coworkers who complain about returning to the office, job candidate disclosed autism, and more

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

1. Coworkers who complain about returning to the office when I’ve been here all along

In light of your recent article about workers who have been in the office throughout the pandemic, could you provide some advice for how to handle comments from coworkers who were able to work from home returning to the office with us? I’ve actually been very privileged with my work situation throughout the pandemic, but I am one of two people in my office who was told I would need to be in the office 50% of the time.

Throughout the pandemic I’ve listened to coworkers (and supervisors) talk about how much they enjoy working from home, how nice it is to only come in the office when necessary, how much money they are saving without their daily commute or childcare expenses, and I’ve put up with a coworker who chooses to work from the office but doesn’t wear a mask.

I’m starting to feel incredibly resentful. Everyone will be back in the office full-time in a month, and I think I need some examples of responses to these comments moving forward. No one here is nervous about their health, they are just completely unaware that they are complaining about losing perks I never had in the first place.

Can you pull off a cheerful “I’ve been here all along so I’m probably not the right one to hear that”? If you say it cheerfully, it shouldn’t come off as terribly chilly but might nudge them into realizing they should be more thoughtful about their audience. Alternatively, there’s the straightforward “I’ve been here all along, including when it was riskiest, so it’s tough for me to empathize with that.” Or even just, ““I’ve been here all along…”

Read an update to this letter here.

2. How to respond when a candidate discloses autism in an interview

I just had my first hiring experience as a new manager and I wanted to get your perspective on something from one of the interviews. My boss (our organization leader) and I were interviewing candidates for an entry-level position in my department, and at the beginning of one of our interviews, the candidate asked if they could disclose something before we got started. With a fair amount hesitation, my boss agreed, and the candidate said that they were on the autism spectrum. My boss jumped in and explained that while they appreciated the candidate’s desire for transparency, hiring managers shouldn’t know that up-front because legally we cannot deny employment to someone on the basis of any kind of medical diagnosis, and including that information during an interview makes everything much more complicated.

My boss and I debriefed after the interview, and we ultimately decided not to move forward with this candidate because the role didn’t match up well with their career plans in the near future, and the type of work environment that they said they were interested in was at odds with the type of work environment we offer (candidate wanted something fairly independent and structured, whereas our work environment relies heavily on collaboration, and schedules/workflows can change pretty quickly).

I feel like we did our best to base our hiring decision solely on what the candidate was looking for and whether or not they’d be able to perform the required tasks, and not on their stated diagnosis, but obviously it got complicated. I was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to handle this situation if it comes up again in the future.

Your boss shouldn’t have responded to the candidate that way. It’s true that employers can’t legally consider that kind of information in hiring decisions as long as the person can perform the essential functions of the role … but there’s no rule against candidates voluntarily disclosing their own information, and sometimes it makes sense for candidates to do that if it could lead to a better, fairer, or more comfortable interview process for them. Think, for example, of a candidate noting she’ll need a place to pump or for the interview to be held in an accessible location. In this case, your candidate may have disclosed their autism because they wanted to ensure you wouldn’t read into, say, lack of eye contact or as context to ask that your questions be clear and direct.

The right response from your boss would have been, “Is there anything we can do to make the interview more comfortable for you?” or “Are there any accommodations you’d like from us to help you be at your best during this interview?”

From there, be sure you’re evaluating all of your candidates on the same list of must-have skills, focusing on their qualifications and not disability, and make sure you’re not evaluating people on things that aren’t essential to the role (like, for example, people skills for a role that doesn’t actually require them). From what you wrote here, it sounds like your assessment was fair; I’d just try to adjust the way you/your boss responds in the moment and how easy your organization makes it for candidates to request specific accommodations if they need them.

3. Shouldn’t it bother me to see my work wasted?

I had an irksome conversation with a coworker and I wanted an outside opinion on it. My team and I create a time-sensitive product, and if an order falls through it has to be thrown out. None of it can be saved and very rarely can be used for another purpose. It takes two people several hours over a few days to make, taking up almost one full workday toward the end.

Lately a lot of orders have been falling through and we are repeatedly making and destroying product. It sucks! I care about my work and having it (and our time and resources) wasted is wearing on us. I was venting about this to a coworker I’m friendly with, who is a manager in a different department that does not involve the hands-on work, and she told me I shouldn’t complain because the company is paying for my time, and the money spent on resources doesn’t come out of my pocket. This rubbed me the wrong way and I ended the conversation shortly after. Is she right? I can’t quite put my finger on why her response bothers me so much, other than it being dismissive. (As for the original issue, I discussed it with my boss and he’s put a hold on this work until the issues with the orders can be solved.)

You’re both right in different ways. It’s true that you get paid for your work regardless and the wasted work doesn’t change that. But if you’re conscientious and engaged in your work, it’s understandable that it would bother you to see it work wasted. Part of being invested in what you do is feeling it’s meaningful, and it can be demoralizing to see the fruit of your labor tossed in the trash. That said, if it’s going to happen and it’s out of your hands, your coworker is right that it can help to disconnect emotionally and figure it’s no skin off your back. But it’s also true that some people can only do that for so long before the job will become unfulfilling to them.

The best thing to do is to talk to someone above you about a solution, which you did and which you got!

4. Coworkers won’t stop asking me about a new job I applied for

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done this but I listed three current coworkers as references for a position I was pursuing at another company. In all of my past experiences, my future employers contacted the references only after they extended a job offer. This potential employer contacted them waaay before … like after the first interview. Since then, my coworkers have been hounding me every day asking if I’ve gotten the job or if I’ve heard back from the company. I was brought in for a third interview a few weeks ago but haven’t heard anything from the company since. I don’t feel comfortable sharing any updates with them unless I know for sure and even then, I would want to share with my boss before sharing with others.

Am I being too sensitive? Should I be providing my references with updates even though there’s nothing to tell? One has asked me about five times. It would be especially embarrassing for me to tell them I didn’t get the job, if that’s the way it shakes out. I wish they would stop asking and let me share my news when I’m ready to. Had I provided a reference for them, I wouldn’t ask. I would assume they would want to share their news when they are ready.

Ask them to stop asking you! You could say, “I’m trying to put it out of my mind until I hear something so I’d be grateful if you wouldn’t check in about it. But if at some point I have an update to share, you’ll be one of the first I’ll tell!”

5. Online applications with no place for a cover letter

Most online applications I’m encountering (biotech industry) have a spot designated for “resume upload” only, so I’ve submitted a few applications using only my resume. Is that appropriate, or is it expected that I include a cover letter as page 1 of my upload?

It’s possible that’s an industry that doesn’t care much about cover letters; some don’t! But I’d ask others in your field (especially people who hire) before concluding anything for sure.

Meanwhile, though, you’re not likely to be dinged for just uploading a resume if they haven’t asked for a cover letter or provided a place to upload one … but that doesn’t mean a cover letter won’t still add a boost to your candidacy. So all else being equal, I’d still include one in the PDF you’re uploading. (Make sure it’s not a perfunctory form letter that mostly just summarizes your resume!) They might read it and put weight on it or they might not — but since you can’t know from the outside and cover letters do often make a difference, it doesn’t make sense to skip it if it’s not terribly onerous for you.

{ 357 comments… read them below }

  1. Observer*

    #1 – What about ~~shrug~~ “It must be tough to lose a perk you’ve had. But I wouldn’t know as I haven’t had it.”

      1. CM*

        For me both of these are too close to the passive-agressive “Must be nice.”
        I’d go with, “Yeah, it’s been tough having to come in all this time. I can see how it would be an adjustment for you after working from home.”

        1. Rayray*

          I agree. While it might make you feel good for a second, it’s just a little too passive aggressive in my opinion.

          1. LTL*

            This. I’m assuming from the letter that OP’s colleagues are decent people, just clueless. They’ll probably feel bad when they realize what they’ve been doing!

            IME anger and resentment come when people try to shrug aside something that’s been bothering them for too long instead of telling people to stop from the outset. No shade to the OP, setting boundaries in the moment is hard and it’s not something most of us are taught. But my point is that it’s better to be upfront from the get go (“I’m not the best person to empathize with that since I’ve been coming into the office”) rather than be passive aggressive later on.

        2. 10Isee*

          Maybe it’s a regional thing; to me this reads as much more passive-aggressive and patronizing.

      2. Observer*

        It’s passive aggressive and given the way most “it must be nice” comments are meant, it comes across as blaming people for abusing the system to some extent. Unless the OP wants to blow up relationships, that’s not a really useful approach.

    1. Fried Eggs*

      I’d probably try to frame it as a joke. “Guess that’s the silver lining to having been here all along. I don’t know what I’m missing!”

      Even though obviously they do, it would be a more subtle way to remind people they’re complaining to the wrong person.

    2. Mynona*

      Or the Midwest edition: [“It’s so terrible having to wear real pants…”] I know how you feel. I’ve been coming into the office the entire pandemic and it’s really been hard for me and my family.

      1. Malarkey01*

        I like this one. I totally understand that things have been better for some and worse for others, and absolutely someone shouldn’t complain to someone who had it worse, but that doesn’t also mean that coming back has pain points for people and they aren’t wrong for not being happy about it (again chose your audience).

        It’s a fight that often happens between stay at home moms and working moms. When SAHM is frustrated at her workload and working mom says “I do all that plus work” or vice versa with “at least you have daycare help”…and totally misses the point that parenting is hard. Same here- the pandemic SUCKS, going to work for a lot of people SUCKS, it sucked more for those that had to be there the whole time, but reframing it as this person and I agree this sucks and make a friendly observation that lets them realize oops complaining to the person who had it worse, helps everyone feel heard.

    3. JRR*

      My response: “I’m so glad you guys are back. Things have been tough here without you.”

      A lot of my coworkers talking about how they’re so much more productive working from home don’t realize their absence has made my job harder and less productive.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        That’s a terrific response! It’s clear and honest, with no snark, no assumptions about what others’ intent or level of understanding of your experience is. I really like this.

      2. Data Bear*

        This is a REALLY good response! Expressing it in this way will make colleagues feel much more sympathetic and will engender appreciation from them for OP’s plight.

      3. Rayray*

        This is good. It gets the point across but in a kind way, not rude and passive aggressive.

    4. LCH*

      “it’s so weird to have the office full of people again. it was so quiet when i was working here alone!”

    5. RagingADHD*

      That would be a fantastic thing to say if you actually hate them and want to torpedo any chance of re-establishing a collegial working relationship. Yes, the comments about how nice WFH was are tone-deaf and annoying. But you can be realistic without going out of your way to be snarky.

      It’s tough being the only one in the office. It’s also tough to work with people who (rightfully) don’t want to speak to you if they can possibly avoid it. However you feel about the situation, planning ways to take those feelings out on your coworkers isn’t going to make anything better for anyone.

  2. Aggretsuko*

    “If you have to ask, the answer is no.” This is appropriate for asking whether or not someone got a job, got pregnant, got a proposal, etc. If there IS good news to share, rest assured that the person will most likely share it ASAP. If you have to ask, there isn’t any news or you should presume it isn’t good.

    1. WS*

      While this is true, it may not be appropriate or graceful when the person in question has asked for a favour (in this case, being their references). The co-workers did a favour and now feel invested in the process!

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Yes. I also don’t agree that it’s true.

        I’ve absolutely seen people forget to update their references or other contacts on outcomes (even good ones) after asking for help.

    2. Hercule Poirot*

      I don’t think that this sentiment – spoken or kept silent – is the best approach for LW #4. After all, the coworkers are asking because they are interested and probably want to see the LW do well! I like Alison’s wording in her response.

      1. Hekko*

        They might even be asking because they expect LW#4 to be much further in the process. The potential employer contacted them as references way before is usual and they may not be aware of it.

        1. allathian*

          That’s probably the most likely reason. Most people would assume that they’d be contacted as a reference in a fairly late stage in the process.

        2. Selena*

          Good point. They might assume the reference-check meant the job was almost in the bag.
          And maybe they also assumed the interviews after that reference check were just a formality (several more managers agreeing with hiring the selected candidate)

          If it’s like that than OP needs to explain the situation and that this new job might still fall through

    3. Laure*

      The problem with this approach, Aggretsuko, is that there are a lot of people who want you to ask – whether the news are good or bad.
      Because if you don’t ask, they think you don’t care. They won’t think, oh, my friend is so thoughtful, she doesn’t ask because she guessed I don’t have good news to share, they will think, my friend forgot about my issue and doesn’t care about me and my problems.
      I think a good rule would be: always ask, to show you care… But ask once, and then analyse the reaction you had. If your friend is happy to talk about it, then keep bringing the subject up. If your friend is clearly uncomfortable, don’t ask again.
      But I think not asking the question even once is more likely to suggest disinterest than delicacy.

      1. allathian*

        Agreed! Asking once is showing an interest, but asking again and again, especially if the other person seems uncomfortable isn’t very politic, either. That said, the best way to prevent that is to say something like “Thanks for asking. No news yet, but you’ll be among the first to know when I find out.” If they keep asking after that, they aren’t reading the room.

      2. ecnaseener*

        The problem with that, of course, is that some people are good at masking discomfort with false cheerfulness. If you ask once and get a chipper “Thanks for asking, no I haven’t heard back yet!” I don’t think you can assume they really did appreciate you asking.

        1. Luna*

          I think you need to take people at face value. It’s impossible to communicate, especially at work, if you are constantly second-guessing what people are saying and applying your own interpretation. Use your words and believe what other people tell you. I’d be so frustrated with my office if everyone was trying to guess what I REALLY mean.

          1. Selena*

            Agreed. You just can’t go around constantly second-guessing what people reeeaally mean.
            Listen to what people say and how they say it (enthousiastic or quiet), but don’t go digging for secret messages.

        2. OhNo*

          Whenever I’m not sure if someone wants to talk (more) about a particular topic, I bust out ol’ reliable: “Well, I’m very curious to hear [what happens/what you learn/how it goes]! I hope you’ll let me know.” And leave it for the other party to reintroduce the topic when and how they want to. That way, if they want to talk about it more, they know I’m interested in listening. If they don’t, they don’t have to bring it up, and I won’t ask again.

          If the LW’s coworkers had written in, that’s what I would suggest they say, so they don’t accidentally keep hounding someone on a subject they don’t want to discuss. Since they didn’t, though…

          LW, it’s possible that your coworkers are just a little tone-deaf, but it’s also possible that in the moment of responding you gave some hint that they interpreted as “ask me more!”. Either way, I think Alison’s wording is A+ – it lets you establish what you want out of them (to stop asking), while still offering what they want (an update – but on your timeline, rather than theirs).

      3. Koalafied*

        I do see it as a sign of my friends caring about me when they ask questions about something they need was in progress or I was waiting for, but I wouldn’t say that the specific thing they remember to ask about is all that important to me. It’s more like, “How nice that they remembered something we previously discussed that was only important to me and had no personal relevance to them,” but it could just as easily be “did you try that recipe you were talking about?” as “did you hear back about that job?” It’s nice to know people think about you, but there’s rarely if ever any particular thing I want friends to remember to ask me about or would feel slighted if they didn’t. As long as they’re showing some interest in my life it doesn’t matter what area of my life it is.

        1. Selena*

          Absolutely: good friends (or even attentive colleagues) should remember some of the stuff you tell them.

    4. SleeplessKj*

      To my ear that sounds kinda snippy – it’s one thing with something personal like being asked repeatedly if you’re pregnant yet / but when people have taken the time to help you with something, their interest is natural as they feel invested in the outcome.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      “If you have to ask, the answer is no.” This is appropriate for asking whether or not someone got a job, got pregnant, got a proposal, etc.

      I foolishly told a work friend I was struggling with infertility, which means she frequently asked if I was pregnant. Now “how is that going,” which I might have answered with “frustrating, thanks for asking” or “we’re moving on to injectibles, which is a little scary,” but always that big yes or no are you pregnant yet. I wanted to tell her “If I ever do get pregnant, and am ready to tell you, I will tell you; you will not need to ask, and asking before that point will not get you an answer.” But I didn’t.

    6. Sparrow*

      This response implies to me that it’s none of the asker’s business and they’re overstepping. If the question was about something personal, including whether or not someone is job hunting, I would agree that it’s not appropriate to ask and they should wait for that information to be volunteered. But in this case, OP actively made these people part of the job search. It’s not reasonable to ask them to be involved/help out and then act put out when they ask about it.

      When I interviewed for my current position, I asked a higher-level coworker with whom I worked closely (and who I trusted to keep quiet) to serve as a reference instead of my boss, who didn’t know I was looking. Like OP’s coworkers, she was excited for me and enthusiastic about me moving on to a better position, and of course she wanted to know how things were going. I just said, “No, nothing yet! When I have news to share, I’ll definitely let you know, but for now, I’m just trying to put it out of my mind and not get my hopes up.” Because she is a reasonable person, she understood that and then left it up to me to update her when/if I could.

    7. JRR*

      I think a better answer is, “No, I didn’t get it.” It’s true (you haven’t gotten the job yet), and will make them stop asking without having to resort to snippiness.

      1. wordswords*

        Why is this easier than just saying you haven’t heard yet and you’ll tell them whenever you do? Lying like this means you’d have to field their sympathy for a disappointment you haven’t actually had, and it’ll seem really weird if in a month OP finds out she did get the job.

        1. JRR*

          a) Sticking to just the facts isn’t lying. If you haven’t heard back from the prospective employer, it is true that you haven’t gotten the job. And in my experience, if you haven’t heard back in 3 weeks, it’s easiest to assume you will never hear from them.

          b) Is it really that hard to field sympathy? They say, “Aw, that’s too bad. Better luck next time.” Then you say, “Thanks, I appreciate that.” Easy.

          c) If you do eventually get an offer: “Hey, good news, I got the offer after all.” Not awkward.

