my new coworker can’t handle our new-agey woo environment

A reader writes:

We have a new project manager, “Dawn,” and she’s a lot. The company I work for is very emotionally oriented and feelings-driven so none of us have titles like “manager” or “director,” they’re like Imagination Collaborators for our design team or something like that so things are a little complicated because our titles make zero sense. Over the years we’ve hammered out job descriptions that make the job clear despite the title. The woo is, honestly, kinda funny and we all work around it and/or with it. It’s actually benefited us a lot in terms of work/life balance and boundaries, if you can believe it.

The company is a former start-up that’s doing amazing now. Two other staff members and I have been on board as contractors since the beginning with the owner. We’ve now expanded from four to nine. Dawn is sweet but obviously very anxious and constantly interrupts meetings with “why wasn’t I made aware of that?” or “why don’t I know about this?” if we mention stuff from an old system we no longer use, regarding products we no longer offer, that don’t impact our new format. When I offer her information one-on-one, she snaps, “That’s old, I don’t need to know about that” and then complains to the owner/director that I’m focusing on finite pieces of information that don’t matter. The owner sends us both an email about unity and nature or something and that’s the end of it until it starts again. For reference, we got crystals as a staff gift at the beginning of the pandemic. That’s where we’re at there.

We’ve been able to navigate the intense woo of it all by adding structure where it counts and have a great team and business running. I think Dawn’s anxious and frustrated that the office is so laid back because she comes from a corporate environment. This is a seriously luxury product we provide and our customers are equally laid back, nothing is on fire and a typo isn’t the end of the world. We don’t have HR, we don’t even really have a designated manager other than the owner. I want to help her but I don’t know how.

One of my other coworkers says just let her flame out but I’d really love to see her do well (what can I say, the woo has gotten to me) and stay with us. How can I help her?

I … don’t know that Dawn is going to do well there. And if not, that’s okay! Not every work environment is for everyone, and if this one isn’t for her, the best outcome is for her to figure that out and move on to one that’s better for her.

I don’t say that cavalierly — it’s not like you can just change jobs on demand, and it can be disruptive to do. But when someone is really uncomfortable with a company’s culture, it’s not always in their best interest to convince them to stay.

And this is a very specific company culture. When someone complains about a work problem to the owner, they receive a response about unity and nature! Some people would love that culture. Some people would roll their eyes a little but ultimately be fine with it. And some people would be driven over the brink. If Dawn is in that last group, it’s better for her to figure that out as soon as possible.

That doesn’t mean you can’t talk to Dawn about it. You can! But I’d make your goal not “convince Dawn to stay,” but rather “be direct with her about what the culture is and isn’t so she can make good decisions for herself.” You could frame it as, “It seems like you’ve been bristling at some of the ways we do things around here, and I thought it could be helpful to give you some background about how we generally operate and why” and also “I wanted to make it all more explicit to hopefully save you the frustration of figuring it out slowly” and maybe with a side of “it’s definitely not for everyone.”

That said, I don’t know that you’re the best person to have that conversation with her. She’s been snapping at you and complaining about you to the owner. She might not be especially receptive to a “here’s the deal with how things work here” talk from you. Is there anyone she hasn’t been snapping at and complaining about and who seems to have good rapport with her? They might be a better choice.

Separately, how good is your company at explaining its culture to job applicants before people are hired? Is it something that’s discussed explicitly, or more something they could maybe piece together from clues if they’re paying enough attention? If it’s the latter, I’d encourage all of you to figure out a way to make it more explicit during the hiring process so people have a really clear understanding of what they’re signing up for and can self-select out if it’s not for them. That’s a good practice for any employer, but it’s especially true when you have more unusual elements to your culture … and it’ll make it easier on all of you.

{ 326 comments… read them below }

  1. LinesInTheSand*

    Is it possible that Dawn is just really struggling to understand how to do her job well, and what that means in this company? You mention she comes from a different environment, and maybe she’s holding herself to the standards of her last job without understanding what the expectations are in her current role.

    1. Nettie*

      Agreed. Like woo aside, it sounds like Dawn is having trouble getting the lay of the land. I’ve worked someplace with a lot of esoteric systems and sometimes my coworkers’ explanations made no sense to me. But they’d been steeped in the institutional culture so long that they had no clue how confusing it was for an outsider.

      1. Sharrbe*

        I know this is a silly example. I remember starting a waitressing job for the summer a loooonnngg time ago. I put a container of lemon wedges the top shelf in the refrigerator, left the kitchen, and came back a few minutes later. It was as if the sky had fallen. It was explained to me that the lemons could not be on the top shelf. Ok. Turned out to be a matter of making sure they’re reachable by all staff members of varying heights. Ok. Makes total sense. No problem. But….. other things were put on the top shelf of the fridge – pats of butter, half and half etc. so I didn’t quite understand why the lemon wedges caused a problem. I then found out that this all had to do with a passive aggressive fight between two of the waitstaff. One of them hated doing the lemons for prep work and would put them waaaayyyyyy in the very BACK of the top shelf just to anger the other (shorter) employee who was apparently not so into prep work. So the “no lemons on the top shelf” rule was born. And still followed. Even though the people involved were no longer there.

        1. Dasein9*

          Yes! To this day, a place where I used to work has a “Write nothing except ‘trash burn’ on boxes being sent to the trash for burning” rule, thanks to a prank a student employee pulled.

          (He wrote “arms burn” and “torsos burn” and similar labels on several boxes full of superseded ephemera.)

    2. pancakes*

      That wouldn’t necessarily result in her being so prickly, though, and her prickliness seems unlikely to help her understand the new job. If anything it’s getting in the way. If the people at her last job snapped at one another, that’s not something that should be unthinkingly brought to the new job.

      1. SeanT*

        Her Prickly-ness though could also be developing from, in her mind, the circular logic in her asking for help or “what is up with this?” and the answers being a bunch of culture-speak, or stories from days of yore, or ‘had to be there’ sorts of things, so she feels like she never gets a straight answer from anyone.

        1. MassMatt*

          Hmm, this is possible, and it’s a charitable explanation for the co-worker. But is sounds as though the coworker is asking a lot of questions about old products, systems, etc and yet is getting awfully snippy when they are explained to her. To me, this seems like a personality issue that really doesn’t have anything to do with “the woo”. Yeah, many people would find the new age-y speak weird or aggravating but the issue doesn’t really seem to be about that.

          And what is up with her complaining (to the owner!) about LW talking about “finite information”? Unless someone has discovered the Platonic Monad, all information is “finite”.

          1. Sharon*

            It sounds to me like Dawn is just having trouble getting the info she needs to do her job, and OP and the other colleagues aren’t clear about what parts of the institutional knowledge she needs, resulting in them overcorrecting and giving her info about things that are no longer relevant at all.

            Maybe OP left some information out, but I don’t really see anything in the letter pointing to Dawn having a problem with the culture?

            1. Certaintroublemaker*

              Yes. I’m not sure why LW waited to explain old systems/products later, one on one. If Dawn is asking about them during the meeting, someone in the meeting should immediately say, “Sorry, we got off track there. That was an old product and it’s not really relevant to today’s topic.” New employees are sponges and she’s probably getting confused about what to remember with a bunch of irrelevant info being talked about, too.

              1. pancakes*

                Sponges, maybe, but they aren’t obliged to be surly, or to foist their anxieties on their coworkers. It’s pretty rigid and unrealistic to expect people to never mention older systems or products in Dawn’s presence on account of the likelihood of momentarily confusing her, and her tendency to snap at people isn’t a helpful or productive way to express confusion. I see a lot of people offering up ideas about how Dawn probably feels, but part of being professional is not wearing all your feelings on your face and not acting out impulsively.

              2. Paulina*

                That was my interpretation too, that when these things are brought up at the larger meeting she assumes that they’re relevant and so wants to know (or at least reassert her control of the meeting somehow, but without knowing or saying they’d gone off-topic), but OP telling her about the details in a one-on-one suggests the expectation that she learn the old contexts as part of the current context, which she rejects. This can certainly be a culture issue, but one that many startups need to get over (the “you had to be here” aspects when they expand significantly from those who were there in the early stages) and can be exacerbated if the business itself has a “unity, everything is linked” mentality.

      2. Your Local Password Resetter*

        Snapping at coworkers like that is never really acceptable in my opinion. If she’s not getting necessary information or getting frustrated then she needs to deal with that directly, not take it out on people around her.

  2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Do yourself a favor… don’t google “the Woo.” Especially not from work.

    1. stebuu*

      That’s really funny as in my neck of the woods (Massachusetts) it’s a nickname for our second largest city, Worcester (now home to the WooSox!)

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        As a former resident of RI who grew up with the PawSox being our local team, I can’t help but harrumph a little every time I hear about the WooSox!

      2. Ari*

        As a Worcester native, I just gotta ask- does anyone use this nickname? Other than the WooSox, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually use this.

        1. Enn Pee*

          It’s sort of a new nickname. Those of us who are from here (at least of a certain age) cringe when we hear it. I prefer “Wormtown”

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      Ha! I just did it! At home….I’m glad there are higher quality sex lubes out there.

  3. BigTenProfessor*

    From what the OP describes, it doesn’t sound like the “woo” is what’s bothering Dawn.

    1. Delphine*

      That’s what I felt too. The second paragraph and then the rest of the letter sound like they’re about two completely unrelated things. Is the woo really the issue?

    2. nonbinary writer*

      Yeah, the woo feels like a red herring, when it seems like bigger issues are around information sharing, clarity of roles and responsibilities, unclear expectations, etc.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        My read was that it all goes hand in hand — that’s a very laid back, loose environment without much structure where they cite nature and crystals more than hierarchy or policy, and it actually works for them as a company but not so much for Dawn herself.

        1. Nettie*

          But maybe it only works for them as a company because they’ve all been working there a long time. They need to be able to explain how things work to new people if they want to grow.

          1. Mimi*

            I’d agree with this BUT there are also four other new hires, who aren’t mentioned in the letter. If 4/5 of the new people are acclimating okay, and Dawn isn’t, it probably is a question of the fit with Dawn vs. the whole company being whack (I was very open from the beginning of the letter for the entire culture to be whack, fwiw)

            1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

              The other new hires might be in roles where it’s easier to orientate themselves and get the info they need. As a PM, you basically need to know *everything* by default and can then discard what’s not important.

              1. anonny*

                But OP tried to share some of the historical context that Dawn was concerned about not understanding and Dawn told her it was irrelevant.

                1. Genny*

                  It’s unclear to me from the context of the letter if the information in the meeting and the information OP is trying to share one-on-one are the same or similar thing/s. It’s possible that Dawn may need to know the information being shared in the meeting, but not the information OP is trying to share one-on-one.

          2. nonegiven*

            If you really don’t get the “crystals aren’t just rocks, they’re magic” thing, yourself, but you’re used to it, how do you explain it besides, “just go with it?”

        2. Self Employed*

          I would hate this culture with a passion and kick myself if I had overlooked signals at the interview.

          1. Llama Llama*

            This was my only take away from the problem. I would not be able to work here and take any of it seriously. I already work in a place where some of the employees are a little woo-woo and I have to deal with their smelly essential oils and I hate it. At least crystals don’t give me migraines.

    3. Spicy Tuna*

      Yeah, if the new format isn’t impacted, why are people still talking about old products and systems in front of her? There could be a decent answer here but it needs to be addressed one way or another.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Because people talk about stuff, even when it isn’t immediately relevant? The problem is that she complains both about not having been told about this stuff, and also about being told about it. If she is acting in good faith, the solution is to have some shorthand for “this is old stuff you don’t need to know.” If she is not acting in good faith, she is trying to police the conversations of the people around her, making the question how much the people around her are willing to be policed.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          HA! This reminds me of my coworker. He bristles when I try to give him background information to help explain a situation, like it’s taking me too much time to talk and can I just get to the point. But if I leave out background information he gets ticked off, too. It’s almost like…he just wants to complain…and not have to do his job and help me figure out a solution…he would prefer the solution just magically arrive…

          1. tangerineRose*

            That’s the thing. Dawn complains either way, so what does she want? Probably to magically know everything she needs to know.

          2. PotatoEngineer*

            He just wants you to have psychic powers:
            If the information isn’t relevant, then he doesn’t want to hear it.
            If it is relevant, then he wants to already know WHY it’s relevant before you start explaining that background.

