with their team, for example, in ways that go beyond what would be appropriate in other settings.

          But I always think it’s worth people taking time to check in with their boundaries, and in situations where there’s a perception of that workplace culture being Special and Different, that goes even more. Things being seen as normal don’t necessarily make them a good idea. And since the OP has worked in that culture already, a lot of that stuff will have slipped in as ‘normal’ as an employee (and, perhaps, are part of their coping mechanisms for that setting and its challenges) and this is hard to set aside upon becoming the director. But having the person in charge of life-or-death summer camp regularly get really drunk just is not a good idea. I think what the OP is recognising, in having written in, is that the role of being director isn’t one you can approach in quite the same way as you could a team member in that setting.

      3. Ya Girl*

        Hard agree. I like to make cocktails and drink a fair amount with friends, but at work get-togethers I will nurse a beer all evening. It’s best not to risk impairment hanging out with people who report to you.

      4. ophelia*

        Agreed with this, OP. I think if you want to have a venue where you can let go a little, maybe do hashing or something, instead of through work events. For those, even if they’re community events that aren’t actually “work,” then you do have to have a different set of standards for yourself.

    3. Former Aid Worker*

      Please, please write the Aid Worker version of Ask a Manager. Even though I’m now in an HQ job, I could have desperately used that earlier in my career (though the internet might not have been good enough to access it except on R&R).

  6. Heather Chandler*

    #4 – I hope this doesn’t come across as an invalidation of your experience. I am a woman in a boys club/male dominated field so I am very well aware of the dynamics that can exist and there’s a very good chance there was sexism at play…

    However, from what you wrote, I don’t know if there is enough information to clearly say it was sexism versus the possibility that the interviewers are jerks and the place lowballs people in general. Perhaps they feel like they can take advantage of a lopsided job market right now.

    It certainly sounds like a complete and utter waste of your time along with being disrespectful of you as a candidate/interviewee, no matter what the reason. So without other data points such as knowing male colleagues who had a totally different experience with that company, I may focus on the behavior more than the speculated cause for said behavior in my glassdoor review.

    1. Sam*

      I don’t know that “makes universally bad offers” should be the default assumption here, and that’s all that your comment seems based on – and, overall, I’m not sure that the intent of the company matters nearly as much as the subjective experience of the applicant.

      1. Dan*

        I donno… people are free to draw their own conclusion, but I’m with Heather, this doesn’t scream sexism to me either.

        You suggest that Heather is focusing too much on one thing, but basically the only thing OP describes is shitty interviewing technique and a lowball offer. What else is there?

        And… why does OP just want to warn women to stay away from that place? I’m a dude and I wouldn’t want to work there either!

        I’ve had my share of outright asshat interviewers, interviewers who were cordial but had poor or ineffective interview technique, and lowball offers. Those things in and of themselves indicate crappy places to work, period.

        1. Beth*

          This seems like a good spot for a gentle reminder that women, having experienced sexism for our entire lives, are generally pretty good at noticing it. It’s not generally helpful for men to try and tell us that our experiences of sexism aren’t real; no offense, but you’re really not the experts on this one.

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*


            And it’s very important for the persistence of sexism to always avoid coming to hypotheses about sexism from individual experiences. To speculate and throw out other explanations. To want proof. It’s exhausting.

          2. Cat Tree*

            Thank you. I’m also a woman in engineering and I can absolutely notice when a man is condescending to me. They’re never like that with other men, even fresh new grads. I’m so tired of other men expecting me to bend over backwards to rule out all other possibilities before I “scream sexism”. Sexism is extremely common and a man doesn’t have to be a mustache-twirling villain to be sexist. Even if he’s oblivious to his own behavior, that doesn’t make it better. It’s his responsibility as an adult and human to own his behavior, examine it, and improve it. It’s such a perfect example of privilege for a man to feel like he’s excused of sexism because he’s actually just aloof, AND for others to give him the benefit of the doubt.

          3. disconnect*


            JFC I’m so tired of mansplaining, and I’m a pretty manly man. Like, you’re right, maybe there’s an innocent explanation for this, maybe these people are used to working with people who need a lot of elementary things explained to them, maybe one of the nonmentioned benefits is free access to petty cash and everybody gets a unicorn, OR MAYBE we can start from the premise where we believe the LW when they say “This was my experience”?

            So tired.

          4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            And this is where I insert a gentle reminder that when you’re used to seeing sexism in a lot of places you can just start seeing it everywhere.
            Dan doesn’t want to work in a place like that, despite being male. As far as he’s concerned, what OP described is a company that treats interviewees and probably employees shoddily.
            We can’t say for sure that it’s sexism unless we see a pattern of men being made to feel wanted and being offered great salaries while women all get the same treatment as OP.
            It may well be sexism, but sometimes it’s just general nastiness.

            I used to have an Indian colleague who would say of another that he must be racist. I told her he was nasty to me too, so then she said he must be sexist too. Then the young intern said he was nasty to him too, so he was probably ageist. Sadly we didn’t have a gay colleague to complain that he was homophobic. At some point you can stop heaping up the ists and phobics and just call the guy a jerk who only ever jokes with straight white males of his own age.

            1. srsly??*

              Wow, you really just wrote this: “Sadly we didn’t have a gay colleague to complain that he was homophobic.”

              And you’ve mansplained sexism to a woman.

              Also, this? “We can’t say for sure that it’s sexism unless we see a pattern of men being made to feel wanted and being offered great salaries while women all get the same treatment as OP.” That is bullshit. Just stop.

          5. Nanani*

            Thank you for putting it a lot nicer than I could have.

            Pro tip: save the “Are you sure it’s ~really~ sexism” for your inner monologue and never ever say it out loud.

        2. Andy*

          Yes, it is theoretically possible they lowball everyone financially. However, assignment of junior position to senior worker is definitely something that you rarely see with men. And in fact, workplaces like that can be great if you are a man. It does not imply overall toxic attitude for everyone, it implies uneqal treatment if you are women.

          I am woman in tech too and it does smell sexism to me. It is not definitive proof nor I would used it as such. However, I am in tech long enough to have seen how similar situations play out with men and with women … and it pretty often turns out being sexism once you know enough about situation. As in, in my lifetime, I used to give people benefit of the doubt. It turned out that situation was really somewhat different with men and women way more often then not.

          One difficult thing about talking about sexism is that if I don’t have video record and can list, it is pretty much impossible to even start talking about it without being immediately dismissed. And when you have actual prove, people still dont bother looking at it and will claim that you are putting too much effort into something miniscule.

          1. Lora*

            It is more than possible to be both an a-hole AND sexist AND racist AND bigoted in many ways. They are actually orthogonal, though all speak to a general lack of ethos.

            Over the decades I have come to the conclusion that men are simply not expected to have social skills with other humans, or are not punished for the failure to have any, the same way women are automatically expected to Be Understanding and make excuses for men who do not have social skills worth a crap – and THAT is definitely very, very sexist. So when you have a whole gaggle of Male A-holes at a given organization who are clearly not informed that they need to
            -Be less abrasive
            -Get along and learn to collaborate better
            -Modulate their tone so as not to offend people’s tender sensibilities
            -Not attempt to defend yourself or your work after you’ve been openly attacked in a public forum or group meeting because that’s just Provoking Him / Stooping To Their Level / Being Uppity
            -Not ask so many questions
            -Not ask anyone for help because it’ll make them look incompetent
            -Be collegial to their co-workers at all times and not be such a bitch
            -Help anyone who asks for help otherwise you’re a Dragon Lady
            -Be more friendly so they’re not called Ice Queen behind their back (or to their faces), but not THAT friendly because someone might misunderstand that as flirting

            Or else suffer bad reviews and poor bonuses and no promotions, then this is DEFINITELY the indicator of a sexist organization that you don’t want to work for. And while people will rationalize that hey, EVERYONE should be nice and collegial at work and this is simply a standard everyone should be held to and heeeeyyyy you don’t KNOW that Andy A-hole wasn’t scolded by his boss for being a jerk…go on LinkedIn. See where A-hole Andy ranks in the organization, compared to where your buddy Collegial Cathy ranks. Then tell me again that it isn’t a sexist workplace, because Collegial Cathy just haaaaaappened to take the full three months of maternity leave, and chose to go over to Operations instead of the Innovation group, and and and…there’s a zillion excuses.

          2. Beth*

            The idea that people can only name forms of prejudice (sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, etc) for what they are if they can 100% prove it beyond any possible doubt is part of what makes it so difficult to confront these issues. Telling people they can’t name their experiences for what they believe them to be is actually part of the problem—it’s very hard to address what you’re not even allowed to acknowledge, and it’s impossible to spot trends when each data point along the way is discouraged from describing their experience.

            Not to mention, the bar of ‘proof’ really isn’t that high for this scenario. OP isn’t taking this company to court; she’s considering writing a Glassdoor review. There’s absolutely no burden of proof required for that. She doesn’t need to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that sexism was the only possible explanation here. All she needs to do is share her experience and state that in her opinion, sexism seemed to be a motivating factor—as she’s done here. People will see that as what it is: a single Glassdoor review from an anonymous, could be genuine and on point, could be genuine but mistaken, could be a distortion of what happened. They’ll then make their own judgement calls accordingly, depending on how much they choose to trust OP’s comment (and likely also on whether it aligns with other info they’ve heard).

        3. A Person*

          I suspect that if you saw a review warning women to stay away from a place, you might find that useful information for yourself? It’s not like OP is going to write a review that only women can see.

    2. Anna*

      This is actually invalidating her experience. The only person who gets to define her experience is…her. Not someone who heard a snippet of it. She was the one in the interview and fully understands the depth of the low ball offer. How exactly is not believing her ability to evaluate her own experience helpful?

      Whether or not the intent of the hiring committee was sexism doesn’t matter. What does is that women are statistically more likely to be talked down to, undervalued and underpaid in tech. That’s a valuable bit of feedback for a glassdoor review.

      1. Heather Chandler*

        Dual response to Sam above as well:

        It is a fair point though that subjective experience matters and sometimes one simply can’t convey the gut feeling that would have been clear if the reader had been there and experienced it themselves.

        As mentioned, I would absolutely describe the experience on glassdoor. And I agree with you both that the intent doesn’t matter. Which is why, based on the details of the letter, it seems to be that describing the behavior and experience is important versus positing the reason. Of course, there could be a lot the letter writer simply did not share with us.

      2. a sound engineer*

        I’m with Anna above – as a woman who is also in a boys club/male dominated industry, the only thing that’s worse than having a bad experience like that is having people immediately react with “But what if it wasn’t, are you sure you read the room correctly, maybe it was this, here’s another non-sexist reason that could’ve been the case” as if I don’t have the experience or ability to correctly judge for myself.

        1. Heather Chandler*

          That’s very fair!

          I was considering it from the other side wherein because so many people do that, often the more effective way to cite and have bad behavior recognized is to be matter of fact about what the behavior was without giving the reason (and ergo a reason for many to dismiss it). I almost added that to my original comment, and wish I would have.

      3. TRexx*

        When you go post a company or person is sexist on the internet based on a gut feeling and little information to back it up other than a terrible interview and offer less than where you’re at now… that screams libel to me.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Well, my gut feeling based on this comment is that you don’t really understand libel, then. Because that’s not how it works.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          One does not need to have 100% ironclad proof for an opinion to post it on the internet. Just as well really, else this comment section couldn’t work!

        3. Arvolin*

          The phrase OP4 used was “this reeks of sexism”, which is entirely correct and not libel at all. It is highly unlikely to be standard interview and offer behavior for that company, since presumably they can hire people now and then, and it’s classic sexist behavior, no matter what the motivation.

        4. tangerineRose*

          Maybe instead of calling the company sexist, just lay out the facts so that most readers will realize that it is.

          1. TRexx*

            I absolutely understand how libel works. Yes, agree with this. Calling someone or a company sexist is such a damaging thing to do to their reputation if you’re not certain that’s the case.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              No, sexism is a damaging thing to do to someone! Calling it out in a review based on the OP’s experience is not in the same category (nor is it libel).

    3. Beth*

      OP can only report on her own experience, so yes, it’s true that we can’t confirm a gendered trend based on this one anecdote. But given what we know, it sure seems likely that SOMETHING unsavory is at play. A woman in a male-dominated field, being interviewed by an all-male team, had her own profession mansplained to her at length, and was then offered a position well below her experience level, at a serious pay cut and reduced, with no acknowledgement of her experience or the disparity? From a company that reached out to her (so has no reason to assume she’s desperate for a job) and presumably isn’t particularly known for acting like this (since OP has many years of experience in her field and didn’t know of them being prone to this kind of thing; if they did this all the time, odds are people would be complaining about it)? I really don’t think sexism is a reach.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, thank you. A reminder from the commenting rules: “Letter-writers are experts on their own situations. When a letter-writer reports a situation is giving them bad vibes, particularly in regard to safety, harassment, or discrimination, believe that person. Don’t search for ways to explain away the behavior or pressure them to ignore their instincts because you personally haven’t had the same experiences.”

        1. a sound engineer*

          Thank you! As I said above, nothing is worse than coming home from a demoralizing experience like the LW mentions, only to have the people you confide in try to explain it away and, in essence, tell you that your own judgement is off and they know more about the situation then you do (despite not being present for it). Speaking from much experience.

      2. Self Employed*

        And it’s consistent with what my best friend, a female mechanical engineer, has said about various interviews she’s had.

      3. Ellie*

        Yes, its the fact that the company reached out to her that makes me think it must be sexism – I just can’t imagine that happening to a man. Company reaches out, isn’t interested in your experience, explains your own profession back to you, and then undervalues your worth to the tune of 60%. Why did they ever reach out in the first place? Were they trying to fill a quota? Its insulting in a way that usually only happens to women and people of colour.