          1. ecnaseener*

            “I didn’t get it” is usually interpreted as meaning the decision is made, the process is over, you know you aren’t getting the job. The literal sequence of words might form an accurate statement, but the message you’re conveying is false.

            1. pancakes*

              Yes. And it’s needlessly false. There’s no good reason to pretend the process is over when it isn’t.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        In British English we’d use the Present Perfect tense, “I haven’t had an offer” which implies “up to now” and that it might still happen. Not a lie at all. To shut down further enquiries, you’d still need to add “I suppose that means I didn’t get the job at this point” or “I’ll let you know if ever I do”.

        But it’s perfectly possible to be rejected for a job then contacted again a few weeks later if the successful candidate turns out to have been a mistake, so the small lie wouldn’t matter very much.
        (It’s also perfectly possible to reject a job and then be contacted again a few weeks later. I suspect I burned that bridge to a tinder with my response, but since the hiring manager had told me I’d have to work a couple of days for free before being told how much the salary might be, I really don’t care about that heap of ash.)

    8. RagingADHD*

      I mean…do you actually talk like this to your coworkers with a straight face, not obviously joking?

      If so, you won’t have the problem for long, because people will very quickly stop doing you favors or taking any interest in your life anyway. So if that’s the goal, yeah – it’s appropriate.

  3. Over It*

    #1 no advice, but my sympathy. I spent the first year of the pandemic in an essential role before switching jobs two months ago to a temporarily remote position. The rest of my team has been WFH the entire pandemic, and there’s been a lot of grumbling recently about returning to the office, which we’re slated to do this summer. Of course it’s not their fault that I was in person when they were remote, but it bristles to hear people complain about petty things like how hard it will be to wear real pants to work again. I fully acknowledge the resentment I feel when people complain in front of me about going back to the office isn’t helpful, but it’s real.

  4. jm*

    LW 1, i am right there with you. just last week i spent the morning listening to my newly returned coworker vent about how hard it is to work in the office and almost snapped on her. i ended up reminding her how many fewer staff was around last year, which meant much higher workloads for those of us who kept having to go in part of the time. i’m sympathetic that she was forced back over her objections, but i have little patience for petty complaints about things that pale in comparison to what i had to deal with last spring.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah. I admit I wouldn’t be happy to be forced back into the office full-time (extremely unlikely since we had a very liberal WFH policy even before the pandemic), but I definitely won’t be whining about being asked to go back for mandatory in-person meetings to those who’ve been there all along (less than 10 percent of our employees) because their jobs had to be done at the office. We still get some physical mail that has to be processed, the facilities management employees were there all the time, etc.

      It’s about knowing your audience. I don’t think it’s acceptable to attempt to make those who were forced to return to the office against their will pretend they’re actually happy to be back if they hate it, but they should stick to whining among themselves rather than complain to those who’ve been working at the office all along.

      1. Willis*

        It’s definitely about knowing your audience!! For this and so many other things a person can complain about in life.

        I think the LW and others experiencing this could politely say that they’re not the right audience to commiserate (or to hear the complaint or whatever wording makes most sense) since they’ve been in the office for the last year. For me, there’s a lot of value and validity in drawing one’s own lines on stuff like that – opting out of the conversations rather than staying quiet and letting the resentment fester. Of course, that works a lot better when it’s a conversation the LW is a party to…surely there will also be some of this that they’ll overhear and will continue to be frustrating until folks get used to being back.

      2. MK*

        No one has to pretend, but not all complaints are reasonable, it depends what they are complaining about, and even venting amongst themselves can be toxic in perpetuating an unreasonable sense of injury. If they have concerns about safety, yes, making joking references about the drag of having to dress up, ok; but seriously complaining about coming in to do the work you are paid to do, no.

        I also wish people would stop with the work-from-home cheerleading, unless they actually have all the information. It’s infuriating to hear people positively assert that wfh functioned great and the organization is oldfashioned in not allowing it permanently, when it only worked sort-of ok (a.k.a. fine given adjusted pandemic expectations) and it only worked at all because some people still went into the office and shouldered the burden.

        1. FiveWheels*

          There’s a big difference between roles where it kinda sorta worked, and roles where it worked perfectly.

          For those whose roles where WFH worked perfectly, being forced to come back to the office against your will isn’t a pretty complaint IMO.

          If you worked in an office perfectly happily and were then told you were moving to another site, with a substantially longer commute, and a new dress code, and there was no business case for it whatsoever, it wouldn’t be petty to complain.

          1. MK*

            It’s not petty to complain if wfh worked perfectly, no; my point was that many people who say it did work great for their role are simply wrong about that, and frankly the worker isn’t always in the best position to make that assessment. Sometimes they simply don’t realise how much extra work it created for other people or how much it affected the work output, sometimes they know these things and dismiss them, sometimes they believe it just because it is what they want to believe.

            However, your example doesn’t really apply. A better comparison would be: if you worked in an office, and then was moved into another one, with a shorter commute and a more relaxed dress code because of unavoidable circumstances that were always going to be temporary, and then moved back to your original workplace, the one you were hired to work from, you don’t really have a valid complaint. These people weren’t hired to work from home.

            1. JRR*

              People don’t always realize how their shift to WFH made other people’s job harder.

              One common upside people site about WFH is they can focus on their work and not have to put up with people popping in to ask questions. I sympathize with that because I also hate being interrupted. However, in my job, I’m more likely to be the person interrupting you. The fact that you’re harder to communicate with makes your job easier, but my job harder.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Did autocorrect reverse your meaning here?
            >”isn’t a pretty complaint”
            In context I wondered if you meant “petty”.

          3. Chilipepper Attitude*

            I’d argue that whether or not WFH worked perfectly, the ppl coming back are being insensitive when they complain or make jokes about their fruatrations about coming back to the office.

            People who came in throughout took on burdens (work, covid exposure, etc) that those who WFH just did not. And to complain about losing perks or make jokes about it is rude.

            1. WellRed*

              Yes which is the whole point of the letter which seems to have been forgotten here.

            2. Crivens!*

              Well, no, the people who are being made to come back to the office for silly reasons are rude if they complain to people who have been in the office all along. But we are certainly justified in complaining in general.

              1. Birdie*

                I’ll be honest, I will be very put out if I’m made to go back to the office full time. There is literally no reason for me to waste 100 minutes a day commuting when I’m an individual contributor who works very independently and would go days and days in the office without have a work conversation in person. So yeah, I will complain if my boss for some reason decides I need to resume commuting just to sit quietly in my office and work on my own, and I will feel justified in doing so. But people need to mindful of their audience. Complaining constantly and indiscriminately is inconsiderate and exhausting.

            3. Observer*

              I’d argue that whether or not WFH worked perfectly, the ppl coming back are being insensitive when they complain or make jokes about their fruatrations about coming back to the office.

              Of course. That’s a separate issue. I don’t think that even the people who are saying that it’s not petty to complain thinks that it’s appropriate to complain to the people who had to stay in the office.

          4. hbc*

            I know a lot of people whose *roles* worked from home perfectly because someone else’s role was changed to make it work. I say that as someone who, at the beginning, worked from home 4 days a week and spent 1 day in the office. That one day was interrupted with dozens of small “favors” or tasks that supported those working from home.

            And anyway, being forced to come back to do the job you were hired to do at the site where it was expected to be done might be annoying, but it’s still a petty complaint.

            1. Anonymous Here*

              This is a great point. I have found myself being asked to do quite a few tasks for folks working remotely, while the people whose jobs those tasks actually are continue to push to remain remote forever.

            2. Bagpuss*

              Yes, absolutely. I worked from home for a few months to the start, and it was only possible because the people who were still in the office were doing things to make it work (And even then, I needed to pop in in the evening when the building was empty to deal with a few things)

              When I was back in the office but we still had employees working from home the same was, and is true – people in person needed to take on extra tasks in order that EFH worked for those doing it, and in some cases normal tasks have to be done in a different way which puts more labour on those in the office – from the perspective of the person WFH it’s all going pretty smoothly as they aren’t seeing or doing the extra work that’s needed to make it work.

              I don’t deny that there may well be some roles where the job can be , and is, done as effectively remotely, and I can appreciate the frustration of anyone in that situation being made to work in person, but I don’t think that the people who’ve been in person all along are the right audience to vent to if you’re in that situation.
              (and I think that if you have been WFH and feel it went well, it may well be worth asking those who were in the office whether they were doing more to make that work, as I think it’s relevant to factor that in if you are looking o argue for continued WFH – you might need to be saying that some extra admin support would be needed in the office but would be offset but savings / advantages elsewhere of remote working, for instance.)

            3. lailaaaaah*

              Same here. I work in IT support, and a lot of our workers found their roles worked great at home- because our whole team was pulling 12 hour days, up to 7 days a week to make that happen. Sure, the people coming back might feel uncomfortable or unsafe, or they might miss things about WFH, and they’re allowed to feel like that. But I personally do not want to hear it.

              1. Observer*

                Has anyone TOLD people what it took to make it work?

                It makes a HUGE difference. Of course, some people are just obnoxious, but most people really just don’t know what’s at play, and if they were told they would react differently.

                1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Yes, I would have no idea that IT would have had to work harder for it to happen.

        2. Miss V*

          “ It’s infuriating to hear people positively assert that wfh functioned great and the organization is oldfashioned in not allowing it permanently, when it only worked sort-of ok (a.k.a. fine given adjusted pandemic expectations) and it only worked at all because some people still went into the office and shouldered the burden.”

          Ding ding ding!

          The department my department works closest with has been WFH while we all had to stay in the office. And it’s maddening when they complain about having to come back in because they think WFH went perfectly and there’s no reason for them to come into the office.

          WFH worked perfectly for them because my department took on all the in office work they’d usually do. And we’re exhausted from it and so so ready to get to stop doing that extra work.

          1. LQ*

            It’s really easy to say how great your job is and how much you’re getting done when you dump a bunch of your work on someone else.

            1. JB*


              My counterpart is currently kicking up a fuss about being asked to return to work. She’s stated repeatedly to me that she doesn’t understand why she has to come in, and wouldn’t it be reasonable for her to come in maybe just half-days twice a week? Etc, etc.

              Meanwhile I have been coming in full-time pretty much the entire time because I need to get my work done AND half of hers, because there are tasks she just can’t do from home, either physically (like opening mail for our group) or because she can’t focus on it while also watching her children. At some point, it seems she’s decided those tasks just aren’t hers any more. Meanwhile I’m doing one and a half person’s worth of work (or more, honestly, since prior to the pandemic we had been pushing to get a third person added to our team due to the workload).

              1. pancakes*

                Tell her that! If she’s self-regarding enough to not have noticed that so much work has been taken off her plate, it’s not unfair or somehow off-limits to point out that it wasn’t taken by magical elves. The next time she brings it up, say something along the lines of, “If we switched to that schedule on a permanent basis, that would result in me permanently taking on [x, y, and z]. I was willing to do those things during the pandemic to help out, but doing them forever would be a pretty big expansion of my role, and we haven’t arranged for that to happen.”

                1. Birdie*

                  Yeah, I would definitely say something. I would try to suppress something snarky, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say something like, “I don’t know how they made the decision, but I know Boss and I have been counting on you taking back over the duties I’ve been covering for you this whole time. That might’ve been part of it.”

              2. Observer*

                Meanwhile I have been coming in full-time pretty much the entire time because I need to get my work done AND half of hers, because there are tasks she just can’t do from home

                TELL HER THIS. And then cut off the discussion. If she’s a reasonable person your pointing out to her that her job works ONLY because you are taking on half her job will make her back off. If she’s not reasonable, then you will be doing both of you a favor by refusing to engage in the discussion, and just walking away from the conversation. I might be tempted to occasionally end it by saying “Well, I’m not going to be doing you work any more, so you need to figure that out.”

              3. Anon For Today*

                I would at least no longer entertain her complaints to you. If you don’t want to remind her that you’re doing half her work, I would just cut her off and tell her you’re too busy to listen and that she should take her concerns to her manager (of course, let your manager know first that’s what’s going on). Listening to someone complain about something you can’t do anything about is annoying and a waste of your time.

        3. tysondaphne*

          This MK!! I had no choice but to go into the office under a good deal of risk. I can’t stomach the people complaining about going back when they wouldn’t have been able to work from home without me performing some functions in the office.

        4. LTL*

          but seriously complaining about coming in to do the work you are paid to do, no


          If you’re complaining with the right audience, why would this be a bad thing? There’s a point where a certain amount of venting becomes unhealthy, but complaining about work seems like a pretty human thing to do. People don’t necessarily like their jobs because they’re getting paid.

        5. Observer*

          It’s infuriating to hear people positively assert that wfh functioned great and the organization is oldfashioned in not allowing it permanently, when it only worked sort-of ok (a.k.a. fine given adjusted pandemic expectations) and it only worked at all because some people still went into the office and shouldered the burden

          In many cases, people don’t have that information because they are either not being told at all, or they are being told, but is a snarky and / or condescending way that makes the message meaningless.

          If your employer knows that wfh only worked for some people because other people’s job were negatively affected, they should let people know. That’s pertinent information!

    2. John Smith*

      Here here. On a different aspect here, made worse in my case because, whilst some of my job could not be done from home, my manager did absolutely sweet FA to minimise the need to come in (some changes being very simple to effect, like having drop offs of equipment by appointment only, were instantly dismissed outright). Thankfully, my colleagues who have been WFH full time are sympathetic and angry that some of us are being made to come in to the office when we need not do so.

    3. Speaks to Dragonflies*

      Something I haven’t seen mentioned yet, and this is case specific, but…If someone was working in the office and had to take on parts of your job so that you could WFH, thank them and take back those duties that were done for you. I can see how it s¥€ks, but it s¥€ked having to do others’ duties on top of ones normal job. Don’t gripe, don’t whine, don’t moan about how you don’t like having to do what seems like “more work” than you had to do from home. In office folks have carried that load long enough.

      1. allathian*

        Never mind, it fits here too. And you’re right, when work has been rearranged so that some people can WFH while others come in, the time to end this arrangement is when people come back to the office. Even better if the returnees volunteer to do it.

      2. LQ*

        Strong agree. I don’t see how it sucks, you got to dump part of your work that you assumably continued to get paid for while bragging about never wearing pants to the people who had to pick up your extra work for over a year, that sounds lovely (well it sounds shitty, but the people who did it sure loved to talk about never wearing pants or bras so they must have thought it was lovely). Knock it off and take back your work.

        And to everyone who is saying they were more productive because they got to not do a bunch of stuff, that’s not more productive at home. That’s doing less of A lets you do more of B, at best. If you want to do less of a part of your job talk to your boss, but don’t just dump work on the people who have been doing it and not expect blow back.

        1. Speaks to Dragonflies*

          When I said that I could see how it’s sucks, I was trying to view it from the ones that are returning perspective,that’s all.

        2. Susie Q*

          Management is the one doing the dumping. Not the coworkers. If you have a workload issue, take it up with management.

          People are allowed to complain.

          1. Allonge*

            Management is also the one making the decisions on calling people back. Complain, but to management.

            Also: if anyone did not notice, over months, that somehow magically a certain part of their job is now done by someone else… maybe it’s time to think about it now.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            If the workload issue is because someone working from home was not doing parts of their job (because it was impossible of WFH), was not given different additional work to make up for it, and now appears to have forgotten or not noticed some of their work disappeared, it’s still worth gently reminding them of that fact. And suggesting the rest of the discussion be had with management so the work can be split more equitably.

    4. BethDH*

      Meanwhile, I am someone who has really struggled with working from home and will be thrilled to be able to work from the office when it’s safe and we have full childcare again.
      I know it pales in comparison to those who had to go in when no one else does, but I struggle to respond politely to those who complain to me assuming we all want to keep working from home.
      Working from home has been bad for my back and my work-life balance, not to mention other aspects of my mental health. I live a short walk from work. Because of VPN and the speed of my work from home computer, my work took a lot longer and had more interruptions, which was frustrating.

      1. FiveWheels*

        Fundamentally, different people have different needs and work best in different environments. For many people who are carers or have health issues, WFH has been a godsend.

        For others it’s been a nightmare, and for most people in the middle there’s been good and bad.

        One good thing that SHOULD come from this is an acknowledgement that different people work better in different environments, some roles are not flexible than others, and inertia is not a good reason to keep up business practices.

        Alas, my firm is insisting on a return to the office even for those roles where it is 100% not necessary, and the only solid reason they can give is… It promotes socialising among colleagues. In other words something that some employees will enjoy, some will hate, and which does not enhance the business product.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          My old org was old-fashioned in that they only allowed WFH on occasion if you had a good reason for it (like a repairperson coming or if you were feeling lousy) for the very reason of “It promotes socialising among colleagues,” or moreso because the boss was an older person who was quite social and just felt that in-person working kept camaraderie high. The really frustrating thing about that office, though, is that people really weren’t social AT ALL. No one ate lunch in the lunch room (ate in front of their computers at their desks or went out for lunch), no one stopped into other people’s offices to have social conversations or just ask how your weekend was (we actually had “weekend updates” at our Monday morning office meetings, which always felt somewhat forced), no one even visited someone else’s office to ask them a business question, they’d just call them on the phone system or use Teams chat. It was a lovely group of people, just a small office of under 15, and you’d think that we could have been a really tight group working together for a common cause, but in the four years I worked there I left still thinking that almost everyone I’d been working with was a relative stranger.