      2. Tuesday*

        I could see where the old stuff might come up naturally for various reasons, which could be fine. As the new person, you can’t expect to know the background and history of everything, but most people just roll with it. It sounds like Dawn is getting pretty stressed out about it. I wonder if she feels like she’s can count on getting the information she actually does need to do her job. If she could count on that (like, “someone will fill me in if it impacts me”), she might feel less stressed.

      3. OhNo*

        There can be some benefit to talking about old systems – for example, “Oh we tried that before, with X product, and it didn’t work.” or “Remember that thing we used to do with Y? Maybe that would be helpful here.” That’s part of why institutional knowledge can be so important.

        It sounds like maybe Dawn gets frustrated when the topic of things she wasn’t there for come up, so that might be a different angle to look at, too. It could be she’s feeling left out of the “in” group who has been there longer, or that she doesn’t like it when other people know something she doesn’t. That’s entirely speculation on my part, but those types of things could contribute to the disconnect as well.

      4. Lynn Whitehat*

        Sometimes it can be helpful to have historical context for why things are the way they are. “All the fields about dietary restrictions are there because we used to supply snacks to customers before Covid. We haven’t decided yet whether we’re going back to that post-Covid. Just check ‘no’ for now.” Or whatever.

      5. JustMyImagination*

        Yeah, if the old processes and products are coming up in meetings so often that OP has noticed a pattern to how Dawn responds then it sounds like they’re still a little relevant.

        1. Observer*

          It could be. The thing is that when the OP does try to tell her about the history, she snaps about that too.

      6. Seeking Second Childhood*

        What would bother me about working with this person is getting slapped down for offering back history AT THE SAME TIME as being whined at for NOT giving back history/context. That’s something to take up with the owner– and I do NOT mean in terms of how to get Dawn comfortable with the office style. I mean in terms of it being inappropriate to demand “A” and “not-A” at the same time.

        1. Mon*

          It could be that Dawn assumes that if something is brought up in a meeting it is important and therefore she should have been briefed before or during the meeting. But after the fact she doesn’t appreciate someone approaching her while she is working on something at her desk with what is likely not critical background information.

      7. joss*

        Exactly this. If it is no longer relevant there is no reason to bring it up but when it is relevant to the discussion they should put this in context (we used to xyz… but…). I am not so certain that Dawn is really being difficult here. It sounds more likely that the original employees are so engrossed in their woo-ness that they have become bad communicators.
        I consider it a natural result to become snippy if a person has to ask what people are talking about all the time because the lack context in the meetings. It is not just LW whose time is being wasted when this happens, it is Dawn’s as well. Just something to consider for the LW: some navel gazing on your side may well be overdue (is that woo in this context?)

      8. Amaranth*

        In a meeting I can easily imagine it being a way to point out things to keep or avoid in a system or process. The problem occurs when that’s in shorthand like ‘well, don’t forget what happened in 2018 with the teapot generation system” and Dawn doesn’t have the background to understand the point or know if this is pertinent to her job.

    4. Nunya*

      I wonder if Dawn’s reaction when people talk about older systems and products is due to her picking up cues from the conversation that they’re common knowledge that everyone *should obviously* know about and is taken aback or offended by the fact that she doesn’t know that history. Given the woo-y nature of job titles OP describes, I also wonder if the names of these projects or their descriptions *sound* like something in Dawn’s work purview, and she doesn’t know–in the moment–that it’s not something that concerns her anymore. Like, if Dawn was hired to be an Alpaca Hygienist, and people are talking about the catastrophic Llama Grooming project they took on one time, she might think it’s something she should know about.

      1. NYWeasel*

        I think you’re on to something, but for slightly different reasons. Dawn has been brought on as a PM. The skills that a good PM tends to flex are (A) being on top of ton of details and (B) having a strong network to be able to pull strings when you need to. Keeping those two points in mind, your explanation makes total sense!

  4. Guacamole Bob*

    It sounds like Dawn is out of step with the laid-back culture, but the specific examples about old information make me think the problem could also be the transition from a culture that has more formal processes and training. That kind of snappishness makes me think Dawn feels like she’s floundering and that she feels like she isn’t being given the information she needs to do her job in a useful way.

    Onboarding is challenging in a lot of environments, but getting dropped into a small organization with no formal processes can be overwhelming. Larger and more structured environments are more used to organizing information for new people, typically, since there’s more regular turnover of staff. In my large organization, even if you join a small team or a team of long-time employees and the actual job tasks part is hard to convey, there’s structure around all the HR elements, information on the intranet, etc.

    Dawn might not be the right fit, but any chance she’s just taking some time to adapt and learn the job?

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I say this having worked at a 6-person nonprofit a while back. Making sense of everything everyone was referring to took a long time, and I spent weeks or months thinking I was doing terribly. Eventually I got caught up and did just fine, but it was kind of rough.

    2. NeutralJanet*

      I’m a little concerned that OP says that Dawn both gets anxious about not being aware of discontinued products and also gets snappish when OP tries to tell her about things that are old and not strictly speaking important in the day to day. It’s true that coming on to a small, close-knit team that has been together for a long time can be hard, because the team has inevitably developed a shorthand with each other and is going to be familiar with each other and with the company in ways that you won’t be, but from what’s been written, it doesn’t sound like Dawn is really trying to adapt and learn the job.

      1. MsClaw*

        I blathered about this some below, but I’ve been the new person on an established team and it sucks to have to be constantly asking what people are talking about and then finding out it’s irrelevant. Yes, Dawn shouldn’t be snapping at people, but also OP and others shouldn’t be constantly referencing old stuff unless it’s relevant to the matter at hand. And then they really should explain how it’s relevant for Dawn, since she’s new and trying to learn.

        1. Arctic*

          People aren’t computers that can just delete or archive information once it is no longer relevant. It’s going to happen that people reference old things. When they do try to tell her she doesn’t want to hear it. So, what are they supposed to do?

          1. MsClaw*

            You can’t delete, but you certainly learn when to archive.

            If you’re bringing up old stuff because it’s relevant to the matter at hand, that’s great! Provide the context. If you’re bringing up old stuff just ‘cuz? Save it for kombucha circle time.

            1. EvilQueenRegina*

              Yeah, I was wondering about that – what are the contexts in which old stuff like systems that were phased out years ago keep getting brought up and how often does it happen? If it happens a lot I can’t blame Dawn really for responding to it as she does, it probably seems to her like Old System X is still relevant.

            2. logicbutton*

              Here’s what I’m envisioning:

              LW: “So anyway, remember how in Pancakes you had to run a whole workflow to get the TPS report? Well, in Omelet, there’s a dropdown menu where you can view it at any time.”
              Coworker: “Oh, that is easier! I always had to send a bunch of emails to get everyone to exit the system when I did that in Pancakes.”
              Dawn: “Sorry, Pancakes?”
              LW: “Pancakes was a database management system we used; it was the predecessor of Omelet.”
              Dawn: “Why hasn’t anyone told me about this?”

              LW: “Hey Dawn, here’s some background information on Pancakes.”
              Dawn: “That system isn’t in use anymore, right? Why are you telling me this?”

              You can kind of see where Dawn is coming from in each individual situation, but taken together it’s like, Dawn, what is it you want here.

              1. Paulina*

                Yes. And possibly what she wants is some basic information about what’s relevant, not an implication that she needs to study up on all of it. But OP isn’t a mindreader either.

    3. Regular Reader*

      Is Dawn’s skill set she brings to the company one that they need with the expansion? If so does that skill set require a certain way of working which is clashing with a more laid back style. Would someone else with that skill set also struggle without support to blend their role which what is there already?
      I’ve been there. Joined a not for profit in a role where there was very little much needed organisational structure. Also not briefed fully on the organisation. I lasted 18 months, learnt a lot but knew I needed to move to lower my stress levels. I really liked the people I worked with but the style/way of working was not mine. I know I made a difference, improved things and developed my abilities. But none the less it was not a forever job for me.

      1. TWW*

        This is the sense I get as well. Is Dawn out of step with the laid back culture, or is she correctly observing that the company structure and way of operating is a mess and needs to shape up?

        Is some of her frustration about getting too much/not enough info about old products and procedures really a frustration that her coworkers aren’t able to discern what info is/isn’t important?

    4. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      I don’t know if I’d describe it as laid-back. I worked with a new-age religious-oriented place once, and their harmonious spirituality was a veneer. They were not to kindly disposed to people from outside their way of thinking/feeling/chanting/etc., although they had to hire some to function as an organization. If you had the bad luck to be a Lutheran, Baptist, atheist, Druid, whatever that was different from them, well, you were a total oddball and you just didn’t understand the true universe. It gave me a new appreciation for heretics and infidels.

          1. Aggretsuko*

            “Winning Others Over” is the Strengths Finder thing, it’s not “hippie woo.”

            1. Coder von Frankenstein*

              I think the point is that Strength Finders is itself woo, except with PowerPoint instead of crystals.

              1. Willis*

                Ha – I’m not generally in favor of crystals, but when you put them in a head-to-head competition with PowerPoint, I’m not sure which I’d pick!

      1. Firecat*

        Ah. Glad you clarified because I was thinking strength finders “woo” as in try to win you over and I wasn’t seeing it.

    1. Teapot Tía*

      It’s a (US, I guess) term for new-ageish attitudes (urban dictionary “woo-woo” is accurate.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        That helps it make more sense/nonsense. Thank you, Teapot Tia.

    2. Phony Genius*

      A search on my non-work computer led me to it being an acronym of “winning others over” through energy and the like. It was on a new-age company website, who I will not promote.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I first saw woo defined that way in Strengthsfinders. But that usage is a backronym. Use of woo and woo-woo as meaning new-agey-y stuff predate it.

          1. Flashlight*

            It’s also part of original Parliment Funkadelic keyboard legend Bernie Worrell’s band name: the Woo Warriors! \m/

    3. No Name Today*

      In this case, it’s a term for an environment that is generally less utilitarian and more feelings-oriented.
      These places seem to be characterized by things like:
      Instead of team of individuals, the company is a synergistic unit with a center.
      How one person feels affects that center which then flows out to the others.
      The members of the group need to be in balance with each other.
      Therefore, when conflicts happen the resolution should be more about everyone being at peace with it over simply being a functional plan.
      It’s not for everybody.

    4. Prague*

      Crystals and healing energy and the universe is a friendly place, my child.

      Do NOT google this from work. It also has other connotations.

  5. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    Honestly, I’d leave her alone on this. I think it’s great you want to help her, but for whatever reason, she’s not taking it that way. When you do, she snaps at you and complains to your boss. I wouldn’t waste any more of your energy on her.

    1. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Yea, I’m getting the feeling that Dawn has reached a b*tch eating crackers place with the OP and any further pushing or sidenotes is going to make it worse. Emailing the owner to complain about information a peer is giving you when you are new reads super aggressive to me.

    2. Heidi*

      I’m not really clear on whether or not the OP’s role carries any specific responsibility to supervise or train Dawn. Maybe this company has transcended that kind of thing. But if it’s not specifically part of OP’s role to give this kind of context to the new employees, I agree she’s probably justified in leaving Dawn alone.

    3. IJustPayTheMortgage*

      Completely agree. I’d take the advice of one of her coworkers and let her flame out. I wouldn’t help someone who won’t receive help and then complain to our boss about it. This woman sounds like she won’t be happy no matter what. Flame out sister…

    4. Willis*

      I agree…she’s already snapping at the OP when she tries to help, I wouldn’t go further down that path. Maybe this company’s onboarding is terrible, maybe Dawn’s a grump, maybe it’s a culture clash, probably some combination of factors. But, she’s not been receptive to the OP and it’s not the OP’s job to supervise or train her (at least that’s not indicated in the letter) so I’d probably just move on from trying to help Dawn adjust.

  6. Mary Christensen*

    See, I WOULD LOVE THIS ENVIRONMENT!! But I am also very new-agey, (crystals, energy work, etc) and can roll my eyes at a lot and just deal with it. And I know EXACTLY the type of customer you support, because those are the kinds of people I love working with, and have worked with a lot in the past. But my husband? He would hate that with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

    So yeah- she’s just going to have to figure this out on her own.