        1. Beth*

          Yes, this absolutely sounds to me like they had some sort of D&I ‘goal’ to meet and cared more about checking the box (we attempted to recruit a woman!) than about either actually boosting diversity on their team or hiring OP in particular.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Former boss of mine (who is a great guy btw and now a good friend) joked that I fitted just about every diversity tick box for the IT department.

            Female, not white, disabled, over 40, pansexual, Wiccan….about the only one I didn’t fit was that I don’t have English as a second language (it’s my first and only) and I was born in the UK.

            However, with him I know it wasn’t what factored into my hiring. If I get the feeling I’m going to be a ‘tick box interview’ somewhere else though I’ll be very wary of anything they said.

        2. meyer lemon*

          I’m trying to imagine an interview scenario where a panel of female engineers invite a man to an interview, condescendingly explain his job to him, then offer him an entry level position that’s a significant demotion from his current job. I think this only exists within within the world of MRA rage-fantasies.

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            I could see it if there was some other discriminatory factor at play, like if he were black and the interview panel was all white, or if he were really young and the interviewers were older or vice versa, or if the interview was taking place in an Evil Mirror Universe. But all else being equal? Nope.

          2. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Sounds like a College Humor video, but I can’t imagine how they would be able to make it humorous.

            1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

              I think the humor would be a cue card note at the end, pointing out that it *wasn’t* funny because it’s terrible reality.

              And the laughter would be the “laugh or else I’d cry” variety.

        3. The New Wanderer*

          There’s a great thread going around LinkedIn from a Black woman who was contacted by a recruiting firm for a potential position, except the recruiter sent her the internal memo about why they were contacting this clearly overqualified person for a junior role (specifically, “female and diversity” [sic]).

      4. Andy*

        > A woman in a male-dominated field, being interviewed by an all-male team,

        That one does not strikes me that bad and I am women in tech who does believe OP experience. When it comes to bias and sexism, in my experience, absolute worst are non technical people in general. Because the less tech knowledge you have, the less my tech knowledge matters. Non technical people have only impressions to go by and that makes biases matter much more.

        It being only men is less of issue then non-technical management or HR playing too much role – despite those being predominantly women. If they have more men in tech positions, which is 100% standard in tech, I am waaay more comfortable being interviewed by them.

        1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

          Except the all-male panel IS an issue because of implicit bias, even if that bias is unconscious.

          1. Andy*

            This was not panel where interviewers are expected to present their points of view.

            Women are no less unconscious sexist. They are no more likely to be fair. They are as likely as men to treat me as an oddity, to express the “woman means no tech” attitudes openly. Some also tend to project their own technology related insecurity on me. The latter is actually hardest for me to deal with, because I am used to male dominated environment and thus it is harder for me to deal with issues that appear rarely there.

            In AskAManager comments section, there seems to be expectation that if only women are present in the room, then my situation as woman in tech will be better. It is not that simple. Women are as sexist as men, typically more open with it.

            As I said up there, the biggest threat are people who dont have knowledge to evaluate what I know and thus have no choice but to go by their biases.

              1. Andy*

                Are you woman in tech? Because I am one. And I am not all that young anymore, looking back I do see who gave me interesting difficult projects, who trusted me, who talked in a sexist way around me. I do remember who underestimated me, undermined me or treated me as oddity.

                I did worked with both males and females, both technical and non-technical. In all my experiences, the gender of person I am speaking with is very weak predictor of whether I will be perceived as potentially capable.

                If you think that women are not sexist toward other women, I suspect you was never woman in tech, never worked with women in tech and are likely imagining how it works.

                1. Jaydee*

                  Yeah, women can be really awful gatekeepers against other women. There are a lot of well-studied reasons why this happens ranging from internalized misogyny to a scarcity mentality to worries that the negative perception of one woman will be reflect poorly on all women. But regardless of the reasons, it absolutely *is* a thing for women to have unconscious negative biases against other women in various contexts. And working in traditionally male fields would be one of those contexts.

                2. Qwerty*

                  If you think that women are not sexist toward other women, I suspect you was never woman in tech, never worked with women in tech and are likely imagining how it works

                  Are you presenting yourself as the example of a woman who is sexist against women? Beth gave a long list of factors that come together to form a picture of a biased interview process. You took one part of a sentence, declared it invalid on it’s own when it was not presented as being standalone, and are now saying that women who disagree can’t possibly be in tech.

                  According to you, my 15yrs experience as a woman in tech are invalid because it doesn’t fit with your biases against women. That does sound like sexism. At least the very sexist guys I worked with were generally willing to concede that I had experience and skills even when they didn’t value them.

                3. Andy*

                  Qwerty: Are you presenting yourself as the example of a woman who is sexist against women? Beth gave a long list of factors that come together to form a picture of a biased interview process.

                  I did specifically disagreed with one of those points. That is allowed. That is neither sexism nor gatekeeping.

                  I do find that particular point important, because it reminds me situations where I was the most helpless regarding gender situation and which I found the most uncomfortable.

            1. disconnect*

              “This was not panel where interviewers are expected to present their points of view.”

              And yet strangely enough, their points of view affect their decision making! Crazy!

              1. Willis*

                Exactly! Sure, maybe they don’t express their point of view during the interview, but they definitely do discuss their opinion of you afterwards to make a hiring decision! I don’t get what this person was going for here…

              2. Andy*

                Yeah, but if they are able to make decision based on what I know about programming, I stand pretty good chance.

                If they are making decision based how they feel about me, I have lower chance. I women wrong – I am confident in my technical abilities and women should not be. I do not conform to stereotype of a skilled programmer either – that is supposed to be young male.

                So, having the choice between the two groups, I prefer if former make decision about me.

                1. Andy*

                  And to answer your snark: I don’t really care about their general views. I do need to be able to influence their opinion about me specifically and influence it in a way that makes me trust that I will be judged fairly if I am hired.

          2. SomebodyElse*

            It’s a bit chicken and egg though… if an industry is male dominated, at some point yes an all male panel is going to happen how else do you hire anyone? This will be true even for a company who is putting in a good faith effort to diversify. Add to that the company may be better represented by females as a whole, but this particular department isn’t (yet) does that still indicate sexism?

            For example my company has a 50/50 split of men and women on our executive management team and I would say leans a little bit more male farther down in the organization, but some orgs are heavier tilted toward male vs others. I happen to be in one of those orgs and would say it’s probably 75/25, whereas other departments will lean the other way (and not just HR). So people are going to have different interview panels depending on what role they are interviewing for.

            I’m not commenting on the OP’s opinion or perspective, instead this statement in particular that all-male panels are a problem. What would your solution be, grab random women at the company and plonk them on the panel without knowing what is needed for the role or the team?

            1. Qwerty*

              Women are not Legos! A mostly male panel with random women would be an even bigger problem for me, because I’d witness a bunch of men in charge and a woman who disconnected and/or didn’t get to speak. It would show that they didn’t value women.

              You are completely ignoring all of the other factors in this situation: the mansplaining, the low-ball offer, the entry-level position for someone with senior qualifications. The all male panel was just one indicator out of many. I am typically the first female engineer to join my companies and don’t think I have ever been interviewed by a woman. We aren’t lemmings who just follow where the other women are. I judge the company as a whole and by how they act in interviews and how I’m treated in the process. Maybe just believe women that we can tell when we are being treated with respect vs condescension?

            2. meyer lemon*

              If this team was actually interested in hiring women, they would probably not be so condescending and insulting to the women they interview.

        2. Cat Tree*

          No, it’s not 100% standard in tech. Some companies make huge efforts for diversity and do it in a correct, effective way. And others don’t. And the ones that don’t? Well, they tend to have other issues directly and indirectly related to their lack of diversity. I’ve worked at plenty of those places because I used to think I couldn’t expect better. I was almost always the token woman in the department.

          But now I’m at a company that values diversity and it’s such a different experience overall. Places that value diversity are more financially successful so I have better job stability too. It is absolutely possible for companies to do better (and for us to expect and demand better). But they have to do the actual work, and not just call in a token woman to have men explain her job to her.

        3. Beth*

          Any one of these, on their own, would be relatively weak as an indicator of bias. There could be an alternate explanation for most of them. It’s the confluence of all of them in one experience that really raises red flags.

          In terms of the all-male team, for example, it’s possible that happened *because* the industry is so male dominated! That legitimately happens, even in workplaces that will treat women decently. But in the context of the rest of this, it does raise a “They don’t have a single non-man on board? there might be a reason for that” flag to me.

        4. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The OP didn’t cite sexism solely because she was interviewed by an all-male team. That was one piece of context in a long litany of problems, and together they paint a pretty clear picture. It doesn’t make sense to take just one piece of that picture and say that one piece isn’t that bad; the point is the whole picture.

          I’m closing this subthread since it’s becoming derailing.

      5. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        This company reached out to her which implies they valued her experience yet offered her an entry level job (it’s not like the OP accidentally applied to an entry level role while clicking through the company website). The interviewers were also condescending during the interviews. Then the pay was pathetic (and like Beth pointed out, there was no acknowledgement to the disparity and they knew OP was coming from a strong situation since they reached out to her). That’s a lot of data points. This company wasted the OP’s time. Would they have done the same to a man?

        And that’s just the stuff that OP felt comfortable putting in a very short letter that would be shared on the internet. This stuff rarely happens in a vacuum.

    4. LDF*

      I don’t mean to pile on, but I want to point out that the “without other data points” bit – this IS a data point. Anyone reading glassdoor or whatever is free to draw their conclusions based on all the data at their disposal including OP’s honest experience among others. If women only bring up things up that are airtight double-blind-proven sexism then we won’t get very far in spotting trends of more subtle sexism.

      1. LDF*

        I meant to add, the impression that sexism was at play, specifically, is part of the experience, not just the details of the offer. Sometimes I’m treated rudely and I think “that guy was a jerk” and sometimes I think “that felt sexist” – quoting the words he said may not covey it on but my impression is still a observational data

    5. Myrin*

      The thing is, you’re saying yourself that “from what [OP] wrote, I don’t know if there is enough information”.
      So on the one hand, we have a 140 words-long letter to an advice columnist – that’s what we get to read.
      On the other hand, we have an all-day (!) interview with several people, including correspondence beforehand and afterwards – that’s what OP experienced herself, in her actual life.
      So, yeah, we might not have enough information, but OP definitely does, so I’d go out on a limb and say that her impression counts more.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        If I had to write out about the most sexist interview I ever went to (gotta love working in IT for software firms..) and keep it down to letter length I think the vast majority of commentators would probably be thinking in their heads ‘oh Keymaster is being paranoid again’.

        However, it was seriously sexist and if I did a full 4 page document on it people would see why. It’s the dogwhistle phenomenon where someone who isn’t affected can’t see the discrimination whereas the person in the thick of it is having their eardrums blasted out through their eye sockets.

      2. BethDH*

        Let’s also remember that the recommendation is to make a review at a place that is designed for subjective reviews. Presumably at this point most of us evaluate individual online reviews with a grain of salt. If I see one bad review of a company, I’ll still apply there but keep my eyes open during the interview. It’s not like she’s putting this in someone’s annual review.

        1. Reba*

          Yes, the OP is not thinking about taking a case to the Hague, there is no need to do this cross-examination with “is there sufficient evidence?” “wait, are you absolutely sure?” (this could really harm someone’s reputation, same train of thought to “ruin a man’s life”), especially when we are concerned with the *most* mild consequence of an online review.

      3. Reba*

        Thank you!!

        Also, the whole thing with pervasive, systemic sexism–it’s cumulative and often isn’t stated overtly. Plausible deniability. Rarely do people say out loud, “I’m giving you this crap offer because you’re a woman.” Chances are, most men wouldn’t even think that! That doesn’t mean that personal biases and structural inequalities don’t affect decisions!

    6. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I sort of agree that their sexism is a bit of a red herring and it’s jackassery no matter who the candidate is, but the plain truth is that it was directed towards a woman and that’s prima facie sexism.

      That said, I do agree with the suggestions that knowledge of their jackassery serves everyone, not just women, in future interactions.

      1. Green Snickers*

        Also worthwhile to point out that the advice isn’t to file a lawsuit or write an expose. It’s to write a Glassdoor review which people selectively filter out anyway. Pretty low stakes here

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Excellent point about not having to convince a lawyer just to post an opinion about a firm. Just as well really, because there’s several firms I’ve turned down because I got a really bad vibe off them but I couldn’t provide proof in a court of law or anything like that.

          (I can say the interviewer who picked his nose and ate it during the interview was seriously revolting, but I don’t want to have to show the actual bogey involved!)

      2. Willis*

        A Glassdoor review that OP experienced sexism in the interview process should already be information that serves everyone regardless of gender. The idea that the OP should instead write it as “general jackassery” so that men will give a shit is terrible.

        1. GothicBee*

          This. Anyone who sees a review that says “this company is sexist” and then just disregards it because “I’m a dude so it doesn’t apply to me” is probably sexist themselves. At that point, if they end up burned by the experience, that’s on them.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I don’t think I expressed my thoughts clearly in retrospect.

        The behavior is jackassery and everyone would benefit from reading about it on Glassdoor and the like whether it’s technically sexism or not. LW’s account provides ample details to support that it is sexism, so her labeling it sexist is apropos. Debating that is pointless at best.

    7. Cat Tree*

      “I hope this doesn’t come across as invalidating but [long-winded invalidation here]” is the new “I’m not racist but …” or “no offense but …”.