          It was therefore doubly frustrating that 95% of my job could have been done remotely but that I was still forced to endure a long and annoying commute (by public transit because parking in that area was ridiculously expensive) just to sit in front of a computer all day and not talk to anyone besides maaayyyybe a cursory “hello” in the morning or if we passed each other in the kitchen.

          I guess my point to this long diatribe is that it’s even more frustrating when the only reason for being in the office is to be able to socialize with colleagues but the office people are in fact not terribly social. I was absolutely dreading, to the point of massive anxiety, the thought of returning to the office, so I am absolutely thrilled I was able to find a new job that is 100% WFH for everyone and will stay that way. It’s like suddenly being treated like an adult, which is just amazingly wonderful.

        2. generic employee*

          This comment should be in a blue box at the top of the comments section. *applauds*

      2. Over It*

        Your feelings are legit, and there was a post on exactly this last week I think you’d like if you missed it :) When people say to me that WFH is better and we should all become fully remote, I find it helpful to say this: “I don’t have a good work from home setup, so I’m actually looking forward to returning to the office as soon as it’s safe!” When said cheerfully, it shuts down those types of comments without starting a debate over the respective merits of WFH vs in the office.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            But a bad WFH setup is something a LOT of people do not have and cannot afford to have, so it would behoove the coworker to keep that in mind before saying things like “we should all become fully remote”.

          2. Over It*

            Of course it’s not your coworker’s fault if you have a bad WFH setup. That’s why I tell people that *I* am looking forward to returning, without making any projections about what works best for others.

            Although FWIW, I tend to hear people in higher paid positions and with more power who can afford a housing situation with a designated home office space/people who don’t have young children at home more frequently advocating for a switch to a permanent remote status, without fully understanding how remote work impacts those with different experiences.

          3. Lenora Rose*

            It’s your coworker’s fault they seem to be advocating to make a permanent change which absolutely does not work for you. And it is always good practice to remind people trying to advocate thus how any given experience is not universal.

            If someone was griping continuously about how WFH stank and advocating loudly that offices are superior, it would be just as appropriate for someone who liked work from home to gently remind them that their experience isn’t universal, too. IE, it’s not the stance, it’s the advocacy that their way is the only way that is at issue.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        We had a heat wave last week and my new place does not have central AC. I just moved here and did not have window units yet. (Bought them this weekend and a family member helped me install them yesterday evening.) For the first time in my working life, I found myself missing being in the office! Would’ve been great if going into work and sitting there in the AC being able to actually work had been an option. And I am fortunate that have a whole large apartment to myself, with a designated home office. It did not use to be that way – for a couple of years, my work desk was a kitchen table in the basement, between the home gym where my sons worked out, and a built-in desk where my mom liked to sit and chat whenever she came over. Not sure if I would’ve survived a full year of that!

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’ve been remote and will be remote (at least at this job) till the end of time, but I just wanted to sympathize and comment that it does not sound right that those who had to go in had much higher workloads as a result. Like, what the heck?! if the work had to be done from the office and could not be done from home, then everyone should’ve been on rotation going in. If it could be done from home then it should’ve been distributed evenly. I’d be mortified if my workload ended up being dumped on my in-office teammate because I am remote – I would have also pushed for myself to also go in if that had happened – am I missing something or is it a case of ridiculously badly organized workload at your place? Either way, I’m really sorry to hear that this happened.

      1. Bagpuss*

        From experience, I’d say that a lot of what needed to be done in-office was stuff which, individually, was very minor, but which all added up.

        In our office, we did try very hard to smooth it out so that workloads were adjusted rather that one group picking up all the extra, but as not all tasks were interchangeable it was very difficult (although I think that the fact that the were very open about what we were doing to try to even things out, and that my business partner was in all along and sharing those tasks, and I was doing the same for much of the time, helped)

        Also – rotating everyone to come in really only works out if everyone is equally vulnerable and equally able to come in – which in most workplaces isn’t going to be the case.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Got it, thanks! Yeah, my workplace was fortunate that the teams were spread all around the States plus offishore, so everyone was already remote in relation to everyone else before this all started; which meant the processes to handle it had been in place since the before times (and of course it also helped that the nature of our work allowed that).

        2. morrisu*

          One main complaint at my firm is that a number of people who were WFH due to having to home school their kids still were paid the same though they weren’t doing as much work. And others at the firm — whether those of us coming in or others working from home — had to pick up the slack for them. We even offered flexibility in that anyone could do their work earlier or later in the day to complete it but ran into excuses that they were too tired from home-schooling! Sorry – we’re not paying you to home-school your kids!! Either take a pay cut or put in the hours.

          1. I.*

            Wow. Remind me to never interview at your firm. I get that it sucks that the workload was unequally distributed, but if a global pandemic isn’t a reason for compassion, I can’t imagine you give employees any room at all to have needs, or you know, actually be human.

            1. pancakes*

              More compassion is nearly always a good idea, but it’s not all that’s needed in a situation like morrisu described. If people are finding themselves doing, let’s say, 20% more work than they were hired to do or ever tasked with doing, they should be paid more. I think it would be overly-antagonistic, tit-for-tat, and demoralizing for everyone for management to ask parents to take a cut to fund it, but I also don’t think that should be necessary in a well-run business. A well-run business should have a bit of money set aside for unexpected expenses.

            2. D.K.*

              OK just totally ignore this part then: “We even offered flexibility in that anyone could do their work earlier or later in the day to complete it but ran into excuses that they were too tired from home-schooling!”

            3. Heather*

              Where is the compassion for the overworked coworkers who had to take on the parents’ extra work though?

          2. Tired of Covid-and People*

            In these cases, hours should have been made flexible. My agency expanded the workday to 11 pm and added Saturday as a Covid accommodation for all.

            1. morrisu*

              Our firm did allow for flexible hours — extremely flexible. But we found that many parents were not clocking out to home-school their kids so in effect were being paid by the firm to teach their kids rather than to do firm work. I’m all for giving them the flexibility and even for taking on a bit more work from these folks. These aren’t exempt employees so they should be clocking in and out so their paychecks are accurate. Some even tried to get paid for OT when they in fact didn’t work over 8 hours in a day — but rather were trying to make up their work in the evening without clocking out for the 2-3 hours during the day when they were helping their kids with school work.

              1. pancakes*

                Time theft is a rather different problem than uneven distribution of work! It sounds like both have been a problem at your firm.

      2. Clorinda*

        Remember back in March 2020–all this came up very suddenly, and a lot of businesses sent people home with only a rudimentary plan for how to deal with that. Then various adjustments and work-arounds got fitted into the original “plan,” but it the whole system was never well thought through.
        There’s a major interstate/interstate over/udner/throughpass situation with flying cloverleafs in my town, and it’s obvious that those big roads were built on top of smaller roads which were themselves built on cowpaths following the lines of a stream that isn’t even there anymore.
        There is no plan.

    6. MissDisplaced*

      Not to say it didn’t suck for those whose jobs meant they had to be in the office at least some of the time during the pandemic because companies should have not assumed you’d be in all the time and/or given some relief if the job truly needed to be done onsite (as some roles do no matter what). But “The Great Forceback” also sucks.

      I read a poll today that basically said 65% of office workers who did WFH during the pandemic wanted it to continue permanently. Another 25% wanted some kind of Hybrid model, so this means that some 90% of office workers do not want to be in the office 5 days a week!

      This is a very real case of organizations NOT LISTENING to their employees and the employees are frustrated and angry to be forced back into the office 5 days a week and all that comes with it.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        They will lose people. Because a lot of the other organizations *are listening*. My employer dropped a lot of balls over the past year, but it did close a couple of offices that the leases had run out on, and converted everyone to full remote. They also did ask our location (since we’ll have to keep at least one or two of the buildings open out of the 6-7 that we had, for operational reasons, on-site meetings etc) to provide names of those who would like to return – so that is also an option. And, even though I am not actively looking, I was approached this year by a large tech firm directly, and by a recruiter about another opportunity, for fully remote roles. The orgs that are doing “The Great Forceback” should prepare for the great turnover.

        1. MK*

          And some of the companies that do this will lose customers and clients. A lot of the services I received this past year has been less than satisfactory because of people working from home and locations being closed. I accept this because it was and is a public health issue, but if the virus is contained this time next year and the service hasn’t bounced back, I am not going to accept subpar service to save the company rent money and keep the employees working in sweatpants.

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            I expect though that companies doing it well will also still have metrics and dress codes, etc. That doesn’t mean all (or most) companies will do it well, just that once it is a planned thing and not a panic-reactionary thing, there will be tighter regulations about it.

          2. pancakes*

            You are referring to a pretty small subset of employees, employees who provide services or do retail sales directly to consumers. Even large companies that do that have many employees who don’t, and there are a lot of companies that don’t do that at all. Have you been adversely affected by people like tech company engineers, investment banking financial analysts, or corporate mergers & acquisitions lawyers working from home? It seems unlikely you have.

          3. generic employee*

            Is that how you characterize disabled employees who have talked (here and elsewhere) about how vastly better it is for them to WFH, as wanting to work in sweatpants?

          4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I read “The Great Forceback” as forcing people back into jobs that can be, and are being, done just as well from home. I.e. technical writing – yes, client-facing job, no. The software behind this blog was most likely written by someone working from home and you’ll never be able to tell the difference. Yet we’ve all worked for people who insisted on butt-in-chair policies for no good reason (like in one example given by a commenter here “everyone should come back because it will help you socialize”, as if they are puppies and not grown adults with jobs to do).

        2. Elspeth*

          The flip side is companies now looking to out source roles overseas – if a role can be done entirely WFH, why not employ someone in a cheaper location to do it?

          1. TardyTardis*

            You mean something that’s been going on for the last ten years or more? (there’s a floating story about the tech who outsourced all his work to India and drank coffee all day, a la Wally in Dilbert). Companies have been outsourcing the stuff that can be for a long time already.

      2. Beka Cooper*

        Yep. My team has been pushing for laptops (we all brought desktops + monitors home) so that we can just *sometimes* work from home after we come back, and have some flexibility, and one of our managers is being weird about it, saying we don’t want to have more than one computer per person, etc. He said all this right after bragging about having extra money in our budget and talking about plans to buy furniture, even though our space had been remodeled with new furniture pre-covid! I think he really just doesn’t want us to be allowed to work from home at all anymore, and he just doesn’t want to say that. I dunno, I could be wrong, but it feels crappy either way. There were a lot of times I could’ve avoided using sick and vacation time when my kids were sick or didn’t have school if I could have just worked from home, even if it wasn’t a full 8 hours!

      3. HannahS*

        I think the point is that the OP and others who have borne most of the pandemic-associated risks are not the right people to complain to.

      4. MK*

        Probably, but what the employees would like should be as irrelevant as that the business owner prefers to see butts in seats. The deciding factor should be the work.

  5. Kristina*

    Totally unrelated to this post: I read this and then clicked on the top link (‘stay gold’) and read that post, which was from Feb 26, 2020. The comments about travel are like a trippy time capsule, knowing what we know now.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Yeah, that’s fascinating. There are some comments there that are very informed and therefore prescient (none of mine).

    2. Mental Lentil*

      I love 3rd Shift Cassie’s comment:

      As for the the actual question, if by “next March” they mean March 2021, this will have long blown over by then and their bosses will have long forgotten about it.

      If only that were so!

      1. PT*

        I emailed one of my friends who is an infectious disease doctor mid-last February about COVID and that’s the advice he gave me. “Don’t worry about COVID, just get your flu shot, wash your hands, and if you do get sick the hospital will be here to help you.”

        Me: But in a pandemic everyone will need the hospital at the same time and there will not be enough space, then what?

    3. Shenandoah*

      Wild! I wonder if the OP there went on the trip, or if things started shutting down.

    4. Two Dog Night*

      I thought the same thing! I wonder if the person planning a trip to Japan ended up going–I’d bet not.

    5. Hurricane Wakeen*

      Oh boy. Such a mix of good info and information that we no longer think is correct. Like this comment from an epidemiologist that ends with this:

      “That being said, the United States does have a good infrastructure and policies for controlling an epidemic. Remember to wash your hand. A mask is not much good except that it reminds you to not touch your face.”

    6. Blackcat*

      “If they want to be sticklers, the whole world will soon be off-limits for travel.”

      Indeed, that is what happened!

    7. Captain Hindsight*

      Oh boy, it’s a March 2020 bingo in there.
      “The flu will kill more people this year ”
      “Masks are just security theatre”
      “X event in March has been rescheduled to May”

  6. Aphrodite*

    LW #1 (and all those who have worked at the office through the pandemic while colleagues did not):

    I promise I have and will never whine about this. (I wouldn’t dream of it.) But I am wondering what I can do or say, if anything, to make things better for you when I do return, on June 15. Not just once, but is there anything that will help ease you or your job?

    1. WS*

      Follow your local guidelines on mask wearing and social distancing (or your workplace’s guide if it’s more stringent) and don’t complain about it! If there’s a big scramble for holiday time in your office, suggest that the people who worked on site the whole time should choose first (goes double if they’ve had to work with the public in this time). If fellow WFH people are having a big complaint session, help shut it down.

      1. Thisishalloween*

        What I wish my coworkers didn’t do:
        Stand super close when talking, monopolize my time with their desire to catch up (just ask if I want to take a break and chat instead), go in for a hug, challenge every decision made during their absence all at once, foist their ego hits from being absent on me, be really loud. Many of us have gotten used to the noise level in your absence- it will take us time to truly readjust.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Hear, hear! These are reasons why I dislike working onsite anyway, and I can’t imagine how much worse it is now.

        2. Jack Straw*

          Oof. This being loud one is going to be KEY.

          For most of the past year I’ve been furloughed then WFH at my new job. With only teenagers and cats at home with me during the day, I have SO enjoyed the silence (which I realize is not the same experience others may have with WFH). I imagine its ten fold for those who are at the office. I almost think that managers should strongly encourage headphones, noise cancelling or otherwise, once places return to full staff.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Office noise bothers me, and I also startle easily. It takes a while for me to get used to seeing people in my peripheral vision, or just being around me in general. Working from home takes a lot of stress away, and being back in an office would be very hard for me. When people saw me flinch I would try to make a joke, saying that I was used to working at home and seeing people around me meant I was either being haunted or robbed.

        3. Quite Anonymous*

          Just wanted to pull out and highlight Thisishalloween’s point about not “challeng[ing] every decision made during their absence all at once.”

          Folks coming back, please don’t question or demand explanations for every little thing. These decisions were made in a context you didn’t have. By all means, ask for clarification when you need it, but ask yourself first (1) if the issue is important enough to have someone explain a year’s worth of background and (2) whether the answer is just going to be a pointless “because that’s how we made it work, given the circumstances.”

          On a related point, when it comes to specific tasks, keep in mind that (probably) your colleagues were doing the best they could and that might mean you need to do some clean up. Please be gracious when you can.

          1. Thisishalloween*

            Thanks, Quite. As you noted, there is definitely a time and place for returning folks to interrogate the logic of decisions: when it’s urgent and/or important.
            Separate those decisions from all the others and address them specifically. Be up front with specific concerns on urgent matters so your colleague can give you the information you need asap. If you’re concerned about a software license expiring, don’t ask for the recent history of license expiration records which were kept when you were last in the office. Save those necessary but more procedural questions for when you get the urgent need resolved.
            Not everything we cobbled together to keep the physical workplace running is appropriate for regular staffing levels. We get it. But please don’t barrage us with relitigations of every thing over the past year. The truly urgent items will get lost (and many of us have a much more finely tuned definition of what is truly urgent due to our Covid cobbling), resentment could build, and decisions that could actually benefit the workplace longterm if maintained could be eliminated.

            This last point may just apply to me: I don’t have the mental reserves to address unprofessional behavior, professionally. If you vent nonstop about ‘how you would have done it’ or ‘how could person let quality slip’…I’m just going to ignore you. I’m not going to educate you, or remind you to be grateful or solicit your ideas for improvement. That definition of urgency that I noted above is hyper-vigilantly rejecting things classified as personal, unnecessary drama. If you have something actionable, I’ll interact. If not, I’ll ignore.

    2. ToodlesTeaTops*

      As someone who has worked none stop in the food industry, there’s little you say to the individual themselves. I think many recognize that our jobs are essential and that we have to be in office.
      Things you could do: Advocate to management to give thanks, gift cards, bonuses, an extra vacation day, or whatever to the individuals who worked in person and make it clear it’s for people who worked in office.
      Shut down any talk in front of office workers and remind them that not everyone got to work in person.

    3. Over It*

      Is there specific way people working onsite helped you out during the pandemic? If so, specifically acknowledge them for that! I love it when I get specific praise (especially from superiors) because it signals they’re paying attention to what I’m doing, whereas general praise such as “thanks for all your hard work” feels hollow to me when said too often. Although maybe that’s just me! Another thing you can do is help cover their duties so they can take a longer vacation, if that makes sense for your respective jobs.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        I sent a gift card to the coworker who took over watering plants for us.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are some really great suggestions in this thread and I may compile them into their own post so more people see them — please keep them coming! (And if you don’t want yours used that way, please note it and I won’t.)

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        There was a comment from a manager downthread about planning to, well manage return to work.

        I think messaging from managers or higher up the chain is a key, and often missing, component of return to work. I pushed my employer to share their expectations and even a kind of script for handling mask requirements back in May when most of us returned to the office. It seemed helpful for a few situations. Example, “we expect everyone to follow the mask policy and if you see someone not wearing a mask, say, please wear your mask, and if you are asked to wear yours, say only, thank you for reminding me.”

        Managers could and should do something similar around return to work.