    And now I’m REALLY curious about where you work. But I will never know. Dangit.

    1. dogmom*

      I would also love this environment! LW, are you hiring? I teach yoga on the side, so I am well-versed in woo! :)

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Just goes to show that it takes all kinds. I’d hate working at a place with this much woo.

      1. DataGirl*

        Same, this place sounds like it would be hell for me. It’s awesome others like it and it works for them, but it definitely is the kind of place that takes a very specific personality to function in, and it sounds like Dawn is not that person. I agree with Allison that being super upfront about the culture before hiring anyone is essential so they can self select out if it’s not going to work for them.

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, this place would be great some folks, but I wouldn’t last a day there, guaranteed. There is (or used to be, not sure if they still exist) this vegan restaurant in Berkeley called Cafe Gratitude. Their food was supposed to be great, but I never ate there because all their menu items started with “I Am…” and were called things like “I Am Full Of Joy And Abundance.” As a British person, I Am Horrified By The Very Prospect Of Having To Say Something Like That In Public.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          I Am Entirely With You On That, TPC.

          I’m both annoyed and embarrassed by this type of thing.

          I’d rather say “I’ll have this, um, brinjal thing, please.” And then have to point at the menu and explain which one.

          And I’d hate working at OP’s company and have enormous sympathy for Dawn. But OP, you are kind to persist in trying to help someone who’s not being very gracious about it.

        2. Sasha*

          Oh I don’t know, there is something pretty comical about ordering “three joy and abundances please, one without the sriricha. And a Transcendence latte”.

          1. retrowaveRecluse*

            I try and start every lunch with a mug of caramel Transcendence. Where do I submit my application? The Akashic Records, perhaps.

            1. Penny Parker*

              Many points for the reference to the Akashic Records. Also, I think those who are using the word “magic” need to add a “k” to the end of it.

        3. Mister T*

          It closed five years ago, and several employees accused the owners of essentially running a cult.

          I used to love it, but man it was hard to order.

          1. pancakes*

            Many years ago there was a very woo-woo health food store in my neighborhood, which I used to shop at because they had great goat cheese. The employees always seemed a bit off in some way, though. I was talking about it with a coworker once and he had the inside scoop, as one of the employees was from his hometown: They all lived upstairs from the shop in a cult-like arrangement, pooling their income, and frequently tripped on DMT together.

          2. The Prettiest Curse*

            Wow, I hadn’t heard that, but given the general vibe that the place gave off, I’m not very surprised. Did they let you point at the menu or order by item description, or was everyone forced to use those ridiculous names?

        4. Your Local Password Resetter*

          I’ve seen shops try that, and i found it immensly disturbing that my food was sentient, had opinions on its own mouth-feel and seasoning, and was actively trying to have me eat itsself.

        5. BatManDan*

          I know the founder personally; Cafe Gratitude is still there. Food’s delicious, but I agree, the “woo factor” is off-putting.

    3. EmmaPoet*

      Yes, I’d do well here, because I am also into crystals and do energy work (reiki and Rún Valdr), and I’m fine with go-with-the-flow, but it doesn’t sound like this is the place for Dawn, and she needs to work that out herself.

    4. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I would probably like it, too. I’m not very woo-ish myself (maybe just a little), but I’ve always liked people who are. I worked at a now-defunct natural foods warehouse (before natural and organic foods started being stocked in mainstream grocery stores everywhere), and most of the people there were like that. Also when I was part of a Unitarian fellowship, I mostly gravitated to the pagans. I wasn’t one of them as far as practicing goes, but they’re the ones I seemed to fit best with.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This whole sub-thread could be called “Woo WHO”.
      (I’ll show myself to the door now….)

    6. WellRed*

      Hmm, a boss who doesn’t manage, no structure, no HR. Consulting the oracle is all very well and good until it isn’t m. If I have an issue with benefits, I’d prefer to ask am actual professional.

    7. k*

      I would not love this environment, and it has nothing to do with the woo. I would be mortified if I found out my coworkers were saying things like “just let her flame out” behind my back instead of treating me like a person, rather than a problem. It would make me feel like I couldn’t trust anyone, with good reason. Getting an email about “unity” afterward would make me feel even worse, because it would seem like “unity” would preclude rooting on one of your coworkers to fail, but nobody cares about that.

      1. GothicBee*

        They’re not rooting for her to fail, they’re just telling the OP to quit trying to force Dawn to accept her help.

          1. Polly Hedron*

            Yes, “flame out” means “fail”. But “letting” her fail does not mean “rooting” for her to fail, it means just what GothicBee said above.
            And it wasn’t Down’s “coworkers” who said to let Dawn flame out, it was just one coworker who was trying to help the OP.

  7. Wendy*

    I was told during a job interview to “pray about it” and let them know if God wanted me to take the job… as the branch manager of a public library. My interviewer and boss was the mayor.

    She was right (if blatantly illegal), though, because if that level of in-your-face religious preferentialism had been a deal-breaker for me, I would have been a very poor fit :-/

    1. Former Employee*

      If I needed the job and felt confident that I could do the job itself, I guess I would have accepted it and ignored the religious aspects of it.

      That is based on the assumption that since it’s a public library it’s unlikely I would be interacting with overtly religious people who would be asking me to pray with them on a regular basis just because that’s not normally how the general public deal with their librarians.

      1. Wendy*

        It is in the rural deep south, as I discovered on that job :-P I’m nowhere near the same flavor of Christian that the mayor or most of the town were, but that whole job was an eye-opener to little ol’ Midwestern me on how different the culture around religion can be!

      2. Lexie*

        In this situation it wouldn’t be about the general public but the coworkers. If the person interviewing me told me to pray about the job I’d have to assume that they incorporate religion into their day to day work. I envision things like gathering the staff to pray together at the beginning and end of the day, prayer before training sessions/meetings, being asked what my religion is, where I worship, being invited to attend the supervisor’s church, etc.

    2. Eat My Squirrel*

      How this would play out in my world…
      Me: Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize this was a Christian library.
      Interviewer: Oh, it’s not, hun, I just want to make sure y’all have an opportunity to discuss this with the Almighty before accepting our offer. We’d love to have you aboard, God willing.
      Me: Ok, well, that’s cool, but as a practicing Druid, I don’t “pray to God,” and while I could do a tarot reading or perform a ritual involving a meditation to ask for guidance from the Great Spirit, I really don’t feel it’s necessary. Since I’m sure you didn’t mean anything offensive by your comment and would never illegally discriminate against a non-Christian, I’m prepared to accept your offer immediately. (Sticks out hand to shake)

  8. PT*

    Let’s pretend Dawn wrote this letter:

    Dear Alison, I am a professional in my field with years of experience and I took a job with this company that sounded great! But when I got there, it turned out to be a disorganized, unprofessional mess. There’s no structure, it’s wildly out of compliance with standards in our field, stuff is often late, missing, and incomplete, and anytime I try to nail down the details and resources I need to do my job I’m met with offers of crystals and new age woo. I’m really concerned this is going to damage my reputation as a professional. How do I salvage this? -Dawn

    I am guessing more people who comment here have been Dawn (the competent employee who’s unwittingly boarded a ship mid-wreck and is panicking looking for a lifeboat) than LW (the person happily sipping a cocktail as their lounge chair slides forward because the deck is listing, oh well.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, and the answer would be the other side of what I wrote to the OP: this is the culture there, you’ve got to figure out if you can exist in it reasonably happily or not.

      1. Terra*

        What distinguishes between ‘you need to figure out whether this is right for you’ and ‘they need to make reasonable adjustments for you’?

        I’m not saying they should make reasonable adjustments for Dawn, I just find the line a bit confusing. If the question was “My new atheist/minority-religion co-worker can’t handle our Christian environment”, would the answer still be the same?

        1. Anononon*

          The law makes it different? There are certain protected characteristics that are protected and/or employers need to make reasonable accommodations for.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes. They’re legally required to make religious accommodations for you if you need them. They are not required to revamp their entire way of operating, and it’s not realistic to expect them to.

        2. Sasha*

          I think it would depend on what it was about the Christian workplace that the coworker was finding difficult?

          If you take a job in the local bishop’s palace, and then have problems with the religious iconography on the stationery, that’s on you. If you work in Hobby Lobby and your supervisor keeps trying to exorcise you after they cash up the tills each night, that is probably actionable.

    2. Mary Christensen*

      And it certainly could be that. I was just hired on my my husband’s company (I know, I KNOW!!) to document systems because in 10 years, there systems are WOEFULLY inadequate. I can roll with the punches/ eye-rolly stuff, but a lot of people couldn’t. A LOT OF PEOPLE. BUT, I also knew exactly what the company culture was, so I knew exactly what I was walking into. So yes, this kind of environment would be fine with me, as long as I could talk to one or two people I trusted to give me honest feedback about how I was ACTUALLY doing. It doesn’t sound like Dawn has those people though.

    3. NeutralJanet*

      I just want to push back on the idea that the company is failing–where do you get that impression? OP says that the business is doing amazingly, that they’ve recently doubled their staff, and that they have a great team and business. It’s possible that OP is putting an overly positive spin on things, I suppose, but I don’t see any evidence to suggest that the company is out of compliance with standards in the field or that stuff is often late, missing, or incomplete, and certainly not that OP doesn’t care that the ship is sinking. Can you expand on why you seem to think that that’s fact?

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Yea I was wondering where that came from too, there isn’t any indication of the company sinking.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        OP says that the business is doing amazingly, that they’ve recently doubled their staff, and that they have a great team and business.

        There were many years where Bernie Madoff could make the same claim… I’d be wary of taking the lack of crash and burn as evidence that the plane isn’t losing altitude.

        1. BRR*

          But we’re supposed to take LWs at their word and it’s both a reach and not helpful to the LW to suggest they don’t know their own company.

        2. NeutralJanet*

          Sure, it’s not impossible that the business is failing, but it’s also quite possible that it’s not. What’s written suggests that the business is doing well. No, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t crash and burn in the future, nor does it mean that all is actually well, but you could say that about literally any business. PT seems to be taking it as fact that the business is failing. Why?

        3. Anononon*

          This is absurd. There’s absolutely no justification to compare OP’s company to a terrible ponzi scheme criminal.

        4. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That kind of stretch would make it impossible to ever take LWs at their word or have a discussion grounded in any facts (and is super frustrating for LWs) and I ask that we not do it.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I’m suggesting we don’t infer either way.

            The place could be running like a pig on stilts and making money hand over fist, or running like a pig on stilts and going bankrupt next Tuesday at 4:14 pm CST, and it would all look the same to us 10,000 mi away.

            OP believes the business is doing well and Dawn fits in like a foot in a glove. That’s all we know.

            1. pleaset cheap rolls*

              Maybe Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est is Dawn? It’s possible. Maybe we should consider that?

              Or maybe she’s the OP? We just can’t know for sure.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                I’m neither OP nor Dawn. I may have walked a mile in Dawn’s shoes… and I can see where Alison is coming from and how I could have been closer to that line than I had intended to be.

                1. pleaset cheap rolls*

                  “I may have walked a mile in Dawn’s shoes”

                  Hmmm…..that seems like evidence to me. Not for sure, but possible.

            2. Yorick*

              We’re not inferring. We’re listening to what OP says about their company, which they know about and we don’t.

        5. Yorick*

          This is a really weird take. Sure, every company could be lying, but OP has worked at this company for a while and has a positive view.

        6. Mister T*

          There is a huge market for woo. It is not hard to believe that an organization with a flakey work culture selling crystals or high end “clean” cosmetics can be disorganized and wildly profitable.

      3. Beth*

        Yes, this is exactly my thought. Just because there are crystals and other woo doesn’t mean that the company is failing — in fact, it sounds as if they’ve found a very good balance where they can accommodate the owner’s woo tendencies, enjoy the ridiculous aspect of it, and get on with their jobs. I’d probably do very well myself in that environment, as long as it wasn’t served up with a layer of religious froth.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          For sure. Crystals and woo is actually a very solid and growing market segment. If you had invested in rose quartz face rollers or Himalayan salt lamps or yoni eggs ten years ago, you would be sitting on a very tidy profit today. It’s not savvy to write off a business just because it caters to a subculture that annoys you.