      If you have to start off with a disclaimer that your comment isn’t what it appears to be, maybe take that as a clue to think a little more about it before you type.

    8. Brett*

      The tip off for me was the all-day interview part.
      It’s really easy to have an interview where you spend a lot of time explaining the role if you only get 30-45 minutes. (We routinely have to hire contract roles with only that amount of time total across all interviews.)
      But an all day process? With absolutely no one asking technical questions or about experience? That’s too strange.

      (The salary is not unusual either right now. A lot of IT people got laid off during COVID and lowballing is really common even with a lot of open roles currently. Stock options are dying a rapid death as well, possibly hastened by the capital gains changes that are coming for extremely high earners in the US.)

    9. tamarack and fireweed*

      It is doubtlessly true that from a formal inference point of view we cannot know of the motivation of the interviewers. But I don’t see this as a reason to veer on the side of the benefit of the doubt.

      Especially given that a) they didn’t make any effort to *counteract* potential gender bias / sexism (only men on the team, topic not addressed) and b) the *effect* of this experience is to entrench sexist structures.

  7. Jessica*

    LW3, something that might be good to talk and think about with this employee is how she can gain experience in this job that will help her in her desired career path. You can’t give her promotion or more money, but you can give her learning and opportunities, and if you think together deliberately about that, maybe you both can maximize what she gets out of this position for however long she stays.

    1. Paris Geller*

      Yes, this was going to be my suggestion! I’ve been in your employee’s position before and I really value the opportunities I got. You have to be careful with it–on one hand, you don’t want to saddle her with advance-level work for her current title & salary, but there are small ways you can offer her opportunities, certain projects, etc., that can help her show her long-term career goals in the future.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Look for training opportunities; can you send her to conferences, pay for classes, etc.?

    2. tamarack and fireweed*


      I got weird mixed signals from #3 myself. The LW is going to be able to offer a conversation about which roles the employee would like to focus on following the upcoming reorg (new! exciting!) BUT doesn’t see much development options (downer!); the employee is at the bottom of the org chart BUT highly valued; the company has low turn-over and whole-career employees (good for long-term engagement!) BUT no opportunities to develop from the bottom rungs up.

      The kind of conversation Jessica is suggesting can help clarify the situation for the employee. But it sounded to me as if there is some scope for those who can influence how the organization develops their employees to re-think their attitudes. Ideally there *should* be paths for people, especially people with highly valuable skills, to get somewhere from the bottom of the org chart.

      I was in the situation a while back, when I got into the main European office of a US tech company on the bottom of the tech ladder. I quickly moved two small levels up. But what happened then is that the US leadership decided to centralize all tech other than the most junior (client-facing support engineers, some sales engineers) in the US and get rid of much of the opportunities for me. Ultimately I was laid off, but even if I hadn’t been it was clear that the only path forward would have been management, giving up tech contributions. Often companies like this one could think about decisions like these in terms of how they impact employee retention – it makes a huge difference if you hire junior tech support with an eye on offering to train them up in project management for example, to integrate them into a ladder they can move up on if they are inclined to.

  8. Bob*

    LW3: Take what you wrote to Alison and use it as an outline when explaining this situation to your employee.
    Its always appreciated when managers are upfront like you want to be.

    1. Mynona*

      Agree: be upfront about it and help the employee succeed even if that means they might leave for a better opportunity.

      I’m in my second term-limited position. My first manager was clear from the interview that there was no chance of permanent hire, but she did everything she could to help me line up my current job. And she knew that I might leave early if I found something permanent. In contrast, my current manager reprimanded me when he learned I was job searching because it shows that I “lack commitment” and then dangled the vague possibility of a future permanent hire, which I know is total bs. Don’t be that guy…

    2. Smithy*

      Absolutely agree with this.

      When staff are more junior, it’s often the hardest time to identify what a possible growth plan looks like. Explaining what those next step positions are, and why they won’t be found on your team (but might be found in another country or organization) is a huge gift. You can lay out what would make your own organization hire someone at more senior levels – what types of roles, experiences, other employers, that are most valuable to see on a resume.

      Also – I think it’s helpful to be really honest with yourself about what current work or potential work you can give your direct report that would genuinely improve their resume. It might be more work they manage themselves vs support on, it might be working on something high profile for your industry – but again, really be honest with what that would be. I often see professional development offerings to be more in the realm of classes or training, and less about assignments that genuinely would boost someone’s resume.

      If there is certification or classes that genuinely make a difference, it is fair to support on that. Additionally, if your organization provides tuition reimbursement and MA’s are truly necessary to obtain promotions – also flag that. But again, be really honest about what that means on resumes in your sectors.

  9. Bob*

    LW5: I suspect hold music options are part of whatever hardware package the company is using for their phone lines. Having called many entities there are many that use the exact same crummy background music.
    Frankly i wish there was a better option, choose a genre or use a radio station or something.

    1. Self Employed*

      That is definitely true for Cisco Systems hardware. There was a This American Life episode about their hold music.

      1. TiffIf*

        Oh I love This American Life! Though if I were on hold listening to This American Life, I would get frustrated at not being able to hear the rest of the story.

    2. H2*

      I’m sure there are issues with copyright. They can’t just use anything. There’s never going to be a lot of variety because they’re going to have to pay one way or another.

          1. Bob*

            Interestingly it was just music.
            Though i’m not big on Taylor Swift, not that i dislike her music but i have more eclectic tastes.

      1. TiffIf*

        I feel like someone could make some good money selling hold “music” that was public domain short stories.

    3. TastefullyFreckled*

      My Doctor’s office uses a radio station and it’s terrible. Not so much the selection of station ( a local soft rock station ), but the reception is terrible, and the volume is too low. I can barely hear it some times.

  10. Aphrodite*

    A million blessings and good wishes to companies that tell you how long the wait time might be and provide the option for you to leave your number for them to call you back. T-Mobile, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that! No waiting, no rotten music, no horrible “we’re so great” messages every thirty seconds. Just leave a number and we’ll call you when your place in line comes up.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah. Even better when they get your number off caller-ID and you don’t have to give it.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Orbitz has that, but when they’ve called me back, I still had to listen to five minutes of hold music!

      1. Gumby*

        Yes, that is annoying. But I would still rather listen to 5 minutes of hold music at the start of a call back than listen to that 5 minutes *plus* the 45 minutes between then and when I originally called.

        This only works if they absolutely do call you back though. I definitely have had at least one experience when the return call never materialized.

    3. EmmaPoet*

      Kaiser has this option and I use it all the time. It makes it a lot easier not to be crabby when I haven’t had to listen to fifteen minutes of awful canned music interspersed with reminders that I can contact them online.

  11. Sam*

    Sometimes, at my workplace, two of our internal hold systems seem to collide. Nothing like being told “Thanks fo – ‘We want to thank you for your patience’ – r holding!”. It’s mostly the IT department, which probably says *something.*

    1. SaeniaKite*

      I was once in a phone queue that told you which number you were, only someone hadn’t figured out how to put the number where it should be. It told me ‘you are number ___ in the queue. SEVEN’ with the actual number being louder and in a different voice!

      1. Chas*

        I had to call the hospital recently and they had a system like that (except with the number in the correct place), but it kept telling me I was number 5 in the queue the entire time I was waiting, even right before my call was picked up.

        1. TootsNYC*

          that reminds me of Home Depot’s “order online for store pickup” system that told me there were 5 left of anything and everything. I get to the store, and it’s not there, and a guy in the aisle tells me, “We haven’t carried that for a couple of years now.”

  12. Unfettered scientist*

    Worse than hold music is when you get an ad for the website or other services every 30 seconds. Ugh, my bank did this and it’s soooo annoying. No one would call the number if they could get what they wanted from the website, I guarantee you.

    As a side note, the EAP call center worker Alison interviewed mentioned “warm transfers” and wow this only happened to me once on a call and I cannot express enough how much better that was than call waiting music and explaining my situation to yet another person who can’t help.

    1. Chas*

      Bonus annoyance points when it’s your ISP’s tech support that keep telling you ‘you should try our website!’ Well I WOULD but your service isn’t working so I CAN’T!

    1. AcademiaNut*

      If the music is under copyright, they’d have to get permission and pay royalties to use it. The same is true for music played over the loudspeakers in shops or at restaurants. I suspect there are companies that sell generic hold music for just this reason.

      1. AnalystintheUK*

        In the UK at least you can buy a performing rights license for loudspeakers in shops/bars/restaurants, which then covers you for certain types of music or performance (e.g. a radio license won’t let you have love music performed but does let you play music in store etc.). I believe there’s something similar for hold music but don’t know if this is the case in the rest of the world.

        1. mreasy*

          Yep! The performance license for hold music will be included in the fee the phone service charges (and they most likely license it from another service). There is an episode of This American Life from 2014 about the hold music used in Cisco systems, and how it was created by a system designer’s high school friend, which I highly recommend.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      I bet this is part of the reason!

      The other part is that people have varying tastes in music, and companies would rather make all of us a little annoyed than offend/infuriated one segment of their customer base. They will often choose something very bland figuring that it’s better for listeners to say “ugh, more gloopy classical music” than “HOW DARE YOU PLAY [insert artist/genre here]!”

      That said, the funniest hold music I ever heard was when I realized the whole track was slowed down orchestral versions of rock and pop tunes. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Born in the USA” played as if it were an elegant classical work.

      1. Bagpuss*

        One of the places being used as a vaccine centre here at the moment is Salisbury cathedral. They had their organist playing to the people queueing, and while they started out with a programme of ‘soothing music – mostly Bach and Pachabel, apparently they were also taking requests from people queueing for vaccines, so branched out to music from films, well known songs of the 1940s etc. So some people got to be vaccinated to the sound of ‘ I do like to be beside the seaside’, played in an 800 year old cathedral on a 200 year old pipe-organ!

        I seem to remember that another cathedral organist (St Albans, possibly) played ‘Life on MArs’ as a ribute when David Bowie died.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          Recently, Yo-Yo Ma played an impromptu solo concert at his local vaccination site in Western Massachusetts.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        There’s a hilarious scene about music in the cult French film Intouchables. It’s about a rich guy in a wheelchair who hires a black guy from a rough neighbourhood to help with all the stuff he could no longer do for himself. The rich guy is playing classical music and his assistant admits to knowing nothing about it. Until they put on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and then he exclaims “oh right yeah everyone knows that one: ‘You have reached the job centre, hold the line please, an agent will be available shortly. Estimated waiting time two years'”
        (He then goes on to put on some of his favourite music and does a very slick dance routine to Boogie Wonderland)

    3. Sylvan*

      I bet there’s Muzak made especially for people on hold.

      (Okay, actually, I just Googled this. Muzak is called Mood Media now, and they do make a ton of hold music. So why doesn’t it have the same vibe as elevator or grocery store music?)

  13. PspspspspspsKitty*

    LW 1 – A good way to look at it is that personality/soft people skills are also part of the job. They were miscast because they had the wrong attitude and it greatly affected a lot of people. In fact, I would argue that they probably didn’t get as much done at their job as you may think because being a jerk really does hurt a lot of people. Half of my work relies on my good work relationships which turn into quick work. Jerks don’t get a high priority because they make my life a living hell anyways. It kills motivation, lowers morale, and everyone usually wants to avoid the jerk. I try to limit my interaction with them as much as possible.
    I mean, we all want justice when we had to work for that kind of jerk so I understand wanting to say something to them.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I’ll argue that there actually is a time to say something to the jerk, for the reasons you and so many others have shared. Their attitudes directly affect the team and work output. That time is during a pre-performance review, or even a regularly scheduled 1:1 meeting with the team member. Managers need to call out and help coach appropriate behaviors, just as they talk about anyother work deliverables, needs, or issues. The discussions and improvement plans should be documented, and the employee should get feedback and support.

      If the poor behavior continues? Well, it won’t be pleasant firing the person, but the manager can take some comfort knowing they called out the behavior and tried to adjust it.

      1. Firecat*


        It’s disappointing how often a soft skill gap is seen as irreversible, part of their core personality, etc. So the manager either never brings it up, or worse, hold onto a bunch of minor issues until they are fed up and have a blow up reaction.

        I’m astounded at the patience and grace afforded to folks who have no computer skills whatsoever (literally just came from a bank where a woman used white out and a typewriter instead of their contract software) and clearly don’t want to learn or else they would have by now – yet someone comes off a little awkwardly and they are irredeemable and untrainable.

        Ironically the places I’ve worked that labeled certain folks, mainly women, as jerks had far worse jerks as managers to boot.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          ‘It’s disappointing how often a soft skill gap is seen as irreversible, part of their core personality, etc. So the manager either never brings it up, or worse, hold onto a bunch of minor issues until they are fed up and have a blow up reaction.’

          Yep. I’ve had jerks report to me, and I know I can’t change someone’s personality or make them kinder people. Telling my direct reports how I expect them to behave, even if they roll their eyes about it, is part of being a manager. Being rude or insulting is never appropriate, and I can tell my team they must speak and act respectfully no matter how they feel. And yeah, I know they’re going to gripe about me, but I’m okay with it if they stop insulting their co-workers.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I once blew the mind of a manager when I pointed out that our colleague was not just making people angry and hurting morale, but that he was hurting productivity by slamming work down in front of people and stomping around angrily.

      I pointed out that every time he did that, the people he targeted would spend 15 minutes self-soothing, or venting to someone else who also got upset.
      No one had ever drawn that connection for him.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I didn’t bother telling my manager as I was already the most productive worker (yet the others got bonuses for staying late).

  14. Filicophyta*

    One problem is that employers never call their own public number. The hold music was probably set years and years ago and they don’t realize how bad it has become, with clicks, squeals, and scratches, and jags at the looping point.