        1. Smithy*

          I think another place for managers to take a more proactive role is to acknowledge and actively update the status of where any given office is/is not with changes in regulations.

          I know that my office will likely continue a very widespread continuity of WFH for those who can – but the pieces of our work that would greatly benefit with an ease of regulations are meeting in larger groups, events, domestic and international travel, etc. Now, not all of those are going to ease at the same time, and there’s just a great opportunity to over communicate where the office is at, what has been announced, what is still pending, etc.

          I think that a lot of chatter that can be very insensitive often gets anchored in people asking questions/saying things that revolve very specifically to their needs. By managers just being more proactive in announcements, updates and policies as they evolve – that may help some of the chit chat.

      2. HannahS*

        This is maybe a bit abstract, but as a frontline worker who worked terrible hours while pregnant and unvaccinated (resdient doctor, saw covid patients), I would love it if people would understand that…yes, your company isn’t managing the return to work well and yes your problems are real and valid, but choose who you complain to!

        When people who’ve been in person the whole time say something to the effect of “I can’t stand listening to my wfh colleagues complain about being back in person,” maybe don’t sputter say, “But my problems are valid, too!” We know. It doesn’t invalidate your problems to understand that this colleague is not the person to complain to. Be sensitive! Your colleague may have also had serious issues with health, childcare, elderly parents, mental health, the state of the world, and was not able to stop commuting, wearing pants, and interacting with the (sometimes terrible) public.

    5. Finland*

      Advocate for your management to award PTO or some kind of special acknowledgment for those who worked in the office all this time. You can nominate yourself to take over some of their duties meanwhile, thereby experiencing some of the burden they might have faced on your behalf while they were in the office and you were out.

      Wear your mask when you come back, even when vaccinated. Nowadays, it’s difficult to tell those who are “anti-mask” versus “vaccinated, therefore unmasked”.

      Don’t be obnoxious to those returning to the office after WFH in an attempt to be an “ally”. Just treat everyone the same and be gracious to all. Faux-warriors are cringeworthy.

      Otherwise, greetings from individuals and getting right back down to business is the perfect way to welcome back my fellow coworkers.

    6. Bagpuss*

      Follow any new procedures and don’t grumble about them, and encourage other returners to do the same – for instance, we have had some staff in the office throughout – we’ve got used to the arrangements such as no more than one person at a time in the kitchen area, waiting so we don’t pass each other in the corridor etc. – it’s a bit more time consuming but it gests pretty old when those who have been WFH / furloughed and are coming back complain about it.

      If you’ve been WFH – try to thank the person or people who have picked up the extra work to enable that to happen, whether it’s been scanning physical mail to you, dealing with face-to-face enquiries or whatever. If you can, be explicit in recognizing their extra wok both to them an to any manager .

      Try to avoid grumbling about the downsides of WFH or about returning to the office .

      Recognise that those who stayed will have got used to an emptier building, quieter atmosphere, possibly greater independence / less need to compromise when using resources / equipment – give them time to adjust and try not to get annoyed or antagonistic

      Don’t assume that everything will be exactly like it was last time you were in person or that everything should go back to the way it was. Be open to changes in processes which may have happened when you were out, including those which are not simply covid-related measures or changes.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        To jump on the back of the “those who stayed will have got used to an emptier building, quieter atmosphere” point – they will also have gotten used to the climate control, which is vastly different when 5 people are in an open plan office versus 75 people.

        My hubby has been intermittently sent into the office (he’s done about 18 days over the past 14 months) and the climate control has been the biggest shock to his system.

        Personally, I’m anxious about returning – not for safety reasons (I’m 50% vaccinated and vigilant about mask-wearing etc.) but for the change in culture. I realise how privileged I am to have been able to work at home (my site pass was disabled along with everyone else’s – I couldn’t have gone into the office even if I wanted to). Those in the office will have developed a changed culture as well – it’ll be a learning curve from both sides, so patience and understanding is key.

      2. Chilipepper Attitude*

        Yes, there will be a new culture at work! Its like you have a new job and your job is to figure it out and not constantly comment how in “old job” they did not do this! Your job is to figure it out with the least disruption to others and to do the job.

        1. Jack Straw*

          +1 for this advice! Pretend “like you have a new job…and not constantly comment how in ‘old job’ they did not do this!”

    7. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Speak up when you hear people making jokes or complaining so that those who were in the office the whole time don’t have to. Something like, yeah, those perks are hard to give up, I’m sorry that x person did not get them, or I’m aware x did not get them and I’m thankful they were here so we got them, thanks x!

      And I am personally irked by the convos about how strange it is to be back at work. To me this is different from complaints or jokes about losing perks.

      They sound like they just got rescued from a cave and want me to be interested and amazed at their experience being back at work. It sounds like this:
      “hi, its been a whole year or 15 months since I’ve been here! Isn’t that amazing! Its so different! They moved x … ” or anything indicating time seemed to move on without them. Followed by an expectation that we discuss and that I would be just as interested and engaged in their experience of coming back.

      I honestly cannot say why this irks me so much but it does.

    8. hbc*

      Ask if there’s anything they’ve taken on since this all started that you can help with or take over. Especially if you’re a smaller company, there are a lot of responsibilities that don’t fit neatly with one person or group, so there might not be anyone who marches in and says, “Naturally, I’ll be taking back responsibility for the end-of-day shutdown procedure” or “Give me back the mailbox key–that’s my job.”

      Keep your eyes open for that kind of stuff even if no one says anything. They might not even be aware of how much morphed into their responsibility. And if you have more standing, raise things up the ladder. “Now that accounting is back in the building, seems like they should take back the scanning from the manufacturing team.”

      1. Speaks to Dragonflies*

        I posted similer to to you below HBC. You beat me to it by thiiiiiiiiiis much.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        “Unless you want to keep that task”
        To use dragonflies example below, maybe someone in mfg is taking accounting classes and likes having a connection to their dream job.

    9. Speaks to Dragonflies*

      Something I haven’t seen mentioned yet, and this is case specific, but…If someone was working in the office and had to take on parts of your job so that you could WFH, thank them and take back those duties that were done for you. I can see how it s¥€ks, but it s¥€ked having to do others’ duties on top of ones normal job. Don’t gripe, don’t whine, don’t moan about how you don’t like having to do what seems like “more work” than you had to do from home. In office folks have carried that load long enough.

    10. LQ*

      Do take back work you had someone else doing.
      Don’t talk about the tragedy of wearing clothes.
      Don’t barge into someone’s office (this is really weird, in the last 2 weeks I’ve had like 5 instances of this, all from people who were WFH, I assume you wouldn’t but in case you forgot not all rooms are yours, knock and wait.)
      Don’t complain if people who have been WFH get a benefit of some kind like an extra day off or a bonus because of what they’ve been doing.
      Don’t assume your experience of WFH was universal.
      Don’t act like the office was a hotbed of covid (assuming anything you do in the office will end up with it, that everyone who was there got it, or that everyone who got it got it from the office – we had 0 – but a whole lot of wfh folks had covid, it wasn’t the office, it was people, it’s fine and I’m very glad they weren’t here to spread it, but this wasn’t a plague hotbed)
      Do be quiet, it’s real quiet and I’ve gotten real used to that on the other hand if people are being loud and behaving as if they are the only ones in the office, its likely because they were, just say something kindly to them and they’ll adjust
      Do be patient if we walk around as if there’s no one else here, I can go my entire day and not see anyone else, I’m a little worried that I’ll keep walking around like that (head down, brain elsewhere, not paying attention to where I’m going), if I walk into you it’s because this is the path I walked for the last year-plus. Not because I’m trying to get you sick.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Good point. We’ve had two individuals from the office get Covid – one was definitely not caught here (They caught it from family members over the Christmas break, so were quarantined as a contact before their own symptoms developed) and the other, while it’s impossible to prove, almost certainly didn’t (based on their other activities, timings and when/where they were tracked by track and trace) we also had several people who were WFH who got it !

    11. Quite Anonymous*

      Great suggestions here! I hadn’t even thought about the noise level, but as someone who has been wandering the empty hallways, it’s definitely true.

      When it comes to advocating for extra PTO (which is a wonderful idea!), keep in mind that when you are keeping wheels turning, it can be extra difficult to use even regularly accrued PTO. Consider things like cross-training on critical tasks or whether your office might be able to support temps….anything to make it easier for essential employees to actually step away for a minute.

    12. fhqwhgads*

      What I’m mostly wondering is why people feel the need to talk about the whole who was in or not in the office the past year thing at all with other coworkers – at least, coworkers who they know have been in the office the whole time. Or even if they know that some coworkers were in the office, but don’t necessarily know who, why anyone is bringing up their own been-at-homeness in the first place. It’s odd to me.

      Then again I have no horse in this race. My entire company is WFH and has been for over a decade.

  7. Phil*

    #3 reminds me of something that recently happened to a coworker. He had a massive project, months long in the making, loads of staff training and documentation, then right at the end, COVID caused the company to reevaluate a lot of things, and the end game he was working towards was no longer relevant. Months of work down the drain. It wasn’t his fault, and he’s still employed. He was still able use the project in his performance review and the work he put in has never been discounted even if it never came to fruition.

    I think if you look at it that way – value the work done in the moment, and even if it doesn’t go anywhere, use it for things like performance reviews and career advancement. Everyone involved knows it isn’t your fault if nothing comes of it, and it doesn’t mean the work you’ve done isn’t worth anything in your career.

    1. Finland*

      Author Daniel Ariely has published books that talk about his experiments of this nature. People will assemble or make things and then watch someone destroy what they made right in front of them. He says that this demoralizes people to see something they worked so hard on be destroyed.

      1. MK*

        Why on earth would anyone need a book’s worth of experiments to realise this? It’s hardly a hotly contested topic.

        1. Anastasia*

          Science experiments, of the social studies nature, often are focused on ‘proving things we already know/assume.’ Partly because sometimes the experiments do not yield the expected result (think: experiments with Rhesus monkeys showing that the monkey-babies prefer a warm, fur-puppet ‘mother’ with no milk over the cold, steel-puppet ‘mother’ with milk, which sounds obvious now, but the scientists originally thought the monkey-babies would only care about food) and sometimes because it’s empirical evidence we can point to for arguing a broader, socio-political point (think: studies showing that trans kids grow up happier if you let them identify as their chosen gender, rather than forcing them to identify as the sex they were assigned at birth; or studies showing gay conversion therapy does. not. work.)

          1. ecnaseener*

            Yes, exactly. Hard evidence can be used in court, to influence medical practices, etc.
            There’s also plenty to explore in this area that doesn’t seem obvious to me — why do people care that their project was destroyed even though they knew the project was only for an experiment and wasn’t going to be used for anything? What if you tell them ahead of time it’s going to be destroyed? Some people love building incredible domino structures just to knock them down, is that an individual personality thing or is it a mindset everybody’s capable of choosing? What sort of demoralizing feelings do they have, and are they usually fleeting or lasting? Stick them in a brain scanner, what’s going on in there?

        2. pancakes*

          Presumably the author makes several other, more nuanced observations in addition to “people generally don’t like that.”

        3. Joan Rivers*

          The issue is that people get emotionally invested in work. In the process as well as the result.
          And the person who doesn’t get that seems to have a lack of investment in the work.

          If you create something, especially if you use imagination for it, it can be hard to see it destroyed. But creativity is its own reward. It’s good for us.

    2. Moo*

      A long time ago, when I worked in a job that had excessive hours, I got given a membership analysis project. My boss said it was time sensitive and so on top of the usual extra stuff I worked until 11pm for a couple of weeks. I remember being so tired that short tasks started taking hours. Anyway it turns out when my boss pulled the data, she went for age categories like 20-30, instead of 21-30, so all of the people aged with a zero end were counted twice. All my work was scrapped, including the binders of colour printed graphs that took ages to print and assemble. I can’t remember most of what I did in that job but I will never forget that. Also once her mistake derailed the project, it turns out that it was no longer time sensitive or even necessary.

      The level of demoralising was unreal

      1. That_guy*

        I’m so sorry that happened to you. That sounds horrible, and that boss deserves to be permanently removed from management.

        1. Moo*

          At least I learned from it. In any role that asks me to work late for prolonged periods, the answer is no! I know what it does to my work quality!! I can do bursts but I need definite breaks.

          As a manager now I try to be respectful of my staff and their time, as well as their efforts.

      2. Mimi*

        My sympathies to both you and LW3. A couple of years ago I was creating a product for an internal team, working with a colleague on a third team (“Harold”) who’d appointed himself PM for the project because the end result passed through his department. Harold was _really bad_ at generating sufficiently detailed spec documents or mock-ups, so I’d spend hours on finicky, annoying, detailed work to produce ABC, only for him to come back with feedback from the other team like “Actually they want defg” and after I put in all the effort to make defg, they really wanted EFGH… I was incredibly frustrated at Harold, who could not seem to understand that I didn’t like spending hours fighting with an unfriendly, finicky system to create the wrong thing, and thought I should be happy doing whatever as long as I got paid for my time, and didn’t see any reason that I should be involved in talking to the other team about what they wanted.

        After several rounds of this (and my patience with Harold getting permanently eroded), I started making my own mock-ups. “Please take this to Other Team and confirm that it’s what they want before I spend hours creating it for real. If it’s not what they want, please have them send back a revised mock-up with what they want instead.”

        In retrospect, I might have communicated my frustration better by saying something like, “Yes, I’m getting paid for this work, but I’ve spent four or five times as much time on this project as I would have if I’d gotten clear specifications initially, and since this is not my only priority, I would have preferred to spend that time on other work.” That wasn’t *really* why I was frustrated — it was doing an annoying thing over and over only for it to be wrong every time — but I think presenting it as the opportunity loss of the time I was spending might have gotten through to him in a way that “I want my work to feel worthwhile” didn’t seem to.

        1. Moo*

          I do always wonder about people who don’t think there’s any link between the activity of work and what it produces. Could they really be happily plucked out of one job and dropped in another without blinking an eye? As I’ve gone through my career, the link to the purpose in my job has become more important – it was probably important all along but it’s a real decider for me on career choices.

    3. Grey Coder*

      This has happened to me multiple times in different companies. In a couple of cases, we’d spent months/years building a new product — then the company was bought by another company which had no interest in that product. It was handled differently in the two cases — in one company the old management lied to us (“we are still committed to shipping New Product X, we just need you to inventory all the paperclips first, for reasons”) until the new management came in to deliver the news. In the second, management were more sympathetic and people got to spend time on some more fun projects before moving on to the next thing.

      I still found it deeply demoralizing. I particularly resented it when, a year later, the management had a big “how to we build employee engagement” exercise (meaning how do we get people to voluntarily work extra hours). Maybe don’t throw away their work?

      I am a little more detached now, but I evaluate new jobs based on how short the work cycles are — i.e. how long will it take before the work I do today is actually used by customers? This is important to me, but different people have different motivations! Some of my colleagues were much more of the “as long as you pay me, whatever” philosophy, others were content with having learned new skills, etc.

    4. EarthBound*

      I work in the public sector and have been through several projects requiring intensive training, communication, public outreach, etc. that fell through after months or even years due to lack of funding, elections, change in political direction, or poor implementation.

    5. Hannahnannah*

      Hey OP3. Seeing your work wasted like that can be really disappointing. I’m glad you are discussing the situation with your boss, and I hope some positive change comes from that discussion! As for reframing your mindset on the wasted work – while it IS a waste of resources, there are some “silver linings” here, and I speak from experience as a writer and graphic designer whose work has, from time to time, been scrapped due to budget/changing business needs/the whim of a Director, etc.
      • Even though the company’s resources were wasted in your work, what did YOU get out of it? Did you get better at doing an aspect of your job? Did you complete high quality work in a record amount of time? Did you make internal network connections that could help you in the future? How about gaining insights into how to fix this issue of waste? Did you get ideas on how to fix this process so there’s less wasted effort and other resources?
      • Like Phil mentioned at the beginning of this thread, you can turn what you learned from this experience into significant things, like notes in your performance reviews. My boss always asks me in our one-on-ones for examples of “wins” that I’ve experienced since we last met. Identifying a problem that’s wasting business resources and starting the discussion to solve it is a great win for you to document!

    6. Lora*

      Yeah, this is one of the many reasons that STEM careers aren’t for everyone. Lots of people want to cure horrible diseases, but R&D has a 95% failure rate even before you consider preclinical failures, just because we don’t know enough. Worse, I’ve been through multiple projects that were going to be the Big! New! Thing! and it was beyond frustrating. The very worst that made me quit a particular Big Big Pharma was, I was assigned to a new anti-obesity program. It actually worked very well and had a beautifully targeted effect, but we couldn’t quite get the pharmacokinetics right in humans (worked great on rats). We went back to the drawing board and figured out how to get the PK correct, started moving the revised version forward. Everyone was super excited because this was something that would not just be a new blockbuster, but a whole new class of drugs and due to our targeting experiments with different sequences, we knew that it could blow open a whole new understanding of gut – microbiome – neural interactions.

      Then there was a re-org (again, they had re-orgs every three months) and instead of our manager Jim who had previously been extremely successful in coming up with useful drugs that helped millions of people, we got Timmy. Timmy was a veterinarian, not a pharmacologist, and had never made a drug in his whole sorry life. If Pablo Escobar held a gun to Timmy’s head and gave him a Colombian rainforest and a tanker truck of solvent, Timmy could not have made a gram of cocaine. Timmy couldn’t manage his way out of a wet paper bag, nobody respected him, and he knew it and disrespected everyone else too. Timmy trashed the program on the grounds that FDA was not, at that time, very interested in a drug that might have more side effects than telling people to eat more vegetables (which we all know does not work). Jim quit, lots of people quit or were laid off with the program. A lot of us took a break from pharma at that point because we had Fking Had It.