      4. I'm A Little Teapot*

        It’s a hypothetical letter written from the opposite perspective of what was presented in the letter we do have. Why does it matter if the hypothetical letter is right or wrong?

        1. Aitch Arr*

          Yeah, I noticed that. I would be money OP and her colleagues don’t meet the criteria to be ICs.

    4. I should really pick a name*

      Though there’s no indication that the place is a mess. The stuff about out of compliance, late, missing, and incomplete isn’t in the letter at all. Doesn’t really change the answer though.

      1. Lady Meyneth*

        You’re right, but as a person who needs some structure to function, I’d spend my days absolutely terrified that a company who offers crystals and nature talks (and isn’t about, say, archeology) must be on the verge of floundering. True or not, that’s how I’d feel, even if I knew for a fact the company was having tremendous profit. If Dawn is like me, she needs to get out of there ASAP, and that’s that.

    5. No Name Today*

      I think there is also a part of “they seemed very focused how things used to work. It seems that time I ask about a process they are discussing, because I’m trying to learn, I’m told, “oh, this was ten years ago. I just want to be kept in the loop about now, but I’m not sure if anyone is working on things now.”

    6. Worldwalker*

      Wait, where are you getting that?

      If stuff was often “late, missing, and incomplete” they wouldn’t be so successful that they just doubled the size of the company. There’s nothing in the letter that indicates a shipwreck in progress — only a serious mismatch of employee expectations and company culture.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Wait, where are you getting that?

        We’re seeing this through OP’s eyes. I believe PT was speculating what the same situation might look like though Dawn’s eyes.

        1. Yorick*

          But that comment just makes up stuff that’s not in the letter.

          Based on what we know, Dawn might complain about the weird job titles, the woo new agey stuff, and the fact that people talk about old stuff that’s no longer relevant in a way that confuses her. But we DON’T have any reason to think she’d talk about the company not conforming to industry standards, assignments being turned in late, or people being sloppy about their work.

    7. Smithy*

      Putting aside the points of being out of compliance and materials being late – from the Dawn perspective, I get a stronger read of the onboarding process not being very formal or perhaps being fairly poor irrespective of how the company is doing overall.

      I used to work somewhere that had onboarding that thrived on the “throw people into the deep-end” model – despite it being an ad-hoc and wildly uneven process. Overall the team wasn’t a disaster and no one would ruin their reputation working there, but it could be really hard to get onboarded. Add in a cultural mismatch plus stresses perhaps of onboarding more remotely due to COVID, and I get why Dawn is finding the situation intensely frustrating. It’s just that I don’t see this frustration as furthering her cause.

      1. Willis*

        Yeah, the OP said it took them awhile to hammer out their job descriptions…I wonder if Dawn even has a good sense of hers and what she is supposed to be doing on the team.

        1. Smithy*

          Exactly. I used to work for a very small nonprofit where certain systems were in place because they worked for the size of the organization – but were it to ever double/triple its budget in a short period of time, I could see new staff finding certain systems no longer feasible. And because the size of our organization meant that certain departments were run by one person – only they had to understand the system. Add on top of that a culture that isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste…

          I read this letter as there perhaps being some concrete and professional points of struggle, that are then exacerbated.

    8. More anon today*

      Agree with others that we should take LW’s word that the company is doing great – but PT may be right that *to Dawn,* it looks like failure or at least like the company is on the path that usually leads to failure. In which case, maybe with time she can relax into it and realize that this weirdness actually works for this company. If not, then yeah, probably not a good fit for Dawn.

    9. James*

      “There’s no structure, it’s wildly out of compliance with standards in our field, stuff is often late, missing, and incomplete, and anytime I try to nail down the details and resources I need to do my job I’m met with offers of crystals and new age woo.”

      Most of that isn’t evidenced in the letter, though.

      The group I work with is similar in a lot of ways to the LW’s organization. Job titles are vague, and tend to be passed around–next week I’m a project manager, the week after I’ll be a safety officer, the next week I may be a field grunt. We transmit information orally, on an as-needed basis. There’s little apparent structure. But note the “apparent”. Those of us who’ve been around a while know the structure. We know who to talk to to get things done, we know where to find the information (often, admitted, because we had to dig for it a few times). We don’t miss deadlines and our products are of exceptional quality, on the high end of standard for our industry (the nature of the work doesn’t really allow for “exceptional”; a potentiometric surface map isn’t going to win an award).

      My point is, this sort of organization may function really well. It depends on the people.

      If stuff is late, incomplete, or missing, that’s a separate issue from the organizational structure. That’s a reason to believe that the ship is sinking, folks just haven’t realized it yet.

      I’ve been both. I started out as Dawn–I was looking for a strict hierarchy, and never found it. Took me a few years to figure out my role. I’m still working on it, but I’ve learned that’s the way such organizations are–roles are not static, they change with the needs of the organization. And I’ve been the LW, trying to explain to people how things work and trying to get them to understand that a system that’s worked for 25+ years, for two dozen people, isn’t going to change just because the new person doesn’t like it.

    10. Ben Marcus Consulting*

      I don’t know that the deck is listing. Taking LW at their word, this comes across more as Woo Incorporated reinvented the wheel a bit, and leaned heavily into phraseology, in order to better achieve their ideal company culture.

      Sometimes that’s beneficial, as phraseology can have a significant impact on the type of employee you attract and retain. We see very often see this in a negative light when companies try to promote themselves as ‘like a family.’ But it doesn’t have to mean that you’re bringing on a toxic employee and it certainly doesn’t preclude competency in the industry. In fact, it could be a response to the industry they’re in and that’s why they’re successful.

      It’s clear that Dawn isn’t fitting in right now. She may need to be encouraged to have a more open mind about the situation, or she may need to reevaluate if she’s a good fit for the company. I would also encourage her to accept coloring on ‘old information’ as it provides a better foundation of understanding and helps to create an understanding of why Woo Inc is where it is.

    11. Uh, no*

      Wow, this seems to go against the site’s commenting rules, especially about being kind.

  9. Mary Christensen*

    Also, I would LOVE to get an email about nature. that would just…make my entire day. And EVEN IF I ROLLED MY EYES AT IT, it would still make me smile a little.

    1. OM_Extraordinaire*

      I’m in charge of time sheets at my company and started to write “informational” emails with a side note of “oh btw way – yeah submit your time sheet” instead of putting down the proverbial hammer. I have been know to theme my emails with hiking suggestions, gardening tips, outdoor ideas, tips and hacks and last week mushrooms. I’d like to think people enjoy (and learn) from these.

  10. WFHHalloweenCat*

    Whoooo boy. So Dawn is demanding outdated context (that she doesn’t need) in all-team meetings and then complains when the letter writer takes time out of their own schedule to give her that context? I guess I’m wondering if she reacts that way to EVERYONE who tries to do this or just LW. It seems she might be taking her frustration out on you for some reason. Has anyone else tried to fill in these gaps for her?

  11. PJS*

    I’m surprised that Alison’s answer did not mention that fact that Dawn says she doesn’t need to know about something when OP mentions old information, complains to the boss about OP focusing on old information, but then gets upset later and asks why she wasn’t aware of something old. That seems like an issue that has nothing to do with company culture.

    1. CTT*

      My understanding is that Dawn is asking why she didn’t know about something when the old information was brought up, finds out that they’re referencing something old/no longer used, and then complains.

  12. Dust Bunny*

    In fairness, it sounds as though the owner is hiding behind platitudes about unity instead of addressing questions that might make the company run better than it does (not that it doesn’t run well now, since it apparently does, but maybe it could be better?).

    Also . . . even the LW talks a lot about “working around” the woo, which doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of their culture even from someone who seems to like it.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yep to both of these.

      Everybody is walking on eggshells around each other, because the CEO is so conflict-avoidant.

    2. Firecat*

      That’s true, but part of woo can also be embracing the attitude of “I have enough no need to hustle”

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Except that the LW is using the fact that they’re expanding as “proof” that they’re not dysfunctional. So expansion is on the radar, which suggests at least some need to hustle.

    3. Lexie*

      The emails about unity and nature reminded me of a supervisor who would tell me to “be flexible” whenever I expressed any kind of frustration with my work load rather than trying to help me find a real solution.

  13. NoviceManagerGuy*

    Why is OP still a contractor if she’s been on with the company since the beginning?

    1. Jinni*

      OMG this was my first thought. Then I kind of wondered if Dawn is a contractor. There’s so much of this at startups in NorCal.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      This. Along with the woo it sounds like the owner might be trying to distract from other things like violations of labor laws.

      1. Lilo*

        I’ve got to say, I find the two go together a LOT. “We’re laid back and casual, here’s a ping pong table so you ignore our terrible health plan/labor practice shenanigans”.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Sometimes it’s intentional, but I think a lot of the time this happens when there’s a founder who’s super into the vision and big ideas and is more of a “wing it” and “take risks” type person, and just… doesn’t actually look up the labor laws? It’s more ignorance than malice, not that that makes it okay.

          I think many small orgs do better when there’s a deputy or COO type who actually cares about getting the paperwork right and following the rules, and who thinks of things like hiring a payroll service and doing market comps on benefits.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Agreed. And maybe thinking they can avoid a lot of messy, boring, not-very-spiritual paperwork if everyone is a contractor?

          2. Nikki*

            I’ve run a start-up so I can empathize that figuring out labor laws, regulations, and paperwork can feel like a lot. But it’s just as important as developing a great product.

            Most local governments (like the attorney general / department of corporations) are actually pretty good about informing small business owners of their responsibilities under the law. It’s sometimes tricky to figure out the paperwork, but when it comes to what benefits you’re required to provide, what signs you’re required to post, and the general labor laws, it’s there in bold print.

            I’m preaching to the choir, but it really bugs me when people act like taking care of your employees’ rights is optional! I feel like “big thinkers” act like these kinds of details are below them because they’re so radical and imaginative… when really they’re just being selfish.

        2. ThatGirl*

          This isn’t really relevant to the discussion, but as it turns out, my new office has both a pingpong table and a tabletop shuffleboard in one of the break areas — and it’s a solid 100-year-old manufacturing company. (No beer taps or sleeping pods, though.)

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        Depends on whether the OP is an independent contractor or an employee of a separate agency that holds the contract.

    3. WellRed*

      Oh good, not just me that wondered that. I also suspect if they are suddenly growing fast, this woo aversion may become a more common problem, especially with a non manager and no HR.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        The “growing fast” piece can be hard. Going from 4 to 9 means that you’re going from a setup where everyone basically knows what everyone else is working on to one where that isn’t really feasible. You start to need more defined roles and responsibilities, and to think about how information flows because everyone can’t know everything. You start to need documentation or a shared records system for things that were previously just in someone’s head or their email. And so on.

        I’m sure there are books out there on this – it comes up with startups and nonprofits all the time – but there may be a growing pains element at play here.

    4. e271828*

      Yeah, that is a big glossy red flag. At least three longterm employees still “contractors.” Dawn should flee.

  14. a clockwork lemon*

    The culture stuff seems like a bit of a red herring here? Maybe there’s some additional context, but even in most healthy corporate environments it wouldn’t fly for a new employee (or, in my company, most any employee) to be snapping at people in meetings for not knowing about products that no longer exist, then complaining to the owner or CEO when people try to tell her about the stuff she’s mad about not knowing.

    Without knowing why Dawn thought she’d be a good fit for this job in the first place, it seems like someone somewhere needs to explain to her that everyone’s happy to give her the resources and tools she needs to succeed but that it’s not acceptable for her to be snapping at her colleagues or getting upset with people for not doing onboarding/training for products and processes that are no longer applicable to the company’s workflow.

    1. Threeve*

      Nothing that Dawn is having issues with–gaps in her knowledge that just come with the territory of being new somewhere–is unusual. But if she’s scornful of the culture of the place it’s probably exacerbating her frustration with those gaps and distrust of the context she’s being given. And that’s her issue to figure out–the snapping is just not okay.

  15. Workfromhome*

    I dont think there is anything to be done here. If the employee is a 9 or 10 on the I need structure scale and the company is a 1or 2 on the we have structure scale its just not going to happen. people closer to the middle can sometimes adapt but when its that far apart? Id be shocked if it happened. Someone has to change and its not going to be the company culture so best that Dawn has a conversation with the owner not you.