    If you have a business or organization, please call your customer service number and listen for ten or twenty (or thirty) minutes!

    1. 911 Operator*

      This is a great point.

      Somewhat related: at my 911 center, if your call is not answered after 10 seconds or so (because all emergency calltakers are already on a call) you go into queue and I honestly have no idea what that sounds like. I certainly don’t want to call while it’s busy to see. Possibly it just rings? I can’t imagine anything would make a wait less disconcerting. Who wants to hear “your call is important to us” when having a true emergency.

      Now I know what I’m asking our phones person about tomorrow!

      1. Lily*

        When I had to call emergency service (Germany), they had a flat “you have called emergency services. Stay in the line” and while it was not terrible, I could imagine it being confusing for elderly people who might think it’s a mailbox or something?

      2. Watry*

        At LastJob we frequently had to call nonemergency dispatch lines, which shared hold recordings with the regular 911 lines. Most were just “please stay on the line” messages, but one high-call area in Florida looped messages about reporting gang activity, reminders that if you were robbed to just give them whatever it was, etc.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Every once in a while I’ll call an office with hold music being played form some kind of looping cassette. It’s like I’m calling 1985! Time has worn down parts of the music so it’s just static jumbles mixed with silence. It really says a lot about a company if they don’t care that that is the first impression a customer receives.

    3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Yeah, sometimes when I’m at working listening to awful scratchy hold music, I wonder what ours sound like. I have no idea, since I’m always on the wrong end of the line. I’ve never been bored enough to call in on my cell and put myself on hold.

    4. Lacey*

      Yup! For some reason I had to call my office one day and I realized that our hold music was super scratchy and popped in and out. It was a digital phone service, so it was something to do with that. I think we just turned the music off for a while after that.

    5. Threeve*

      Once, a (not-very-tech-savvy) executive called into one of our webinars and then promptly put the meeting on hold. Everyone in the organization got to enjoy several minutes of our hold music. This was before anyone in my org was really familiar with webinar software, so none of the other executives knew how to mute him.

      1. BadWolf*

        This used to happen on our phone conference calls. We didn’t have hold music, it did this beep/tone every minute. So suddenly your meeting had to deal with that every minute. And of course telling everyone to go on mute was useless because the offender wasn’t listening. Once in awhile, they’d restart the call. Eventually, we got some more controls and could mute all the lines and/or have the operator figure it out.

    6. Nessun*

      A long time ago, I was a receptionist, and I once got a call from our head office, asking if we played hold music on our local main line. I didn’t know, had to go looking to see if anyone knew, and when I came back and took her off hold it suddenly clicked what I’d done and all I said into the receiver was “So….did you hear music?” I felt like a complete idiot, but it was funny (and I could also confirm for her that no one in the local office had set up any hold music or marketing recordings, since I’d wandered around and asked while she was on hold!).

  15. John Smith*

    #5. I remember a ten second excerpt of Beethoven’s Ninth (4th movement) – performed on what I think was a toy piano – which looped continuously without a pause. That was actual torture and I’m sure the company did it on purpose.

    Biggest peeve are the glib interruptions about how important my call is and how hard staff are working to answer. A suitable response in most cases would be “not very” judging by the amount of time I’m on hold or in a queue.

    1. SarahKay*

      From my sister’s experience of working in a call centre, I think the staff are actually working very hard indeed, probably with targets for number of calls, shortness of calls, etc.
      The problem is that you’re spot on about how important your call is to the *org*, so the poor staff on the front line answering the calls are under-staffed, under-trained, under-paid, and over-pressured.

    2. NeonFireworks*

      What I do for my organization is basically audio engineering, and you can imagine what I think about the line from a different department that has hold music which is the well known movement of Beethoven’s ‘Pathétique’ sonata except you only get about half of each beat before it cuts to a brief silence. I’m not an expert on phone acoustics but I don’t even know how this happened.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      There used to be an ice-cream truck that drove around the neighborhood where we went to church, that only played the first two bars (yes, only two) of “The Entertainer”. OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN. You could actually see people making irritated faces during services.

      1. Jaydee*

        NO! At a bare minimum you need 4 bars of that song. Clearly your congregation’s faith was strong if no one ran out of that church and destroyed the sound system on the truck.

    4. Elenna*

      “Your call is very important to us. That’s why we failed to hire and train enough staff to actually get to your call in a timely manner. Also, we’re lying liars who lied, we actually don’t care about you at all.”

  16. Darren*

    #4. The whole story reads as a terrible place to work that I wouldn’t want to work out because it sounds like they are absolutely terrible at Diversity.

    It reads like someone decided that more Diversity (in a likely heavily male dominated team) was needed (this is good).

    They had someone (probably HR) search around LinkedIn to find some highly skilled people that they could attempt to head hunt (also good).

    They then put this person through their standard interviewing and the reason for the lack of diversity became very apparent the interviewers didn’t really give you a chance to show off your abilities, likely gave middling feedback up the chain resulting in a extremely disappointing offer (which is terrible).

    You then explained exactly why you weren’t taking the offer, which is the point at which the person pushing for the Diversity in the first place should really have realised something went terribly wrong with the interview process, apologised, and made it clear they were taking actions to actually fix their broken hiring pipeline (where at least some if not most of the interviewers are actively negatively impacting the organisations ability to hire diverse talent).

    1. Retail Not Retail*

      With this interpretation – them looking to diversify – what does it say that during an all day interview they didn’t have one woman involved at all? They couldn’t even manage the bare optics! My current job is a mess, but I went on a tour and saw my future coworkers. They weren’t like “part” of the interview, but I saw them! One woman asked my boss a question! Women existed!

      They couldn’t be bothered to trot out the one woman on the team? I would have asked at this point in my sad career – and i have! I’ve gotten different responses but it’s always been educational. (“How many women are on the team? How many women are usually on your seasonal staff?”)

      1. Andy*

        Most likely, they were not intentionally looking for diversity. Possibly they were not looking for senior at all. I have seen interviews in a company where hr wanted to hire people, but engineers either did not wanted or wanted entirely different people (think “we need backend/database person” while hr insist on sending front end engineers we are overflowing with).

        For the record, that is not in opposition to sexism vibes op got. The two can coexist easily. But the assumptino people in the comments have about them looking for diversity are really out of nowhere. There is nothing to suggest diversity.

        1. Retail Not Retail*

          I don’t think they were looking for diversity either, I just think they were absolutely ignorant of the optics of NO women involved in an all day interview. They can still be super sexist even while doing that of course, but they didn’t manage the bare minimum.

          1. Andy*

            I don’t know … I am woman in tech and I don’t particularly find it on itself as too bad optic. Depending on how many people I met I guess. Being the only woman in the room is something I am used to.

            Also, them having to call people who normally don’t do hiring just because of my gender is not in my benefit in any way. Women are not all that much less sexist then men either. They express sexism differently in my experience, but they are not less likely to underestimate me.

            So for me, the biggest red flag is when non-technical people have too much say. And when it is primary technical people having say, I see it as good sign for myself. A woman not being on higher up position in any team would be red flag, but she really does not have to go on interviews nor has to be involved in my team. There being no women entirely would also be bad signal, assuming I have seen enough people.

            1. Colette*

              Yeah, in my experience, women are at most 25% of tech teams. And they’re likely interviewing multiple people, so either some people are interviewed by all men, or the women don’t do technical work, they just do the interviews. (Personally, I’d rather have the women interview male candidates.)

            2. DataSci*

              I’m a woman in tech and the flip side of this is asking the smaller number of women on your team to be on a larger share of the panel interviews. If you have a team of seven men and one woman, and need four slots for your interview, the only way to make sure there’s always a woman involved is to ask the same person – the one woman – to be at EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW while the guys get to do every other one. Which is also sexist, placing more of a burden of support-type tasks on women while the guys get to do more of their actual jobs.

              1. Colette*

                Yeah, exactly. It sounds good until you realize you’re stopping women from doing the technical work that will advance their careers.

          2. Lady Meyneth*

            My current (engineering) company is the most inclusive environment I’ve ever worked in. My grandboss is a black man, the president for our country is a woman (and a young one at that), the man/woman and white/POC ratios are better than I’ve ever seen anywhere including college, and for the first time ever I haven’t experienced any sexism/racism from anyone, even lowkey.

            My interviewing panel was still 6 white men (though one explained they were subbbing for a female boss who’d had an emergency). It didn’t raise any red flags for me – in tech, we mostly just assume that’s how it goes.

            1. Lady Meyneth*

              I meant to add, I in no way mean what OP experienced wasn’t sexism and she’s just overreacting. Quite the contrary! Women in tech are used to and expect mostly male interviewer and even an occasional unpleasant remark, so the bar for us to presume sexism is actually quite high. If OP got that vibe, odds are the sexism was pretty blatant.

              1. H2*

                I’m a female engineer, and I 100% agree with you, on both of your points. I wouldn’t take it as a red flag if I were interviewed by all men, but if a female engineer felt that this particular group was being sexist, they were being sexist.

      2. introverted af*

        I have a a female friend who works in a less diverse company, and frankly she hates being “trotted out for interviews” or the pic for a diversity initiative or things like that. Her job isn’t great, or terrible for that matter, it’s just a job, but that’s also not necessarily the answer.

      3. Arvolin*

        It could be that the department, for some reason, has no women in it. I’ve worked in one or two like that. And, if that’s how they interview women, I can understand why it might be all-male.

    2. Nicotene*

      I just saw a twitter thread on this, in which a woman was accidentally forwarded an email from her own recruiter noting that “she’s diversity” so they should pitch her to X and Y role even though she’s overqualified. It was pretty gross. That may be what happened to OP tho. They never intended to hire her, just improve their interviewing stats.

  17. AeroEngineer*

    #3, I am currently that employee at my current company. My manager was extremely up front with me, which I very much appreciated (even though I already had a feeling it was so). We had a very long discussion on what I want, and I told him honestly what I types of positions I would leave the company for, and what I wanted, if anything, from my current company, and he was honest on what the situation was at my current company. He is/was in the exact same position as you, and it was comforting for me to know that I didn’t have to hide what I wanted to do and that I was looking for external positions in a specific field.

    He then went to bat for me and got me onto another team that while my official position is still the same on paper, my work itself requires more accuracy and is higher risk (“first time right”) and I am able to learn and drastically further my skills. So I am content where I am until I can find a position in the career I want to be in (the positions come very very rarely), and even my manager is looking out for positions in that field for me and introducing me to people who might be helpful.

    So in short, be honest, be supportive, and be receptive to what your employee wants.

  18. Juniper*

    I’m struggling with this part of your answer, Alison: “While there are no job where it’s okay to be an asshole, there are jobs where it matters more and jobs where it matters less. (Jobs where it matters less might be jobs with almost no interaction with others or jobs in companies that don’t care about jerks.) ”

    Even if a company doesn’t care about jerks, I can’t think of a role so siloed off that you won’t end up at some point interacting with other people. And people care about having to deal with jerks. I see the issue of assholes as more of a moral question than a business management one. I’m sure there are jobs where someone can be successful despite being an asshole, but the litmus test for treating people correctly shouldn’t be the degree to which your company accepts the mistreatment of others. So to get back your reply about this person being miscast — can someone simply be perpetually miscast until they themselves find it in themselves to change? Or can someone be so brilliant at their job that it makes business sense to overlook the way they treat others? And if so, how do you determine where that line is?

    I agree with your advice, btw, but it’s an interesting ethical dilemma.

    1. Liz*

      I agree with the spirit of this, but I think in truth there are genuinely some companies where being a jerk is beneficial. There will be some places (probably money driven, high adrenaline environments) where having a thick skin and little patience are part of the “go getter” culture. People who don’t like dealing with that will self select out. People who don’t care will get on just fine or even thrive.

      And remember, even jerks will usually have a very good idea of when to turn on the charm. They will be polite and courteous, or even friendly, to their clients and bosses, then turn around and chew out their workers. Some of those workers will leave, but others will stick it out because they want to be the boss some day because then THEY will get to chew people out and feel superior. And the big bosses like it that way. They think of it as motivation.

      Personally though, I would not do well in such an environment. At all.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        That sounds anything but beneficial. It sounds toxic and dysfunctional. Yeah, those places exist, but I’d love to see them become extinct.

        1. Liz*

          I’d agree that it’s toxic and dysfunctional, but within that environment, jerks can benefit from their jerkiness by playing the game while many other folks would bail. Personally, I’d select out of there so fast you wouldn’t see me for dust, but I guess socially and financially, these kinds of businesses must be succeeding at some level or they wouldn’t survive. And as long as such places exist, jerk types will continue to be drawn to them, and stick around – and continue to be the focus of letters to AAM to which the only answer is “get out, your office is full of bees”.

        2. Apples*

          It isn’t toxic if nobody is being harmed by it, surely? Some people ENJOY such an environment. There has to be somewhere for people who like competition, game-playing and ‘jerkery’ to work at! Maybe such people think that polite, considerate workplaces are toxic and dysfunctional. From their perspective the company and its workers are passing up business/advantages by wasting time on pleasantries and not being aggressive enough. Who’s right? That’s why I like the idea of thinking people are just not a good fit rather than ‘jerks’.

        3. JSPA*

          Not everyone is the same, psychologically!

          It’s horrible if people feel forced to work at a place like that, or end up there by accident. But to decide, “what doesn’t work for me is harmful for everyone” is really problematic.

          You clearly intend for everyone to have better experiences in life, and that’s great. You (reasonably, in my view) also want the social capital and fiscal capital of those sorts of workplaces to be diminished. Agreed.