      In 2014, four years after Timmy went on his firing spree, our competitor’s Liraglutide was approved. We could have beaten them to market easily had Timmy not been a complete douchebag. Big Big Pharma has made several similarly wasteful decisions over the years, so I guess in some ways it’s not personal – they just can’t strategize to save their damn lives.

      1. pancakes*

        What you describe does sound personal – your competitor clearly had people on staff or on hire who could strategize, and your own company might’ve done better if only Timmy wasn’t there.

    7. what Phil said*

      In my job, most of the work I do is never used. I have to all of it, because there’s no way to know in advance which tasks will actually matter, and by the time something needed, it will be too late to complete it in time.

      The upside is that I keep my skills sharp by performing these tasks even if my work product isn’t used. Because I’ve had so much practice doing the work, when I do have something ready in time, it’s good enough to use.

  8. ToodlesTeaTops*

    LW2 – I could be wrong, but I suspect that the reason the candidate disclosed it is because they may not interview in a neurotypical fashion. For example, maintaining eye contact for long periods of time. Your boss’s response wasn’t a great response and honestly reads that the interviewee is making this more complicated. When in reality, it’s your boss making this more complicated. It also reads that he may not understand Autism that much either. I think learning more about Autism will help a great deal. Many who are autistic are very bright and capable people even if appearances say otherwise. I’m not saying that you should have given that person a job (it sounds like you made the right choice), but it’s important to know the discrimination they face in situations like this.

    1. Erin*

      Seconding this. Even more than eye contact, flat affect was / is a big problem for me as an autistic person. It made interviews hell – it was read as a lack of interest or passion in the position and the work, and trying to mimic neurotypical emotional inflection I don’t use also tended to be read as not genuine and strange – until I started disclosing at the start of the interview why I spoke that way.

      Although of course not every interview resulted in an offer, and of course not every person with autism would feel comfortable doing this, disclosing 100% led to better, fairer, more comfortable interviews and offers.

      1. Just an autistic redhead*

        + to being read as not enthusiastic enough. I have the advantage that I haven’t had to interview a whole lot, but once I was diagnosed, thinking back on it I suddenly understood this feedback. It would have been really helpful for me to be able to mention it if I’d known, though figuring out how exactly to put it… “So that we’re on the same page, I’m autistic, so my face and eyes may show reactions differently from how most people’s do” ?
        I’m not sure whether that’s a good way or not… But I do think it would also inform me how my potential employers/co-workers would react to that. As long as I didn’t see anger, panic or disgust, or something similar like horror or dislike, I’d be fine with any other reactions, including a single “ok”.
        This manager seems a bit on the panic side of reaction. I mean, I understand it’s because they were worried about lawsuits, but taking the time to lay that all out seems pretty discouraging, as though that’s not something an autistic person would be able to know prior to their explanation, weigh for themselves, and take what seems to them to be the path of best-for-this-situation.
        If they reacted the same way to a visible difference/disability, imagine how silly it would be… Like if someone visibly blind came in to interview, or if someone hard of hearing said “Oh, and I’ve just learned that this hearing aid of mine is malfunctioning a little at the moment – so if I need to ask for a repetition, that will be why.” Or finally if someone’s skin color or accent were different from the interviewers’, the manager wouldn’t see the need to inform them of the fact that it’s illegal to take those into account. If they could have that sort of pointed out to them, perhaps they would feel a little less panicked and be able to respond more appropriately in the moment.

        1. Tau*

          Yeah, this would be so weird applied to visible disabilities! “I’m sorry, we can’t take the fact that you’re blind into account so we shouldn’t know that up-front. Everyone pretend the candidate is sighted now!” Or my speech disorder – the fact that most people don’t talk like this is glaringly obvious, so either you let me disclose and contextualise or you jump to your own conclusions about why I sound like this and what it means, and I suspect you’re much more likely to get into trouble for illegal discrimination on basis of disability doing the latter than the former!

    2. Bringing it up Helps (Sometimes)*

      Agreed on the rationale behind it. Can’t say I have great experience with getting interviewing panels to actually cooperate with useful accommodations, but at least it’s possible to find one of the good sets of interviewers when the topic comes up. Not bringing it up seems to just result in even more [insert failure to understand autistic social differences] reasons why an application got turned down.

      If my own job hunting is anything to go by then employers have a long way to go, but at least initiating the conversation earlier helped avoid the basic ones like “You didn’t magically do simultaneous eye contact in 5 different directions the way we wanted, so you were obviously a bad fit for our team.” type feedback.

      Full disclosure I have a metaphorical horse in the race on this one, but I’d love to see more interviewing teams understand the difference between “Tell me if my answer was wrong so I can try again until I get the right answer.” (implied not counting the wrong answers provided first), and “Tell me if my answer was the wrong type of answer, because that probably means I think you asked me something you don’t think you asked me and that’s literally one of the defining communicational characteristics of a relevant disability here.” better.

      I definitely like the “”Is there anything we can do to make the interview more comfortable for you?” or “Are there any accommodations you’d like from us to help you be at your best during this interview?”” parts of the response, and I definitely agree that folks need to be sure requesting accommodations is easy (I’ve literally been told by one prospective employer that forcing the applicant to ask for accommodations instead of offering to start that conversation is the preferred approach to de-stigmatize disability… because, y’know, applicants never fear the optics of basically asking for special exceptions while interviewing to get a job…).

      1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        “Tell me if my answer was the wrong type of answer, because that probably means I think you asked me something you don’t think you asked me and that’s literally one of the defining communicational characteristics of a relevant disability here.”

        — I feel this is a great point, especially if you think about all the disabilities that could have issues like this, such as ADHD or processing disorders.

    3. sunglass*

      Yes, this. My brother tries to disclose this in interviews, and he specifically mentions things like eye contact, and that he takes a little longer to process questions in stressful situations like interviews. That means there may be a longer-than-usual pause while he processes what he’s been asked and formulates his answer. He’s never interviewing for jobs where these things are essential (and once he knows people he’s better at it anyway), and the idea is that interviewers might think “ah, this is because he’s autistic” rather than “wow, this guy is really weird and it’s off-putting”.

      Interviews can be extremely difficult to navigate for autistic people, depending on how their autism presents, and that’s not going to change whether they disclose or not. It’s not like someone disclosing a pregnancy when they may not be obviously pregnant. For some autistic people, disclosing is giving context to something that’s going to be apparent, and hoping that interviewers might be understanding. It’s a really difficult situation either way, and can be a real barrier for some autistic people in the workplace if they don’t present in interview-friendly ways, even if they would be great in the actual role.

      1. Washi*

        Tbis makes a lot of sense! If it were the interviewee writing in, I would say he should offer a 1 sentence explanation of why that information is relevant (like your brother’s example of pausing when answering) since everyone is so different.

        I wonder if this manager’s flustered/borderline confrontational response is common? I think when I was a new interviewer I might have been unsure what to say if someone simply said they are autistic with no further information, but I think it would have been more of an awkward “ok thanks for letting me know” than a “omg don’t tell us that!!”

        1. JB*

          From the question, it doesn’t sound like the interviewee just said ‘I’m autistic’ and provided no further information; it sounds like the boss literally interrupted them at that point and told them not to give that information. Although I may be misreading.

          It’s funny, because the reason LW3 cited for not continuing with the candidate is the same area that my interview skills are most impacted by being autistic. I’ve been told I interview very well (in fact, during my current job search, people can’t seem to stop telling me so) but when I’m asked what my career plans are or how this particular job fits into them, I can’t give a very coherent or convincing answer, it seems.

          I don’t have career plans, and I don’t know how to lie to make it sound like I do. I get a job, learn the job, stay between 3-5 years before I move forward based on what I’ve learned in that position. How am I supposed to know NOW what I’ll have learned after 3-5 years in this position?

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            I sympathise because “how does this job fit into your career plans?” is not a good interview question. But you can just make something up that sounds convincing and coherent. (“I want to move into X area and gain experience in Y and this job sounds like it would allow me to do both.”)
            If you get the job, nobody is going to remember how you answered this question 3-5 years from now anyway!

            1. Brit*

              This is something that many people with autism simply can’t do. Someone on twitter was trying to describe to me why she can’t and if I understood correctly it’s alot to do with seeing it as a form of lying. It’s not about whether someone else finds out later, there’s an actual barrier in communicating things without all known factors.

              This can be a very good trait in the right circumstances, but can make interviews very difficult for all sorts of reasons. For example they might be unable to be enthusiastic about the companies vague values and mission and simply be honest that they just care about their role and their work and this doesn’t come off well. Yet those same candidates could be great at their job because of this, focusing on the details and quality and not getting distracting by the bigger picture.

              1. Just an autistic redhead*

                I’d agree with that read being a possibility. Making up something on the spot would invoke all kinds of anxiety potentially because thinking through for something that’s still fully accurate/honest that’d serve as an answer that isn’t “I don’t have/want a career plan” or “This job will BE my career plan for the next 3-5 years, if I get it” takes too long.
                It can help to go through lists of common questions beforehand and be like ok, this is something that is accurate for me to say that should cover that question sufficiently… But then you have to make sure it actually does cover it for *this* interview before you go.
                Just tricky.

              2. The Prettiest Curse*

                I totally understand that some people (including those who are not on the autism spectrum) would have difficulty with this question because a lot of possible responses to it seem like lying. I am not on the autism spectrum and have had difficulty with this question because I don’t have (and have never had) a career plan. So what I would do is come up in advance with an answer that you feel comfortable giving, which will probably be a bit different for each job.
                I should have said “come up with something” instead of “make something up” in my original response. but it’s Monday and I haven’t had nearly enough caffeine.

                1. Just an autistic redhead*

                  No worries ^_^ I think all I wanted was to emphasize the “in advance” part and share about internal mind jumps. I have had my caffeine for the day already – it is an essential nutrient after all.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            It sounds like the person in the letter did have specific career plans and they didn’t fit with this job/environment, not that the person couldn’t explain how they would fit.

      2. DivineMissL*

        My grown son is on the spectrum, and I’ve debated for a long time whether he should disclose this in interviews. He comes across as “quirky” at best and “off-putting” at worst if you don’t know of his disability. Once you get to know him, it’s fine. He doesn’t like to draw attention to it but it seems that if interviewers knew upfront, he might do better. But he’s afraid that interviewers would be put off by making them aware that he has a disability in the first place. A Catch-22.

    4. Anastasia*

      Mhm. This is a great example of the double-bind people with ‘invisible disabilities’ face in interviews; do I disclose, and potentially open myself up to discrimination, and/or come off very oddly for disclosing medical information that I am fully aware may not be used in a hiring decision? Or do I not disclose, and potentially make a bad impression if an interviewer notices a symptom/sign of the disability and doesn’t have context for it?

      Personally, I do not disclose until/unless absolutely necessary, like when requesting a specific accommodation. Which I prefer not to do until I’ve already been hired.

      1. Alianora*

        Yes! Also, for me, I mask pretty well most of the time. But of course I can’t hide certain mannerisms or difficulty understanding certain communication styles. And so I’m not sure if it’s better to disclose and have people potentially see everything I do through the autistic lens, or not disclose and have people think I’m being weird for no reason.

    5. VI Guy*

      I think the interviewee could have been a lot more effective in disclosing a disability. You suggest researching autism, but LW2 and their boss can’t do that during the interview. I would suggest either disclosing before in an email as an accommodation request, or if mentioned during the interview then the interviewee should be clear on how it will effect the interview and/or their work, and what they need to adapt.
      “As you can see, I have a white cane and visual disability. It means that I enlarge the font on my computer, and that can be done easily so I have found ways to make it work! On business trips I typically use taxis instead of rental cars, but I’m flexible on options such as carpooling or public transit to ensure my trips aren’t substantially more expensive.”

      The boss should have responded with a question about accommodations during the interview or something to that effect.

      1. PspspspspspsKitty*

        Op asked what to do next time. Autism is such a common thing, it wouldn’t hurt to learn more about it.

        I’m not really sure the interviewee could have been more effective. Maybe they were going to. The LW said the boss jumped in. The interviewee didn’t write in so it doesn’t help to give them advice. The boss was a bit out of line. That comment would have shut me down in an interview and I interview really well.

        1. What’s behind curtain number three*

          I really recommend doing a bit of research on autism too. And real research, not the first autism speaks article that returns from a google search. We are out here and you probably already have autistic coworkers. A little understanding beyond the stereotyped white male presentation would be wonderful.

          I’ve also been seeing a lot of parents asking if they should TELL their kids to disclose their diagnosis and I think that’s the wrong discussion to be having (once again infantalizing their adult kid because of autism). It should be more about does the person applying want to disclose it, and if they do, how can they do it in a way to get accommodations they need.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Preferably not ANY Autism Speaks articles! Give those a miss. ASAN would be a good place to start. (It sounds like you know that, I’m just sharing for other readers — Autism Speaks is pretty yucky.)

            1. What’s behind curtain number three*

              Agreed! I do not look on autism speaks favorably under any circumstances.

  9. Anonbeth*

    LW 3, a lot of my work is like this, except that mine is digital so it doesn’t include physical materials (I think I would have a harder time being zen if it used up materials). A few things have helped for me: 1, I still did the work and gained the skills, and I’ll use the skills on the next project. In the way that all of us are collections of things we’ve done and learned. 2, I remind myself that it’s not my job to bring this into the world, it’s my job to prepare options. 3, a healthy bit of eye rolling and shrugging over it with coworkers.

    1. Save Our Stages*

      Same! My sympathies to LW3. In my case, I work in plays, so there’s almost always things that get cut or end up not used bc they don’t work, they’re decided against, don’t look right, etc. At least in my department, our building blocks are stock pieces, so it’s rare that physical resources are wasted – just our time and labor – but I’ve definitely seen other departments put time, money, and materials into something (sometimes quite elaborate) only to have it cut. For me, my irritation level comes down to how much effort it was, but I understand it’s the nature of the work. It’s also better to honor the art of the piece than try to fit something in that doesn’t work just because of the time and money spent.

      Definitely agree on finding the positive – these are skills I learned or got a chance to practice, I figured out a better way to do this step, I am paid whether this order is cancelled or not, etc – but I’d also say you should allow yourself to acknowledge the suckiness. Don’t wallow, but let yourself feel annoyed fir a second! “I worked hard on these, and it sucks to see them destroyed.” Then let it go, and great job on doing what you absolutely should have – flagged it to your boss and figured out a better system so your time and resources aren’t needlessly wasted. If only that would work in my industry… alas, we’re at the whims of directors and designers, who will never stop changing their minds…

  10. lyonite*

    I also work in biotech, and can confirm that cover letters don’t seem to be as much of a thing. Hiring managers wants to know about the skills you’re going to bring to the job, not whatever kind of specialness you are personally.

    1. Another biotech worker*

      Seconded! And depending on the role could see jamming a cover letter in coming off as someone who isn’t following directions depending on who is reading/doing the initial filtering.

      1. Nela*

        Do you do much hiring? In 2 decades of working in talent recruitment in an adjacent field I’ve never encountered a colleague who would penalize an applicant for including a cover letter even if it wasn’t requested or would see it as not following directions. Even if we didn’t ask for it we wouldn’t see it as a red flag to include one.

        1. Andy*

          I have seen people comment in the “this person might be bullshitter or weird” sense.

          Moreover, I have seen hiring people to make wild assumptions based on the flimsiest things.

          1. Kara Kara B*

            You work with some very irrational and ignorant people then. I’m so sorry! I hope you can get out of there soon. Best of luck with the job search.

          2. irene adler*

            I’m in biotech.
            I’ve done hiring.
            I have received some wild cover letters that really put me off the candidate. Seems there’s something called a “pain” letter that is sent to explain how the candidate will solve my “pain” or issue. The assumptions made within the letter were so wildly off the mark I didn’t know what to think. It certainly adversely affected my judgment of them. They indicated no understanding of the business (saving lives?), or that we are a small company. Or they wrote about issues our company were absolutely not facing-but they were adamant they were going to solve them for me (inventing new things- for a QC position??). Or they implied that hiring them would free up my time to attend to my “hundreds of other employees” that I managed.
            I just stopped reading anything other than the resume itself.

            1. SoloKid*

              This is disheartening to hear as someone that is looking to make a lateral shift in biotech specialties. My top bullet points don’t directly apply to the positions I’ve asked about but I always make sure to explain transferable skills in my cover letters.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              You’re talking about bad cover letters, which will be a problem in any field. But not just the existence of a cover letter itself.

              1. Allypopx*

                All due respect Alison, but people who work in a lot of different fields are saying/have said/know from experience that cover letters can be actively annoying to some managers, show you aren’t following directions, or can otherwise be a hindrance and the overall tone of the blog that they are never ever an issue could be hurting people in those fields.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I actually haven’t seen people saying exactly that from the position of someone who hires — like Nela, I’m interested in knowing if they hire in those fields. It they do, that’s helpful to know. But in this case, I was responding to a comment that was talking about bad cover letters specifically, and want that distinction made.

        2. Allypopx*

          I do a lot of hiring and love a cover letter but I am amazed at what other organizations roll their eyes at.

    2. TechWorker*

      My company is not biotech but we don’t request cover letters and I agree it’s not universally positive to add one. Maybe add it as the second page of your pdf /after the resume so it at least looks like you’re following the instructions?