    Not defending snapping at someone but if it were me I’d probably quit within a few days dont have patience for the hippy dippy stuff so I’d decide that it wasn’t the place for me.

  16. Archaeopteryx*

    It sounds like both factors are true – Dawn is being a bit much and somewhat unreasonable (complaining about missing the info and then complaining when she gets it) – but also this much woo? Just say noo. I get that some people like that flavor, but it seems like this is going to narrow your culture so much that you’ll deprive yourselves of a lot of talent. And since the crystals/nature/namaste vibe is being linked here to laid-backness, lack of HR, etc (which many startups share and which doesn’t inherently involve woo), it might be hard in the future for your company to change or improve stuff like clearer titles, robust HR representation, etc without it being perceived as a step back from the flavor people are used to.

    And just me personally, specific things like crystals feel very different from a general yoga-esque vibe, especially in a workplace context where you don’t know how other people are taking it. Like with astrology/crystals stuff, some people enjoy that flavor but don’t actually believe in the pseudoscience, so your company giving crystals as a gift would lead to “is this just a pleasant decoration or do they actually believe this stuff?” kind of dilemmas.

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      True. I like to collect shiny rocks but don’t know/believe in their properties. I just like rocks

    2. DataGirl*

      The crystals would bug me. It can be argued that it’s just alternative medicine (which is problematic enough, work should be separate from medical choices) but it borders on getting into religious territory since at least in my mind they are associated with paganism/Wicca, and could also border on cultural appropriation if people are stealing native practices. I hope to heck this office isn’t also burning sage /smudging.

      1. MsSolo*

        Also, a lot crystals on the market these days come from mines that use child labor, and provenance is deliberately obscured. I would be very uncomfortable accepting crystals as a gift without a lot of assurances and paperwork.

    3. fposte*

      I think that’s a culture fit question, though. All businesses have cultures, and all make them more available to some kinds of talent than others. I see a ton of interest in crystals, astrology, etc. from a wide swath of seemingly capable people these days; as long as the business is located so that the hiring pool of those is reasonably sized, I think it’s not necessarily an unreasonable choice.

    4. L.H. Puttgrass*

      For me, the crystals thing would completely depend on what else the company did. “Here are some crystals to realign your chakras and grow creative healing energies” (or whatever the jargon is—I’m not all that fluent in woo) is fine if it’s followed by, “Now don’t forget to wash your hands, wear masks, maintain social distancing, and [once it’s available] get vaccinated.” If they think none of that other stuff is necessary because the crystals will protect people on their own? That’s a problem.

  17. Michelle Smith*

    Please let me know if the position becomes available. This sounds like a really cool environment for me. Much less stressful than what I currently deal with and hey, I just recently started getting into crystals myself!

  18. voyager1*

    I have so many questions after reading this. I do wonder if Dawn actually looked up anything about the company before starting. But yeah this ain’t the place for her. LW I do think you are being a good coworker trying to help her.

  19. SMH*

    Next time it comes up in a meeting that Dawn ‘wasn’t told’ about something from the prior system act confused and say ‘Dawn I tried to cover that with you on Monday but you didn’t want to focus on prior or outdated information. Can you explain what you are needing instead?’ You could do this privately as well but the point is to try to find an opportunity to say to Dawn you stated in the meeting you want this information but when I tried to provide you said you didn’t need old information. I’m not sure how to give and not give you this information. After that the ball is in her court and the owners to address the constant ‘no one told me.’

    1. ElleKay*

      Alternately, when she questions “Why don’t I know this?!” try to explain it in the moment rather than later, 1:1.
      Either she’ll realize that she doesn’t need the old information or it will be immediately connected to her question. I wonder if, by the time you speak to her individually, she no longer remembers/realizes why you’re bringing this up

      1. Littorally*

        Right, I wonder about that too. Like, if it’s being talked about in meetings as though it’s current and possibly relevant to her job, and then the OP is coming around later like “oh, let me tell you how it used to be…” that sounds like reminiscing.

        OP, how have you approached filling her in on these things? Have you explicitly connected it like — “hey, you asked about XYZ that came up in yesterday’s meeting, let me explain that”?

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

      Yes, it sounds like meetings meander from the original topic and then Dawn gets confused and frustrated. The woo of crystals or essential oils wouldn’t bother me (I don’t believe in them but they are usually harmless fun), but I hate hour-long meetings that could have been a 30-second email. If long feelings-laden meetings, that have a lot of reminiscing for the old days, aren’t Dawn’s area of strength, then maybe she can opt out and get a more concise synopsis later.

      But she also could be one of those that believes the history and culture of an employer are irrelevant, and that’s not really true of any workplace, even ones that don’t do woo.

  20. learnedthehardway*

    Honestly, I think you’re being nicer to Dawn than she really deserves. I mean, she’s asking for information in meetings, but then snapping at you when you’re trying to provide context and help. And then she’s going to your manager to complain about you!

    I think you should have a conversation with the president / your manager to ask about Dawn’s role. Is the objective for Dawn to change the culture / processes, or is she there to do the functional role and to fit into the culture and processes of the organization? You need to know this information to know how to best support Dawn’s integration into the company. I would express that you are enthusiastic about whatever the answer is, but would also point out that you’re trying to be helpful, and you’re not sure whether Dawn sees it that way.

    The reality is that whether Dawn was hired to change the culture and processes, or whether she was simply hired to fit into the existing way things are done, she needs to know what the existing culture and processes are to be successful in her job. She doesn’t seem to be coping all that well with learning them.

  21. Littorally*

    Man, a seriously luxury product where it means that clients aren’t incredibly high-pressure and demanding? This sounds like a dream come true.

    That said… OP, I’m not sure if it’s just the limitations of what’s in a letter vs not, but I wonder if Dawn’s problem is less the woo and more the lack of structure? You say that you long-timers have worked out your own sense of structure over the years, and from the sound of it, Dawn may not be plugged into that structure. She sounds like she is flailing a bit. Whether or not you end up keeping Dawn, it might be worthwhile to find some time to sit down and try to formalize that ad-hoc structure a little more so that it’s easier for new workers to come aboard.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes, this. It sounds as though this place has a mostly oral culture, which can be hard for newbies trying to figure out what’s going on. Dawn appears to be coming from a more formally-organized background and doesn’t seem to be handling the new environment gracefully.

    2. llamaswithouthats*

      In my experience, this is how a lot of small nonprofits function.

      I have a feeling Dawn is going to quit on the spot or just stop showing up to work…but it won’t faze anyone since everyone seems so chill.

  22. RagingADHD*

    The woo doesn’t have anything to do with it.

    Dawn is frustrated and struggling because she doesn’t have the institutional knowledge you all share about the processes and projects. And nobody seems to be giving her any kind of comprehensive overview of the historical context she needs, just snippets of information. (Or at least that’s how it seems to her).

    If the context about old systems or products is completely irrelevant, why is it being discussed in meetings at all? And if it is relevant, why isn’t anyone explaining to Dawn *how” and *why* it’s relevant?

    It sounds to me like your coworkers are talking in shorthand, and nobody has given Dawn the key to decipher it. That’s not a culture fit issue. That’s a communication failure. And it’s not particularly “laid-back” or “emotionally oriented” to act as if Dawn’s frustration is the problem.

    Have you (or has anyone) tried sitting down with Dawn and asking her what kind of questions she has, what she needs to know, or if there’s anything you can unpack for her in terms of background information? Does she have anyone she can go to and ask these things, and get a straight answer?

    1. Littorally*


      The woo is interesting, but it sounds like a red herring. The organizational structure is what Dawn seems to be running into.

      1. serenity*

        We don’t know the full context here beyond what OP wrote so I’m not sure we have a full enough picture of the situation to know for sure. From what OP wrote, Dawn’s divergent reactions to being presented with old information (lamenting that she doesn’t have the context, then bristling or snapping when it does come up) reads to me like someone not adjusting to a very different culture. It could be incomplete or ineffective communication or it could well be something else – like Dawn isn’t a great fit for this particular company.

        And to be honest, “Dawn does not end up being a good fit at this organization” is a likelier outcome for this than “OP’s company radically reimagines their culture, their communication styles, and their structure for the sake of retaining one new employee”.

        1. RagingADHD*

          If you have to radically reimagine your culture to say, “Oh, this is related because…” then you don’t have a culture, just a collection of Geek Social Fallacies come to life.

          1. serenity*

            I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, sorry. Your statements are extrapolating a lot from something we don’t have a full picture of.

            If the company is doing well and the employees are mostly happy and successful, Dawn may just be not a great fit. I don’t think a company in that situation would be losing sleep over one person who prefers a different culture or communication style.

    2. Guacamole Bob*


      This is what I was trying to get at with my comment above.

      From the title here I was expecting that the new employee was uncomfortable with the new age elements of the work culture, like talking about the lack of science to back up some claims people were making about crystals, or refusing to participate in some sort of team meeting around feelings. But the problems spelled out in the letter are much more ordinary communication and onboarding ones, except that OP is seeing them as being about Dawn being out of step with the culture.

    3. Paulina*

      Yes. In effective onboarding, there needs to be a middle ground between “just pick it up as you go” and “infodump”. I also see that Dawn is reacting differently in different contexts: in the group meeting she wants to be able to participate fully and be in charge to the extent she feels she should be, but to the OP privately she objects to the lesson. Both are aspects of her feeling at sea with respect to her onboarding. But also part of it may be that she’s concerned about how she’s asserting her role to the larger group, and not so worried about how she’s coming across to OP.

      I’ve been part of a project whose “inboarding” veered between the poles of shadowing and infodumping; the latter involved reading a whole pile of documents, some of which had some relevance but also left a lot out, and it was absolutely maddening. So I’m likely projecting. Eventually I cut my losses and quit. But I’ve also had bosses who acted very differently in larger meetings than they did when it was just me.

    4. Marny*

      This was my reaction too. And on top of the communication failure, the laid back attitudes just make it more frustrating when Dawn’s frustration is met with, “Chill. We like unity here, man.” It’s a bad culture fit, yes, but also it sounds like no one is making an effort to examine how confusing some of these meeting discussions would be for a new person.

      1. k*

        Of course they aren’t. They just want her to “flame out” so they don’t have to be around her, and her unemployment and reduced quality of life is an acceptable casualty to them.

  23. Kimmy Schmidt*

    Do you work for Gwyneth Paltrow?
    I feel for Dawn, and I’d be curious to hear how this plays out and if she elects to stay.

    1. Chilipepper*

      We are not supposed to guess but thats an excellent one! And it helps me to visualize what it might be like for the new employee.

      Someone asked this earlier but how did the employer not screen for this by sharing the level of woo-ness as part of the hiring process.

      1. James*

        “Someone asked this earlier but how did the employer not screen for this by sharing the level of woo-ness as part of the hiring process.”

        Okay, but how do you do that without engaging in discrimination on the basis of religion? I’ll grant that this stuff is an edge case, but it’s either religious or religion-adjacent. How do you screen for acceptance of this sort of thing (I’m not a fan of the pejorative “woo”, but there’s no better umbrella term for it) without engaging in religious discrimination?

        I know a few companies that engage in it from a Christian perspective. They get away with it because only people who are okay with that sort of environment apply, and because frankly the legal system de facto presumes that Christianity is the one true religion (many of the judges in the area I’m thinking of are deacons). A New Age group is not going to receive those same protections.

        To be clear: I’m not saying you’re wrong. Obviously knowing about this stuff up front is going to be helpful to everyone. I’m just not sure the law will allow the company to do this.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I think they can screen by talking about the working environment in more general terms. Things like, ‘relaxed atmosphere’, ‘hands-off management’, ‘informal meetings with wide-ranging conversational flow’, might get the point across.

          Couple that with knowing what their product line is, and that should screen out people such as me pretty effectively–and not illegally!

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Well, in early pandemic, some companies sent people office supplies and/or comfort food to their house …this company sent crystals.

  24. Sondheim Geek*

    Slightly off topic, but this letter reminds me of the one a couple of weeks back where the OP didn’t get the job because the employer felt the other candidate was more relaxed and would be a better fit, whereas they felt the OP would do better in a corporate environment. There seemed to be a gut reaction from some people that the employer had (unfairly) judged the OP based on dressing nicely for an interview, but I think this is more in line with what they probably meant (not this specific situation, of course, but along the same lines).