          But you’re also literally saying, “someone has to become more like me, and thrive on what I thrive on, to be worthy of having a job.” That part…isn’t great.

          There’s not only one way to be a good human being, an adequate human being, a human being who gets to feel comfortable in a workplace! I don’t want to mess up the thread, but this is roughly parallel to the concept, “not all good sex has to be soft focus and rose petals.”

          In all aspects of life: really, really different experiences are home, hearth and heart to different people. And that’s not just OK, it’s essential.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        I immediately thought of sales. Things are shifting in the world of sales, but there are plenty of old school businesses that want jerks to trick and lie their ways into contracts. And if the jerks can bring in sales, then they can treat the whole office like garbage. Executives only care about the money coming in.
        So, so happy that I don’t have to work in those places anymore.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I agree with the spirit of this, but I think in truth there are genuinely some companies where being a jerk is beneficial.

        And some roles. Anyone who works downstream of Sales that doesn’t have an asshole mode is going to be left holding the bag at my company. And the only thing in the bag will be a pink slip.

      4. Managing to Get By*

        Being a jerk is something that has been valued in sales people in some industries (including the one I’ve worked in), even though it’s not really an advantage. The biggest advantage I’ve seen these sales jerks have is that they are not hesitant to tell everyone how great they are, which causes people to overestimate their value to the firm. Even if one of them is able to bring in a big sale, the impact they have on the overall team reduces the team’s success in a way that I’ve never seen the sales jerk overcome with their own results.

        One thing I like about the company I’m at now is that they have specific guidelines on how they want their sales people to approach their job and interact with clients, based on what has been shown to produce strong overall results, and they intentionally hire a strong team and state that they do not want to hire “stars”. Whoever developed this methodology had probably seen enough of how one “star player” jerk can demotivate the rest of the team to understand they need depth and breadth more than one self-aggrandizing a-hole.

    2. Lych*

      I think you are right, but I also think it is very helpful to frame it in the way of being miscast in your mind. That will make it a lot easier to stay civil and compassionate when firing this person.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        it is very helpful to frame it in the way of being miscast in your mind

        Yes, exactly. There are probably some people who are legitmately uncaring and would always be jerks if they could get away with it. But as a manager, you have a very limited view into someone’s circumstances and motives. If we don’t want to be assholes ourselves, it’s best to offer the benefit of the doubt while still setting boundaries (eg: feedback, then a PIP, then a firing, then a reference that is honest about the strengths/weakness — not assuming anything about how they might be in future roles).

        We can’t take up the mantle of preventing assholes without corrupting ourselves, IMO.

      2. Juniper*

        I don’t disagree that the key is to stay compassionate and civil! I truly believe that the easiest way to not be affected by the jerks of this world is to treat them with dignity and respect.

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Eh, I think this is tough, because ‘asshole’ is in the eye of the beholder. What is percieved as arrogant, for example, can vary a lot in different cultures and environments. We also all have different interpersonal skills that come out in different ways. Some people can make remarkable instructors, for example, working very patiently with novices on a topic, but others struggle with that. Some people are very tolerant of the general public, but lots of people are…not.

      I once knew an IT guy who moved from working on client support (where he acted like a jerk) to working on more structural projects where he only collaborated with other IT people….and he did much better. Another reason to tread carefully is that there are major cultural differences in this regard — both between nationalities/regions and between industries.

      I think a lot of this can come down to fundamental attribution error: when we look back on times in our life when we were withdrawn or short with people, we often see the circumstances that led to feeling unsupported, defensive and alone. We don’t think we’re assholes. But for any adult, there are probably a handful of times that we’ve come across that way.

      1. Juniper*

        A lot of what you say rings true. I definitely see how the way someone’s personality comes off can be situational. It’s why I hate it when some A-list celebrity is called out for being rude simply because they were short with a fan, when all they were trying to do was order some coffee in peace. And living and working in Scandinavia, I’ve experienced frustration with the expat community for labeling all natives as cold, arrogant, and unfriendly, when in reality we’re simply more reserved, introverted, and insular.

        I think this is where it’s helpful to try to define what being a jerk actually means. I would argue that it’s not simply the lack of something (so the lack of friendliness, warmth, or openness) but also the addition of something else: contempt, dismissiveness, disrespect, judgement, meanness etc. All of your examples seem to fall in the former category. Having a bad day (or even a bad year), or acting like an asshole in a moment of weakness, or having a certain type of personality, doesn’t necessarily make someone a jerk. Being an asshole is more about a character deficiency that is not situational. So while the cultural aspect cannot be dismissed, it’s also not defining (and I say that as someone who comes from a culture that would score pretty poorly on the “jerk index”)

        I think probably what it comes down to is how we label the people around us. Very few people are likely true jerks, but are more misinterpreted in the mold of the examples you gave above. It would be helpful for us to be more generous in our interpretation of their behavior. But sometimes behavior cannot be explained away by situation, or culture, or personality, and it’s those that I’m struggling with.

        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Interesting that you mentioned Scandinavia, because I was thinking of my Mom, who raised me in the US but is from there originally — she is often percieved as cold in the US.

          I broadly agree with your definition of jerk, but I cannot agree that managers and workplaces should be arbitrators of those moral qualities. All those qualities you mention, such as contempt or dismissiveness or disrespect, are still judged within an unobjective mileu. We might think we’re seeing dismissiveness where really we’re seeing distraction. We might think we’re seeing disrespect where really we’re seeing doubt.

          If managers position themselves as someone who can judge the motives of an employee, rather than just their performance — I worry those managers are apt to become jerks themselves.

          1. Juniper*

            Oh, I get that too when I’m visiting the U.S. I find people to be over-the-top sweet, to the point that it can strike me as fake and insincere. So your point about perspective is well-taken!

            I see what you’re saying, and I agree with the challenge of coming to some sort of consensus when evaluating so-called jerkish behavior. I suppose I guess I have been on the receiving end of enough instances of indisputably jerky behavior to believe that sometimes it is cut-and-dry. To give just one example: I worked with someone who spread (made-up) rumors about me, sabotaged working relationships, actively tried to cut me out of any type of social situation (the environment described in letter 2 isn’t too far off base, so a sense of community was key to overall well-being), and undermined any attempt to coordinate with her team. Looking back, the extent to which this person played the role of high school mean girl in a high-stakes professional environment was almost comical. Was she homesick? Yes, definitely. Was she unhappy with her own job? Maybe. Is it possible to make a moral judgement about her behavior? I’d argue so, yes. And I struggle to imagine in what context the behaviors she displayed could be chalked up to an attribution error, to borrow your words from above. That doesn’t make her an irredeemably bad person, but it did make her a jerk.

            Because morals are determined, by default, by the groups within which they occur, I would say that a workplace can in fact be an arbiter. Most workplaces are generally in alignment with the wider social mores of where they operate, so I do believe managers should, and must, make these types of judgement calls when it starts impacting the office culture. In fact, I don’t know that I would want a manager that only judged by performance — if there’s anything I’ve learned from AMA is that being successful at work is so much more than hitting performance metrics.

      2. Smithy*

        I think this is really fair – and it also brings to mind the fact that often when people are stressed, a lot of coping mechanisms aren’t the best. Whether that’s being short, snapping, using a raised voice, making face-saving statements that might not be true or kind, etc.

        And while it might be easier to see someone as being high stress when they’re not doing well – a lot of people experience more stress when they have roles/duties that are a bad fit. Those tasks might be working on a more extroverted/collaborative team or other soft requirements where it’s easier to see someone as being a jerk as opposed to simply struggling to do their job.

        I have a colleague with a calendar that terrifies me – it’s basically ten hours a day of back to back meetings. If you have meeting #4 or #10 with her that day, you can be sympathetic to how overwhelming it is – while also expecting her to come with an overall professional attitude. Now she’s good at her job, so you never feel like you’re her 50th meeting of the day – but I could see how someone would do all of her other tasks well, but be really brusk and disrespectful on those meeting.

    4. Well...*

      I’m pretty hesitant to broadly classify a person as completely unable to contribute to society in any way.

      Some behavior may never be acceptable in any workplace, but this person may only be exhibiting that behavior at this point in time in this workplace. I would argue you can still frame it as a fit problem–maybe under different conditions the jerk side won’t come out or will undergo some combination of both softening and fitting in with a different work culture better. Jerkness can be a downward spiral, and a change of job may interrupt it.

      1. Juniper*

        That’s not at all what I said, so I’m curious — from what part of my answer did you pick up such a sweeping statement?

        I focused on the part of Alison’s reply where she said that a better fit for jerks would be in a company that doesn’t care about jerks. And I would argue that even if a “company” doesn’t care about jerks, there are likely still people in that company that would mind. But perhaps they can change for the better depending on the circumstances. Perhaps company culture values a thick-skin and take-no-prisoners attitude. Perhaps their jerkness is precisely what makes them successful in that role. I don’t have an easy answer, but I’m reluctant to say that any of the above cancels out a long pattern of asshole behavior.

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

      can someone be so brilliant at their job that it makes business sense to overlook the way they treat others?


      And if so, how do you determine where that line is?

      Typically if they are a ‘rainmaker’ type that generates enough business for the company even taking into account turnover of people who can’t work with the ‘brilliant jerk’, or if they have some political or similar reason (know where the skeletons etc) the company keeps them when someone else doing the same behaviour would have been fired.

      1. Juniper*

        Thanks! It’s interesting to see how the replies so far have leaned heavily toward the situational aspect of being a jerk. I like how your reply takes their jerkess at face value and makes a defense for why it might be tolerated!

      2. PersephoneUnderground*

        I agree that this happens, but think this is exactly the situation where it becomes a moral issue.

        “Rainmakers” have gotten away with things as serious as pervasive sexual harassment or even assault for years because of this kind of attitude. And how many people would have outperformed them if they hadn’t been chased out by the supposed brilliant rainmaker? We’ll never know. There’s also the extremely dangerous line of thinking in many fields that jerks must be brilliant or they would have been fired, so they don’t get fired when they should (even if they’re not, in fact, brilliant). I’m kinda repeating the entire argument behind the no asshole rule here, but I don’t think it’s morally right to say that the practices you describe should exist. Maybe they currently do, but they suck, and if someone really has a problem the solution isn’t that they’d be a good fit if they found a company where people would put up with their *@$_&, the solution is that they should fix how they interact with people.

        So “miscast” is a stretch- they’re failing at a basic job skill of interacting with others. Maybe for OP, framing it like failing at any other skill would be a kind way to reframe the approach to this firing that’s more accurate than “miscast”.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think this is missing the context of that statement, which was whether the OP can see this person as miscast in their role.

      I said there are jobs where being a jerk matters more and jobs where it matters less, but there is no job where it’s okay to be a jerk. I think that’s indisputable — there are companies that care less than others and so this person would be less miscast there than at the company they’re at, which does care more.

      1. twocents*

        And depending on the culture, in other companies, he may not even be perceived as a jerk.

      2. Juniper*

        Thanks for the reply and the clarification, Alison. I guess the thing that leaves me feeling uneasy is that even if they’re at a company that cares less about something like this, it will still be someone’s problem to deal with. But I do take your point, and a lot of commenters are sharing examples of jobs where being a jerk is useful and or/acceptable.

        1. Juniper*

          I should add — also examples where being a jerk was situational, which I think is an important piece.

        2. Firecat*

          I dunno if this will help you…but I was perceived as a jerk by many at my last job. At my current job I’m seen as one of the most gracious and polished team members.

          My personality and morals didn’t change between jobs.

          At old job, it was an unspoken rule that, let’s say the Surgeons, were above reproach. Im not that kind of person and I demand a certain level of professionalism in my dealings. I also don’t pick up on unwritten rules tok easily, but even if I had in this case I probably wouldn’t have changed my approach. If a surgeon became irate or started hurling insults I’d say something like “it sounds like this may not be a good time to have this discussion. give me a call when you are feeling up to it.” and leave.

          But since surgeons are infallible and I broke that illusion I was the problem. That’s not to say I didn’t step in horse hooey from time to time. I think every human can come off negatively by mistake here and there. But my occasional missteps were not tolerated and never forgiven. Literally I worked their for 5 years and would have a mistake like -“you were not helpful” referring to the time 6 months into the role that I politely put a finger up when a surgeon came to interrupt me while I was on the phone with (ironically another surgeon). That was seen as unhelpful, dismissive etc. And was in my performance review for 5 years!

          So yes. Jerk can be in the eye of the beholder and someone whose mannerisms rub everyone at company A wrong can be perfectly content at Company B. I also don’t think that k here rly means Company A or B is “better”. I certainly new of lots of folks who hated the company I went to and much preferred the place I left.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I dunno if this will help you…but I was perceived as a jerk by many at my last job. At my current job I’m seen as one of the most gracious and polished team members.

            My personality and morals didn’t change between jobs.

            Likewise, but my tale is more mundane. I just started working for NYC/Long Island ex-patriots.

          2. Junior Dev*

            I’m leaving a job where I think I am legitimately becoming a jerk, because things are so frustrating and people are condescending in a “polite” way, and I have found myself becoming impatient or snapping at people even if they aren’t the cause of the stress. In a past job it was even worse — there were systemic problems that made it impossible to get anything done, I would be blamed for not getting anything done, my response was to criticize people and get into arguments and then that made everything worse.

            I am not usually like this. I try my best to be kind and patient with people. I have learned that if something about my job makes it consistently hard to treat people well, I need to leave.

    7. Worldwalker*

      I have read speculation that one reason so many surgeons are jerks is that a nice person would not cope well with cutting into people on a daily basis; it’s a job where empathy could destroy you.