      1. Daisy*

        I think it depends a bit on what kind of ‘application form’ they’re talking about? If it’s one where it asks lots of substantive questions, of the ‘explain how you meet the requirements for the role’ sort, then I agree it looks a bit odd/ redundant to also add a cover letter – they’ve asked for that information already in a format they want. If there’s no place on the form to explain why you’re applying or why you suit the job, then a cover letter seems like a reasonable addition.

    3. Elle by the sea*

      I also work in biotech and have worked in other areas of tech as well. I have come across a non-academic job that required a cover letter only once. Same for references – I haven’t seen that in any of the jobs I applied to. It also depends on the country: I guess it’s common in the US but it’s just doesn’t seem to be a thing in the UK and Ireland.

      If the application doesn’t have a space for a cover letter, it most likely means that they don’t want you to submit one. I don’t recommend sending any, because such employers won’t read it and will ever feel irritated that candidates are sending them unsolicited cover letters. But if you are in doubt, you can ask.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      It sounds like you’ve seen some bad cover letters. That isn’t the kind of tailored, results-oriented cover letter Alison champions, and yes it’s not worth adding in.

    5. Engineering manager*

      In my field (technology/engineering) I’ve never received a cover letter in all the interviews I’ve conducted. If they were submitted they were stripped off by the talent management folks and all we get for the technical interview is a copy of the resume even as the hiring manager.

    6. PostalMixup*

      My company does cover letters, but one of the Major Pharma companies I applied to during my job search did not.

    7. Lora*

      I’ve seen many that gave you a section to add one: Big Pharma used to have a section you could manually type in or copy/paste one, starting about 20 years ago up through ~5 years ago. Now that almost everyone uses Workday, there’s just a section to upload your CV “and any other documents” where you can upload a cover letter as well. However, the cover letter is almost universally stripped out of what gets sent around to any hiring committee – they’ll get your CV and it needs to speak for itself.

        1. Lora*

          Welp, it’s how hiring via Workday has gone for me at CDMO You Definitely Heard Of, Previously Unsuccessful Vaccine Company, and Massive French Pharma. The cover letter goes directly to the hiring manager but nobody else on the hiring committee sees it. What we really care about are the presentations from the final round candidates for mid – senior positions, and for lower level positions it’s actually been more of a “well, Other Employee sent over your CV, soooo you must be at least OK” type of thing.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Interesting. I work for a manufacturing company now (in marketing) and we use Workday, which did not have a space for a cover letter. I could have added it to my resume, I suppose, but it made no difference – I literally got a call for an interview within an hour of submitting my application.

    8. Jobbyjob*

      I am a hiring manager in biotech. We absolutely don’t expect cover letters and having one wouldn’t differentiate a candidate if the resume by itself wouldn’t already do so, so it is mostly a waste of applicants time to write one. Having said that, is there is something that is a red flag on the resume that could be explained/contextualized through a cover letter then it may be beneficial. Adding a cover letter to the pdf would certainly not penalize your application though.

    9. GG*

      Could not disagree more, as I wrote in a separate comment below. Writing one is always worth the time and sets you apart in very good ways from other applicants in what is a /very/ competitive market right now.

  11. prof*

    for LW2, isn’t it better for the candidate to disclose/ask for accommodations a bit earlier? like when offered the interview? of the interviewee didn’t write in but….literally as everyone sits there may be difficult or too late to make a change. or this kind of reaction happens, when an earlier disclosure might allow the hiring manager more time to get on a better track…

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I was thinking this too. Just like if they were physically challenged and asked if the place was handicap accessible. Or if they were hard of hearing and asked for the interviewers to speak up. It’s not the bosses place to say that they shouldn’t disclose something in the interview, but it is their job not to make a big deal and to not take that into factor of the job, unless it matters and there wasn’t a way they could accommodate “i.e. a factory job where it wouldn’t be safe to have someone who was mobility challenged on the shop floor.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Re LW #2, it doesn’t sound as if the disability came into play in the decision, but this may be a chance to reflect on your hiring process.

      First of all, if you have candidates who need interview accommodations of any kind, are there clear ways for them to ask for those?

      Second of all, can your hiring process reliable find you candidates who have a solid skill set, yet aren’t great in interviews?

      I once had a candidate surprise me with a disability disclosure during an interview. Honestly, I wished I had known earlier so I could have thought ahead of time how to make her feel more comfortable (it had to do with mobility and our interview location was down a flight of stairs), but I also respect her right to choose when to disclose. Ultimately, though, the interview is only about 25% of our hiring decision, while a skills demonstration is about 75%. The candidate was new to the field and the skills just weren’t there during the demonstration, so I didn’t have to wonder, even to myself, why I was rejecting the person. It definitely made me want to be more proactive about helping candidates feel comfortable disclosing in the future, though.

    2. Tau*

      I disagree. It might make sense to disclose earlier if the candidate wants some form of accommodations that would be hard to organize on the fly – but if the issue is e.g. “please be aware that my eye contact and affect may be atypical and try not to judge me by it”, what prep work is needed?

      My rule of thumb would actually be to disclose as late as possible, and preferably in an actual interview instead of by any form of advance notice. This is to minimise the time the interviewer can spend getting bogged down in wrong-headed preconceptions or stereotypes – if they have some weird assumptions about autistic people (as many people do!) you want to be able to catch that and head it off at the pass, not let that calcify. It also means they don’t go into the interview with “autistic” being one of the only things they know about you, instead when they do learn about the autism they learn it in a contextualised way and at the same time as a bunch of other things about you.

      Disclaimer: I don’t actually have any personal experience disclosing autism (I am autistic but my work doesn’t know), but I have a speech disorder which I disclose at the start of the first phone interview. I would never disclose that on interview offer, I think it’d lead to worse outcomes for me overall.

    3. AnonforThis*

      I think it’s a question of what you need for an interview. I was involved in training when he hired someone in a wheelchair we were able to set her up in an office that’s close to our assistance evacuation point on the floor and the accessible kitchen and made sure she had the right kind of desk. But for her actual interview, there wasn’t anything we needed to do yet. I work for a large organization though and so we’re very well setup to accommodate things quickly. I worked with someone who couldn’t type for a while after an accident and they had a speech to text system for him the day he returned to work.

    4. Self Employed*

      Typically, if a candidate asks for an accommodation before the interview, they don’t get interviewed.

      How much advance notice do the interviewers need to readjust their assumptions about lack of eye contact = disrespect & dishonesty? If anything, they’re more likely to go look at the Autism Speaks website and conclude the candidate must be lying about being Autistic because they can talk and have job skills. Or look at current events and worry that the candidate will be the next QAnon Shaman.

  12. Weegie*

    #2 When you invite candidates to interview, ask them to let you know if they require any accommodations.

    1. Flo*

      If possible, with a list of the kinds of accommodations you can offer. As someone who is autistic, it’s so hard to think of what accommodations I might need and I don’t know what’s reasonable to ask for. I have been masking for my whole life and it’s really hard to tell the difference between masking that can lead to burn out and masking that everyone has to do during an interview. Things like “please be aware that I might fidget a lot” doesn’t sound like an accommodation because I hope you wouldn’t discriminate against a nervous neurotypical for that, and there is usually some limit on the amount of information you can get in advance of an interview which varies between companies (and I never know where it is).

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I wish more companies would do this. I haven’t interviewed much lately but do recall that one place emailed me an invitation to interview and as part of the boilerplate email language, included a note about how to make accommodations requests and a link to their page on accommodations. I don’t need accommodations for myself, but it gives a good impression (to me) that they’re proactive about the needs of a wide range of candidates they can expect to engage with.


    #1- You’re conflating two issues. They’re going to be a bit unhappy. You’ve been unhappy (or dissatisfied). Why is it necessary to compare? You’ll be better off not trying to edit or censor their perspective. Instead, attend to your own. Do you need acknowledgement of some sort? Or a different professional opportunity? Some time off? Thanks from the company? Figure that out and act on it. That’s a better use of your energy than putting a spin on their felt experience.

    1. MK*

      The OP isn’t comparing things in a vacuum, she is trying to address a situation that affects her. Just because they are going to be unhappy, that doesn’t entitle them to complain about it, as if they were losing a perk, especially to people who didn’t have this “perk” at all.

      Also, if one’s “felt experience” is that they resent a global pandemic possibly slowly coming to an end because it will inconvenience them (safety concerns aside), I absolutely am “putting the spin” on it that they are unreasonable.

    2. Jack Straw*

      I didn’t interpret anything in LW1 as spinning or needing anything other than to be prepared to respond in a professional way.

      What did you read in the letter that had you concluding that the LW needed acknowledgement, different professional opportunity, time off, or thanks from the company?

    3. LTL*

      OP isn’t trying to censor their experience. They personally don’t want to hear their coworkers complaining and that boundary is more than reasonable.

      “I don’t want you talking about this at all” is censorship, “I don’t want to hear this” is not. Personally if I was being insensitive, I’d want to know. I wouldn’t want the person to swallow their perfectly valid resentment.

      1. Self Employed*

        I finally had to tell my pastor “I’m not the right audience for this” when it was clear the regulars at her Zoom lunches were all there to vent about missing their expensive vacations and big family reunions–things I can’t have even when we don’t have a pandemic. I’m not in that income bracket (a $100 camping trip to see the comet from a mountain 50 miles away was a HUGE splurge made possible by the stimulus check) nor do I have living family members on speaking terms. Yes, I can understand that even neurotypical people are disappointed when their plans change, but their attitude that “it is totally unreasonable for me to do without these things, how am I ever going to cope without them?” got old so, so fast.

        And other circles I avoided because I knew I was the “person on WFH” while they were doing essential work or laid off. (PUA was not enough to pay rent in my area. I had PUA for self-employed people plus my disability–and my rent was subsidized while theirs was usually not.) Many of them had family who had to keep working and they were in crowded conditions so if one person got COVID, the whole family got it.

  14. Speaks to Dragonflies*

    Op 3, I feel ya on this. It feels so crappy to have something that you’ve put time, effort, thought, skill, and sometimes literal blood and sweat into thrown out like common junk. Yes, we are paid for our time and such, but I think we take a certain amount of pride in our work, and seeing it “mistreated” is painful. Something I would do is take pictures of what I made, or a before and after if it was a repair. Is that possible for you to do?

  15. John Smith*

    #3, you have my sympathies, but your colleague is right. I really used to care about my work. I still do, but I would require psychiatric health intervention if I got myself in a lather about work matters.

    For example, my absolute clown of a manager de-automated a lot of our quality assured processes and tasks simply because he apparently didn’t understand the automation, so tasks that used to take 15 minutes to complete now take around half a day at least. He wouldn’t listen to our (expert in the field) advice and is now vaingloriously happy at how busy we all are (and totally ignorant of the relationships between activity, productivity and efficiency).

    While I care that we are so incredibly inefficient, I don’t lose sleep over it. It’s how my employer has decided to use the time and services they have purchased, and if my employer wishes to spaff that money and time up the wall, that is entirely their decision and right. Here’s a near-typical conversation:

    Colleague: “it’s taken 6 hours to groom that llama with those little scissors but only used to take 10 minutes in the 360 degree clipper-matic machine! (Starts sobbing)”

    Me: “yeah, I know and so does The Clown but that’s how he wants it! (sips tea). How’s that new restaurant you visited last week? I’m looking for somewhere to take a date this weekend.”

    Away from deliberate waste, sometimes you just have to accept that waste will happen naturally. A common testing procedure we use can sometimes go “wrong” towards the end (this is an inherent nature of the equipment and can’t be avoided), meaning that the whole test has to be restarted from scratch. It’s annoying, but again, I don’t lose sleep over it.

    1. Garlic Knot*

      I wish I knew this Zen, but a similar situation in my case has pushed me to job-hunting.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I ended up CC’ing the CEO and cashed in a few years of professional esteem the last time that came down my pike. It finally hit him between the eyes when I pointed out we’d have to convert my department to part-time, because the number of staff we’d need if we broke the automation would preclude providing benefits while staying in business.

        I came out of it feeling like I was down to 7 lives.

    2. Lacey*

      You can’t just acknowledge to your poor coworker that it’s absolutely absurd and infuriating?
      Sometimes people just need that to be acknowledged instead of pretending like it doesn’t matter.

      1. John Smith*

        Oh, I did do. My example was shortened to emphasise the point – not getting upset over work. Apologies if an uncaring attitude to colleagues was given – that certainly is not the case.

  16. Czhorat*

    #1 feels like the opposite of the LW from last week asking if the people who get to stay remote have to pay somehow for the privilege.

    While the returning workers are being insensitive, if they CAN do their jobs as well from home then I understand the frustration and need to vent; it hurts to lose flexibility for what feel like arbitrary reasons.

    They are still being insensitive, but perhaps their annoyance has cause behind it.

    1. WS*

      Yes, and it’s fair to be personally annoyed, but don’t take it out (or even mention it) around the people who never got that privilege at all – that’s the wrong target entirely!

      1. Czhorat*

        Oh, absolutely.

        Remembering that this could be an unreasonable imposition on the people forced back for no reason contextualizes it a bit.

        It might sting a tiny bit less if you realize that the gripe IS a real one.

        1. Tuckerman*

          Agreed, especially if the people who were working from home make less money and are therefore more impacted by paying high costs to park at work and cover additional hours of childcare around a long commute. I’m in that situation, trying to negotiate mostly remote work. And some of the griping is strategic. If enough people complain to enough people, the company may be more likely to revisit its policies, as a retention strategy.

    2. allathian*

      Thank you for saying so. And I definitely think that nobody should be forced to return to the office if there’s no genuine business reason to do so. At the very least, wait until mask mandates are lifted for everyone. I’m absolutely, 100 percent convinced that my productivity would plummet severely if I had to wear a mask at work, or if I got a medical exemption, I’d have to justify it continuously. I feel like I can’t breathe in a mask and when I wear one, I can’t focus on anything else other than the mask. I guess I’m just grateful that my employer is reasonable and that they aren’t planning on bringing people back to the office yet.

      1. Czhorat*

        Even if I don’t have to wear a mask, I’m quite capable of dispatching 90% of my duties from home; if I’m working on designs, marking up documents, or similar activities then being in the office adds nothing (especially if the people with whom I’m collaborating are in a *different* office in another state – and at times another country!).

        If there are client meetings and the like then it’s nice to have an office space from which to work so one meeting doesn’t kill an entire day.

        I honestly think that the past year will change how we view office spaces and what we expect of them. Remote work on a larger scale might be here to stay.

      2. IgnisDivine*

        This! My company is aiming for a return in September, and hopefully they won’t need masks anymore by then. I’m sure it sounds a bit unreasonable to complain about, considering there are people who do wear them all day in their jobs now. But for some of us we really can’t stand them.

      3. LTL*

        I do feel like this comment is pivoting away from OP’s issues to put the focus on their colleagues’ feelings. This letter isn’t about when/whether employers should bring employees back into the office.

    3. Yorick*

      People whose jobs suddenly changed to WFH have had to move, rearrange their homes and lives, buy new electronic equipment, upgrade their internet service, and these and other costs have shifted from the company to the individual worker. A lot of us do try to focus on the positives like not having to wear pants.

  17. Heather*

    LW4: I’m not in biotech, but I am in a STEM field and cover letters just aren’t as important as in most other areas. When I’ve been involved in hiring we typically get forwarded the candidates’ applications and resumes, and any cover letters are never mentioned. If I were you I’d err on the side of following the instructions and focus your time on the application form rather than writing a custom letter that may never get read.

    1. JG Obscura*

      This has also been my experience in software. They want a list of skills and accomplishments. Everything else is just fluff. (Not saying this perspective is right, but that’s how most hiring managers see it)

      1. Wintermute*

        it’s not that it’s pure fluff it’s just that the “big accomplishments” tend to be stuff that’s only tangientially related to your job, and the actual accomplishments of your job are intangible negatives (we didn’t have a breach, we didn’t have an outage, we met our service level agreements and didn’t miss deadlines).

        They care far more about how you’ve proven able to handle the environment you’ll be working in than things like the fact you lead a project to reorganize some documentation that’s maybe 10% of your job, they care about the 90% stuff.

        1. Self Employed*

          When I last applied for jobs around 2010, the expert advice I received was that everything had to focus on how much money I had made for the company in my previous jobs–and to make $*it up if I didn’t know. OK, for the past decade I’ve been in college (the most recent 6 years on a MA Biology that I won grant funding for on my own, but a total of under $10K is probably underwhelming for most employers) but before that I was a technical writer. I honestly don’t know what my employer charged clients for the projects I worked on. Before I was a technical writer, I was an admin. I don’t think it’s honest to claim I “won a $2 million contract” because I was the last person to incorporate edits and proofread the proposal before it went out the door to the client and eventually my employer got the contract (possibly long after I had a different temp assignment).

  18. AnonforThis*

    For #2, I will say we once had a candidate put his age on a resume (he was older). I was confused but my supervisor knew this guy had applied previously and threatened to sue for age discrimination. We had other very legitimate reasons to reject him based on his written responses to questions and documented that.

    So, for candidates disclosing things, understand that based on experience that may be the reaction of a hiring manager. They aren’t sure of the motivations for the disclosure.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      I also think most managers are terrified of getting cross-ways with ADA laws. If you’ve ever had any sort of interviewing training, it’s been drilled into your head that you shouldn’t ask certain questions, you shouldn’t know certain things, etc.

      From the description it sounds like he panicked and went too far to the side of not wanting knowledge to influence their decision.

    2. JRR*

      Anyone looking at my resume would know that I’m over 40 since by previous job started in the 1990s. You would also know my ethnic and religious background from reading my name.

      As a candidate, it’s not my job (and not possible) to keep information from you that you’re not supposed to consider.