    1. EmmaPoet*

      I had a job interview before Covid where I was top two, and they picked the other person . It did sting a bit, but I figured if I made it to top two out of a boatload of candidates, I must have done something right, and it gave me more confidence for other interviews.

    2. Threeve*

      And it’s a hard thing to gauge on both sides. “Laid back” and “positive” are such unhelpfully vague descriptions if that’s all you tell someone in an interview.

      It could mean “we don’t jump down your throat if you miss a deadline and don’t pressure you to put in overtime” or it could mean “when the printer jams, we hold hands in a circle and sing to it to manifest good intentions instead of fixing it.”

      1. Goldenrod*

        “It could mean “we don’t jump down your throat if you miss a deadline and don’t pressure you to put in overtime” or it could mean “when the printer jams, we hold hands in a circle and sing to it to manifest good intentions instead of fixing it.””


  25. LizM*

    I’m curious how much training Dawn got when she started the new job. It sounds like this organization takes a lot of reading between the lines to understand processes/roles/etc.

    That said, I’m not sure it’s OP’s role to fix, given that it’s not super clear if she’s a peer, a team lead, or what…? That’s the challenge with really flat organizations that don’t believe in hierarchy. It works okay on a small team, but eventually if the owner is the only “real” boss, the span of control becomes unmanageable when conflicts arise (and they will as an org grows). (I would not be a good fit in this business, given my love of systems and org charts…)

    If Dawn needs more structure, and the owner is unwilling or unable to provide it, this may not be a great fit. But it’s worth looking at your onboarding process, and if you’ve created ways to work around the woo, make sure that there is a way to impart this knowledge on new hires.

    As others have pointed out, it also seems like Dawn is taking her frustration out in a not-so-professional way, but again, I’m not sure that’s OP’s place to get involved and fix, because it sounds like OP isn’t necessarily empowered to do that, and I’m not sure how Dawn would take it from someone she views as a peer.

    1. biobotb*

      Yeah, it kind of sounds like instead of giving her a quick heads-up in the moment–oh, this is an old system/process/whatever–the OP is instead opting to stop by later and give her some kind of in-depth background that Dawn will never remember because she has no context for it, and, because it *is* irrelevant, will probably never apply that knowledge. Dawn is definitely being unprofessional in her demeanor, but the OP and the rest of the office sound like they have no concept of how to onboard/get people up to speed effectively.

  26. Dr. Rebecca*

    This is a bit OT, but I would be just as uncomfortable in a heavy-woo place as I would be in a heavy-any-other-type-of-religion/spirituality place. Unless your business is hawking crystals, crystals don’t really belong in the workplace.

    1. nonbinary writer*

      Strong agree with this one. While I think non-heirarchical spirituality is different that religions with institutions and power structures, it still feels really inappropriate and borderline evangelizing. Being given a crystal at the beginning of pandemic would probably prompt me to quit instantly, especially given all the anti-science rhetoric these days.

      1. James*

        I kind of like it, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, the organization sounds like it’d drive me crazy–I’ve learned to deal with a relaxed managerial style, but I prefer structured hierarchies. But…well, think of it from the perspective of someone who’s in a minority religion. We’re constantly awash with Christian imagery in the USA (in the South in particular). I’d say 2/3 of the cubicles where I work have crucifixes in them, and half have Biblical quotes. Our company’s idea of religious diversity is to have Catholics, Methodists, and Baptists discuss the problem of religious diversity. You can imagine how well a pentacle would go over in such an environment. There’s something about seeing the tables turned that makes me smile a bit. And hey, it works for Chic-Fil-A.

        As for the crystals at the start of the pandemic, I’d smile and thank them, then probably give the crystal to my kid. It’s not my thing. Crystals, and rocks in general, are about history to me–as a geologist I see a rock as a record of the past. Any other properties are outside my preview. All the Pagans, Wiccans, and New Age types I know are getting vaccinated. Non-overlapping magisteria and all that.

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          There’s a difference between encouraging individual expressions of faith (“…2/3 of the cubicles…have crucifixes…”) and having a *company* faith.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            This. And that’s from an atheist with a liberal Quaker background who lives in the South. I don’t want a “company faith”, even if it’s technically my own!

          2. James*

            “There’s a difference between encouraging individual expressions of faith … and having a *company* faith.”

            Agreed, but in my experience the line between individual expression of faith and a company having faith is fairly thin–in a small company, if the executives are openly displaying religious iconography, it has a real effect on the company. If you know that the CEO, CFO, and VPs are all Christian of one flavor or another, are you really going to be comfortable being an open Wiccan, or Taoist, or Muslim? Sure, legally they can’t act against you–but we all know that if an executive wants you gone they have numerous tools in their arsenal. Same with managers. So there’s something enjoyable about seeing the shoe on the other foot. “Welcome to my world”, you know?

            I agree that I probably wouldn’t like this company personally. This is more of a situation where I’d make popcorn and watch, not actively participate.

        2. Jay*

          My husband is a geologist. He’s learned to dodge to “are you into crystals?” questions….

          1. Dust Bunny*

            My parents are geologists. My mom kinda loses her cool when she sees this kind of thing.

            1. James*

              I’m a geologist, paleontologist and Pagan. Frankly I don’t see it as something to get upset over. Everyone’s relationships with the gods are different, after all. I don’t use crystals myself, but that’s for personal reasons: to me, geology is all about uncovering the past and seeing how the Earth (and increasingly other planets) work. Geology is out in the field, where you are confronted first-hand with the majesty and awesome power of the forces at work creating our world, on scales that are beyond human comprehension. Crystals are pretty enough to look at, but the ones they sell have no personality. They’re completely blank and interchangeable, by design, and therefore boring. They have almost nothing to say, and certainly nothing unique. Still, I see their use in a ritual as equally abhorrent as the use of bread or beef or candles in a ritual–that is, not at all.

              As I said somewhere else in this thread, my bigger concern is the ethical extraction of the crystals. Most people know of blood diamonds at this point, but that’s really only the tip of a very nasty iceberg. Unless you’re very careful about who you buy from you can easily end up unwittingly supporting egregious human rights violations. That sort of goes against that “An it harm none” thing.

    2. Worldwalker*

      From the letter, I got the impression that their business is, if not exactly hawking crystals, still selling to that segment of the market. So it seems that would be expected in that particular workplace, just like crosses would be expected in the offices of a Christian bookstore chain.

    3. Washi*

      For that reason, I hope they explain the culture to interviewees, as Alison points out! That said, I always thought I would strongly prefer a secular culture, but I worked at a Jewish organization for several years and really loved it. It literally had “Jewish” in the name so you couldn’t miss what you were getting into and I think they did a great job of integrating Jewish values in a way that added meaning to our work but didn’t make an atheist like me uncomfortable. I found it very thought provoking and found it deepened my connection to the mission (it was a nonprofit.)

      I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong in spirituality playing a role in a company/nonprofit (not that you are saying there is) but it definitely needs to be explained up front!

      1. Filosofickle*

        I’m about as much of an atheist as you can get and avoid religious / spiritual orgs in general, but have absolutely loved working with my Jewish clients!

        1. Filosofickle*

          p.s. By clients I mean Jewish organizations, specifically schools and foundations. Looks weird on re-read.

    4. DataGirl*

      I commented about this above already but yes, this bothers me from multiple standpoints. Religion, cultural appropriation (which is rampant in ‘woo’ circles), and medicine.

      1. retrowaveRecluse*

        Woo-type guy (subtype: animistic polytheist) seconding this, seriously in this comment. I’m wary of woo in employment, and its a discomfort that is way too off-topic to be fully expressed and ultimately, probably secondary to Dawn’s apparent discomfort with the ‘woo’. But it’s hard to tell if the ‘woo’ is a red herring or fundamental to the friction.

  27. MsClaw*

    “Dawn is sweet but obviously very anxious and constantly interrupts meetings with “why wasn’t I made aware of that?” or “why don’t I know about this?” if we mention stuff from an old system we no longer use, regarding products we no longer offer, that don’t impact our new format. ”

    Why is this stuff still coming up at meetings??

    You’ve doubled the size of your staff. How good of a job are you doing at reading people into the organization? Like, actually making it possible for them to do the jobs you need them to do, not reading their auras or whatever.

    From what’s been written it sounds like there’s a lot of information that is presented without context, and then you’re getting irritated when asked for context. And then when the context turns out to be a bunch of old intel that’s irrelevant to the task at hand, Dawn gets even more irritated.

    I’ve been the new person on an established team. I feel for Dawn based on what you’re presented here. You keep bringing up the ‘woo’ but you don’t give any examples of Dawn having a problem with the ‘woo’. The example here reads to me like the situation I’ve been in where a room full of people are talking about the way things were for half the meeting when I’m trying to focus on what needs to be done *now*. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your nostalgia. And obviously sometimes talking about past history is incredibly useful to inform the conversation, but give some context. And if there isn’t any, consider not retreading that ground.

    1. Lilo*

      Agreed. I have to explain old systems to trainees sometimes to explain older files at work, and I actually have a standard reference table for this stuff (“we used to use bamboo Llama brushes until 2012, now we use plastic ones because of X law”). I keep it updated because stuff changes all the time.

      So OP should examine their onboarding/training.

    2. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. I think this is much less about the crystals and whatever and much more about Dawn not being given the tools/background she needs to do or understand her job. It’s obviously a concern for her, but rather than helping her they expect her to just figure it out by osmosis. I have a standard set of info I give people when they first arrive, point them at files for their own education, and make myself available for follow up questions. I try to provide relevant history when necessary. If we get someone new and they aren’t included in a meeting or an email and I think they should be, I’ll add them myself or point it out to the project lead/meeting organizer. How has she been onboarded/included? If Dawn is often asking why she wasn’t aware of x, then the team should be looking at why this continues to be a problem. Who is dropping the ball on including her on information related to her work? Surely mind reader isn’t a required skill here.

    3. clogerati*

      Old products and processes come up in meetings at my company all of the time (it’s larger than OP’s but honestly the structure is kind of similar). The old things might not be “relevant” to the conversation, but they can be helpful to provide context (e.g. “remember when we did xyz event with abc? It’s going to be kind of like that.”) or, and this might be kind of controversial to some of the commenters on here, sharing stories about past experiences does create bonds in a team. Obviously, it can be annoying when meetings drag on because you’re talking about “irrelevant” things, but it sounds like this company really values interpersonal relationships and part of developing and deepening relationships is sharing stories. That’s not the right environment for everyone, and that’s totally okay!

  28. Generic Name*

    Oh boy. My company is similar in that you really love our culture, or you…..don’t. We aren’t new age woo (we’re a bunch of scientists and engineers) but my company values creative thinking, entrepreneurial mindset, and there’s a very specific way to get things done that baffles people used to big corporations or government. I’ve had several coworkers who I liked and respected and did good work who just couldn’t get past how things are done, and they left for other jobs. One went to work for the General Services Administration, which is like the most governmenty federal government organization. :) I think you would be doing her a favor if you met with her for coffee (herbal tea?) outside the office/virtually to chat about how things work at your company and tell her that the way she wants to do things just doesn’t fly at your company. She can decide if she wants to dig out her hemp necklace and Birkenstocks from the 90s and put crystals on her desk with the rest of you or if she wants to slip back into the comfort of her high heels and smart blazer and work at a place that has actual procedures and rules (dammit). :)

  29. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I think the problem here is less that your organization is new agey, “woo,” or whatever you want to call it. It’s that your culture is largely oral and relies on newcomers to pick up that culture as they go, rather than being formally oriented to the organization. This may be fine for certain people, but Dawn may not be one of them. I wonder how candid your owner was when Dawn was interviewed? Given that your organization is kind of atypical, one solution would be to assign her a mentor.

    But I don’t think this is your problem to solve. At most, you might say something to the owner: “Dawn seems to be having a little trouble settling in. Is there someone who could mentor her?”

    1. Generic Name*

      This is a great idea. Maybe come up with a title like “storyteller” or “oral historian” or something. ;)

    2. Chilipepper*

      Thats a good catch, its an oral culture and it does not look like that works for Dawn.

      1. LizM*

        This is a good point. I’m not an auditory learner. If I don’t understand the context of verbal information, it flies in one ear and out the other. I have to work really hard to receive information this way. Give me a 200 page manual, on the other hand, I can sit down, read it, and be reasonably familiar with the info (or at least understand enough that I know how to look up the specifics).