      1. pancakes*

        As someone who’s been cut into quite a few times, I think there can be a lot of empathy in, say, skillfully removing cancerous tumors.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My first thought was “night shift at a cemetery”, but this is so much better.

        As long as there is only one lighthouse keeper. I saw the movie The Lighthouse about what happens when you add a second one. Not good!

    8. I'm just here for the cats*

      Long haul truck driver, Deep sea fisherman, night janitor. I know people in 2 of these jobs that were jerks, but they didn’t have much interaction with people so it wouldn’t matter.

      1. Sue*

        I know someone who has a long history of being a jerk and not getting along with others- family, spouses, work colleagues and bosses. Despite extensive education, they were let go from numerous jobs both corporate and in academia. I remember saying years ago that they should sell real estate, very self-directed and requires mostly short term relationships which have never been the problem, initial impressions are generally very good. Now, decades later very successful..selling real estate! I don’t want to disparage real estate professionals but it has worked out for this problematic personality.

    9. meyer lemon*

      It may also be worth considering that some jobs will bring out the jerk in some people. Not that it’s okay to be a jerk toward your colleagues, but if you’re constantly stressed, overworked and stretched thin, you might be snappier and less patient than in a more supportive environment. Or some people might not be able to handle working in a chatty open-plan office where they’re constantly distracted. I’m sure we all have certain working conditions that don’t bring out our best qualities.

      To me, the fundamental message is that firing someone shouldn’t be about passing judgment on them as a person, but just about ending a relationship that isn’t working out.

  19. Tofu pie*

    #1 When I fired an asshole, honestly, I felt like she was getting what she deserved. I felt good knowing this was better for the rest of the team. But it’s still important to do it respectfully because, besides all the reasons Alison described, you’re the person in power. If you fire an asshole in a disrespectful way other employees who see it might understand, but will still find it distasteful and wrong. You’re also giving the fired asshole ammunition to exaggerate and affect your professional reputation.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, kind of like the manager who wrote in because an employee they disliked resigned and they wanted to avoid them for their notice period. Whatever you may be thinking in your head, you need to treat the person professionally for the sake of your own professional reputation, the company’s, and the impression on other employees.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My tired brain parsed out the sentence wrong…and I am chuckling into my coffee about the noun I came up with: “fired-AH ammunition”.

    3. PersephoneUnderground*

      Yeah- I think you can be respectful while not forcing the narrative into “they just didn’t fit the role” either. It could be more “lacks a fundamental skill” than “miscast”. If you approach it as lacking people skills just like lacking any other required skill, that might be a more accurate, but still compassionate, way for OP to reframe it for themselves.

  20. Cleopatra, Queen of Demial*

    I did tech support for HP Pavilion home computers the year they launched, in 1995.

    On Christmas Day, we had wait times of over an hour.

    The hold music? A continuous repeat of two songs off the John Williams oeuvre: the Indiana Jones theme song and the Darth Vader Imperial March.

    To say our customers were ramped up once they got to us is an understatement.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Hahahahaha. I love that.

      Just think if you had been playing ‘Baby Shark’. They would have been incensed.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I had one of those tunes as the march at my wedding – I’d be probably quite nervous if I’d heard it over and over again on a phone line (like – ‘did I forget my shoes? Is my dress on right? Ow this corset is killing me’)

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        When I got married I wanted to walk down the aisle to the Raiders’ March. (Now-ex-)husband said no. Spoilsport.

    3. NeonFireworks*

      Audio person here. There was a study around 20 years ago of the worst music for people to play while driving because it made them feel powerful and reckless. One of the big ones was ‘Ride of the Valkyries’.

      1. SpellingBee*

        Yes, I could see that. I’ll forever associate that music with the helicopter attack scene from Apocalypse Now.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Every speeding ticket I’ve ever gotten in my life (which is … four? I think?) was while a Rammstein song was playing on my car’s audio. I don’t put Rammstein on my playlists for road trips anymore. :P

      3. TiffIf*

        Lol, this reminds me of a story my high school orchestra conductor told:
        He pulled up to a stoplight one day and someone pulled up beside him, windows rolled down blasting hard metal or something. So my conductor rolled down his windows and started blasting “Ride of the Valkyries”. Guy blasting metal cracked up.

        Also reminds me of the time I was really looking forward to the Nearby Big City Symphony doing “Ride of the Valkyries”–the symphony is normally very good and have done my favorite performance EVER of Dvorak’s New World Symphony–they’re FAR from amateur or inexperienced. But they somehow made RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES sound BORING and LACKLUSTER. I don’t even know how you do that?! but they did. It was an offense to good music

  21. Cleopatra, Queen of Denial*

    Dang it, I hate it when I notice I’ve misspelled my username just as I’m posting :D

  22. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

    For No. 2:

    I’ve also worked in an industry where the socializing you describe was common. I think that the managers who did best were the ones who attended occasionally (like every 3rd/4th event), never got visably drunk and seemed interested in all the attendees.

    I think that last one is important — if you attend as a friend you can chat to whomever you like and not think about it too much. But as a manager you have to keep an eye toward if you’re having lots of long convos with Eleanor, but not really getting to know Chidi. Even if your intentions are great, other people can read into that.

  23. Lady Heather.*

    Watch the video “Why hold music is worse now” by Tom Scott, on Youtube. The TL;DW is that phone lines compress signals to best bring across speech, not music, and hold music has often been compressed multiple times already, getting worse every time.

  24. KoolMan*

    #4 (and only men interviewed me)

    Well technology is a male dominated area so that maybe the reason. Interviewers being sexist, that is a totally different thing altogether. Don’t hold back on the review, as Alison mentioned, on Glassdoor.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      We can’t know if the reason only men interviewed her is due to innocuous reasons or because only men are put in decision-making positions at this particular org. In and of itself it might not be significant, but it’s worth including given the larger context.

      And from the perspective of the org, if they’re worried about being egalitarian and healthy recruitment, it will be valuable feedback for them.

    2. Retail Not Retail*

      I think it stood out because more companies are at least aware of the optics now of all male interview/decision teams. She had an all day interview and they couldn’t find one woman? A peer? Someone she’d manage?

    3. PspspspspspsKitty*

      There’s plenty of research out there to support the reason male dominated fields in STEM are male dominated is because of the sexism that women face. This isn’t a totally different thing at all. It’s a common thing. Which, really, in this day and age shouldn’t even be a thing. I’m pretty sure with all the years of experience that the LW has, she knows when it’s sexism and when it isn’t. I don’t think she needs anyone to explain to her what her own field looks like that she has worked in for years.

      1. EnfysNest*

        Yep! Just because it’s not rare to only have men in leadership doesn’t mean it’s not because of sexism. And it is far beyond time that companies acknowledge that and put systems in place to fix it – for example, ensuring that their hiring panel is diverse, even if that means bringing in people from other departments so that they can get a wider variety of perspectives on the candidates. It’s 2021 – they should have enough sense to acknowledge that their leadership all looks alike and they should understand the impact that can have on their own decision-making.

        1. Andy*

          > ensuring that their hiring panel is diverse, even if that means bringing in people from other departments so that they can get a wider variety of perspectives on the candidates.

          I said it in this discussion, but I will repeat it: when it comes to technical interviews, non-technical people are the most biased. They are harder to convince I am capable then technical people. That goes for both men and women.

          I am woman in tech. And I find these discussions where people who were never women in tech insist on “solutions” that makes hiring more biased or don’t change anything. People from other departments trying to divine whether the candidate is skilled are receipt for failure.

          1. Firecat*

            I also work in tech and it’s very common to have one of the panels include a variety of leaders from departments we work with. your initial 1 on 1 is about your technical chops, the rest is then about fit.

            Your assertion that bringing on diverse perspectives for the, typically subjective, panel interviews hurts diversity is at odds with every panel interview I’ve ever attended.

            1. Andy*

              I have never seen a panel of “variety of leaders” to interview for programmer or data analyst. I never even heard about it. I have also rarely seen “technical chops” interview to be done with 1 person only – and only in very small companies that dont have more people.

              The interview for a programmer or other technical position that consists of exactly 1 person who understand what the position requires, but multiple people who don’t, sounds like dysfunction to me.

              > Your assertion that bringing on diverse perspectives for the, typically subjective, panel interviews hurts diversity is at odds with every panel interview I’ve ever attended.

              You are twisting what I said. My assertion is that people who dont have technical background are more likely to be biased, regardless of their gender. If you have people with technical background, diverse perspectives may help. But, the topic at hand is people who are from other department brought into interviews for technical positions.

              And I would not trust that panel to be unbiased at all. It will all be about impressions, so I will have to walk that fine line between feminity (so that I don’t look odd as women) and not appearing too feminine (because if you are too feminine you appear less technical). Also, by default, a technical woman does not fit in into a group of non-technical people by default. First, I don’t conform standards man put on woman and women put on themselves. I am different then other women in there and both men and women react to that difference. Second, I do not conform the stereotype of skilled technician. See, skilled technician is assumed to be male, by both males and females.

              Historically, I did not done well when having to communicate with non-technical people. But, I am fully aware of how much of that success was me constantly managing impressions. How little it had to do with me actually knowing things. And how additional effort it took to make them trust my actual technical skills – because they were unable to actually judge them.

              Finally, absolute worst are men and woman who are threatened by technical women. In men, I do it is about masculinity. But then, many women internalized that they are supposed to dislike tech and not to know it. Those do ressent me for not pretending that I am dumb, I am not acting as women should. In men, I typically validate their masculinity in other way. In woman, I do something streotypical feminine to calm them down.

              But read again above paragraph and tell me again how it made it all less biased. Because I just see ton of absurd effort.

              1. Andy*

                > Historically, I did not done well when having to communicate with non-technical people.

                This was supposed to be DID DONE WELL.

              2. Firecat*

                Well I’ve been a data analyst for 12+ years and a systems analyst supporting electronic healthcare records for 5+.

                You seem married to the idea this won’t work and isn’t done, but I am telling you it’s been very common in my experience.

                Your assumption that I work for small companies is also off base. I’ve worked for 3 companies across 2 US regions of the past 15 or so years and the interview process has been very similar at each. 1 was large – think top 10 us bank – one was medium – think regional coverage of a State and my current company is huge. Global in almost every country in the world billions in sales.

                But the interview process? Same for all of them. HR phone screen > 1 on 1 or maybe 1 on 2 with the hiring manager and/or a Sr lead or skip level boss assessing mainly your hard skills for that role > formal skills test > review of said test usually 1 on 1 with hiring manger > large panel interview with various department heads (i.e the stakeholders and departments your software supports) mainly assesing soft skills/fit.

                Frankly the ability to translate tech jargon for our stakeholders is one my most valued skills. After all software implementations don’t happen solely within the IT department. I’m one SME in a large group.

                It’s also not been my experience that non tech staff are the most bias, but hey if that’s your experience then that’s your experience! I can count on one hand the number of sales reps who dismissed me as unknowledgeable because I’m a woman. I can count on one hand the number of times this month Ive run into entry level help desk who respond to my inquiry as to the status of our SAP portal maintence with “Have your tried restarting? It’s the small box on the bottom left corner…” My male colleagues don’t get that type of response ever.

                1. Andy*

                  > Frankly the ability to translate tech jargon for our stakeholders is one my most valued skills.

                  I don’t want to be pushed into that role but yet another well meaning HR of non technical manager. That just can’t comprehend that woman much actually want to do actually technical work.

                  I don’t want to be analyst. I want to be programmer. I made that clear when I applied a programmer and talked about myself as much.

                  Me having social skills died not imply I wish to be subtly or openly pushed away from technical track.

                2. Andy*

                  Banks are among the most conservative institutions, both technically and socially. And in addition see software developers as cost center, so they treat us overall bad regardless of gender. The are very conservative in terms of which technologies, which frustrated me greatly.

                  More importantly, they are socially conservative. I dont wear make up, dont like high heels and prefer comfortable cloth. I would not fit in. A woman that is not gender conforming wont fit into environment you described. In bank, I was told by well meaning analyst that I should wear high heels to be seen more ambitious. I bike to work and like it that way.

                  You use “fit test” as if it was preventing sexism. It does not, the “fit test” is forcing you into gender norms once again. The people like me, the ones who dont conform social expectation of woman dont fit. Yes, there are many women doing analysis. It is perfectly normal to be female analyst.

                  I am however female programmer and really like programming. I dont fit in. I like higher salary that goes with being senior software developer rather then analyst too.


                  I noticed that your hiring process puts zero effort into finding fitting position for the programmer. It does not treats programmers are people with unique combination of skills that can perform great in one position and fail in other. One of multiple reasons not to work for bank.

                  We have first interview with manager to determine which kind of developer you are, what your ambitions are, what do you want to focus on. Based on that, the team is selected and then there is technical interview with team leader and 1-2 developers from team. Sometimes with analyst too, but that depends on team.

                  It is basically looped.

          2. Colette*

            Agreed. And having a woman who isn’t in a technical job sit in because you want to appear “diverse” isn’t going to do it.

        2. Apples*

          Hmm. I would rather interview with a panel of men than have a woman who seems to have been brought in just to say “hey look, we have one!”. That would indicate to me that they want to hire me for the same reasons. I want to do tech work, not become an interview mascot just because I was born with a certain body.

        3. Colette*

          To be clear, having male candidates interviewed by qualified men and having female candidates interviewed by some qualified men + some unqualified women is itself discriminatory.