      1. AnonforThis*

        To be clear, this wasn’t something you inferred from his resume, it straight up said “Age: [number]” right under his name on top of his resume in a large font. That’s why it was strange. I have done hundreds of resume reviews and never seen anyone else do this ever.

    3. Rach*

      That would make it worse and more discriminatory if the manager is approaching it in a “people with different abilities are scammers” rather than, “this person is trying to advocate for themselves”.

      1. AnonforThis*

        It’s not wrong to disclose it’s important the candidate explains why they are choosing to disclose said information. If you are requesting accommodation or explaining some behavior, then say so. Just dropping “I’m [x]” leads to a question of why you’re disclosing.

        1. Rach*

          LW2 states their manager interrupted the interviewee, they may have planned on saying more.

      2. Dahlia*

        Hey, Rach, “different abilities” is basically never the preferred term. “Disabilities” is fine. For instance for me, “pain” is not an ability.

        1. Rach*

          Eh, depends who you are talking to. I personally switch it up from time to time -signed someone with ADA accommodations due to a significant disability

        2. Rach*

          Also, I specifically used this term as LW2 is about an autistic person and the people I know who are autistic prefer it not be called a disability. It was an awkward term but also, it is always awkward when lumping people who may need accommodations together.

          1. Self Employed*

            SOME Autistic people are finicky about not calling it a disability–unless you meant to say they don’t consider it a disease. Some Autistics are ableist enough to have negative associations with “disability” (and I would bet a small amount of cash that they also say they’re “high functioning, unlike those low functioning Autistics who really are disabled”) and probably do say that.

            However, they do not speak for all Autistics. They also can’t have their cake and eat it too: you can’t say you don’t have a disability if you want to get workplace accommodations for it. If they want special lighting because they perceive fluorescents as strobe lights, a desk with a cubicle in an open plan office because coworkers are too distracting, or permission to avoid eye contact and play with a fidget spinner during department meetings, etc. they can’t go around saying “I’m not disabled.”

            Disability is not a bad word.

            “Different abilities” either sounds like a euphemism for something bad (and disability is not shameful) or a content-free buzzphrase. Everyone has different abilities. Some people can do triathlons, some people jog or ride a bike for fun, and others can’t do any of that.

            1. Rach*

              Yes, language is fascinating and we will never come up with a universal word that everyone is okay with. I’m not going to apologize for finding neither word offensive for myself. If someone I know doesn’t like the phrase differently abled, I won’t use it. This thread was speaking about age (not a disability) and Autism (not necessarily a disability), therefore the word disability was not warranted.

  19. Bookworm*

    Got no advice for you, OP1. Just wanted to say sorry that your co-workers “forgot.”

  20. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #1

    This is a great reminder for me to talk to my team before we go back to the office hybrid in July. None of us are happy about it since we truly are a department that can be 100% WFH and have had no issues (we operates mostly independent from the rest of the company due to the nature of the work). But the CEO really wants people in at least 50% of the time no matter what, which was tough to get–C suite says he wanted everyone back 100% with no hybrid, so 50% WFH was a huge win. I’m going to make sure to tell the team they need to keep any complaints within the team and keep in mind we’ll be in the office with people who were either there the whole time, or there part-time through the pandemic, so don’t complain to Sally in Customer Service about how you miss your dog or now need to brush your hair.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I thank you for thinking of ways you can manage return to work! Messaging from the top really matters!

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I should have added to that: keep complaints within the team; however, keep those complaints to a minimum. In other words, while the in-office people don’t want to hear it, I also don’t want to hear everyday how it sucks to drive 15 minutes to work, or to wear business casual, or pack a lunch. That just drags down morale and creates an atmosphere of negativity.

    3. Shenandoah*

      One of the pieces of advice that has served me well is “save it for the group chat” – I think a lot of us are going to need to remember to save those complaints for within the team who hasn’t had to go in during this mess.

    4. Anonny NonErson*

      I have had success with my team going back to a hybrid schedule, by focusing on what work is best done at each place (home versus the office). Basically, reframing it as “time in the office to collaborate, network, and perform hands-on tasks” and “time at home office to concentrate, shift the schedule to accommodate appointments”

      It’s not perfect and reentry was difficult (for even me – I still have childcare concerns that I’m having to navigate that won’t be fully resolved until next school year), but by helping them sort the work into the best buckets (home versus office) we seem to have struck a good balance.

      Mostly though I let them know I do not expect the same productivity on the days they are in the office versus days they are working from home. I think that was the real rub – we were all so busy when working from home that the thought of getting that same amount of work done while also suddenly dealing with the conversations and interruptions again caused a huge amount of anxiety.

      Telling them that on their on-site days the goal is to get on-site specific work done, any critical must-happen-today work done, and to use the rest of the time as relationship building (go to lunch with someone from another department! Schedule and have a face-to-face meeting with someone you’ve had a hard time connecting with!) helped ease the re-entry anxiety a bit.

  21. agnes*

    #1 Thank you for writing in about this issue. I think companies are in for a rough re-entry period and we all need to be more transparent about concerns, perceptions, and feelings. Onsite workers are tired of hearing about the positives of remote work, and remote workers are tired of the assumption that remote work is “part time” work.

    Our organization is trying to be upfront about acknowledging these issues and meeting the interests of various groups. It’s new territory for all of us. I hope people will keep writing in with suggestions on what they are doing and what seems to be working for them.

    1. EPLawyer*

      “#1 Thank you for writing in about this issue. I think companies are in for a rough re-entry period and we all need to be more transparent about concerns, perceptions, and feelings. Onsite workers are tired of hearing about the positives of remote work, and remote workers are tired of the assumption that remote work is “part time” work.”

      THIS. It’s going to adjustments all around. Lots of people were able to work from home just fine — without adjustments because the job can be done remotely and rightfully resent being pulled back in just because a boss wants butts in the seat. On the other hand, some people have had to be there the whole time and rightfully feel taken advantage of and that they were put at risk. EVERYONE being a little more compassionate would be a good thing.

      1. allathian*

        Absolutely. Some people also hate WFH and can’t wait to get back to the office. Some people love WFH but their job isn’t really suited for 100 percent WFH, for example if they’re required to handle a lot of paper documents. One thing that made transitioning to 100 percent WFH for us so easy is that my org has gone pretty much completely electronic. Pretty much the only paper documents people sign these days are employment contracts (not in the US) that have to be signed before the employee gets access to our systems. These are then scanned and archived electronically, and the original paper document gets shredded.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      With having to return to the office soon (hybrid), it has me wondering if my company will start seeing some turnover. We had WFH prior to the pandemic, but it was for managers and really only when they needed to (appointments; sick, but not too sick; etc.). We’re now being allowed a hybrid model where it makes sense, which has been determined to be 50% WFH, and I heard it was quite hard to get because the CEO wants to maintain our culture. I feel like it could put us at a disadvantage for employee retention in those departments that can truly be effective and do everything at home, but have to come in part-time for appearances. I mean, if Company B has the same position with the same pay and benefits as us, but the person can WFH 100% and wants to, they’re leaving for Company B.

  22. Lucious*

    Question- for those who stayed on site during the pandemic, would it be appropriate to recognize that with corporate awards/recognition + bonuses? I ask this as essential employees literally put themselves + families at risk every day so folks like myself could work from home. They deserve tangible recognition and compensation for this, not banners and PR statements.

    1. Over It*

      If my org gave me a corporate award and nothing else for being onsite during the pandemic, I’d tell them to kick rocks. (“Thanks for risking your life, here’s a customized paperweight!”)

      If you’ve been giving hazard pay all pandemic than a bonus isn’t a must, but always appreciated. But if there’s been no hazard pay, your org should give those onsite some additional financial compensation ASAP. Additional and/or preferential scheduling for PTO for the rest of the year is good too. And if your office is staggered/part-time return to the office to reduce capacity, give those who have been in person first pick on schedules/new seating arrangements if possible.

    2. Pointy's in the North Tower*

      I don’t want a piece of paper to say “Thanks for doing other people’s work!” Give me money and/or time off that doesn’t come from my PTO bank. I can use either of those for some self-care.

    3. JRR*

      $10 per diem for every day worked onsite, paid retroactively and every day going forward. This would result in a $2000 reward for people who worked onsite throughout the pandemic, plus a little softening of the blow for people now required to return.

  23. hbc*

    OP3: It sounds like it can be better in your case, but in some positions, it’s critical to the process to start work before it’s 100% sure to be directly useful. I think it’s important to focus on the bigger picture–you might spend 10 days working on 10 projects and only have one of them come through to a sale, but there was no way of knowing up front which one was going to be a success, and that one sale was worth 10 days of work. It might be even more nebulous than that, with sales building a relationship based on the idea that you guys can turn around stuff quickly, and showing them what you had done in a week is what gets you a sale next year.

    I would focus your complaints on *preventable* waste, but keep an open mind as to the benefit of the work done, or at least the total process that requires that not every bit of effort put in is a clear part of the end result.

    1. Amazed*

      Seconding this! I’ve been in the same position, and framing it in terms of ‘being ready to pounce on the one good lead when it does come’ has helped a lot.

  24. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#3, your co-worker is right. It sounds like you’re an outcome-oriented person working in a process-oriented culture. If the process calls for making demo units that only have a 10% chance of being used, knowing that the 1 in 10 that is used nets the company a big new sale, that might be a very useful business process.

    Look at it this way: Your skills and demo units (or whatever) are so incredibly valuable to the company that they’re willing to throw away 90% of what you do.

    1. Andy*

      It sounds to me that there is business reason to it or at least can be. The company is betting on order to not fall through. If they did not worked in advance, they would made no orders. If they work in advance, the order may pass or fail.

      So while it is understandably frustrating, it makes sense.

    2. ecnaseener*

      To be fair, it sounds like OP3 is filling genuine orders that are supposed to be used, not demo units. If they knew from the start that only X% of the units were likely to be used, they might feel better about it. As it is, it’s really just waste.

      1. Self Employed*

        @ecnaseener, @Andy, I agree that OP3 is filling actual orders, not demos. However, I don’t think the company intends for only X% of those orders to be delivered, given that OP3’s manager has put that product line on hold until they can resolve whatever problem is leading to the rest of the orders not going through.

        My business does custom manufacturing and I can imagine how this could ruin the company if they’re wasting materials AND LABOR on orders that get canceled, assuming the customers are not paying for canceled orders.

        Seriously, WTAF is going on? Are their salespeople sending orders through for production before the customer has signed a contract? I would be totally unsurprised if the salespeople were working the loopholes of a sloppily-written incentive plan or quota system.*

        Is there no penalty for customers who cancel orders after they’re in production, or a penalty that’s low enough that flaky customers are willing to absorb the cost? (And why are they canceling so many orders? Is it pandemic-related, such as not needing swag for a trade show if the trade show goes online? Are they placing orders with competing vendors and as soon as they get the first one, they cancel the other(s)?)

        I’m glad OP3 talked to their manager, because that’s a serious systemic problem that could really hurt the business.

        *Example of a badly-planned incentive system: I lived in an apartment complex where the property managers got bonuses for new leases signed–even if they were talking existing tenants into moving into a vacant unit, not getting new tenants. They called us multiple times pushing different apartments we could move into, but my mother and I hated packing and moving so we were happy to stay put. The onsite managers got mad at us because it cost them bonuses when people stayed in their original apartments.

        We couldn’t figure out why it took Corporate years to figure out that the onsite managers were shuffling tenants around the complex, not being hyper-effective in recruiting new tenants.

  25. Khatul Madame*

    LW#3, anyone who’ve been involved with proposals in a scientific, commercial or government contracting space will tell you how much hard work and materials produced by the team ends up not being used. It is frustrating, but one has to learn how to deal and how to stay motivated to produce quality work for the next bid, fully knowing that the result is uncertain.

  26. Anymouse*


    I’m autistic and while I haven’t disclosed that at an interview because was diagnosed in my early 40s and only had 1 interview after that and it was so soon after my diagnosis I wasn’t sure if I wanted to I do know that it can be a tough decision for a lot of autistic people.

    However I am open about being autistic and have talked to my various supervisors and co workers about it to explain about why I don’t make eye contact regularly, may need a minute to prove information, and that I have a tendency to take things literally so I may ask questions that seem obvious and that I can be blunt and I’m bad with certain types of small talk. Also my tone of voice and body language don’t always fit what my feeling. I’ve noticed that people will assume I’m frustrated , angry, upset or even sad when I’m not. My team lead has gotten good about low key checking in with me to make sure he is reading me right.

    I would assume that is why the candidate disclosed and because they may need certain accommodations in the future.

    There are a lot of autistic people who don’t tell anyone because of the stigma d they are worried about not being hired, losing their job, being treated differently, even losing their children in a custody fight ….which can be very real things that happen unfortunately.

    I’m sure your boss was caught off guard and reacted the best he felt he could in the moment but Allison’s suggestions are good ones.

    1. Alianora*

      Thanks for sharing your experience with disclosing at work. I’m glad it went well for you with team leads. Have you ever had a negative reaction from a coworker? Other than checking in with you, do you think people treat you differently at work now?

      1. Anymouse*

        I really don’t. I mean throughout my life most people have realized I’m different in some way because I’ve heard comments about me being a “unique thinker” or “something like that. So it’s not like I’m successful at coming across as typical.

        Although I haven’t told everyone at work. There are a few people I wouldn’t tell but the supervisors etc have been fine .

        Occasionally with things that are really loud or noisy I’ve had a manager check in and make sure I’m ok. But other than that I think it’s just been peope adjusting to me. My team lead also told me something like “people know your heart is in the right place” about me being blunt or saying the wrong thing.

  27. EarthBound*

    LW#2: Your boss’ comment was extremely inappropriate and would make me question his judgment in hiring overall. Imagine if he said that to a candidate on the basis of a visible protected class (race, gender, pregnancy, etc).

  28. High Score!*

    LW5: Although Alison gives great advice, she’s off here. If the company site does not provide a place for a cover letter, it means they don’t want one. Just make the resume you upload shine and don’t worry about a cover letter. Trying to stuff in a cover letter where it’s not wanted will not improve your chances and will likely irritate anyone who has to read more than what they wanted to.

    1. Mental Lentil*


      The people who do interviewing and hiring are not the same people who create the website where you upload your material, in general. There could have been a miscommunication, or an assumption on the part of the coder that “I got my job without a cover letter, so I’ll just include a slot for resumes.”

      I see this a lot. Never make assumptions.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Absolutely! Especially if recruiting/screening is outsourced (which won’t be obvious from the posting). My workplace uses an external recruiting service that doesn’t ask for cover letters, and I can’t tell you how many times my coworkers and I have said “ugh I wish we had a cover letter for this candidate!” (Oh, and we don’t see the application form, so don’t count on anything written there getting to the hiring manager.)

        I’d say if your resume alone doesn’t make it super clear why this position is a logical next step for you, it’s worth sticking a cover letter in even if it’s not requested.

    2. Allypopx*

      It is refreshing to see a post that isn’t fully of people insisting cover letters are ubiquitous. They’re not, and can sometimes just come off as “too much”. Personally I like getting them as a manager and have no problem writing them as a candidate but I hear from so many people in industries that aren’t mine that they often go in the trash or are found to be offputting that I always cringe a little at the “always, no matter what” mentality that we see here a lot.

      1. Spearmint*

        Many employers still ask for and use cover letters, but honestly my impression is they’re slowly on their way out as A Thing. I know many people in tech who never submit cover letters, and even in my non-tech field I’d say about 30% of my jobs didn’t have any space to add one. I don’t think I’ve ever had an interviewer for any job reference the cover letter I sent in (often they’d have a print out of my resume but not cover letter).

        And it makes sense to me, give them hey most people are really bad at writing them and don’t know what to do with them.

        1. Allypopx*

          I just heard back from a job that specifically referenced my cover letter in a way that sounded like…they were not used to getting good cover letters haha. And I think mine was just decent. So yeah I think you’re right. I also get my share of bad ones but given the amount of written communication involved in my job/the jobs I hire for I find them very useful as a screening tool. I can totally see why they’d be less welcome in non-writing jobs that don’t need to hire skilled writers. Lots of bad letters to sift through for no real benefit, I’m sure.

      2. Rayray*

        I agree. It’s super tough as a job seeker to simply guess how a hiring manager wants you to do things. There’s too many guessing and mind games in hiring. You hear advice from one source but then the place you apply to wants to think outside the box and operate totally differently. Some companies want candidates to read their minds and just know they should attach a cover letter, and then the next company is going to throw it away and gripe about candidates who can’t follow instructions. You just can’t win.

    3. HR Exec Popping In*

      I disagree. The person who set up the system elected to not include a spot which means that the company doesn’t care about getting a cover letter. That does not mean that a cover letter won’t help your candidacy.

    4. GG*

      Could not disagree more. Everyone I interviewed with at my company (top 5 pharma) thanked me for including a cover letter – which I had to sneak in just as Alison described, by attaching it to my resume. It made a huge difference for them and I received that feedback at nearly every company I applied for.

  29. Lacey*

    LW3: I 100% empathize. I design advertising and it’s really common to put a lot of work into getting it just right – only to have the customer change direction, decide they hate it even though it’s entirely to their specs, cancel the campaign because they’re surprised it costs money to advertise, etc.

    My coworkers and I have often talked about how it really shouldn’t bother us more to restart a campaign than to start an entirely new one – but it does. Part of work being fulfilling is to have it be useful. And if it often isn’t useful, or used, that does become discouraging and demoralizing. It can sometimes feel like there’s no point in doing good work, because it may very well be thrown out and it will be the same as if you hadn’t tried at all.