        Not sure if this is what’s happening here, but I would not be successful in an environment where I had to pick up random bits of information being thrown my way without sufficient context.

        “From 1995-2000, we painted all our teapots blue.”

        Then a week later, after I’d presented my idea to start painting teapots green, “Oh, we can’t do that. We used to paint them blue, but it turns out the blue dye is toxic, so we stopped. That’s the same blue dye that we’d have to use to mix green.”

        1. llamaswithouthats*

          Same here re not being an auditory learner. I’m not as confrontational as Dawn so I would suffer quietly but would definitely leave. I don’t mind the other unconventional stuff- I’m allergic to corporate formality, but in the end of the day, if I’m hired to do a job I will be very stressed out if I don’t think I can do it well.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I’ll join the carpool when we quit. I’m a Kinesthetic learner.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Ding ding ding.

      And it’s just going to get worse as you expand, because that process of absorbing the culture gets harder the bigger you are. Not to mention that things get lost in the mists of time.

      Somebody at some point needs to bite the bullet of getting the key parts of this past knowledge written down.

  30. Mental Lentil*

    I am getting some heavy Green Acres vibes here.

    I guess the lesson is that if you go in thinking you can change a place’s culture, or that the culture will adapt to the way you are used to working, you’re not going to fit in and everything will feel uncomfortable. That was Oliver.

    Lisa, on the other hand, even though she didn’t want to move to the country, just went with the flow, took people at face value, accepted quirkiness as the way things go and absolutely thrived.

    A story as old as the hills.

  31. James*

    Regarding the crystals: You may want to discuss ethical sourcing with your supervisor. It’s been a concern in geology for a while, and a number of New Age groups are starting to take it very seriously. I’ve got a foot in both worlds, and personally prefer things I’ve found myself to things I buy–I know their history, and there’s a personal connection that really does matter.

    Regarding your question: There are two ways to have a great organization. You can have great people, or you can have great systems. Ideally you have both, but that’s rare. It sounds like your organization opted for the “great people” method. That’s fine–it’s how the group I work with works, and it works really well. It sounds like Dawn is a “great systems” person. Again, that’s fine–I’ve worked on such programs and while it’s a pain to learn how to submit all the documents, it really does make things easier in the long run. But it does mean that she may not be a great fit for your organization. It can be incredibly frustrating to be suited to one, but work in the environment of the other. I’ve been the person translating the two systems for the past few years, and it’s no fun!

    The problem with onboarding people in a “great people” organization is figuring out what they need to know. In this type of organization you don’t think about what procedures you need to follow, you just do what needs done. It’s not as fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants as it sounds; well-defined roles help, and people generally gravitate towards specific tasks, helping navigate the issues. But it does mean that there’s not formal “Here’s how we do things” document. And building one isn’t a trivial task. It’s like walking a tightrope or riding a bike–you can do it perfectly, as long as you don’t think about it. Once you do, you fall over your own feet. There’s no good way to deal with it; the best I’ve seen is a mentorship, where the new employee has one person they can talk to to get questions answered. Then, as they gain confidence they may change mentors, or add new mentors for new tasks. If you want to keep Dawn, that’s the path I’d go. But it’s probably too late at this point.

  32. Cromch*

    For the specific snappishness and inconsistency about people talking about old products and information, I wonder if it would help to have a more direct conversation with her about that? Like, ask her how she’d like to handle information about systems and products that aren’t current anymore. I’m not sure how receptive she’d be to a conversation along the lines of “Hey, I’ve noticed that you seem to find it frustrating when you don’t have context about older products and systems, but that you also don’t love being bogged down with information that isn’t current. How would you like us to handle that type of information going forward?” but naming the problem might go a long way toward helping her notice the pattern and decide what would work best for her (like, should people just wait for her to ask questions? do you guys want to designate someone she can go to for context on stuff that’s coming up?).

  33. Anon Dot Com*

    I get that Dawn is anxious and frustrated (I would loathe this type of work culture, personally), but she’s taking it out on LW, and due to the lack of management, that probably won’t change. The LW sounds very nice, but I would urge them to reconsider whether Dawn is really “sweet”! She’s demanding irrelevant information, snapping at LW when offered the information, and complaining about LW to the owner. It sounds like Dawn is a bad fit, but she’s also managing the bad fit inappropriately.

  34. BRR*

    I think all you can and should do is make sure you’re doing a good job on boarding a new employee. You can’t make her do well, you can only do what is under your control. And if you haven’t talked directly to owner about Dawn’s attitude, keep in mind you might have to if this continues. It’s not ok for her to snap at you and constantly be complaining about you to the owner.

    And I’m kind of surprised at how many people are only criticizing the LW’s company. It’s not practical for the LW to change company culture when as far as we know it’s working for the other 8 people (plus a lot of it sounds beyond the LW’s control anyways).

  35. i will do it anon*

    This is more about the comments than the letter itself, but can we please not equate crystals/essential oils with yoga? as an Indian-American, I recognize there is some amount of overlap between people who do yoga and the new-age crowd (namely, I think the middle of that Venn diagram is the people who put turmeric in everything for some reason) but they really are very different and in this case I did not get the sense from the letter that OP’s company is into yoga.

    1. pancakes*

      Yes. A lot of commenters seem to regard everything that tends to make US Christians uneasy as one big woo-woo stew.

  36. Former Employee*

    I am one of the least “woo” type people anyone could ever meet. I spent almost all of my career in the corporate world and it was a lot about the numbers. Having said that, I think I could get along in the culture described by the OP because I would expect it to be different. Privately, I’d be all “gimme a break” regarding crystals, but they can be pretty and I could accept a gift like that in the spirit it was given and look at it as if I were gifted some other decorative item.

    How hard could it be to find out the job description of each unusual title? Even stodgier corporations can have titles that don’t exactly fit what any given employee actually dies.

    Honestly, “Dawn” sounds rather combative and it makes me wonder if she took this job because she needed to leave her previous employer due to her difficulties working with others.

  37. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

    This kind of crap is just as obnoxious as overtly Christian nonsense in the workplace. All originating from a lie meant to control people.

    Dawn, RUN.

  38. Momma Bear*

    I think it’s a little of column A and a little of column B. I worked for a start up that hired someone who was NOT comfortable outside their area of expertise. They were much happier in a big corporate environment and I hope that their next job was just that. They were not a bad person or employee, but just really struggled with lack of structure and firm boundaries/roles. Startups are not for everyone.

    I’ve also seen how small companies kind of lean into the everyone knows everyone business model and it can be really disconcerting for newcomers. What is the company’s plan for growth? Do you really have a good onboarding process or is it a little too Wild West? OP keeps referring to “woo” but there’s a lot in that letter that I think would be off-putting to people coming into basically a clique. So while Dawn may never be happy there, I think the company/OP would also do well to think about how much support someone needs to join the team and be honest if you aren’t providing it. Like others have noted, I think it’s less about the crystals and more about Dawn feeling out of the loop and the lack of structure. If I had to repeatedly ask about why I wasn’t looped into x or y, I’d be very frustrated with my job. Is Dawn really included like she should be? If my coworkers were of the opinion that I should just “flame out” vs helping in a constructive way….that just seems passive aggressive and toxic. I kinda feel for Dawn here.

  39. AnonEmployee*

    Yeah, my logical brain would not be able to handle that, though it would probably be good for me! :)

  40. pretzelgirl*

    While I never worked for this laid back of place, I have worked at place where I didn’t feel I fit in. It took me several weeks/months to learn the lingo. There was little training and I had to kind of figure out things as I went along. Most people realized this and were very patient with me. But it was hard for a long time. I went home cranky and exhausted all the time. I would say give Dawn time. She may eventually catch on or decide its not for her and leave.

  41. badculture*

    I once worked somewhere, that I loved the company. The benefits were great, they offered non-cringe y activities during the day (totally optional and no pressure to attend), great future and other fun perks. However culture also varied department, my department and mine was terrible. There was little to no training. It was very clear to me that my co-workers were annoyed by my pure presence some days. They were not happy that it took me a few months to learn complex accounting systems. Things were never communicated and it was their stringent, no fuss and games attitudes that really did me in. It sounds like the opposite of Dawn TBH. It was awful. This culture was not communicated during the interview process at all.

    I think the point of my comment is, that it sounds like the culture is the wrong fit for Dawn. She may just realize this on her own and leave. I tried to get out, but actually laid off before I could. I think I actually smiled when she said it. I was looked at as if I were nuts and practically skipped my way out of the building.

  42. Tinker*

    The thing that pops into my mind on reading this is: “okay, this is a feelings company; in that case, what might be going on with Dawn’s feelings?”

    Let’s say this, for instance: a new person is coming into this company. In some way, the company pays money in exchange for work, and it’s probably money that people need to pay for essential expenses. It’s also an outlet for some forms of social connection — maybe a lot of them in this case, but minimally things on the order of “what I am doing is a benefit for my community, however defined” and “what I am doing is not wrong, undesirable, and contributing to my eventual social rejection”. There’s also the related drive for personal efficacy — “what I am doing visibly has a desired effect on the world around me”. All of these are tied to motivations that can commonly be expected to be quite intense, and hence prompt intense emotional reactions.

    So now things are unfolding such that this person is in conversations that suddenly veer into topics they don’t understand and apparently can’t pick up from context — a thing that commonly evokes feelings of being left out or shut out. They’re trying to figure out what they should be doing, and the resources that they’re using point them in directions where other people go “naaaaah, that’s wrong” and ultimately the outcome of the discussion is generalizations about unity and nature, but unity and nature are not “will I or will I not be fired (and experience the commonly associated shame and fear) if I continue using this format for the covers of TPS reports”. How then do they know what’s right? How can they be secure in their surroundings so that they can, potentially, let go of their worries and just vibe with the crystals without having to wonder if that noise in the distance is the smoke alarm going off?

    Now, granted, it looks like Dawn isn’t dealing with whatever feelings are arising in a particularly productive way — and for sure there are feelings, you don’t snap at people if you’re not having feelings. And maybe ultimately this is not a good match for her. But if you end up framing the question like “this company is very feelings-based and this is a so-called ‘corporate’ person who does not do feelings”, I’d suggest you’re potentially missing important points about how you are or are not being welcoming and safe for her and for all these new people you’re aiming at bringing on.

    “To be clear is to be kind.”

    1. Tinker*

      And a side note:

      Being woo-woo is a valid stylistic choice that is not for everyone. It’s not objectively bad. Being unclear and not having workable processes for resolving conflict and repairing relationships is not a style issue, it’s a fault. For that sort of thing, papering over the core issue with crystals and dingy-bell music is how you create a wretched damn emotional abuse factory (to be blunt). Please endeavor to avoid.

  43. Noncompliance Officer*

    About six years ago one of our Grandboss’ decided we needed more “team oriented” names and changed a lot of our titles. Think instead of Supervisor you were now the “Staff Motivator” and our Managers are now “Team Partners.” Except there are multiple levels so someone might be a “Most Esteemed Team Motivator,” but it’s not clear without looking at a chart where that sits in the organization. Everyone hated, and still hates, this, but even though that Grandboss is now long gone no one has ever fixed the position titles.

  44. Betteauroan*

    This sounds very weird, and being from the corporate world, I can see how this type of culture would have to explained to a newcomer. However, it sounds like Dawn doesn’t like you very much, OP. You sound like a nice person. I don’t think you are the right person to reach out to Dawn and explain it to her. I would stay out of it entirely and let the chips fall where they may.

  45. Goldenrod*

    Wow, I think your office culture sounds SUPER NICE! As someone in a toxic and VERY hierarchical workplace, it actually sounds like a dream come true.

    In my opinion, Dawn doesn’t seem to recognize a good thing when she finds it! Can I have her job??

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      I think it’s interesting that some people here are saying the culture sounds great whereas for me it sounds like a living hell. Honestly, if a boss gave me a crystal as a present I’d want to stick it where the sun don’t shine. It goes to show how important it is to find a job where you fit in with the culture.

      1. Goldenrod*

        Agreed. Just adding, for me personally, I’m not actually a new age-y or “woo woo” type of person….however, the lack of hierarchy and laid-back management style of this workplace really appeals to me. My current place is so unkind, this more relaxed environment just sounds refreshing to me, even though it’s not exactly my style.