        4. EnfysNest*

          I clearly didn’t spell out my whole thought process there well enough – my apologies. I don’t mean that every interview panel should have a quota from specific demographics or a “token” person. I was trying to build on the idea of male-dominated fields being that way because of sexism over time and that companies should be aware by now that this is a problem – so they should be self-aware enough to identify if they still aren’t hiring fairly. And then, in those situations, they need to be trying to find ways to mitigate that unfairness, which could be bringing in an observer from HR or someone with a lot of hiring experience who might be able to help them identify any issues. Or it could be something else – I’m not a hiring expert, I just know that if there is a company with ongoing, systematic issues and they aren’t intentional about making change happen and developing some sort of plan for correction, then change won’t just happen on its own.

          I was also thinking mainly of the kind of interviews I’ve had (as a woman in engineering, to be clear) which have been behavior-based questions (how have you responded to an upset client/customer in the past, discuss your process for dealing with competing priorities, etc.) rather than a technical skills assessment, which I was thinking of as a separate process. For that something like that, I agree that having someone who didn’t understand what they were looking at involved in doing the assessment would not be helpful and could even be harmful. Again, my apologies for not being clear enough in my initial comment.

          1. Andy*

            > bringing in an observer from HR or someone with a lot of hiring experience who might be able to help them identify any issues

            I remember HR offering junior plus boring tech positions to a woman in my team – that women was highly talented, ambitious and selective about tech she wants to work with. There were plenty of signals about this woman being as such. She was also highly feminine. And that concrete HR made me wonder about possible subtle bias in multiple situations. (Wonder, not know.)

            It was one of many negative experiences around HR, non technical management and gender. The problems is, they are good at recognizing whether you are socially skilled. They are not too good at recognizing anything else. And they misfire if you are not conforming to social expectations – which technical women typically dont (in various ways).

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      It didn’t used to be. Programming was seen as primarily a women’s job until someone realized there’s $$$$ in it.

      An example I like to give people is, in my home country, I went to one of the top schools in the country where, to study CS, you had to first complete the required 2.5 years of math, and so I was around a lot of math majors. Math was considered a woman’s major, our classes were 70-80% women, and there was a plethora of jokes going around campus about how a guy had to hang out with the math majors if he wanted to find a girlfriend. Then I came to the US and was shocked to find out that, according to the popular opinion here, girls have no aptitude for math. Tells me all I need to know about whether a gender’s aptitude for (oh, anything other than actual childbearing) is a social construct and something totally made up.

    5. ecnaseener*

      I think the other reason LW included that detail is to show that she can’t compare her male interviewers to her female interviewers to see if it’s a gender thing or a different company culture thing.

    6. Minerva*

      Large companies should have _some_ technical women.

      I view part of my role as a female technical interviewer as detecting candidates with sexist red flags. My male interview partners definitely see it when it happens, and find it useful info.

      I’ve also interviewed a lot in the past few years (for technical roles, embedded software mostly). Almost no panel or set of interviews of 4-5 people or more was all male. There was at least an intern observing, a second manager from a similar team, someone.

      Honestly, not interviewing someone seriously and making an insulting offer is such a sexist red flag that I won’t say the all male panel is incidental. You can’t hire or retain women if you don’t value their skills.

    7. pancakes*

      It isn’t likely that a woman with “many years of experience” in the industry would be unaware of that.

  25. Timothy (TRiG)*

    I see that Lady Heather has already linked to Tom Scott’s video on why hold music is worse now.

    What bothers me, more than the music itself, is the constant “your call is important to us” interruptions. If it was just music, I could tune it out and get on with something else till I heard a voice, but the constant announcements keep drawing my attention, and make the wait feel so so much longer because I cannot effectively work on something else in the meantime.

    1. irene adler*

      Now watch, they’ll start putting the “your call is important to us” to music to make those ‘reminder’ interruptions less jarring.

  26. Delta Delta*

    #5 – I have 3 things to say about hold music. First, i once called a company that had “Hold Trivia” instead of music. I learned a lot about fireworks while I waited. Second, My husband recently called his own office and learned how terrible the music is. He wrote lyrics to it. Last, I’ve heard the Cisco hold music so much I mentally choreographed a pompon routine to it.

    1. Sylvan*


      The DMV in North Carolina, or maybe one DMV office in one city in North Carolina, has silent trivia on a TV screen. It’s about as interesting as reading a bunch of Snapple caps, but it still sure beats the alternative.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I WANT HOLD TRIVIA. Really hope someone with decision-making power over hold music is reading this. This would be so good.

  27. Morticia*

    LW#5 I get it. When I have to call my grocery delivery service, they play 5 irritating measures over and over again. The choice of silence would truly be a blessing. I’ve actually complained about the hold experience, and really believe companies need to do better. While info about your position in the queue would almost help, a callback option would be better so you don’t have to deal with it at all.
    Honestly, the only company that has a hold experience I actually enjoy is the Walt Disney Company, because it sounds like you’re at Walt Disney World. There’s nothing like whiling away your hold time to “Grim Grinning Ghosts”.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I’ve worked in a call center where we had the call back option. It never worked. People wouldn’t answer their phone, or someone else would answer and have no idea what you were calling about. Had people yell at me too about calling them back. I think maybe 1 out of 5 calls would be the actual person who called in and answering the phone.

  28. NerdyKris*

    You know that “Your call is important to us” message that plays intermittently? That’s also there for a purpose. If people hear the music non stop, they worry that they’re lost in the system and never going to get to anyone. The message, including that stupid click, lets them know that the system still sees them. Ironically, when installing and testing a phone system one time and testing at a call center I worked at, getting that message did fail and drop you out of the queue into the abyss of never ending hold music.

    Also the hold music was slightly altered from existing songs I think, and I’m positive half of it was songs from the band Carbon Leaf.

  29. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    3) I had no problem with my conscience advising someone (external candidate) NOT to apply for a particular role at one of my former employers – because of that – it’s a “dead end job” and they do not allow people to advance out of that role into other groups.

    That is, the “career path” is defined, and it’s a cattle chute. For someone in his/her mid-50s, it’s a good role, if all someone wants to do is ride out their career to retirement. But for someone who’s below 45 – it’s LOUSY unless he/she has no ambition. “Great paycheck, great bennies, great work/life balance BUT if you want to continue on an upward career climb, this role is NOT for you.”

    There’s nothing wrong with telling someone that, because certain people will be short-timers in that role.

  30. James*

    #2: I’ve been in similar situations–not quite as extreme, but away from home for months on end, with only the people you work with around. I’ve found Allyson’s advice works–show up, have a drink or two (don’t get drunk), socialize for a while, then leave. It’s team building; you want your team to know you. If your work is anything like mine, you’re relying on these people for survival–you want them to save your butt because they like you, not because they want to avoid paperwork! And you can do a lot of work in these situations. You can get a feel for how the staff feel about each other, who the leaders and followers are, who work well together and who don’t. I once offered a promotion to someone at a bar. I didn’t know if she’d say yes, or have someone else in mind, or leave the project (she was debating it all herself), and it was a situation where she didn’t feel under pressure to say what I wanted to hear.

    If you can find some folks more or less on your same level to socialize with that helps. For one thing, you can be more open with people on your level. They’re your peers, not your employees. For another, it gives you an excuse to not socialize with your team that your team will accept. If you don’t go out because you’re The Boss that makes you look bad; if you don’t go out with your team because you just went out with folks last night and need to catch up on sleep, that’s understandable. And again, a lot of business gets done socializing like this. Your peers have resources that you may need, and it’s human nature to be more inclined to help someone you know than someone you don’t.

    #5: If companies forego music they need to tell you that they’re putting you on hold and that there’s no sound. I recently had to call a hospital to arrange some procedures, and thought they hung up on me twice because the line just went dead. I didn’t realize that the hold would be 20 minutes long with no sound. (It sounds annoying, but they were talking to doctors about fairly complicated issues, so 20 minutes wasn’t really that much.) My point is, warn the person!

  31. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #2 The expat/isolation thing adds a lot of complications. In some ways it’s like being the resident advisor in a college dormitory. If had a good RA, try to recall how they balanced their social and professional obligations.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I’ve heard of stuff like this in rural towns too. Twentysomething teachers going to a high school party would be a very bad look in a metro area, but in a lot of parts of America, the young teachers are pretty much the only people between 18 and 40 who didn’t leave the area.

  32. Sled dog mama*

    Question #1 is so relevant and helpful for me right now. We are developing a PIP for an employee who is a jerk but are struggling to put anything besides quit being a jerk to coworkers and clients.
    This is also a problem because we only discovered that nothing was being said or done when this person’s supervisor went out on medical leave. The person says they feel attacked and like their behavior is being nit-picked when in reality this should have been addressed a long time ago (she just keeps herself more in check when the supervisor is here).

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Oh, hey, I have that employee now, too. I actually read OP #1s question and wondered if I had inherited their a-hole on my team.

      It’s not enough that they are sarcastic, unprofessional, try to pit various team members against one another, and offended by feedback of any kind, but they want to argue about everything or tell us why, for instance, verbal feedback doesn’t count and they do not take seriously anything that is not written down. (Where I work, if someone gets a written feedback memo, it means that performance has reached a point that we’re documenting in case we need to fire them – if someone just made a mistake on a project, a supervisor is going to have a chat with you to review it so it doesn’t happen again and probably offer training, but we’re not writing people up over it.) They have some really good skills, but they don’t apply themselves to tasks they don’t like to do and aren’t reliable for those things. And we can’t let them work ONLY on the things they like.

      Our annual evaluations have a category for teamwork, collaboration, and customer service because it’s a core part of working for our organization. I suspect this person is going to get an unsatisfactory mark on that front.
      We have an expectation of professional behavior from everyone, and you don’t have to LIKE someone, but you may have to work with them.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I think the really hard thing to do is give up on making her understand or agree with you. You want her to see the error of he ways, but that can’t be your goal. Your goal is to have a person in that role who behaves professionally. If she can suck it up and be polite even while disagreeing with the necessity of it, that might be the best you can get (with plenty of oversight). If she can’t do that, then you need to find someone who can. Try to focus on the behavior more than the intent.

      I struggle with this too sometimes, even in my personal life. Sometimes I have to tell a certain family member, “you don’t have to agree with me; you just have to do it”.

  33. CastleCrewMember*

    #2- I think you should consider a number of other factors about the level of drinking and socializing in the work community. We know that sexual abuse and exploitation are more likely to occur in situations where everyone is living in compound like environment, and as a presumably western country director that was promoted over local staff, you have a much higher level of responsibility to ensure that everyone is safe under your management.

    1. pancakes*

      You make it sound as if the locals are going to be assaulting one another left and right without a sober westerner to keep an eye on them.

  34. BlueWolf*

    Re #5: I have to say, I found the Maryland mass-vaccination pre-registration hold music quite pleasant. It was the same song over and over though, so if I was waiting a long time I may have gotten sick of it. It was just a piece of classical music, I’m not sure which song. The sound quality was good, though, which makes a big difference.

  35. fish*

    Hey LW4, solidarity shoutout to the time I beat a male engineer in a data science competition, he seemed impressed and told me his team was hiring, and then proceeded to send me the link to the job posting for team secretary. (I am, for the record, also a data scientist, it was not a fluke I beat him.)

    1. fish*

      I later stumbled across this guy’s Facebook post expressing outrage that a local BBQ joint was flying a pride flag, so.

    2. Firecat*


      Ugh men like that piss me off! They lose and yet still find a way to “pit you in your place”.

      The misery they must live in if their happiness and peace of mind is so fragile that losing to a woman/lgbtq/poc is a blow requiring refilling their sense of superiority.

      1. fish*

        I actually wrote back and told him I didn’t think he’d offer that job to a man, and he got very offended. I don’t think he did it out of a sense of (conscious) meanness, he really thought this was jolly good and helpful.

  36. I'm just here for the cats*

    #5 at one point I had a prepaid card/online bank type of checking account that was set up by my employer at the time. (I had just moved to the area and my small town bank in old state didn’t have a branch and I hadn’t gotten a new bank account set up yet so I took the online bank card that the company provided).

    In order to write checks, you had to call into the bank, tell them the name, and the amount, and then they would give you a code to put on the check. So in order to pay my rent and utilities to my landlord, I had to call in once a month. The hold time was horrible. It was some sort of classical music, Like what they would play on the Bugs Bunny cartoons. But it would fade in and out. And it would stick in your head all day. I can still hear the music now!

    1. SleeplessKj*

      A bit of a shameless plug maybe, but I wish more companies would spend a few bucks and hire someone like me, a voiceover chick, to record a simple 30 second script that could be anything from “thank you for your patience, we appreciate you” to product information instead of wasting all that airspace with really bad music. (Music never sounds good).

  37. Rebecca*

    My workplace recently let go of someone who was “miscast” and because of that, became a jerk. He probably would have jerk-like qualities regardless but was not really set up for success and I think that really exacerbated things. Anyway, I’m never glad to see someone lose a job but the situation allowed everyone to depart with some dignity. Sometimes things just aren’t right, and bad situations or frustrating situations can bring out the worst in people.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      This. I worked at a place during the ’08 and ’09 that was a glorified call center (the higher ups liked to pretend it wasn’t). We hired a lot of recent graduates who couldn’t find work in their fields, and quite a few took out their frustrations out on the job and other staff. I could sympathize to a point (in early ’09 I was laid off from my job and the call center was the only job that would hire me and it came with a significant paycut and crappy insurance). At some point, though, when other people are making things miserable, hard decisions had to be made.

      I’m sure if I ran into the “jerks” from this job a decade later, they’d be different people. The economy and the job itself just took a toll on a lot of people.