    But. That doesn’t help you stay sane or make you a good employee.

    I do find it helpful to care a little less, but it’s a fine line.
    Like, I still need to do a great job designing ads, but if I know a client tends to dump work, I may not prioritize their revisions. Then I take some pressure off to get things done and can be super satisfied when it pays off because they are dumping all the revisions I haven’t done yet.

    I also find it really helpful to have a coworker who feels the same. I wouldn’t indulge too much, or you’ll both be grumpy, but it is nice to have someone who is willing to admit that this is SO frustrating. Sometimes just feeling heard is enough.

  30. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP3 – I feel your pain. I’ve worked in food & beverage, and I was always bothered by customers who ordered something that needed to be eaten hot and fresh, but let it congeal untouched on the table. Ditto somebody pounding a $150 bottle of wine at cocktail hour that really ought to be enjoyed over a leisurely steak.

    I never truly got over it, but I did learn not to take it as a personal insult. I did my best writing the menu, and gave good advice to the people ordering wine, but then it’s out of my hands.

    Your footnote, about talking to your bosses, is the right move. You’ve done what you can do, and if there are future screwups you can look at yourself in the mirror and say you did your best, and it’s somebody else’s fault that the product went to waste.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Same here. I used to work in a deli, and we had a customer who would regularly order food from the bar around the corner to pick up before the hot table closed. Invariably, he’d forget, I’d have to put his order in the cooler, and he’d pick it up just before we closed.

      One time, half-joking, he said he should get a discount because his food was now cold. My (half-joking) response was that I ought to charge him more: first I had to get his food hot, and then I had to cool it down.

      He started coming in on time after that.

  31. Bostonian*

    Thought I would chime in against the chorus of people saying don’t add a cover letter if they don’t ask for it.

    Instead: Know your audience and your situation. Are you applying for a role that requires strong communication skills? Are you changing industries or otherwise have a background that would require explanation as to why you’re interested in the role? Would someone just looking at your resume consider you over qualified?

    If your background raises any questions in the hiring manager’s mind, you might not get a chance to explain in an interview. If they’re doing their job right, they’re going to appreciate having the context.

    1. Kaitydidd*

      Smart. My S.O. hired several laboratorians over the last year. Their process includes cover letters. The cover letters didn’t matter nearly as much as the interview and resume, though. In some cases the letters did more harm than good for the applicants, like if there were errors in how they referred to the technical aspects of their experience. I guess what I’m saying is I agree with Bostonian. Provide what the application process asks for unless you have a reason to need to explain further.

  32. Texan In Exile*

    I am applying for writing/communications jobs – and they don’t include space for a cover letter! Why would you not want that kind of information for a writing job?

    1. Khatul Madame*

      I imagine the hiring process for a writing/comms job would include review of work samples once after the initial culling of the resumes, so there are multiple ways to evaluate the candidates’ core competency besides the cover letter.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Might depend on the company – I said above that I work for a manufacturing company now, in a writing/marketing job, and when I applied there was nowhere for me to submit a cover letter. Which is kind of funny to me – I spent a decent amount of time setting up a portfolio site for myself and writing a cover letter and I didn’t need either to get the job. My guess is that even though we have a fairly robust marketing/creative team, the vast majority of positions in the company are not writing related so nobody thought to ask for samples or cover letters.

    3. Elmyra Duff*

      I work in the same kind of job you’re applying to and have also hired for these jobs. Cover letters are absolutely not a necessity. Your resume should show your experience, and you should have a portfolio online, either on LinkedIn (where mine is) or a site like Contently. Cover letters are a waste of time for the applicant and the employer, imo.

  33. Jessie*

    #1: I’m in the same boat, have been in the office all along, and it’s well know throughout my company that I’m in and I’ve been the go-to for anything on-site. As people started making appearances back in and complaining about being in the office, my go to reaction has been to interrupt them and say, “I’m going to stop you there – you’re ranting to the wrong audience.” I say it friendly, and with a smile. It flags to them that they are in fact complaining, and reminds them that I’ve been in for 15+ months now. Good luck!

  34. WhoKnows*

    When friends have complained to me about something that I don’t agree with or can’t empathize with because of my own personal situation, I’ll sometimes say “I’m not the right audience for that” or “You’re preaching to the wrong choir right now!” Jokey, but it should get the message across.

    1. Tired of Covid-and People*

      I don’t understand not being able to empathize because of my personal situation. It’s not hard to express compassion whether or not you have or haven’t experienced a particular situation.

      1. Heather*

        Do you seriously not understand why it could rub people who have been in the office all year the wrong way to hear their coworkers who got to WFH complain to them about having to come back in now?

      2. Marillenbaum*

        It’s a bit like complaining about your leaky gutters to someone whose house burned down. Like, read the room, my guy.

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

    I would allow my coworkers a period of complaining…just as they’ve let me complain about being on-site the whole time. I don’t resent them, i resent the way management has started pitting us against each other a bit as we transition back to whatever is going to be normal — their lack of transparency, lack of equity in who gets to stay WFH vs in-office, lack of actual support (as opposed to “thankful” emails) for the lowest-paid workers in either group… the divide isn’t WFH vs Office as far as I’m concerned; it’s management getting to “work” from home while the rest of us drown under onerous new rules and uncompensated costs.

  36. drpuma*

    I lead teams of web developers, and while the work doesn’t “go bad” quite as quickly it is sadly possible for my team to spend months working on something that doesn’t get used. OP3 I consider it my job to (a) vet all requests to make sure the requestor has a plan for how the work will be used, and (b) communicate results back to my teams after their work is released into the wild. It’s good for team morale and therefore the quality of future work. It also makes me look good to my boss if everything we build gets used. Time is a resource! It’s good that you went to your boss and that he took action. This *is* a part of his job.

  37. Brit*

    LW2 – Obviously hiring someone into a job that isn’t a good fit with their wants and needs isn’t the solution, but the reasons the candidate was refused for the job are directly related to being autistic (regardless of whether they had disclosed it or not) and that is important to be aware of. Autism affects the way people communicate, autistic people can collaborate, but may need adjustments such as text based communication and less meetings. Around changing plans if there is a potential of a few options then understanding what potential plans there are can help too.

    I am not saying you and your manager should have hired him, but it seems like your work culture is designed so that it excludes autistic people, and potentially also other people who communicate differently. Would it be equally acceptable to refuse a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person who needed to arrange interpreters in advance or use written communication, because your work culture is very collaborative and plans change at the last minute? If so, this is a wider issue. Consider not only applicants, but also whether workers are who communicate differently are being unnecessarily disabled by the work environment. Whilst we have to meet business needs, there are adjustments that can be made to think outside the box.

    Finally I just think it is important to note that whilst health conditions can be disabilities, many disabilities, including autism, are not health conditions.

    1. Self Employed*


      So many work environments are textbook examples of the employer making choices that exclude Disabled people. It’s easy to see physical inaccessibility and write building codes that specify ramps, Braille labels, etc. but these cultural barriers are just as real to many people even though they’re harder to see. Assumptions that everyone can communicate the same way, therefore it is “just a bad culture fit” if someone needs written instructions and heads-up for meetings are based in ableism. These are the barriers that lead to high unemployment rates for Autistics and other Disabled people who don’t have medical reasons they can’t work.

      How is this different than having a dudebro culture where women are “not a good culture fit” so nobody understands why there are so few women in the field?

  38. Anonnnnn*

    Slightly tangential, but I am autistic and will actually be interviewing this week for a higher-level position in my field. The hiring manager is already aware of my autism, so I don’t have a choice of disclosure at this point. At the same time, I have a Master’s degree and manage myself quite well, so I can only hope that my qualifications outweigh the symptoms that I’m not able to mask.

  39. fml*

    #2 – It was recently pointed out to me that the reason so many desk job descriptions list “must be able to lift 20 lbs” as a requirement is a way to weed out candidates with physical disabilities without being openly discriminatory. Since then on, I can’t help but wonder if requiring “strong” or “excellent” communication skills can also be a tactic to weed out candidates with autism or other communication difficulties who are otherwise qualified for the job. I must add I just now noticed that in the 5 years I’ve been at this company with 200+ employees, I haven’t noticed anyone with visible disabilities (as in, needing a wheelchair, a service dog, or an ASL interpreter).

    Now, full disclosure, I’m on the spectrum with an undiagnosed speech problem. By now I’ve learned to get by in daily interactions, but I still don’t interview well and am particularly anxious when I have to talk to management or do video calls (which companies have started doing since covid). As for my actual job, most of the communication about work itself can be done via IM/emailing, and it seems to me face-to-face meetings are done only as part of “team-building” (which is as effective as you might expect in a company with high turnover rates).

    I do pretty well at my current job and I expect similar positions in other companies in the industry to be about the same, but because of how I come across at interviews (and also because I can be too honest). So my question is: What accommodation can I actually ask for before an interview? Ideally I’d like to have a list of questions in advance, and after learning about AAC I’d really like to start using that moving forward, but realistically how likely is it that this will end up making HR or the hiring manager think there are better candidates out there?

    1. Rach*

      A list of questions in advance would be amazing (not autistic but neurodivergent), I really struggle in interviews. I’ve been fortunate to be able to get jobs despite this but they are torturous. Having the questions before hand would have made a world of difference, tho I doubt it would ever be something granted.

    2. Alianora*

      I’m pretty doubtful that “strong communication skills” is meant to weed out autistic people. I’m sure it could be used that way in some offices, but I think autistic people can sometimes be stronger communicators than neurotypicals. I know at my workplace, my coworkers appreciate me asking for clarification when someone says something ambiguous that I’m taking literally. Sometimes they’re confused too, but they assume everyone else understands so they don’t want to ask questions.

      As far as questions, I’m no expert or anything, but I think with the way most employers conduct interviews, having a list of questions ahead of time would be difficult. They may ask different candidates different questions, and they may want to ask follow-up questions depending on your answers. And (reasonable or not) there is a component of wanting to see how the candidate answers questions unrehearsed. I do think the hiring managers I’ve worked with might see that request as an attempt to game the system.

      I feel like the main benefit of disclosing autism would be that the interviewers would be less likely to interpret lack of eye contact, blunt statements, literal answers to questions, etc. as someone being rude or uninterested.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’m pretty doubtful that “strong communication skills” is meant to weed out autistic people.

        I have enough coworkers with no communication skills whatsoever that I suspect they’re the ones being excluded… ineffectively. And none of them show signs of autism.

      2. Self Employed*

        Although employers don’t specifically say “strong oral communication skills” is meant to weed out Autistc people, they use it to weed out people who either speak English as a second language or who basically meet the description of Autistic even if they don’t know that’s what they’re describing.

        Some employers (particularly civil service) are required to ask all candidates the same questions. Some HR departments encourage this in non-government jobs too as a way to make sure all candidates are treated fairly. No asking hard technical questions for Wakeen or Wynona when John gets softball questions.

  40. Elmyra Duff*

    LW 5: I’m literally at the point where I don’t apply to jobs that actually require cover letters, tbh.

  41. Bluestreak*

    I think LW #1 is off the mark. Her frustration is with her management, and not with her colleagues. If she had been getting hazard pay or bonuses or extra PTO, I doubt she would be upset when people mentioned having to wear pants again. In fact, I imagine she would have been the one complaining about the loss of a perk.
    So if you want one of those things, ask for it, instead of being resentful of your co-workers.
    I think of it as the letter where people were upset about a travel perk that others got. Some people’s jobs allow for WFH, and other’s don’t

    And while WFH isn’t always smooth, for a large, large number of people, WFH is a good option and even increases productivity and satisfaction at the same time. It’s completely reasonable to complain if that’s taken away arbitrarily. You have every right to tell people you don’t want to hear what they are saying. But you run the real risk of them hearing, “You don’t really have the right to complain because I’ve been hear the whole time,” and coming off as tone deaf as you are thinking they are.

    1. PSB*

      This is well said. I think it’s sad so many people have bought into the heroes who worked in the office vs. slackers who worked from home mentality. It’s a real shame this site is so willing to accept and promote that framing. It’s alarming to see Alison using the language of who gets to “center their perspective” in today’s comments, borrowing language used to address historic injustices. That’s not what happened here and maybe we’d all be better served advising everyone against keeping score and making martyrs of themselves. WFH has been a very mixed bag for lot of people and was done not to give those people a perk but specifically to reduce the risk and make the office safer for those people who had to be there.

  42. RagingADHD*

    LW #4, what do you mean by “hounding?”

    If you had a 3rd round interview “a few weeks” ago, then they got contacted for a reference, what? Six weeks ago? Two months ago? More?

    Asking 5 times in a week is certainly “hounding.” I’m not sure whether checking in less than once a week is all that intrusive — particularly if a) they were under the impression you were already at the last-round stage, and b) you aren’t giving them any indication of what’s going on.

    I know you don’t want to keep this top of mind because it’s stressful, and that may be contributing to the perception that your references are “hounding” you. And you should ask them to stop!

    But this sounds more like normal “co-worker making polite conversation about a relevant topic” than some kind of persecution.

  43. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    LW3: The nature of my work means that I’m creating new work products for projects all the time that may not actually come to fruition. It could be that a project switches tracks, the end goal changes entirely, the project was scrapped, or that a better solution for that specific project was produced by someone else.

    I never view it as wasted work, I view it as archive building. I keep everything I’ve produced so that I can reuse or draw inspiration from it in the future. I organize by categories (workflow/system, management aid, training tool, education, etc), type of solution (analog vs digital), and freedom of use (scrapped/never presented, presented refused, previous production item). This was I can easily find things I’ve done before, avoid reinventing the wheel, and also have a quick understanding of how much of it I may re-use.

    I’m currently working on a management aid that is reusing the backend process from an aid I created for an entirely different industry. This cut the project timeline down by several days and provided me with starters for training materials.

    Not only do I never feel like my time was wasted, but I also feel like I’m able to get more value from my work products than I otherwise would; and I’m able to quickly respond to project bids.

  44. GG*

    LW4 – Firm disagree on the comments above me. I am in biotech now, did a large job search a few years ago and routinely hire people now. I also advise new grads on entering the field.

    A well-written cover letter will distinguish you from applicants. Over and over, I was thanked for including one, as hiring manager bemoaned that they often did not receive them and that having it provided much needed context for the applicant. I routinely tell grads just what Alison advised – add it to the PDF with your resume if you’re only given one upload box.

    I don’t //disagree// with those above that say they don’t seem to be common – but that doesn’t mean they won’t help you. Every experience I’ve had has told me they are worth the effort. If nothing else, showing a little EQ in this field by writing one is a definite plus.

  45. Lana Kane*

    Letter #2 – I agree with Allison’s suggestion that thew correct response owuld have been to ask if there is any accomodation they need. Also, someone upstream recommended just making that a question you ask when setting up interviews – I really like that and am going to start incorporating it into my hiring process.

    A piece of hiring advice that has been a round for a long time is that you should never ask a candidate personal questions, like about medical conditions, etc, because then if they aren’t hired you could be sued for discrimination. Obviously we wouldn’t ask about medical conditions today, but when a candidate volunteers that kind of information it can make some interviewers uncomfortable, like the’ve now been backed into a corner.

    We’re entering a phase in our society where we’re now more aware that accomodations promote equity. But because that comes so close to medical conditions, it will be a while before that all becomes normalized.

  46. Harvey JobGetter*

    OP1: Alison’s advice is good if you haven’t done any complaining to coworkers about having to be in the office this whole time. If you have, I’d suggest smiling and nodding at their complaints.

    I’m not saying your (hypothetical) complaining and theirs is identical. But it’s similar enough that your coworkers aren’t going to take it well if you complained to them and are now shutting down their complaining.

    1. Harvey JobGetter*

      I mean can you imagine:

      Version of OP who has been complaining all along: “I’ve been here all along.”
      Coworker: “I know. We spend 20 minutes of our weekly zoom call listening to you complain about it.”

  47. Tired of Covid-and People*

    I’m finding the WFH vs. in-office wars very tiring. The pandemic has been shitty for all.

    I have worked at home for years pre-pandemic. My closest relative has an office job that has required them to be in the office for the entire pandemic. They had to switch jobs because of lax Covid policies, with their former boss coming to work with obvious symptoms who later tested positive, as did a second coworker.

    This relative is my support system and I am medically fragile. Even with all the precautions we took, I panicked at her office exposure. I also worried about them nonstop. Folks working at home can have people working in the office they live with or rely upon, so there is lots of empathy there as the WFH person is impacted too. I also had a lot of anger at my relative’s employer. Until we were both fully vaccinated, the whole situation was so stressful.

    Having an us versus them mentality is just so unhelpful. This pandemic has affected everyone. WFH offered limited protection if other household members worked outside the home. I love WFH but it is not nirvana and yes there are trade offs. I appreciate folks who come in to water plants, forward snail mail, and other tasks, but I don’t view them as martyrs. And if you get tasked with doing large portions of other people’s work, push back! That is just bad management.

    So, please extend grace to those who may gripe about things they miss about WFH, and don’t act like they don’t belong in the office when they return. Former WFH people, be appreciative of those who were not able to WFH, and return that grace.

  48. Ladycrim*

    LW3, I sympathize. I see wasted work all the time. I’ve been rushed to create and print up 1,200 newsletters that had to go out urgently, only to watch them sit in a cubicle for over a year until they were tossed. I’ve had to create and assemble hundreds of signs for events that were canceled at the last minute. And so on. It sucks feeling like your hard work was for nothing. All you can do is hope you’re appreciated.

  49. My Pal Foot Foot*

    #5 Every online application I have seen is like this. I have never seen one that has an option for uploading a cover letter.

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