        Point taken, though.

        1. Xavier Desmond*

          Yeah I get that. Even if i would hate the new age woo stuff, I do accept that it is preferable to a genuinely horrible, toxic work environment.

    2. k*

      How is it not toxic to say “just let her flame out” about a coworker who is clearly struggling? How is that not the very DEFINITION of toxicity?

        1. k*

          Asking for information or clarification is not even in the same universe as actively rooting on one of your coworkers to fail, especially in a company that supposedly values “unity” and “feelings.”

          1. Polly Hedron*

            One of the coworkers said to let Dawn flame out. That doesn’t mean the whole culture is toxic.

            Dawn is toxic when she asks for information and, when OP tries to provide it, snaps at the OP and complains to the owner.

  46. Yorick*

    It doesn’t really sound like the culture is Dawn’s problem, at least with the specific examples she’s given. No matter where she worked, she might not learn about old products or all the historical context of something until she’s in the middle of a meeting. She seems to be very against not knowing all that, but is also against being given any of that info by OP. I’m not clear what these examples have to do with the new-agey woo culture, except that’s how the owner responds when she complains about things that are unrelated to that. It sounds like she would probably be having the same problems in some more traditional corporate environments.

  47. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    Is Dawn the first PM at your company? Because honestly this sounds like herding cats. Do you (as a team) have a clear idea of what you need her to do, and what she needs in order to do that?

    A big part of Project Management is identifying and managing risk, which is challenging in most places but probably impossible in an organisation where the owner responds to emails about work concerns by talking about nature and unity.

  48. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    Does this company actually want a project manager? Most people with strong track records in that role are going to veer type-A. It is very hard to grow a business without eventually bringing on people who are detail oriented and business minded. Even if it’s not for Dawn, this company really should start making room for people like her.

    1. Gilmore67*

      Agree. While I think we all understand that every new employee has to adapt, at least to some degree, to a new companies culture. But there will be times that, as you grow your company (as in this case) the company might need to also ” tweak” some ways they think and do things. Not throw it all out. Just say… hey we have Dawn here, I think she is good, do we need to look at the way we do certain things.

      There are always going to be new challenges in a company. This blog and other blogs have always said, don’t always hire someone that thinks the same as we do all the time. Companies need all types of thinking to grow.

      I am not so sure about this situation and maybe Dawn just isn’t fitting in. That OK. But in the future you still need to make sure you let candidates know the culture ahead of time. Maybe they can deal with the culture and still be who they are and have other fresh ideas. They don’t have to be into the crystals and all that stuff to be effective.

      There needs to be a balance of all of it.

  49. twocents*

    This is an interesting one and reading through the comments that are offended that this company is basically violating religious discrimination laws!! (though literally nothing indicates that)… maybe this is a good reminder for Dawn and everyone that you probably shouldn’t work for a company if you actively regard their market segment with disdain. I’m not saying you have to be a customer for your employer, but at the same time, you probably shouldn’t think “my employer’s customers are the worst.”

  50. D3*

    So….the company hired someone for a role where the *whole point* is to keep everyone on track and make sure projects are planned, come in on time, and stay under budget, and you think she’s not laid back enough because she….does her job?
    Poor Dawn. Hired to do something and then gets ostracized as a culture fit for trying to do that thing.

    1. James*

      There are ways to do project management in the type of environment the LW describes. I know, because I do it. It involves a lot more relationship building than in a more corporate setting. You need to get people to personally commit to a project, or to personally commit to you and follow you from project to project. The person doesn’t do the work you ask them to do because you have the authority to make them do it, they do it because you asked and you have a personal relationship with them. When it works, it works fantastically. When it doesn’t, it devolves into petty back-stabbing and protection of fiefdoms. And onboarding people is hard, because by definition the new person doesn’t have relationships with people.

      Dawn sounds like she came from a situation where roles are more rigidly defined, and people are expected to do the roles and work assigned to them from on high. I’ve been in that situation as well, and it works fine as long as everyone is on the same page. It’s easier to onboard people because they have a more limited scope. It’s easier to transition people into and out of roles–folks can go on vacations and the new person will likely do just fine in the role for two weeks. The level of personal stakes in a project aren’t as high, which is good or bad depending on your perspective.

      Project managers can work in either environment–but a PM that works in one environment likely isn’t going to do well in the other. Culture is really going to matter in this situation.

      1. Raine*

        Yeah, as a proiect coordinator, I’ve been in organizations where the tribal knowledge and/or tradition reigns over profit and documented systems. Someone who wants to know why we keep asking for work from $CheapskateEntity when our profit margin is razor thin might get an answer of “but we pride ourselves on supporting our community!” or “that’s how we do things here” rather than “here’s our corporate history, here’s our 32-page manual on how we do projects, etc.”
        For those folks like Dawn, explaining the “why” equates to frustration, because they aren’t seeing the direct line of “we do x because of y” when the “y” is a rambling story from what she hears as “ancient history.” They want a “we do x because [insert the 255-character-long explanation].” I worked with an engineer who was like that, and I had to explain to him that what he was hearing as “irrelevant” was actually relevant.

  51. Erin from accounting*

    Oh my… I must admit that I also would not be able to handle so much “woo woo” at work.

    Emails about “unity and nature” don’t do much for effectively onboarding new team members. An onboarding plan that emphasizes sharing institutional knowledge and culture (as well as being explicit about the company culture in the interview process as Alison suggested) would be beneficial, especially since you are intentionally rejecting the norms that most professionals are accustomed to.

  52. Raida*

    The MANAGER is the owner – they need to learn how to manage before the company gets any bigger.
    a crystal and a wish for happiness does not address core issues. It puts the onus back on the staff who NEED DIRECTION.
    that’s a SH*TTY manager. I dont’ care if they’re nice. I dont’ care if the team works well. You have no HR and only one manager who does. not. want. discomfort. Well I’m sorry but they are responsible and need to step up with getting themself manager and HR training – do they keep up to date on the legislation in the region? Are they aware of the business’ legal responsibilities? If there’s no expert on staff and no managers the business could run fine until it doesn’t.

    This should be something that’s invested in – you should bring it up with the Owner, because I’m sure they don’t want to see the business go under due to being sued by staff, or staff taking extended stress leave, or staff having restraining orders against each other – all the bad stuff that should never happen with decent oversight and management but could feasibly occur with no oversight.

  53. fhqwhgads*

    If Dawn both gets snippy and asks “what is that? why wasn’t I informed?” but also gets snippy and “that’s old I don’t need to know that”, I don’t know if it’s really the woo that makes the problem. It sounds like maybe she’s just…snippy. It doesn’t change the advice a ton, the gist is still “this is how it is here”, but the angle of approach is a bit different. It’s not about explaining the woo, but that there are old systems and sometimes they’re gonna come up and she doesn’t need to know about them, since they’re old, but she also shouldn’t be so agitated at the idea she “wasn’t told” – specifically because she’s agreeing she didn’t need to be.

  54. Greg*

    For reference, we got crystals as a staff gift at the beginning of the pandemic.

    Your company thinks crystals will ward off covid?

    1. pancakes*

      This is a bit much. The letter doesn’t suggest this, and numerous other reasons the company might’ve sent them. It could be that crystals are part of their product line and were cheaper to arrange than the sort of small, token gifts many other companies sent to people working from home – snack boxes, coffee mugs, etc. It could be that, like many woo-woo types, they have vague ideas that crystals are nice to have around, without ascribing ludicrous magic powers to them. Etc.

  55. k*

    I have to say, I’m skeptical of a company that claims to be “feelings-driven” but is perfectly fine letting people “flame out” instead of, you know, applying those feelings and treating them like a human being who presumably wants to not flame out. I guess only certain people’s feelings matter.

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

    I thought the type of wording Dawn uses is quite telling, as in where she perceives the blame/fault/issue to be. She says “why wasn’t I made aware of this?” etc rather than e.g. “what system is that? I haven’t heard about that”. She seems to divide information into “things I need to be aware of” and “things that are irrelevant” (and make the distinction based on not having enough prior knowledge).

    “Why wasn’t I made aware of this” is blaming the team rather than a criticism of the situation (which makes sense in that light why she goes to the CEO to complain about OP focusing on “finite pieces of information that don’t matter”; probably she doesn’t link OP filling her in with the things she doesn’t know about and feels she should).

    I feel for her though despite the fact that she is quite demanding and prickly (most of the places I’ve worked would have resulted in a reprimand if someone was being “snappy” with co-workers) … it seems like one of these situations where a company creates a position (project manager in this case) based on a perceived need, takes on an experienced person, but doesn’t really know what they need and results in frustration for the experienced person.

    I’ve got to say that would get my back up, to the degree that “why wasn’t I made aware of this” one too many times would likely result in “because when we’ve tried to make you aware of this you snapped and dismissed it as irrelevant”…

  57. 'Tis Me*

    I’d possibly suggest writing an email to Dawn, CCing in the owner, in which you actually raise the issue:

    Hi Dawn,

    I appreciate that there may well be some culture shock associated with coming to us from a larger, established, more traditionally corporate company. It may help to realise that we have for the most part helped to define our own roles. We aren’t averse to things being clearly defined or documented, or having structure in place when this is useful, but one of the wonderful things about working at a company like this is that there is more scope to try different things and respond more dynamically to our customer’s changing needs, supply changes etc.

    If there are things you need from us in order to work out where and how you can best add value in your role, or to help better define your position going forward, we want to know so we can help you do that. We want this company to succeed and recognise that you can help with that.

    On several occasions, in meetings old products and systems have come up, and you have seemed thrown by not knowing about them. When I’ve tried to give you a potted history of what we’ve used and offered, and how and why those have changed over time, you have complained about this too. I am sure that this has come from frustration with trying to grasp exactly what’s essential info and what’s potentially useful background information, and would like to think that we can enjoy working productively together.

    Please let me know if you need anything from me to succeed here.

    You may want to talk to the owner first and mention that you’re going to try to reach out to her again to see if you can’t get on the same page, but this sets out the perceived source of the issue, while also making it clear that she doesn’t need to meditate until her third eye opens and your chakras align to solve the problems she has – rather, work out what her goals in the position are, what she needs from others to achieve that, etc, and that even if woo abounds, it doesn’t need to get in the way of her doing her job (and doesn’t limit you doing yours).

    1. 'Tis Me*

      I would also like to add, it may be an idea to talk to your other new colleagues too and work out what general training materials would be useful. It sounds like there hasn’t been the need for them previously, but they’re likely to benefit everybody now.

  58. DiscoCat*

    In theory I love the idea of this company culture, but it would drive me up the walls to not have enough information, not enough structure etc…

  59. GarlicMicrowaver*

    Unpopular opinion- this culture does not seem to be fostering inclusivity at all. What if Dawn was not forewarned, or told about this woo-ness at the interview stage? If that is indeed the case, then her reactions are completely justifiable, in my opinion because of course it would come as a complete shock!

    I want to know with whom the initial accountability lies before OP can tell Dawn, “This is us. Take it or leave it.”

  60. Larz*

    I’m baffled about what the work environment even has to do with Dawn’s bad attitude and behavior. Working in a woo-woo environment doesn’t make it necessary for non-woo-woo people to a) throw a fit about not having old irrelevant information or b) get mad when she IS given that old information for context. Maybe I’m missing something? Things change in every work environment, and it’s on the managers and team leads to figure out what info–old and new–people need in order to do their jobs. If she thinks she needs more info, she can ask. (Having a coworker who absolutely WILL NOT give me the info I need without several paragraphs of unnecessary backstory, I may have my back up a little about this!)

  61. Freya*

    At one of my previous jobs, there was a company wiki, which anyone could add to (knowing that it would be visible to everyone). We all added to it, with pages of information and tips for workarounds and so forth. There was also a section for more social stuff, which the CEO carefully refused to look at, which is how I knew the phrases that would set him off if you used them. Background stories like the ones described, where you don’t really want to explain the whole thing every time, but which a new person might find useful for context, were absolutely the kind of things that would go in this wiki. You could easily make a note of a couple of keywords and then search the wiki when you had time (updating the wiki was a timesheet category, used when people weren’t working on billable things or professional development).

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