  38. Daisy-dog*

    I worked in a call center for a year and a half. Our company would switch up the hold music every once in a while. At one of those times, I got numerous people who told me we had the worst hold music they had ever heard. One person said it sounded like a dying cat. Shortly after that, I called over to another department and heard it and I had to agree. Sadly, there was no clear way to provide this feedback to the mystery area that chose the hold music. It was eventually changed again.

  39. Kristinyc*

    Re: OP 5 – At a previous job at a startup, when we moved offices and all got desk phones, I was tasked with picking the hold music. I picked 90s rock. I don’t remember the circumstances – I think we were given a few choices, but I wanted the music to be good. I don’t think we actually got many calls anyway.

  40. Firecat*

    #1 As we’ve discussed in the past, (because hopefully you’ve met with them regularly and they know firing is on the table) we need someone on our teapots team who can make our customers feel at ease and heard and not argue if someone misuses our technical jargon. Because of this your last day is today, with severance extending to the end of this pay period.

    That’s how you fire someone for a soft skill gap. Highlight the work issues that were previously discussed and say it kindly but matter of factly.

  41. Suzy Q*

    My University has a music department and we used a sample of a student composition as the hold music. We credited it on the website. Maybe a lovely soundscape would be more soothing than a few tinny bars of a classic. Or someone reciting something. Time to get creative.

  42. Nethwen*

    #5: I don’t like the hold music we have, but as far as I can tell, we don’t have any control over it. We get what the telecom provider gives us with no choice in the matter. I am sorry to all who have to endure.

    For us, a human answers within 3 rings (on our end) during business hours, max 7 rings if we’re extra busy and short staffed, and we put people on hold only when absolutely necessary (none of that answer and an immediate “hold, please” irritation) so hopefully people rarely get tortured with the hold music.

  43. Lucy P*

    #5 It seems like you’ve called my office this week. I’m sorry if our music was bad. We’re using a 30+ year old radio that has never held its station tuning for long, thus creating lots of static. The volume control also doesn’t work well, so you can choose to either hear it lots or hear it none. Plus we’ve tried to explain to the powers that be that placing the phone equipment, and thus the radio too, behind the large piece of machinery seems to make it even harder to tune than before because the machinery blocks the radio signal. We’ve yet to be able to convince anyone to spend money on a better on-hold system, plus we can’t agree what type of music should be played.
    Also, my apologies if I was a tad rude when you called. It’s been a long week and I’m getting fed up, but I should not have taken it out on you.

  44. On Hold*

    In a previous role, I had to call the IRS fairly frequently. I soon realized I was humming their on-hold music as I cleaned the house, ran errands, etc. It will haunt me forever.

    1. James*

      I once heard my favorite singer as on-hold music. I’m not sure which is worse, to be honest!

  45. Ben Marcus Consulting*


    The music serves a lot of purposes, but the primary one is to verify that the person is still on hold and the line hasn’t been disconnected. Where bad music can agitate a caller, great music can relax a caller. There’s also a huge potential to use the hold line as a marketing tool, so long as you don’t repeat the same message over and over (otherwise it’s like bad music).

    There’s a big issue with selecting great music because of the way that phones work. Call audio (even HD) isn’t afforded a lot of bandwidth and is optimized for phone speakers. This pulls out a lot of the qualities from music that make it enjoyable.

  46. cmcinnyc*

    #5, I used to have to call a company that licenses art & music and they played the Peanuts theme music! I loved being put on hold there. But most people can’t afford Vince Guaraldi.

  47. Sparrow*

    #5, the best hold music I’ve ever heard was at the allergist’s office where I’ve gotten a number of Covid tests this year. They have instrumental versions of ’90s/early 2000s pop music as their hold music, including a string quartet arrangement of “My Immortal” by Evanescence. It’s AMAZING.

    1. Filosofickle*

      There’s a good chance that’s Muzak — it’s an actual company, not just a punch line! They do impressive and creative covers of popular music and it’s so much better than it was decades ago.

  48. Silicon Valley Girl*

    #4 should definitely post her experience on Glassdoor — if it’s a one-off thing, then maybe it wasn’t sexism or it was just one sexist interview panel. But if others see that & realize ‘yeah, I had the same experience interviewing at Company XYZ’ & post about it, a sexist pattern would be revealed.

    1. Lurker*

      I’ve heard companies are now paying to remove bad reviews on glassdoor. Maybe google instead? Maybe alternatives?

  49. Letter Writer 3*

    I just want to thank Alison and the commenters for their thoughtful replies! I have a pretty busy day at work today, so I can’t reply to all the comments but I have read them and appreciate all your advice!

  50. Can Man*

    Multiple layers of compression (with one optimizing for understanding speech) are a big contributor to #5.

  51. Zach*

    The hold music thing that TRULY drives me insane is when it’s a loop of music that cuts off every 5 seconds for a vocal clip that reminds you that you’re on hold. Just let the damn song play! I know I’m on hold already!

    1. Kate*

      This is the WORST – especially since whenever the music stops it makes you think someone might be answering. So you can’t fully tune out the way you can with a complete song.

  52. Girasol*

    The thing that puzzles me is worn out hold music. I’m old enough to think first, “That tape loop is way too worn out.” Surely it’s not tape these days, though, but digital music. So how does it sound so faded and scratchy? And why does the electric company (whose music I have listened to for hours) have a tune that sounds like an antique radio sunken deep down inside a bubble machine? Burble burble.

  53. Archaeopteryx*

    Gregorian chant (or similar) makes great hole music- not too tinny, and soothing so the person on hold doesn’t get as upset about waiting.

  54. Helen Jenkins*

    As the wife of a musician, I can give some context to the hold music and the reason it’s usually not so wonderful, in the UK at any rate. Any recorded music that is played in public (hold music, hairdressers, pubs etc) is usually subject to some form of copyright and therefore any firm that uses music has to pay fees each year in order to do so. These get filtered down to the musicians so they can be quite hefty. However, there is copyright free music available (called library music – again I’m speaking about the UK specifically) but the rates for those recordings aren’t wonderful so the quality tends to suffer and doesn’t always attract the best artists… Firms will buy some of this, or more commonly use what their service provider has as a basic. As with everything it all comes down to cash… It’s also why most firms use classical music because they don’t have to pay any rights to the composer. Basically, if you hear a firm which has the latest and trendy artists, they’re paying a fortune for the privilege!

  55. Banana Pancakes*

    Our hold music gives you the option to schedule a callback instead about ~30s in and then every minute or so thereafter. It baffles me how many people will hang on for 25min instead and then act like I did this to them.

  56. Kate*

    I once interviewed with a company whose hold music was…a ballad about being on hold. It was hilarious and the best experience I’ve ever had while being on hold!

  57. JSPA*

    #1: Someone can have a heart of gold, and be the person who’d take a bullet for you, and still, for now, be the world’s least self-aware, most annoying jerk*. I don’t know if I’m the former–I do generally go above and beyond when I get the chance–but I’m pretty sure that, for quite some years, I was the latter.

    It may help to frame it internally not as, they are an irremediable asshole, but that they are not gifted with self-awareness, and thus are not currently / not in the near foreseeable future able to adequately recalibrate their behavior.

    Lack of self-awareness is, almost by definition, a hard thing to recognize, and a hard thing to accept! Enough of it is genetic, and enough of the remainder is cemented in early development, that (given a family where obliviousness is expected, or even prized), noticing that, “it’s not like this for other people, how’s that work?” can be a very advanced, terribly delayed step in someone’s development.

    Similarly, someone can have a rare talent for setting people on edge, or setting them against each other, but do so for reasons that are not “about” creating strife. (Grow up with it, and it seems like a normal, comfortable and desirable environment, just like people who grow up with constant noise or stenches may feel uncomfortable in quiet or less redolent settings.)

    That doesn’t mean you have to tolerate someone’s currently-assholic state of being.

    Heck, it may mean that firing and firing feedback add up to a hugely valuable wake-up call.

    But it should ideally help you separate the (absolutely separable!) concepts of “enervatingly mis-socialized, oblivious, shit-kicking or rude” from “useless waste of oxygen.”

    Remember, as well, that there are jobs, besides the “work alone with a computer jobs,” where people skills matter less than [some trait that’s often subsumed to politeness].

    There are jobs where immediate unvarnished reactions, no matter how baldly or awkwardly delivered, are literally life-saving (I’m envisioning oil rigs and fishing boats, but there are plenty).

    There are jobs where the ability to set people on edge or play them against each other (while not making any personal connections), can be fruitful–fraud-finding consultant? Some flavors of safety investigator?

    “I feel you’d do better in a position where your unusual ability to let feedback roll off you like water off a duck’s back is a positive, rather than a negative” is a fair assessment! You may even be able to say, “there are positions in the world where a good heart, honesty and hard work [or whatever] will outweigh the disruption caused by your lack of tact, mansplaining, blurting and interrupting [or whatever]. We don’t have such positions. However, I want you to know that I would still give you a decent reference for a job that plays more fully to [list of strengths], and requires much less [general or specific set of interpersonal skills or attitudes].”

    *To be fair, someone can be a jerk with great intentionality, as well. But it’s not a simple matter to separate the two, or forcibly assign to either pole, the vast number of people who fall somewhere in the middle. (Being “easy to reject” frequently leads people to use standoffishness, superciliousness, offensive joking or plain old offensiveness as a defense.)

  58. TootsNYC*

    5. Why is hold music so bad?

    Recently I spoke as an editor, to some graphic design students.
    One thing I told them is that they should interact with their design the way their readers will. “Looking at” is not the same as “reading,” and they should give themselves time to truly interact with the design the way readers do.
    If there’s a spread (two pages across), look at it as a spread, not as two single pages; if it’s supposed to be on a device, they should read it on that device (my company’s website makes the subheads and headlines way too big, in my opinion; they take up so much space that it gets in the way and makes it hard to hold the story as a single entity as you’re reading and scrolling).

    That’s true of the on-hold music–the people who set it up need to use it the way they would as a customer / user.

    But it’s also probably something that no one knows how to adjust.

  59. TheDutchKelly*

    A bit of good hold music can 100% improve my feeling towards a company. Our database system support line play “hold music” themed songs and I laugh every time I discover a new gem…The waiting by Tom Petty, Hold on by Alabama Shakes, Telephone by Lady Gaga. The sound quality might be poor, but I’m actually happy to be on hold and have some good music

  60. Fluff*

    Hold music story – When I was in college I worked at the college movie theater. At midnight, sometimes they showed smut / porn movies way back when. So I know porn hold music when I hear it.

    Later, when I was a new employee at a doctor’s office in Utah I had to tell my boss that our hold music included tracks from various porn films. That was a weird conversation. To make it even funnier, several porn actors retired in the town where we were – so you know some folks on the phone line would probably have recognized those tracks. No one believed me until a patient actually mentioned the porn hold music while checking in. She then preceded to name then movie and describe the exact scene where it came from and that the office “might wanna be changing that.”

    Corporate quickly changed to broadway songs sans word.

    1. James*

      I don’t know, I think porn music–and video game music, for the same reasons–is a good option. It’s designed to not be irritating or intrusive; the intent is like a sauce, to compliment some other experience, not be the main event itself. I’ve heard of gamers listening to game sound tracks while working to help maintain focus and momentum, for example–updating spreadsheets isn’t exactly thrilling, but throw on “Enough Dead Heroes” and it changes the mood without distracting you. Both types of music are intended to be experienced as background to something else.

      I don’t see anything wrong with using music that was in porn for oh-hold music. There’s nothing intrinsic about music that makes it pornographic, after all; it’s just music. That it’s associated with pornography is just a funny little quirk.

  61. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    #5. The one thing that grates my nerves is interrupting hold music every thirty seconds to tell me about their website, how to lower my cholesterol, how busy their reps are, etc. Like, every five minutes? Sure. But if I’m trying to do something while on hold, the constant interruptions of hold music is really distracting.

  62. Still trying to adult*

    Time for some education here on technology, but I’ll first post this Youtube video (Tom Scott does a wonderful job of explaining it):

    I’ll also add my own (thoroughly researched thru the multidimensional universe that is my brain, hanging on to bits of trivia while the important parts of life fall thru:

    Decades ago, when AT&T and Bell Telephone Labs and such were the primary driving force in all telephone systems, they also had strict guidlines about such things as audio levels going into & coming out of the telephone network. Stuff was expected to go in at a listenable recognizable state, and come out at the other end not changed very much at all, still recognizable. These guidelines got codified into government regulations of state public utilities commissions and the FCC. If you put too high-level of signal into the phone system, your circuit can ultimately be cut off by that phone company. (This is in addition to the fact that if you put too much signal in, it causes its own distortion, making it unusable at the other end). This was in the glory days of analog telephones.

    Enter the digital realm, and it gets really bad. In particular in the early days of the Nextel system, music on hold thru some of their phones was especially bad and distorted.

    Nowadays there is not Ma Bell or anyone else who either has the technology or the guts to measure and fight these battles. Combined with the compression techniques Tom Scott talks about, and a general ignorance (lack of knowledge) and understanding of the implications of bad audio, we the users are in the losing side, suffering bad music-on-hold and other auditory atrocities. Too many people set up a MOH (Music On Hold) system, and if it ‘sounds good’ to them, they turn it over to the customer/user. Might be right, might be too low level, too high level, might have hum on the signal, they got their paycheck.

    I know I’ve compressed a lot of background stuff, but further explaining could take years of expository data.

    Rant off.

  63. Lab Birb*

    The hold music for Public Health Ontario is the only hold music I like. It’s totally smooth jazz in the style of Vince Guaraldi.

    1. True Story*

      Our public health department’s hold music got changed dramatically several years back. Somebody calling the morgue was on hold and heard “Another One Bites the Dust”. That was quite the complaint. All instrumental now.

Comments are closed.